The Daily 202: Trump’s coronavirus battle exemplifies America’s drift toward gerontocracy

Gun News

In the spring, as the novel coronavirus brought the country to a standstill, Sanders lost the Democratic nomination to Joe Biden, who at 77 could soon become the oldest man ever elected president. He would break the record set in 2016 by President Trump, who is now 74 and continues to convalesce from covid-19 after returning to the White House on Monday night from a three-day stay at Walter Reed hospital.

Trump’s doctors continue to withhold vital information about the president’s condition, including whether he has pneumonia, if X-rays show his lungs are damaged, what side effects he may be experiencing from the steroids he’s taking, when he last tested negative, and why he’s receiving a treatment reserved for severe cases if his condition is as relatively good as they maintain. 

Biden has been more responsible and cautious about the contagion, and he tested negative on Sunday, but he and Trump – by virtue of being septuagenarians – have both been at much higher risk of bad outcomes if they get the virus.

The president’s hospitalization, which has prompted a fresh round of concern about the continuity of government, spotlights the degree to which the heads of the executive and legislative branches – including both the House and Senate – are older than ever before.

Speaker of the House Nancy Pelosi (D-Calif.), 80, is second in line to the presidency after Vice President Pence, 61. She is the oldest person to ever serve as speaker, surpassing in January a record previously held by Sam Rayburn, who died in office at 79 in 1961. The top three Democrats, who run the House, are octogenarians: Rep. Steny Hoyer (Md.), No. 2, is 81. And Rep. Jim Clyburn (S.C.), No. 3, is 80.

Sen. Mitch McConnell (R-Ky.), 78, is the oldest Senate majority leader ever. Before him, the record had been held by Mike Mansfield, who was 73 when he left office in 1977. The Kentucky Republican leads in the polls to secure a seventh six-year term this fall and intends to stay on as leader.

The combined ages of the president, the speaker and the majority leader – the three most powerful elected officials in government – is 232 years. For context, the Constitution that created this system was written 233 years ago. 

Senate President Pro Tempore Chuck Grassley (R-Iowa), who is just behind Pelosi in the line of succession, is 87. Grassley’s office said Friday that he did not intend to get tested, despite attending a committee hearing with a senator who later contracted the coronavirus.

A gerontocracy is when a government is led by people who are significantly older than the rest of the adult population. By any metric, that has increasingly become the case in American political life over recent years. Barack Obama was 47 when he was inaugurated in 2009. That made him the fifth youngest man to ever assume the presidency, behind Teddy Roosevelt (42), John F. Kennedy (43), Bill Clinton (46) and Ulysses Grant (46). George W. Bush was 55 when he was inaugurated in 2001. 

Trump, who was 70 when he was inaugurated, alluded to his age during a video he posted to Twitter from Walter Reed on Saturday night, as he noted that first lady Melania Trump, who turned 50 in April, is handling her diagnosis “very nicely.”

“As you’ve probably read, she’s slightly younger than me, just a little tiny bit,” Trump quipped. “We know the situation with age versus younger people. Melania is handling it, statistically, like it’s supposed to be handled.” 

Fixated on cultivating an image as a strong and fully-in-charge tough guy, Trump tried to put on a brave face as he prepared to leave the hospital by playing down the seriousness of a contagion that has killed at least 209,000 Americans. “Don’t be afraid of Covid. Don’t let it dominate your life,” the president tweeted Monday afternoon. “I feel better than I did 20 years ago! … Will be back on the Campaign Trail soon!!!”

After flying aboard Marine One from Walter Reed to the White House, Trump climbed up a flight of stairs instead of entering the building from the ground-level entrance, which he typically uses. He then took off his mask, put it in his pocket, saluted, gave a thumbs up and recorded a video for his social media accounts saying he feels great.

White House physician Sean Conley said at a news conference earlier in the afternoon that Trump “may not be entirely out of the woods yet” and added that he won’t breathe a sigh of relief until next Monday. Doctors say that someone at Trump’s age, who is clinically obese, has a previously disclosed heart condition and who needed supplemental oxygen on Friday and Saturday is at an elevated risk of crashing during the critical window of seven to 10 days after symptoms first presented themselves.

