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The president appeared to reverse course on his opposition toward Democrats’ demands to boost funding for the U.S. Postal Service, telling reporters Thursday he wouldn’t rule out signing legislation bolstering the nation’s mail carrier, CBS News campaign reporter Nicole Sganga reports. “One of the reasons the post office needs that much money is to have all of these millions of ballots coming in from nowhere,” Trump said, discrediting vote-by-mail without evidence.
CBS News politics reporter Grace Segers reports in an interview with Fox Business on Thursday, Mr. Trump criticized a $3.4 trillion coronavirus relief bill passed by House Democrats in May, which included provisions that would provide $25 billion for the USPS and $3.5 billion in election assistance to states because the money would be used to facilitate mail-in voting for November’s elections. The Senate refused to act on the House bill, and negotiations between Democrats and the White House over a new relief package remain stalled.
“They want $25 billion, billion, for the post office. Now, they need that money in order to have the post office work so it can take all of these millions and millions of ballots,” Mr. Trump said. “But if they don’t get those two items, that means you can’t have universal mail in voting because they’re not equipped to have it.”
Recent operational changes to the Postal Service have severely delayed mail delivery and raised concerns about how the service will handle the likely influx of mail-in ballots ahead of the November election.
Millions of voters are expected to vote by mail in November due to the coronavirus pandemic, which has raised concerns about voters congregating in polling places. Delays in mail delivery could mean that voters do not receive their absentee ballots in time to vote, or that their returned ballots may be returned past the deadline.
Former Vice President Joe Biden, the presumptive Democratic presidential nominee, called the president’s comments “pure Trump.”
FROM THE CANDIDATES
After their joint virtual public health briefing, both former Vice President Joe Biden and newly selected running mate California Senator Kamala Harris called for a nationwide mask mandate for at least the next three months to stop the spread of COVID-19, CBS News campaign reporters Bo Erickson, Tim Perry and CBS News digital politics reporter Grace Segers report.
“Today I want to talk about one thing very straightforward. Doesn’t have anything to do with Democrats or Republicans or Independents. It has to do with a simple proposition. Every single American should be wearing a mask when they’re outside for the next three months at a minimum. Every governor should mandate, every governor should mandate mandatory mask wearing. The estimates by the experts are, it will save over 40,000 lives in the next three months,” Biden said during his briefly prepared remarks. He added, “I hope we’ve learned our lesson. I hope the president has learned the lesson. But again, this is not about Democrat, Republican or Independent. It’s about saving American’s lives.”
Harris followed Biden at the podium, proclaiming, “That’s what real leadership looks like, we just witnessed real leadership, which is Joe Biden said that as a nation, we should all be wearing a mask for the next three months because it will save lives.” She also posed a question they believe voters should ask of the Trump administration about the timing of the COVID-19 vaccine: “I think it’s important that the American people looking at the election coming up, ask the current occupant of the White House, when am I going to get vaccinated? When am I actually going to get vaccinated? Because there may be some grand gestures offered by the current president about a vaccine, but it really doesn’t matter until you can answer the question, when am I going to get vaccinated?”
Together the pair now seem to be criticizing the Trump administration for not getting a vaccine quick enough, but Biden earlier this summer questioned if Trump is rushing the vaccine process for potential political gain ahead of the election. The president fired back at Biden and Harris’ criticism late today, reports CBS News political correspondent Ed O’Keefe. “I trust the American people and the governors. Joe doesn’t,” said Mr. Trump. Earlier, he’d leveled a sexist attack on Harris, saying “now you have a, sort of a madwoman, I call her, because she was so angry and such hatred with Justice Kavanaugh. I mean I’ve never seen anything like it.”
Also on Thursday, O’Keefe reported the Democratic ticket is set next week to address the virtual Democratic National Convention next week from Biden’s hometown of Wilmington, Delaware.
PRESIDENT DONALD TRUMP
One of the most predictable indicators of whether a president is reelected, the strength of the economy in the second quarter of the election year, is offering a grim outlook for President Trump’s prospects in November, reports CBS News digital White House reporter Kathryn Watson. Because of the persistence of the coronavirus pandemic, Mr. Trump is facing the greatest economic downturn since the Great Depression. The economy had been Mr. Trump’s most convincing argument for remaining in office, one he touted regularly, and for good reason — the economy matters to voters. The president’s economic advisers have pinned their hopes for a strong recovery in the third quarter, estimates for which will be released on October 29, days before November 3.
