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Cranky Joe declines a cognitive test duel with Trump

Presumptive Democratic presidential nominee Joe Biden at a

Presumptive Democratic presidential nominee Joe Biden at a campaign event July 28 in Wilmington, Del. Credit: AP / Andrew Harnik

'Why the hell would I?'

It looks like Joe Biden will cede the bragging rights on cognitive testing to President Donald Trump, who tried to impress Fox News interviewer Chris Wallace last month with the story of his "amazing" achievement remembering — in order — the words “Person. Woman. Man. Camera. TV.

Asked by CBS News correspondent Errol Barnett whether he had taken a cognitive test, the former vice president got, well, testy. "No, I haven't taken a test. Why the hell would I take a test?" Biden said. "Come on, man. That's like saying you, before you got on this program, you take a test where you're taking cocaine or not. What do you think? Huh? Are you a junkie?" (Watch the CBS report here.)

Reminded that Trump has boasted of his performance, Biden laughed: “Well, if he can’t figure out the difference between an elephant and a lion, I don’t know what the hell he’s talking about." (Fact check: It was Wallace who pointed out that one question has the test taker identify a picture — an elephant. Trump didn't say how he answered it.)

Biden bears some responsibility for confusion. CNN notes he previously has said he was "constantly tested" and "all you got to do is watch me" when it comes to his cognitive state. The Biden campaign clarified at the time that the presumptive Democratic nominee was talking about being tested on the campaign trail, not through a literal cognitive test.

Trump campaign operative Andrew Clark tweeted — unironically, perhaps — that "reporters who don’t take voters’ concerns about Biden’s mental fitness seriously are ignoring the elephant in the room." Trump has pushed an argument that the 77-year-old is “not mentally sharp enough to be president." 

But Fox News noted that a national poll conducted earlier this summer suggested that slightly more Americans are confident of Biden’s mental and physical abilities than of the 74-year-old president’s capabilities. Though his comparison of cognitive testing to detecting drug use seemed like a stretch, a Biden campaign official told Politico, "it was a preposterous question deserving of a response that showed the absurdity of it all." 

The president has turned in some, to put it charitably, uneven performances lately in interviews with Wallace — like framing his cognitive test as a feat of brain power when it's simply a dementia check — and on "Axios on HBO" with Jonathan Swan. The full Biden interview with Barnett is scheduled to air Thursday during the virtual convention of the National Association of Black Journalists and National Association of Hispanic Journalists.

2020 conventions: Addresses unknown

The national political conventions are less than two weeks away, and it's unclear where either Biden or Trump will deliver the speeches accepting their parties' nominations. 

The Democrats said Wednesday they have given up on having Biden speak to a scaled-down gathering in Milwaukee because of the health risk. “From the very beginning of this pandemic, we put the health and safety of the American people first,” said Democratic National Committee chair Tom Perez. Biden will speak from somewhere in his home state of Delaware.

The pandemic thwarted Trump's plans for Charlotte, North Carolina, and then Jacksonville, Florida. Republican National Convention organizers are considering the White House South Lawn as the site of his speech, which would further corrode the norms against staging nakedly partisan political events there. Legal experts told Bloomberg News that White House staff who plan or participate in the campaign event would run afoul of the federal Hatch Act.

Trump told "Fox & Friends" on Wednesday that the South Lawn is "the easiest alternative. I think it's a beautiful alternative." Several Republican senators voiced qualms, including Ron Johnson of Wisconsin. Trump is “probably not allowed” to give his acceptance speech from the White House and “probably shouldn’t do it,” he told CNN. Trump insisted later at a briefing: "It is legal."

Janison: Everything stinks to Trump

As Trump faces reelection, it is hard to see him as a conservative in the strict sense of the term, writes Newsday's Dan Janison. Since taking office, he has demeaned and dismissed a wide swath of long-respected institutional practice at all levels of government.

He's having the Commerce Department end the 2020 census collection four weeks earlier than planned, and excluding people in the country illegally from the congressional reapportionment count, moves that brought warnings this week from former Census Bureau directors of potentially getting the data wrong. But the sanctity of a nonpartisan count of households may matter little at the White House.

The Postal Service draws his institutional disrespect. The new postmaster general, GOP donor Louis DeJoy, has announced operational changes that could delay mail delivery. This happens to come as the pandemic increases the popularity of mail-in voting, which Trump selectively denounces as fraud-riddled, depending on which party runs the state using it.

Trumpian contempt for established institutions is broad: Environmental Protection Agency experts can’t be believed on climate change, the pandemic preparation task force established before he arrived wasn’t worth keeping and generals must be corrected on Mideast strategy because the president knows better.

Believe Trump, and you must accept that our courts are so inequitable that every time one of Trump's campaign associates is convicted, it is a travesty that can be corrected only by presidential commutation or pardon. 