While a president of any age could have gotten sick, this situation can be viewed as another proof point of how sclerotic the American system has become. During the Cold War, especially before Mikhail Gorbachev’s ascendancy to the premiership in 1985, Americans often poked fun of the aging leadership of the Soviet Politburo and Chinese Communist Party. But those people were mostly in their 70s. 

President Ronald Reagan enjoyed joking that he wanted to negotiate with the U.S.S.R., but their leaders kept dying on him before he could develop a rapport. Before Trump, Reagan was America’s oldest-ever president. But Reagan was the same age in 1989, when he left office after eight years, as Biden is right now.

In a front-page story on Monday, the New York Times called out Biden’s for being “cagey on health questions”: “Biden’s health protocols have remained largely under wraps, with his campaign saying little about what steps it is taking to protect the 77-year-old … His aides will not answer questions about whether Mr. Biden is tested daily; they say simply that he is tested ‘regularly.’”

Under pressure, the Biden campaign promised Saturday night to reveal the results of all his tests. The Sunday night announcement that he tested negative alleviated concerns that he might have been exposed to the virus during the debate if Trump was infectious.

Biden stepped up his criticism of Trump after the president chose to leave the hospital. “Anybody who contracts the virus by essentially saying, ‘Masks don’t matter, social distancing doesn’t matter,’ I think is responsible for what happens to them,” the former vice president said Monday night during an NBC town hall in Miami. Referring to Trump’s reluctance to wear a mask, Biden asked: “What is this macho thing?” He slammed the president for tweeting that people do not need to worry about the disease: “We have 4 percent of the [world’s] population and 20 percent of the deaths,” Biden said. He added that it was “a little disconcerting” to look out at the audience during the debate last week and see Trump’s entourage largely unmasked. “I’ve been fastidious about the social distancing,” Biden told NBC’s Lester Holt.

As he left Delaware for the day trip to Florida, Biden briefly engaged with reporters on the tarmac. As he fielded questions, Jill Biden, 69, walked over to pull him back a few feet from the reporters out of concern that he was getting too close. “One Biden adviser said the plan was for the Democrat to be a ‘walking PSA’ for taking precautions against the virus,” per Sean Sullivan and Amy Wang.

The fact that both parties have their oldest major party nominees ever raises the potential significance of Wednesday night’s vice-presidential debate between Pence and Sen. Kamala Harris (D-Calif.), who is 55.

In a sign of just how badly Trump has squandered his credibility over the past four years, a CNN-SSRS poll released Monday found that 69 percent of Americans say they trust little of what they hear from the White House about the president’s health, with only 12 percent saying they trust almost all of it. Two-thirds of Americans say Trump handled the risk of infection to others around him irresponsibly, according to the survey, which was conducted after Trump announced early Friday morning that he tested positive. Six in 10 Americans disapprove of Trump’s handling of the pandemic, 63 percent said his own infection is unlikely to change anything about the way that he handles the pandemic and Trump’s overall approval rating is 40 percent. 

Interestingly, 66 percent of seniors in the CNN poll say Trump acted irresponsibly when it came to protecting himself and others from getting the contagion. This is a group Trump won by double digits in 2016, according to exit polls. But he’s running neck-and-neck with Biden among voters over 65 in several public polls.

While the top elected officials in the federal government have gotten older and older, the judicial branch has gone the opposite direction. Trump has said he puts special emphasis on trying to pick judges who are younger because they get lifetime appointments. “We tend to go young, and I think in almost all cases, you could have somebody be on the bench for 40 or 50 years,” the president told reporters on Sept. 21.

As part of a generational project to cement control of the justice system for a generation, Senate Republicans have confirmed several people in their 30s to serve on district and circuit courts. Justices Neil Gorsuch and Brett Kavanaugh were both in their early 50s when Trump named them. And the president nominated the 48-year-old Amy Coney Barrett to replace the late justice Ruth Bader Ginsburg, who died at 87. 