Top White House economic adviser Larry Kudlow has predicted the third quarter will be the “biggest growth quarter in American history.” But it’s Gross Domestic Product or GDP growth in the first and especially the second quarter — not the third — that consistently correlates with whether an incumbent wins reelection, say some political analysts. GDP declined at an annualized rate of 33% in the second quarter, the biggest quarterly decline on record.
“It’s interesting that it’s second-quarter GDP growth and not third … and that is maybe an indicator that people’s opinions of the economy and Election Day may not reflect what the actual facts on the ground are at the time of the election,” said Kyle Kondik, an analyst with the University of Virginia’s Center for Politics. Lynn Vavreck, professor of American politics and public policy at UCLA, agrees that it’s the second quarter, not the third, that matters more in an election year. “It’s just a little bit too close to the election for people to live the experience and have it change what they’re thinking in terms of vote choice,” she said. “… They [voters] have to feel it. So if we’re talking about changes happening in July and August, it’s just a little too late to have an impact on vote choice.” Read more from Watson here.
Looking ahead, President Trump’s campaign says he will return Tuesday to the Arizona border town of Yuma following trips to Minnesota and Wisconsin. Mr. Trump is expected to discuss immigration in his fourth physical stop this year to the battleground state, joined by Republican leaders including Sen. Martha McSally. CBS News campaign reporter Alex Tin says former Vice President Biden’s team was quick to fire back over reports of the trip during the second day of the Democratic National Convention, coming just a week after a campaign swing through the state by Vice President Pence and a mere two months since the president last visited Yuma to mark the 200th mile of new U.S.-Mexico barriers.
“We know Donald Trump is worried about losing Arizona, and if he wants to understand why Arizona voters are backing Joe Biden, he should watch our convention,” Biden’s Arizona State Director Jessica Mejía said in a statement.
Vice President Mike Pence campaigned in Iowa today where he spoke at the launch of the “Farmer and Ranchers for Trump” coalition. CBS News campaign reporter Musadiq Bidar says the vice president thanked farmers and ranchers for sticking with President Trump during trade negotiations with China and said their loyalty was “an inspiration to the nation.” Pence, now incorporating Kamala Harris into the attack lines of his stump speech, said “all the progress we have made is now at risk,” and warned a Biden-Harris administration could change the foundation of America. “Make no mistake about it, Joe Biden and Kamala Harris would set America on a path of socialism and decline and we’re not going to let it happen,” Pence said. The vice president also attacked Harris for saying Americans need to be “educated about the effect of our eating habits on our environment” at a CNN climate town hall last September.
Pence told the crowd, “Kamala Harris said she would change the dietary guidelines of this country to reduce the amount of red meat Americans can eat. Well I’ve got some red meat for ya, we’re not going to let Joe Biden and Kamala Harris cut America’s meat.” Pence has made several trips to Iowa this summer but this was his first official campaign event in the state. RNC Spokesperson Preya Samsundar said Iowans have witnessed the Trump Administration’s efforts “to fight and protect their agriculture industry,” adding this trip for the vice president “is another reminder” to Iowans that the administration is on their side.
Jared Kushner, Trump’s son-in-law and senior adviser, addressed his meeting with Kanye West during a press briefing Thursday. Kushner confirmed the two met in Colorado, adding that he’s known West for a decade and that “we talk every now and then about different things.” When asked if he discussed West’s presidential campaign, he said, “We had a general discussion more about policy.”
West’s status on the ballot in Illinois is still under question, after election officials found he was short 1,300 signatures. Sean Tenner, who filed an objection to West’s signatures, told CBS news political unit broadcast associate Aaron Navarro it’s pretty much “game over” for West to be on the Illinois ballot in November. An Illinois State Board of Elections spokesperson said a final decision will be made August 21. West’s campaign previously withdrew their petitions in New Jersey after a challenge. A source close to the “Let the Voters Decide” group, which is helping facilitate West’s signature gathering, said Montana, Iowa, Utah, Alabama and Virginia are the next states on the docket.
