Eyes on second prize
The nation on Wednesday night got to see its first, and perhaps last, sort-of kind-of normal debate in the 2020 general election campaign. The buzziest moment on social media came when a fly landed on Vice President Mike Pence's head and hung out there for two minutes. (Here's a video.)
Pence and Sen. Kamala Harris kept the tone civil and minimally respectful, such as when Pence congratulated Harris on the "historic nature" of her nomination as a Black and Asian woman. Pence interrupted her too, but not as constantly as President Donald Trump talked over Joe Biden at last week's debate. When Pence cut into her time, Harris firmly but politely admonished: "Mr. Vice President, I'm speaking, I'm speaking." That's not on the same level as Biden's exasperated rebuke to Trump: "Will you shut up, man?"
Like the prosecutor she formerly was, Harris blistered Trump's handling of the pandemic as "the greatest failure of any presidential administration in the history of our country." Trump and Pence, she charged, "knew" early how bad the coronavirus would be. Speaking directly to home viewers as she would to a jury, Harris said, "They knew what was happening and they didn’t tell you." Pence insisted, "From the very first day, President Trump has put the health of America first."
There was no forgetting the coronavirus issue even when they moved on to other matters. The candidates and moderator were separated by plexiglass shields, seated more than 12 feet apart and facing a socially distanced, masked audience at the University of Utah in Salt Lake City.
There were now-familiar arguments on the economy and the Trump-Pence denial that "systemic racism" exists in law enforcement versus the Biden-Harris embrace of calls for an end to racial injustice. There also was dodging and ducking. Pence evaded a direct question from the moderator, Susan Page of USA Today, on whether climate change posed an "existential" threat. "The climate is changing. We will follow the science," he said briefly, before pivoting to attacking Biden's tax plans.
When Pence was challenged on how to square Trump's claim that he would protect health coverage for preexisting conditions with the administration's backing of the lawsuit coming before the Supreme Court next month to abolish Obamacare, the vice president tried to turn it on Harris. He demanded to know whether Biden would follow the advice of some Democrats to "pack" the court by creating new seats for liberal members if Trump's nomination of Amy Coney Barrett goes through.
Harris wouldn't say. Instead, she assailed Trump for trying to put his choice on the court in the last weeks of the presidential campaign, instead of letting the election winner decide. She went on to say that "of the 50 people Trump appointed to the Court of Appeals — lifetime appointments — no one is Black." She added: "Want to talk about packing a court? Let’s have that discussion."
Next debate is virtual
Early Thursday the Commission on Presidential Debates announced that the second Trump-Biden debate, scheduled for next Thursday, will be conducted virtually. It will remain a town hall format as planned, with the candidates speaking from separate remote locations.
Trump immediately told Fox Business' Maria Bartiromo he would not take part in a virtual event, but given the source, we'll see what happens. As many expected, Trump thus immediately eclipsed Pence's performance, which he'd praised on Twitter the night before.
Trump's 'miracles' never cease
Remember when Trump plugged hydroxychloroquine as a miracle treatment for the coronavirus? That's yesterday's news. How about a vaccine that would arrive just in time for Election Day? Trump admitted Wednesday that's not likely to meet his political deadline.
But Trump has a new fave pharmaceutical: the experimental antiviral cocktail made by Regeneron that was one of the therapeutic drugs he has received to treat COVID-19, which he feels was "the key" to his improvement since he had to be hospitalized. "To me, it wasn't a therapeutic. It just made me better. I call that a cure," Trump said in a rambling five-minute video recorded outdoors in front of the Oval Office and released Wednesday.
The drug cocktail is still in clinical trials, and it's not known which, if any, of his treatments made a difference. But Trump promised to swiftly get the Regeneron drugs approved for use — and distributed for free — even though he does not have the power to order that himself. Trump proclaimed his bout with the coronavirus was a "blessing from God" and a "blessing in disguise."
Those who have been and continue to be exposed to Trump since he caught the highly contagious disease may not be feeling as blessed. Trump continued to downplay the threat of the virus, promising those who are ill that they’re going to "get better fast just like I did," even though more than 211,000 people in the United States have died.
Trump left his quarantine setup in the White House residence Wednesday and ventured to the Oval Office. Aides insisted that only limited staff were around him, all in protective gear, and that he entered the office from the outside to limit virus shedding in the corridors.
Last negative test? Don't ask, won't tell
The White House again refused on Wednesday to say when Trump last tested negative for COVID-19, which would be important information for those who were around him in the days before he tested positive last Thursday.
"I don’t know when he last tested negative," White House spokesman Brian Morgenstern told reporters. "We’re not asking to go back through a bunch of records and look backwards."
White House officials had previously claimed that Trump was tested daily for the coronavirus. On Wednesday, Morgenstern and other aides said the president has been tested "regularly." The Washington Post reported that two officials familiar with the situation said Trump has not been tested daily in recent months.
ABC News reported that an internal government memo counted "34 White House staffers and other contacts" infected in recent days, more people than previously known.
Janison: Still in wrong place, all in
Honest assessments like these from Dr. Anthony Fauci that the country is far from turning the corner on the pandemic still won't be accepted by Trump. That's the way this bizarre drama has gone all along, and sadly, it's too late to turn back, writes Newsday's Dan Janison.
Trump's engagement with the virus consisted of having it send him to the hospital for elite treatment. Strangely, he tried to spin this as an experience in which he’d somehow "won" and vaguely credited his administration for medical advances.
Any common-sense, sympathetic message would have been easy, but Trump instead gave people patently useless advice — that they shouldn't let COVID "dominate" their lives.