Ginsburg had rejected entreaties, including hints from Obama, to retire when a Democratic president could pick her successor. On her deathbed, Ginsburg dictated a statement to her granddaughter that said: “My most fervent wish is that I will not be replaced until a new president is installed.” At least 11 people who attended the Rose Garden ceremony where Trump announced ACB have now tested positive for the coronavirus. Could this have been RBG’s revenge?

More on the coronavirus

The White House physician is cherry-picking what he shares about the president’s condition.

“Conley acknowledged that the medical team is in ‘uncharted territory’ with the mix of medications the president has been given and that the dangerous period for the infection is not over,” Frances Stead Sellers, Laurie McGinley, Ariana Eunjung Cha and Amy Goldstein report. “At the briefing, Conley selectively invoked health privacy laws known as HIPAA — the Health Insurance Portability and Accountability Act — when questions arose about the president’s respiratory-system scans or whether he remained infectious. … The president’s doctors showed no such hesitancy in disclosing details about his temperature, blood pressure, heart rate and blood oxygen level — all of which they said were normal. … 

“Greg Martin, a pulmonary critical-care specialist at Emory University, said Trump’s blood oxygen levels could be tracked constantly through a finger monitor available at drugstores. The president would be watched for changes in mental status as a side effect of medications, especially the steroid dexamethasone, which might include difficulty with attention, depression or mania. His blood would probably be tested several times a day for changes in coagulation or inflammation — those might indicate a higher risk of clotting or that his body may be heading into a dangerous ‘cytokine storm,’ which would require more serious interventions. Doctors may run an echocardiogram on his heart once a day to look for signs of a hardening of the walls, which is a known and relatively common issue with covid-19. But Martin cautioned that there are a few known complications of covid-19 for which there is often no warning or advance notice: strokes or heart failure due to microclots, or a pulmonary embolism from a clot in the legs or other part of the body suddenly moving to the lungs. … 

One significant question Trump’s doctors have not addressed is how long they plan to continue giving him the steroid and a cocktail of disease-fighting antibodies, said John W. Mellors, chief of the division of infectious diseases at the University of Pittsburgh School of Medicine. Mellors said some patients with symptoms similar to those described by the president’s doctors achieve a full recovery. Others feel unwell for weeks or even months, with symptoms that can include fatigue, body aches, shortness of breath, low-grade fever and mental fogginess.”

Some of Trump’s advisers expressed concern about the president’s decision to leave Walter Reed,” per Phil Rucker, Ashley Parker and Josh Dawsey. “The worry was twofold, as they both feared for Trump’s health and worried that if the president needs to return to the hospital in coming days, the ensuing news cycle would be a public relations disaster. … White House Chief of Staff Mark Meadows has been at the president’s side consistently in recent days, but other White House aides have grown increasingly frustrated with Meadows for not communicating clearly about the president’s condition or what those working in the West Wing should be doing. This includes members of the White House’s coronavirus task force.”

Aides said the Diplomatic Reception Room and Map Room are being prepared for working spaces for Trump at the White House,” Toluse Olorunnipa and Dawsey report. “‘The West Wing is a total ghost town,’ said one official who worked at the White House on Monday. … Conley said Trump would continue to be monitored daily to determine when it is safe for him to leave isolation. Asked whether Trump was experiencing any fogginess or other effects from the various drugs he had been prescribed, Conley told reporters to look at the president’s tweets as a sign that he is not impaired. But asked to comment on Trump’s claim on Twitter that people should not be afraid of the virus, Conley reverted to evasion. ‘I’m not going to get into what the president says,’ he said.”

Quote of the day

“He has experience now of fighting the coronavirus as an individual,” Trump campaign spokeswoman Erin Perrine said on Fox News. “Those firsthand experiences, Joe Biden, he doesn’t have those. Those firsthand experiences are what are going to get President Trump four more years.”

Nearly 1 in 3 coronavirus patients has an altered mental state. 