CBS NEWS COVID CHRONICLES
CBS News is chronicling what has changed for the lives of Americans in 2020 amid the coronavirus pandemic. When the NBA suddenly announced the suspension of its 2019-2020 season in mid-March, after Utah Jazz stars Rudy Gobert and Donovan Mitchell confirmed that they had both tested positive for COVID-19, there were still five weeks remaining to play out the 82-game schedule — as well as the playoffs that were to begin April 18. Beyond upsetting millions of basketball fans, it seemed to pose a threat to the economic prospects of team and stadium employees around the U.S. In Atlanta, though, some of these staffers are still at work — and helping to solve a pressing Election Day problem. CBS News campaign reporter Tim Perry spoke with Nick Darby, Atlanta Hawks and State Farm Arena guest engagement manager. During this week’s Run Off Election, and the early voting that preceded it, Darby worked as a poll worker at the State Farm Arena. At the end of June, after a Georgia primary marred by controversy, Fulton County, Georgia’s largest voting county and the Atlanta Hawks announced an unusual partnership that would transform Atlanta’s State Farm Arena into Georgia’s largest ever voting precinct. For more on this story click here.
Facebook announced on Thursday a new online resource for voters that’s intended to facilitate voting by mail and limit the spread of election-related disinformation ahead of the November presidential election. The move comes as President Trump has intensified attacks on mail-in voting and made unfounded claims that it could lead to widespread fraud. The company’s new Voting Information Center, to be launched on Facebook and Instagram, is intended as a “one-stop-shop,” according to Facebook, where Americans can register to vote, check voting information, and sign up as poll workers. Facebook previously announced a goal of registering more than four million new voters ahead of Election Day.
“People are understandably concerned about the impact that a crowded polling place might have on their health and safety, and this has already caused many states to make changes to their voting process by expanding early voting and the vote by mail option,” said Naomi Gleit, Facebook’s vice president of Product and Social Impact, in a call with reporters. “Bottom line, we want to help every eligible voter in the U.S. who uses our platform vote this year.”
Gleit said the hub’s offerings would change over time – prioritizing information about early voting and registration now and closer to Election Day, guidance about voting by mail for people looking to avoid crowded polling places. The information center will also allow state and local election officials to send updates and alerts directly to voters via the platform. To stem the spread of misinformation, Facebook said it would feature vetted information in partnership with the Bipartisan Policy Center on topics including mail-in voting, the timing of election results, and how the COVID-19 pandemic could affect the election process.
Like other social media platforms including Twitter and YouTube, Facebook was first thrust into controversy in 2016 after it was revealed the Russian government had engaged in a broad and coordinated interference campaign designed to sow chaos, confusion about the election and to undermine Secretary Clinton’s candidacy. Moscow’s social media influence campaigns were specifically designed to exploit divisive political issues like race, gun control and religion. After the election, Oxford University researchers estimated that 126 million Facebook users and 20 million Instagram users were reached by such content.
On Thursday, Facebook acknowledged that it continued to combat foreign influence campaigns waged on its platform by Russia and other actors, as well as coordinated inauthentic behavior engaged in by domestic groups. The company’s head of cybersecurity policy, Nathaniel Gleicher, identified three types of potential threats he said Facebook was monitoring in 2020 – attempts to suppress turnout through false information, attempts to release misleading information during the vote counting process, and potential hack-and-leak scenarios that, he said, “a range of actors” could try in 2020. “Getting accurate information to voters is one of the best vaccines against influence operations,” Gleicher said. “We want to make sure people have access to the latest, authoritative information about preliminary results on and after election night.” Read more here from CBS News intelligence and national security reporter Olivia Gazis.
As we track election safety, we’ve made note of the precautions experts suggest ought to be followed to keep polling places safe and COVID-free. From hand sanitizer, to curb-side voting, CBS News campaign reporter Cara Korte says states are waiting for Congress to approve additional funding to pay for these measures. In the meantime, corporate America is stepping in. Anheuser-Busch announced today that as part of its “Brew Democracy” campaign, it will be “producing and donating more than eight million ounces of hand sanitizer to polling locations across the United States for this November’s General Election.” State elections officials just need to request a shipment.