He hears things

Trump told reporters Tuesday night that the devastating explosion that leveled part of Beirut "looks like a terrible attack," based on what he had heard from "some of our great generals" and what they "seem to feel."

Soon afterward, Pentagon officials told CNN they didn't know what the president was talking about. They pointed out that if the U.S. military suspected it was an attack, it would have triggered automatic increases in force protection for U.S. troops and assets in the region.

Defense Secretary Mark Esper said Wednesday that "most believe" that the explosion "was an accident, as reported." Lebanese officials said 2,750 tons of ammonium nitrate, a highly explosive chemical used in fertilizer, had been stored at a warehouse at the port without safety measures after it was confiscated in 2013 from a Russian vessel.

At his coronavirus briefing Wednesday, Trump neither doubled down nor backed down on his characterization of the blast. He said, "I don’t think anybody can say right now … I mean you have some people think it was an attack and you have some people that think it wasn’t."

Knock, knock — who's there? MAGA.

Trump’s campaign said it knocked on over 1 million doors in the past week alone, while Biden’s campaign said it knocked on zero, Politico reports

The Republican and Democratic parties are taking opposite approaches to door-to-door canvassing amid the pandemic.

Biden and the DNC aren’t sending volunteers or staffers to talk with voters at home, and they don’t anticipate doing anything more than dropping off literature unless the crisis abates. They are betting they can make it up with phone calls, texts, digital organizing and virtual meetups with voters.

Republicans said their door-knocking dominance could make a difference in November because in-person conversations have long been considered the most effective type of voter contact.

Meanwhile, The Washington Post reports that some Biden supporters in key states are worried about Trump dominating the political scene, even if it's not helping the president so far. They contend the Democrat needs to take a more aggressive stance to persuade people to vote for him — not simply against Trump.

Fauci: 'Numbers don't lie'

As is often the case, Dr. Anthony Fauci is not on board with Trump's upbeat contention that the U.S. record on the coronavirus pandemic is among the world's best.

It's more like the world's worst, Fauci said in an interview with CNN and the Harvard School of Public Health. “Yeah, it is quantitatively if you look at it, it is. I mean the numbers don’t lie,” said the nation's top infectious diseases expert.

“Every country has suffered. We, the United States, has suffered … as much or worse than anyone,” Fauci said. “I mean when you look at the number of infections and the number of deaths, it really is quite concerning.” But he said the U.S. "can do much better" without going back to an all-out lockdown.

Meanwhile, a Politico/Morning Consult poll found only 14% of voters said they would be more likely to take an eventual coronavirus vaccine if Trump recommended it. Voters said they were far more likely to take a vaccine based on the advice of their family (46%), the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (43%) or Fauci (43%).

More coronavirus news

See a roundup of the latest pandemic developments from Long Island and beyond by Newsday's Lisa L. Colangelo and Matthew Chayes. For a full list of Newsday's coronavirus stories, click here.

What else is happening:

  • Facebook deleted a post by Trump for the first time, saying it violated the platform's policy against spreading misinformation about the coronavirus. The post linked to a Fox News video in which Trump said children are “virtually immune” to the virus.
  • Twitter then said it will require Trump’s campaign account to remove a post containing virus misinformation, banning the account from tweeting until it does so, The Washington Post reported.
  • During an interview with the Catholic cable network EWTN, Trump suggested that Democrats aim to "put the churches out of business" with coronavirus restrictions, and he told Catholic voters that a Biden administration would "take all of [their] rights away." He said, "Certainly the Catholic Church, you have to be with President Trump when it comes to pro-life" and Second Amendment rights.
  • The New York prosecutors seeking Trump's tax records also have subpoenaed his longtime lender, Deutsche Bank, a sign that their criminal investigation into Trump’s business practices is more wide-ranging than previously known, The New York Times reported. The bank complied with the subpoena from the Manhattan District Attorney's Office, the Times said.
  • Democratic leaders on Capitol Hill told negotiators for Trump on Wednesday that preserving funding for the Postal Service and removing new rules that have slowed delivery times are essential ingredients of a new coronavirus relief bill in a year when millions of Americans plan to vote by mail, The Washington Post reported. Trump continued his attacks on mail-in voting, except in Florida and Arizona.
  • A Trump directive says states now have to pick up part of the tab for National Guard deployments in response to the pandemic, but he's letting Florida and Texas slide, Politico reports. An official of the Democratic Governors Association charged "the president is continuing to manipulate our nation's pandemic response to benefit his own political fortunes."
  • Former national security adviser Susan Rice is reported to be one of the finalists for Biden's running mate, but if the Obama administration veteran gets the nod, her son John David Rice-Cameron may not be joining her on the campaign trail. He's a Trump supporter and the president of the College Republicans at Stanford University, notes Fox News.

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