These patients “experienced some type of altered mental function — ranging from confusion to delirium to unresponsiveness — in the largest study to date of neurological symptoms among coronavirus patients in an American hospital system,” the New York Times reports. “And patients with altered mental function had significantly worse medical outcomes, according to the study, published on Monday in Annals of Clinical and Translational Neurology. … These patients stayed three times as long in the hospital as patients without altered mental function. After they were discharged, only 32 percent of the patients with altered mental function were able to handle routine daily activities like cooking and paying bills, said Dr. Igor Koralnik, the senior author of the study and chief of neuro-infectious disease and global neurology at Northwestern Medicine.”

A chorus of concern has started to rise among White House residence staff members.

“The White House residence staff members are largely Black and Latino, and often elderly, according to Kate Anderson Brower, who compiled a trove of interviews with former staffers for her book ‘The Residence.’ Numbering 90-some full-time ushers, butlers, housekeepers, valets, florists, engineers and cooks charged with maintaining the historical house and creating a comfortable home free from prying eyes, they work more closely with the first family than perhaps anyone else in that building,” Jada Yuan reports. “These employees often keep their positions for decades and work for administration after administration, viewing their job as holding up the integrity of the White House regardless of who is in office. … Speaking out about anything, including working conditions, can be a cause for dismissal. 

Two members of the housekeeping department who tested positive several weeks ago were told to use ‘discretion’ when discussing their diagnosis … ‘I know that people in there are scared,’ said Sam Kass, head chef for the Obamas for six years. … Christopher B. Emery, a former chief usher … said he found himself scouring photos of the Amy Coney Barrett nomination event … wondering about the well-being of his former co-workers. ‘You can see in the background folks wearing masks,’ he said. ‘That’s the residence staff. They were actually the only people wearing masks.’” 

  • “D.C. Mayor Muriel E. Bowser (D) said her administration has offered help to the White House but otherwise has had little contact with federal leaders. In Montgomery County, where Trump was recovering for three nights after contracting the virus, the top elected official urged the president to act responsibly,” Fenit Nirappil, Rachel Chason and Dana Hedgpeth report.
  • The Rev. Paul Scalia, son of the late justice Antonin Scalia, apologized to his parish for not wearing a mask at the White House for Barrett’s announcement ceremony. The brother of the Labor secretary said he tested negative before the event and thus took off his mask. “My actions at the White House seemed reasonable at the time given the presumed controls in place,” he said. “Nevertheless, I apologize that they did not follow my own expectations, caused disquiet and anxiety, and have distracted from the work of the Gospel.” (NPR)

The CDC finally agreed, officially, that airborne transmission plays a role in the virus’s spread.

“The long-awaited update to the agency Web page explaining how the virus spreads represents an official acknowledgment of growing evidence that under certain conditions, people farther than six feet apart can become infected by tiny droplets and particles that float in the air for minutes and hours, and that they play a role in the pandemic,” Lena Sun and Ben Guarino report. “The update follows an embarrassing incident last month when the agency removed a draft that had not gone through proper review and was posted in error. … Now, the CDC is saying infection can also spread through exposure to smaller virus-containing droplets and particles that can remain suspended in the air over long distances and time. … 

“In a statement, the agency said it ‘continues to believe, based on current science, that people are more likely to become infected the longer and closer they are to a person with COVID-19.’ … The agency said transmission took place in ‘poorly ventilated and enclosed spaces that often involved activities that caused heavier breathing, like singing or exercise. Such environments and activities may contribute to the buildup of virus-carrying particles.’ The agency said its recommendations for avoiding the virus remain the same. People can protect themselves by staying at least six feet away from others, wearing a mask that covers their nose and mouth, washing their hands frequently, cleaning touched surfaces often and staying home when sick.”

The White House blocked new coronavirus vaccine guidelines.

“Top White House officials are blocking strict new federal guidelines for the emergency release of a coronavirus vaccine, objecting to a provision that would almost certainly guarantee that no vaccine could be authorized before the election on Nov. 3,” the Times reports. “The Food and Drug Administration is seeking other avenues to ensure that vaccines meet the guidelines. That includes sharing the standards — perhaps as soon as this week — with an outside advisory committee of experts that is supposed to meet publicly before any vaccine is authorized for emergency use. The hope is that the committee will enforce the guidelines, regardless of the White House’s reaction.”