His return produced more West Wing chaos than usual, with his first day back to the Oval Office on Wednesday just the latest farce. He could have made a point of trying to protect staff, family and friends from infection, but he apparently took no such measures.
Trump chose to undermine his public health officials' messaging on masks, schools and closures in a way that tells his loyalists not to take a national emergency too seriously — and to take local restrictions even less seriously if they come from Democrats.
Tweets Trump: Lock everybody up!
Whether it was roid rage or not from the dexamethasone drug he's taken, Trump's angry tweeting on Wednesday carried an extra kick.
Trump twice amplified fans’ criticisms of Attorney General William Barr, including one with a meme calling on him to "arrest somebody!" He wondered aloud why Barack Obama, Biden and Hillary Clinton hadn’t been imprisoned for launching a "coup" against his administration. "Where are all of the arrests?" he demanded.
If it was wasn't clear enough what Trump wanted, he tried all-caps shouting: "DO SOMETHING ABOUT THIS, THE BIGGEST OF ALL POLITICAL SCANDALS (IN HISTORY)!!! BIDEN, OBAMA AND CROOKED HILLARY LED THIS TREASONOUS PLOT!!! BIDEN SHOULDN’T BE ALLOWED TO RUN — GOT CAUGHT!!!"
Earlier, the caps-locked campaign messages included: "DEMS WANT TO SHUT YOUR CHURCHES DOWN, PERMANENTLY. HOPE YOU SEE WHAT IS HAPPENING."
Trump loses in court again on taxes
A federal appeals court ruled Wednesday that Trump’s accountant must turn over his tax records to Manhattan District Attorney Cyrus Vance, setting up a second Supreme Court showdown on the issue.
In August, a district court judge rejected a renewed effort by Trump's lawyers to kill Vance's subpoena. Part of Vance’s probe pertains to an investigation related to payoffs to two women — porn actress Stormy Daniels and model Karen McDougal — to keep them quiet during the 2016 presidential campaign about alleged extramarital affairs with Trump.
The fight went back to the lower court after the Supreme Court in July ruled 7-2 against the president, rejecting Trump’s arguments that he can’t even be investigated, let alone be charged with any crime. The high court said Trump could challenge the subpoena on other grounds, but that's not working either.
"We hold that none of the President’s allegations, taken together or separately, are sufficient to raise a plausible inference that the subpoena was issued ‘out of malice or an intent to harass,’ " the appeals court said.
This day in polls
Biden leads Trump by 10 points — 53% to 43% — in the latest Fox News national poll, which doubles the Democrat's advantage compared with a Fox survey last month. There also was more pandemic pessimism since Trump caught the coronavirus, with only 24% believing it is under control, down from 30%.
Swing-state polls out Wednesday showed Biden mostly with smaller leads and some ties. New York Times/Siena College surveys saw Biden up 6 points in Nevada and tied with Trump in Ohio. Reuters/Ipsos found Biden up 4 points in Florida and 2 points in Arizona. The Marquette University Law School Poll put Biden ahead by 5 points in Wisconsin.
Quinnipiac University polls that said Biden led by 11 points in Florida and 13 points in Pennsylvania drew some skepticism from Biden partisans who want to stamp out any sense of complacency. "We are not up 11 in Florida and 13 in Pennsylvania," tweeted Guy Cecil, who chairs a pro-Biden super PAC. "Now let’s all just get back to work."
More coronavirus news
See a roundup of the latest regional pandemic developments from Long Island and beyond, reported by Newsday's staff and written by Bart Jones. For a full list of Newsday's coronavirus stories, click here.
What else is happening:
- Russia's Vladimir Putin is thinking about how he'd deal with a President Biden. On the down side, "we … see quite sharp anti-Russian rhetoric. Unfortunately, we are used to this," he said on state TV. On the bright side, Putin said, he had been encouraged by Biden’s comments on arms control.
- Vulnerable Republicans are beginning to distance themselves from Trump’s dismissive response to the pandemic and his termination of negotiations with congressional Democrats over the federal stimulus package, The Washington Post reported. A senior GOP official close to Trump said, "We didn’t think it’d be this bad at this point. Everyone is wondering where the bottom is, and they’re figuring out what they need to do."
- In an unprecedented move, the New England Journal of Medicine on Wednesday published an editorial condemning the Trump administration for its response to the pandemic and calling for the current U.S. leadership to be voted out of office. Other points: "Masks work. Social distancing works. Quarantine and isolation work."
- Trump's campaign got in a pre-debate dig at Harris by saying, "We have left a ticket for Tupac Shakur," who the Democratic vice-presidential candidate recently called her favorite rapper alive. Shakur was shot to death in 1996.
- The Biden campaign said it will resume negative ads against Trump that were suspended when the president tested positive and was hospitalized for the coronavirus last week.
- The Food and Drug Administration has released updated safety standards for makers of potential COVID-19 vaccines despite the White House's efforts to block them. The move is expected to push back any approvals beyond Election Day despite Trump's complaints. "I think we should have it before the election, but frankly the politics gets involved and that’s OK. They want to play their games," Trump said in his video Wednesday.
- Fauci told students at American University: "If we don't do what we need to in the fall and winter, we could have 300,000-400,000 COVID-19 deaths." He spoke during a Tuesday virtual event hosted by the school.
- Facebook said it will block all political and issue ads after polls close on Election Day "to reduce opportunities for confusion or abuse" — meaning to avoid becoming a tool for manipulating the election, Politico reported.