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Barrett's zip-line Senate hearing grabs center stage in Trump-Biden clash

Senate Judiciary Chairman Lindsey Graham, right foreground, swears

Senate Judiciary Chairman Lindsey Graham, right foreground, swears in Supreme Court nominee Amy Coney Barrett at Monday's confirmation hearing. Credit: Pool / EPA / Win McNamee

Supreme drama

To nobody's shock, the first day of Amy Coney Barrett's confirmation hearings for the Supreme Court became an echo chamber for the national election races. Her path to approval looks clear in the Republican-controlled Senate — as predetermined as President Donald Trump's impeachment acquittal proved to be eight months ago. Partisan theatrics on both sides Monday sounded just as scripted.

Trump, who nominated Barrett, did a bit of overwrought heckling from the sidelines, tweeting this gripe about the process that was broadly ignored by Republicans and Democrats: "The Republicans are giving the Democrats a great deal of time, which is not mandated, to make their self serving statements."

Sen. Kamala Harris (D-Calif.), the Democratic vice-presidential nominee, took part in the first of four Judiciary Committee hearings on Barrett by remote hookup from Capitol Hill. She echoed running mate Joe Biden's warning that quickly adding another Republican on the court could help kill the Affordable Care Act without any alternative. The constitutionality of Obamacare comes before the high court on Nov. 10, a week after Election Day.

Fifty-two percent of registered voters told a Washington Post-ABC poll they'd rather see the seat of the late Justice Ruth Bader Ginsburg filled by the winner of the presidential race, as handled in 2016. But that number is down from the 57% first reported last month before Barrett, a 7th Circuit Court of Appeals judge who lives in Indiana, was nominated.

Naturally there was side drama involving COVID-19, from which nearly 215,000 in the U.S. have now died. Harris said, "This hearing has brought together more than 50 people to sit inside of a closed-door room for hours while our nation is facing a deadly airborne virus." She and other Democrats said the Senate's focus at the moment should be on approving a new coronavirus stimulus package.

Committee member Mike Lee (R-Utah) spoke without a mask at times in the Monday event, less than two weeks after testing positive for the virus. Panel Chairman Lindsey Graham (R-S.C.) insisted the hearing was safe after reportedly declining to take a COVID-19 test or to require one beforehand. White House chief of staff Mark Meadows, who also attended the hearing, put on a sideshow of his own by refusing to address journalists after one of them insisted he keep his mask on in a hallway at the Capitol.

With Republicans looking to portray Democrats as hostile to Barrett's Catholic faith, Biden said Monday that religion should not be a factor in her consideration. Biden has dodged the question of whether he'd support expanding the Supreme Court so he could add judges to offset what's about to be a 6-3 conservative majority. Newsday's Tom Brune provides a broader picture of the hearing. Barrett's opening statement is available in video here and in a transcript here.

That Joe-hio bid

Perhaps the biggest news about Biden's visit to Ohio on Monday was that he would sweep through at all with three weeks left in the campaign. Trump beat Hillary Clinton there four years ago by a whopping 52% to 44%. So Democrats might have been inclined earlier to write off the Buckeye State, but recent polls showed Trump with only a slight edge there.

"The longer Donald Trump is president, the more reckless he seems to get," Biden told a horn-honking drive-in rally outside a United Auto Workers hall in Toledo. "Trump panicked. His reckless personal conduct since his diagnosis has been unconscionable."

In Cincinnati, which he called the "starting gate" to winning the state, Biden gave a 35-minute stump speech filled with populist talk, a critique of Trump's coronavirus response, and calls for a return to bipartisan cooperation on big issues. Vice President Mike Pence also campaigned in Ohio on Monday.

Trump's Florida fibs & fanfare

The White House physician on Monday confirmed for the first time since the president's COVID-19 diagnosis that Trump has received consecutive negative tests, though Dr. Sean Conley didn't specify when. So Trump went off to a rally in Sanford, Florida, the first as he returns to the campaign trail. This week, he's also slated to appear in Pennsylvania, Iowa, North Carolina and Wisconsin, all states where polls show him in danger of losing electoral votes he won four years ago.

Before the audience, Trump repeated falsehoods about what he said were Biden's positions on various issues, including that the Democrat would move to outlaw private health insurance and allow "open borders." Trump again claimed to be "immune" now from COVID-19.

"I feel so powerful," Trump told the shoulder-to-shoulder, mostly unmasked crowd. "I’ll walk into that audience. I’ll walk in there, I’ll kiss everyone in that audience. I’ll kiss the guys and the beautiful women ... everybody. I’ll just give ya a big fat kiss." Thousands greeted Trump at the airport rally in Sanford, which is best known for the 2012 killing of 17-year-old Trayvon Martin by "neighborhood watch" captain George Zimmerman.

Georgia on their lines

People waited for hours to cast ballots in Georgia on Monday as early in-person voting began. Eager voters endured waits of six hours or more in Cobb County, which once was solidly Republican but has voted for Democrats in recent elections, The Associated Press reported. Trump lost the county in 2016 but won in the state.

Cobb County Elections and Registration Director Janine Eveler told the AP that the county had prepared as much as much as it could, "but there’s only so much space in the rooms and parking in the parking lot. We’re maxing out both of those."

There also were big turnouts in Trump strongholds in the Peach State.

California steamin'

California’s Republican Party acknowledged owning unofficial ballot drop boxes that state election officials say are illegal. The officials received reports over the weekend about the boxes in Fresno, Los Angeles and Orange counties.

Apparently steamed by the practice, the state's secretary of state issued a memo telling county registrars that ballots must be mailed or brought to official voting locations.

"In short, providing unauthorized, non-official vote-by-mail ballot drop boxes is prohibited by state law," the memo from Alex Padilla said. Padilla also sent a letter to state and county Republicans, ordering them to remove the unofficial drop boxes by Thursday.

Don't it make the red states blue?

Senate races in some reliably red states, including South Carolina and Kansas, are competitive. There are surges in Democratic fundraising that has put the Republican Party and Trump’s campaign at a surprise financial disadvantage.

"It’s not good for my side," veteran GOP pollster Whit Ayres told the AP. "Pretty obviously, in many ways, down-ballot Republicans are in the boat with Donald Trump. That’s good for Republicans in deep-red states, but more problematic for those in swing states."

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:

  • Dr. Anthony Fauci told CNN on Monday that the Trump campaign should stop airing an ad that uses comments he made without his permission and out of context. He also said "now is even a worse time" for Trump to conduct crowded rallies.
  • The president's son Eric Trump canceled a campaign event at a Michigan gun business after one of its former employees was linked to the domestic terror plot against Gov. Gretchen Whitmer.
  • A New York Times/Siena College poll has Biden leading 48% to Trump's 40% in Michigan, and 51% to 41% in Wisconsin.
  • Twitter on Monday added a warning label to a Trump tweet claiming without evidence that he is now immune to the coronavirus.
  • New York and California are "going to hell," the president said in Monday tweets in a uniquely bizarre appeal for votes.
  • The late Sen. John McCain's mother, Roberta, died Monday at age 108.
  • A 25-year-old man from Reno, Nevada, had the first known U.S. case of coronavirus reinfection, according to a report in the journal Lancet Infectious Diseases.

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