The U.S. pandemic response has already been the costliest economic relief effort in modern history. 

“At $4 trillion, the assortment of grants, loans and tax breaks exceeded the cost of the Afghanistan war,” Peter Whoriskey, Douglas MacMillan and Jonathan O’Connell report. “More than half, or $2.3 trillion, went to businesses, which in many ways were not required to show they were impacted by the pandemic or keep workers employed. … $454 billion went to the Federal Reserve to help stabilize markets, and those efforts enabled many companies, including Wells Fargo, AT&T and Carnival, to borrow at lower rates even while laying off employees. … At $884 billion, roughly one-fifth of the relief money went to help workers and families. … Only 16 percent of the money was allotted to fighting the health crisis.” 

Tomorrow’s vice-presidential debate will feature plexiglass barriers to increase safety. 

“The Commission on Presidential Debates agreed to the request from the Biden campaign. The Trump team did not object, though ‘they didn’t want the vice president surrounded by plexiglass,’ said commission co-chairman Frank Fahrenkopf Jr. ‘They don’t want to have him in what looks like a box.’ … Top Pence advisers said late Monday they did not support plexiglass for their candidate and that discussions were ongoing,” Chelsea Janes, Dawsey and Matt Viser report.

  • Chris Wallace tested negative after moderating last week’s debate. (Fox News)
  • A Minneapolis steakhouse’s staff is in quarantine after catering a private fundraiser attended by the president last week. The 13 staffers at Murray’s quarantined immediately after learning of Trump’s positive test results, management said, and they will each be tested. (Teo Armus)

Republican recalcitrance about the virus persists.

“White House press secretary Kayleigh McEnany and at least two of her deputies have now contracted the virus, further derailing the functioning of a West Wing plunged into crisis and adding to a long list of top Republicans who have been infected. But many Republicans continue to dismiss calls for alarm — and for changes to the party’s message on the virus and its operations,” Robert Costa reports. “Sen. Ron Johnson (R-Wis.), who tested positive last week, said in an interview with a conservative talk-show host that there is ‘a level of unjustifiable hysteria’ about a virus that has killed nearly 210,000 Americans and asked, ‘Why do we think we actually can stop the progression of a contagious disease?’ … Meanwhile, the Trump campaign plowed ahead with planning for rallies with large crowds, with [Pence] scheduled to campaign Thursday in Arizona.”

  • “McEnany said she is asymptomatic but would isolate for an indeterminate period, meaning she will not be conducting briefings. It remains unclear whether they will continue without her,” Paul Farhi reports.
  • Sen John Cornyn (R-Tex.) told the Houston Chronicle Editorial board that Trump “let his guard down” on the pandemic.
  • Sen. Roger Wicker (R-Miss.), the chairman of the committee that oversees airlines, had his mask off for extended periods on a Delta flight to Mississippi on Thursday night, according to another passenger, and the company said he had to be reminded twice by a flight attendant to follow the airline’s mask requirement. (Michael Laris and Lori Aratani)

The contagion continues to kill off teachers, who find themselves at the heart of the crisis.

  • Olga Quiroga, a 20-year veteran of the Chicago Public Schools system, passed away the day after her 58th birthday. The Mexican immigrant had cleaned houses for $50 a week before putting herself through college and becoming a bilingual educator. (Chicago Tribune)
  • Jennifer Crawford, a special education assistant in West Des Moines, Iowa, died from covid-19 complications. Her school said it was unclear how she contracted the virus. (Des Moines Register)
  • Susanne Michael, a teacher at Harrisburg Elementary in Arkansas since 2012, is survived by her husband and five children. On Facebook, Michael had shared a message saying she was “Proud to be a teacher.” (KAIT)
  • Julie Davis, a third-grade teacher who worked at Norwood Elementary in North Carolina, died days after testing positive for the virus while her students were quarantined as a result of the exposure. She earned a reputation as an “inspirational teacher,” the district said. (CNN)

Teaching is one of the hardest jobs right now, whether in-person or remote.