Anheuser-Busch, which began producing and distributing hand sanitizer earlier this year for COVID-19 relief, now has four breweries across the country making the antibacterial. In a statement, the brand’s chief external affairs officer Cesar Vargas said, “We like to say that ‘beer is bipartisan’ and we are proud to step up and serve our communities during this election season.” The program already seems popular. In a tweet today Iowa’s secretary of state said the office had ordered 3,550 gallons.
CBS News campaign reporter Musadiq Bidar says nearly 21 million voters in California are registered to vote in the November election. According to Secretary of State Alex Padilla that represents an increase of nearly 3 million compared to 2016. The nearly 21 million registered voters account for 83.49% of all eligible voters in the state, making it the highest percentage of eligible Californians registered to vote for a General Election in the last 68 years.
“Despite the COVID-19 pandemic, California is on track to reach another registration milestone,” Padilla said in a statement. “California will reach 21 million registered voters before the November General Election — extending our current state record for voter registration.” Since 2016, more than 1.5 million Democrats have registered to vote, bringing the total to 9.6 million. In that same time period, 119,000 voters registered as Republican while 816,000 registered as “No Party Preference.”
According to numbers from Padilla’s office, NPP voters are now the second largest voting group after Democrats and are ahead of Republicans by just 10,578 registered voters. The last day to register to vote for the November election in California is technically October 19. But, voters can also register on Election Day at county elections offices or in-person voting centers.
IN THE SENATE
Democratic Sen. Gary Peters released a new ad Thursday highlighting his bipartisan work, even with President Trump, for Michigan’s cherry farmers, reports CBS News political unit associate producer Eleanor Watson. The ad features a clip of Senator Gary Peters at the White House talking to Mr. Trump. As one of only two senators up for reelection in a state President Trump won in 2016, Peters has been on the defensive this cycle. The race is not as big a target for Republicans as Senator Doug Jones’ seat in Alabama, but Republicans have pinned some hope on veteran John James who is the GOP candidate in the Michigan Senate race. The Cook Political report rates the seat as “lean” Democratic.
IN THE HOUSE
Two internal Democrat polls show Democrat Amy Kennedy slightly up against incumbent Republican Jeff Van Drew in New Jersey’s 2nd District. Van Drew, who flipped this seat in 2018, is known for switching parties and pledging loyalty to Trump during the height of the impeachment process. A poll by the Democratic Congressional Campaign Committee had Kennedy up 5 points against Van Drew, 51% to 46%. Another poll by the Democrat-backed House Majority PAC showed a closer gap, with Kennedy only up 1 point against Van Drew. A prior July DCCC poll had Kennedy trailing 3 points.
Internal DCCC polls are also showing a tightening race between Democrat Diane Mitsch Bush and Republican Lauren Boebert in Colorado’s 3rd District. Bush ran for this seat in 2018 and lost to incumbent Republican Scott Tipton by about 8 points. Boebert notably upset Tipton during their July primary, elevating her candidacy as well as her support for the QAnon conspiracy network. “Everything I’ve heard of Q — I hope this is real, because it only means America is getting stronger and better, and people are returning to conservative values, and that’s what I am for,” Boebert said in a June interview with Steel Truth, a podcast that supports QAnon. In response, Boebert Tweeted in July, “QAnon = Fake News…Not a follower.”
Marjorie Taylor Greene, a Republican candidate in Georgia’s 14th District, has been more clear about her support for the QAnon conspiracy network. On Thursday, past video of Greene was unveiled, where she suggested the Pentagon was “so called” hit by a plane during the 9/11 attacks. “It’s odd there’s never any evidence shown for a plane in the Pentagon,” she says, before saying she’s not going to dive in to the 9/11 conspiracy. The Pentagon released video of the plane hitting the building in 2006. Another video clip showed Greene claiming the Obama administration used the MS-13 street gang to murder DNC staffer Seth Rich.
In Texas’ 23rd, a Wednesday poll by Public Opinion Strategies showed a tightening race between Democrat Gina Ortiz Jones and Republican nominee Tony Gonzales. Gonzales is currently involved in a recount with his primary opponent Raul Reyes Jr. A consultant with the Reyes Jr. campaign told CBS News political unit broadcast associate Aaron Navarro the gap between the two was 39 votes as of Thursday morning.