“Sarah Pamperin, 33, is a bilingual teacher in Green Bay, Wis., working with Spanish-speaking sixth-grade students at a Green Bay area public school. For her, the early weeks of the pandemic were a haze of nonstop work, all of which felt insufficient to meet her students’ needs,” the Times reports. “Her school is near a meatpacking plant where many of the parents of her students work. In April, it was the site of a major Covid-19 outbreak, resulting in numerous parents being hospitalized. … The personal stress they were under made it hard for them to focus on academic progress at all. … ‘Those were some of the darkest weeks of my life,’ [she said]. Instead of spending her time focused on lesson plans, she found herself consumed by her students’ emotional well-being … This summer, when her district decided that schools would continue remote rather than in-person learning in the fall, she ‘obsessively’ tracked which students didn’t have internet access. … She has also scrambled to balance caring for her students with tending to her own sons (ages 2 and 4), one of whom has autism.” 

  • In D.C., about 7,000 preschool and elementary school students who are homeless, learning English as a second language or have special education needs will be allowed to return to classrooms in November. (Perry Stein)
  • Louisiana State University announced it would no longer require a CDC medical wellness check for those attending Saturday’s game against Missouri. The school explained that its decision was made “to reduce lines and wait times at gate entry points,” despite the fact that Louisiana has the nation’s most reported cases per 100,000 people. (Jake Russell)
  • After the Tennessee Titans outbreak, the NFL warned teams that violating coronavirus protocols could result in the loss of draft picks or even forfeiture of victories. The league will implement a video surveillance program to monitor compliance. (Mark Maske)
  • Airbnb is canceling one-night Halloween bookings to prevent house parties. (Shannon McMahon
  • Iceland, an early pandemic role model, is closing bars and gyms as cases rise. (Rick Noack and Siobhán O’Grady
  • England lost records of 16,000 new cases, blaming a computer glitch. (William Booth and Teo Armus)
  • Singapore will offer a one-time payment to citizens who have children amid the pandemic in a bid to boost one of the world’s lowest birthrates. (Jennifer Hassan)

More on the election

Eric Trump is interviewed by New York prosecutors investigating possible fraud.

The president’s son “was questioned under oath on Monday as part of a civil investigation by New York’s attorney general into whether the Trump family’s real estate company committed fraud,” the Times reports. “While the interview was not made public, the mere fact that it happened before Election Day was a victory for the attorney general, Letitia James, whose inquiry is one of several legal actions the president and his company, the Trump Organization, are facing. Ms. James’s office declined to comment about what was discussed in the deposition, which was conducted remotely and ended around 5 p.m. It was unclear when the questioning began.”

The IRS is investigating NRA chief executive Wayne LaPierre for possible tax fraud.

“Mr. LaPierre was paid $2.2 million by the NRA in 2018, the most recent year available, the nonprofit group’s public filings show. His total reported pay from 2014 to 2018 was $11.2 million. In August, he was charged in a civil suit by [New York’s attorney general] with taking millions of dollars of allegedly undisclosed compensation from the NRA and its vendors,” the Wall Street Journal reports. “Asked at a news conference announcing the lawsuit whether she believed Mr. LaPierre had evaded personal taxes, Ms. James declined to comment but said she was referring the matter to the IRS.” All the scandals plaguing the gun lobby hobble them at a time when they’d ordinarily be a major force in the campaign. No outside group, for example, supported Trump in 2016 as much as the NRA.

The U.S. government revokes the visa of a Ukrainian fixer tied to Rudy Giuliani.

“The revocation of Ukrainian fixer Andrii Telizhenko’s visa comes as U.S. officials crack down on Russian efforts to influence the November vote. The revocation, which hasn’t previously been reported, came shortly before the Treasury Department sanctioned a different Ukrainian who was cooperating with Giuliani — lawmaker Andriy Derkach — and dubbed Derkach an ‘active Russian agent for over a decade’ and said he was trying to interfere in the election,” Ellen Nakashima, David Stern, Natalie Gryvnyak and Paul Sonne report. “Telizhenko was unable to board a Sept. 9 Ukrainian International Airlines flight from Kyiv to New York … Telizhenko accompanied Giuliani during a trip to Kyiv late last year, which included a meeting with Derkach. Derkach’s visa was pulled by the State Department earlier this year.” 

The Supreme Court sides with South Carolina Republicans in a dispute over mail-in ballots.

The conservatives on the court said mail-in ballots must contain a witness’s signature, something federal courts had said should be waived because of the coronavirus. “The high court made one concession, saying ballots already sent in without a witness should be counted. Tens of thousands of ballots have been sent to voters across the state,” Robert Barnes reports. “Justices Clarence Thomas, Samuel A. Alito Jr. and Neil M. Gorsuch said they would have granted the request in full, meaning the ballots already in without a witness signature would not be counted. … The justices are also considering a request from Pennsylvania’s Republican legislative leaders to block a decision to count ballots received by mail up to three days after Election Day. … South Carolina Democrats said that because the witness requirement was not in place during the state’s primary, imposing it in the general election ‘would risk substantial voter confusion.’” 

In Detroit, a chronic USPS delay is undermining confidence in voting by mail. 

“Mail delivery had been erratic all summer in this predominantly Black neighborhood in northern Detroit, and late or missing prescriptions, utility bills and Social Security benefits had become the norm. But now, looking ahead to November, many residents are worried and wondering whether those slowdowns might cost them their votes,” Lisa Rein and Kayla Ruble report. “The delivery delays that [Postmaster General Louis] DeJoy’s changes set in motion spanned the country but hit Detroit, whose postal workforce was already depleted by the pandemic, particularly hard. Michigan’s congressional delegation received thousands of complaints. On-time mail delivery dropped 19 percentage points, to 65.7 percent, during the five weeks the directives were in effect.” 

Most Florida felons are kept from registering to vote by fines, fees or fears.

“The deadline to register to vote in Florida for this year’s general election was midnight Monday, and what was expected to be the nation’s largest voter re-enfranchisement in more than 50 years instead resulted in less than a quarter of an estimated 1.4 million felons signing up to vote,” Lori Rozsa reports. “Voting rights activists here say they’ll keep working to register others in this group, but it won’t be in time for the Nov. 3 presidential election, in which Florida’s 29 electoral votes could be key to the outcome. A constitutional amendment passed by two-thirds of Florida voters in 2018 quickly turned into a partisan battle in the Republican-led legislature over the issue of whether prison fines, fees and restitution must be paid before a felon can register to cast a ballot. A law signed by Gov. Ron DeSantis (R) in June 2019 states that those payments are part of a sentence that the amendment requires an individual to first complete. … The payment stipulation caused confusion among many felons over whether they owe money to the state — and triggered fear that they could be committing another felony if they tried to register to vote.” 

Republicans face major head winds to maintain their Senate majority. 

“Rather than serving as a major boost to their campaigns, Trump’s Supreme Court announcement at the White House on Sept. 26 appears to have served as a superspreader event, with a couple dozen infections connected to that day,” Rachael Bade and Paul Kane report. “‘I think it’s 50-50,’ McConnell told conservative talk radio host Hugh Hewitt on Friday when asked whether the GOP will hold the Senate. ‘We always knew this was going to be challenging.’ ‘We have close, hard-fought races all over the country,’ McConnell said, adding that ‘the Democrats are competing with us in Kansas and Georgia and even South Carolina.’ That concern grew deeper as Democratic challengers began unveiling eye-popping fundraising totals, revealing that anti-Trump liberal energy has only grown stronger as sides gird for a Supreme Court fight.” 

First look: The U.S. Chamber is launching ad buys to help GOP senators in Maine and Iowa.

The U.S. Chamber Action arm is giving air cover for Sen. Susan Collins (R-Maine) by touting her efforts to respond to the pandemic. The call to action at the end of the 30-second spot is to thank the senator for helping small businesses and the Paycheck Protection Program. The business lobby says the spending will be concentrated in northern Maine and run for 10 days. The Chamber is also going up on Wednesday with a commercial that highlights Iowa Sen. Joni Ernst’s opposition to the Green New Deal, saying that liberal environmental proposals would “crush Iowa’s economy.” This ad will run in heaviest in the Des Moines media market, as well as on statewide programming aimed at suburban and rural women.

  • The Trump campaign has canceled its planned TV ads in Iowa and Ohio, as polls show tight races in both states. This will be the cash-strapped campaign’s third consecutive week without television ads in either battleground. (CNN)

Other news that should be on your radar

California’s fires have burned 4 million acres.

“The figure, which equals an area larger than Connecticut, is more than twice the acreage burned in the state’s previous record-worst fire season, in 2018,” Andrew Freedman reports. “In addition, due in part to human-caused warming and a drying climate, California recorded its first ‘gigafire’ since modern records began in the early 1930s. The August Complex, a group of fires burning in and around the Mendocino National Forest, has torched more than 1 million acres and counting. It is only 54 percent contained.”

  • The record-setting 2020 Atlantic hurricane season is cranking out tempests like a factory. The latest – Tropical Storm Delta – poses yet another serious threat to the northern Gulf Coast. The National Hurricane Center predicts that Delta will come ashore between coastal Louisiana and the Florida Panhandle late Thursday as a Category 2 hurricane. (Jason Samenow)
  • An American astrophysicist, Andrea Ghez, was among three scientists awarded the Nobel Prize in physics for her role in discovering a supermassive black hole at the center of our galaxy. Ghez, 55, is a professor at the University of California at Los Angeles and the fourth woman to win a physics Nobel. (Joel Achenbach)

E. Jean Carroll challenges DOJ’s intervention in her defamation suit.

“The Justice Department’s intervention in a defamation case brought against Trump by a woman who says he raped her decades ago is unsupported by the law, her attorneys argue in a new court filing rejecting the government’s claim that he was acting in his official capacity as president when he called [Carroll] a liar and said ‘she’s not my type,’” Shayna Jacobs reports. “‘There is not a single person in the United States — not the President and not anyone else — whose job description includes slandering women who they sexually assaulted,’ Carroll’s lawyers wrote in a motion filed in federal court here late Monday … Carroll’s lawyers Roberta Kaplan and Joshua Matz called it ‘inconceivable’ that Americans would expect the president’s job to entail ‘viciously defaming’ the victim of a crime.”

The Supreme Court will not hear a gay marriage case. 

The Supreme Court said it will not hear a case from a Kentucky clerk who refused to issue marriage licenses for same-sex couples, but two dissenters in the court’s landmark 2015 decision repeated their criticism of its “ruinous consequences” for religious liberty. “The court turned aside a case from Kim Davis, the former Rowan County clerk who was sued after she said her religious convictions kept her from recognizing same-sex marriages, even after the Supreme Court found a constitutional right to those unions in Obergefell v. Hodges,Barnes reports. “Davis was defeated for reelection, and sued by two same-sex couples for refusing to issue marriage certificates. Her claim of qualified immunity was rejected by a panel of the U.S. Court of Appeals for the 6th Circuit.”

  • Members of the Oath Keepers, a far-right vigilante group, have flocked to cities where protests have broken out over police violence. They travel across the country equipped with long guns to stand in plain view of demonstrators or loom over them from rooftops, unauthorized – but frequently unquestioned – by law enforcement. (Robert Klemko)
  • Charles Hewitt, a White trooper with the Virginia State Police, has been cleared of criminal wrongdoing in a controversial traffic stop during which he can be heard telling a Black driver “you are going to get your a– whooped,” before forcefully removing the man from his car. (Justin Jouvenal)

Social media speed read

Congressional Republicans praised Trump for “defeating” covid-19 in messages that both ignore his doctor saying the president is not out of the woods – and seem to suggest that those who don’t survive the pandemic simply aren’t tough enough:

In happier news, the National Zoo revealed that its new baby panda is a boy:

Videos of the day

Stephen Colbert said it is hard to tell how many lies the Trump team is telling about the president’s health:

Seth Meyers marveled at all the “absolutely insane” quotes that don’t break through because of the crazy news environment:

“It’s not karma, it’s consequences,” Trevor Noah said of the outbreak inside the White House:

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