The latest political news and analysis from the campaign trail:
Trump hasn't met with coronavirus task force in months, not expected to before election
President Donald Trump has not attended a White House coronavirus task force meeting in months and is not expected to do so in the final days before the election, according to an administration official.
Although nationwide Covid-19 infections reached a new high on Thursday, the president has decided to focus on his re-election campaign and continue a rigorous rally schedule in the closing stretch. It comes as Trump continues to promise the virus will “go away” and claim “we’re rounding the corner,” despite data to the contrary.
The president has delegated most of the current task force work to Vice President Mike Pence, who chairs the group and leads its discussions. Those meetings used to be more frequent in the earlier months of the health crisis but have since become less regular with the 2020 race taking priority for the White House.
The director of the National Institutes of Health, Francis Collins, said recently it has been “quite some time” since the president met with the group of agency heads navigating the pandemic.
“Obviously it's a bit of a chaotic time with the election,” Collins told NPR. “There's not a direct connection between the task force members and the president as there was a few months ago. But this seems to be a different time with different priorities.”
Instead, Trump is “routinely briefed” on the team’s findings and recommendations by Pence, according to press secretary Kayleigh McEnany.
Notably, Trump is also being closely advised on the pandemic by Dr. Scott Atlas, a neuroradiologist with no background in infectious diseases. He was brought on to the task force in August, after the president saw his appearances on Fox News and appreciated that Atlas’ controversial views on the coronavirus more closely aligned with his desire to reopen states and schools.
Atlas has repeatedly questioned the efficacy of masks and Twitter recently flagged one of his messages for violating its misinformation policy.
Dr. Anthony Fauci, NIAID director, and Dr. Deborah Birx, the task force response coordinator, have not appeared alongside the president in months. They were a near-constant presence in the briefing room earlier this year, before a shift in strategy that sent Birx on the road to push the administration’s message and left Fauci to do media interviews from beyond the White House grounds.
NBC’s Kristen Welker pressed the president at the final debate in Nashville on what health experts he is actually listening to, if he considers Fauci to be a “disaster” and other scientists to be “idiots.” Trump responded: “I’m listening to all of them.”
Trump campaign goes for kitchen-sink approach in new Spanish-language ad
WASHINGTON — President Donald Trump's campaign is out with a new Spanish-language ad that throws the kitchen sink at former Vice President Joe Biden in the hopes of diminishing him among Florida's diverse Hispanic community.
For Cuban voters, there’s a photo of Biden kneeling superimposed in front of a flag of Che Guevara and the ad also accuses him of betraying Nicaraguans, abandoning the Venezuelans, and being the candidate of Castro-Chavistas. The spot ends with Trump declaring “America will never be a socialist country.”
Meanwhile, the Biden campaign recently started running testimonial spots of Spanish-speaking individuals telling their own stories — combatting the socialist charge against Biden, attacking Trump on Puerto Rican hurricane recovery and the coronavirus, and criticizing Trump's hydroxychloroquine push.
Biden campaign launches new ads to combat Trump attacks among Latino voters
Cecilia, a young Venezuelan immigrant living in Kissimmee, Florida says that when members of her community tell her they’re not voting for Joe Biden because they have heard he’s a socialist, she stops to tell them that they should worry about President Donald Trump instead.
“Socialism, for me as a Venezuelan, was one of the most important things that destroyed my country. It may sound crazy to compare Trump with [Venezuelan President] Nicolas Maduro, but the reality is they’re very similar,” she says before comparing their authoritative tendencies to criticize opponents in a new one-minute TV ad airing in Cuban and Venezuelan-rich South Florida.
Her story is one of three testimonial ads the Biden campaign is releasing across 10 key states with high Latino populations in the final two weeks of the election as they hope to combat attacks Trump has launched against Biden’s in those communities.
Arizona voters will hear from Lidia, a Mexican-American first-time voter whose lupus returned after she was unable to receive hydroxychloroquine to treat her disease because the president falsely declared the drug a treatment for the coronavirus. And to appeal to Puerto Ricans living in Florida and Pennsylvania, the campaign is running a bilingual TV ad featuring a Puerto Rican priest who says Trump “abandoned” the community during Hurricane Maria and again on the coronavirus.
The campaign considers it most affect to air ads with Latinos who speak to common experiences and similar accents as those living across battlegrounds, a micro-targeting strategy they believe makes the most convincing appeal to support Biden within the community.
Three other TV and digital ads focus on reintroducing Biden’s record to a largely immigrant community who did not live in the U.S. during his early political career by reminding them of how he helped end the 2008 economic and his plan to do so again. The campaign also notably targets younger Latino voters, a huge voting bloc that could swing the election if they turnout, by telling them how Biden and Harris would work alongside them if elected.
Former RNC chair Michael Steele endorses Biden
Former Republican National Committee Chairman Michael Steele has endorsed Joe Biden, the first such endorsement of a Democratic presidential nominee in the modern era.
Steele was elected party chairman in 2009 as the GOP sought to regroup from President Barack Obama's historic victory in 2008 and he presided over the RNC as it marshaled tea party opposition to the Obama-Biden administration to make significant gains in Congress and across the country in the 2010 midterms.
A former lieutenant governor of Maryland, Steele lost a 2006 bid for U.S. Senate in the heavily Democratic state. He has become an outspoken critic of President Donald Trump, serving as a senior adviser of the Lincoln Project, an anti-Trump super PAC. But until Tuesday morning he had not officially endorsed Biden.
His backing comes as the Trump campaign has sought to make inroads among African American voters, especially younger Black men who have tended to support Biden in lower numbers than other age groups.
Because of his role with the Lincoln Project, it's unlikely Steele, who is also a political analyst for MSNBC, would play a direct role in Biden's campaign or act as a surrogate. But he informed the Biden campaign of his plans to publicly support him.
Biden outspent Trump on the airwaves in every key battleground state over past week
WASHINGTON — Former Vice President Joe Biden's presidential campaign has outspent that of President Donald Trump on television and radio ads in every key battleground state over the last seven days as the Trump re-election effort continues to fall behind the Democrat in fundraising.
Over the last seven days, Biden outspent Trump in Arizona, Florida, Georgia, Iowa, Michigan, Minnesota, Nevada, New Hampshire, North Carolina, Ohio, Pennsylvania, Texas and Wisconsin, per the latest figures from Advertising Analytics.
That's every single state listed as a toss-up or leaning Democrat/Republican by the Cook Political Report, meaning that Biden has the TV/radio spending edge in every single one of the most competitive states.
Biden already had the edge in an overwhelming number of battleground states, but his total supremacy on the airwaves there came this past week when the Trump campaign cut its TV spending in Georgia in half week-over-week to about $720,000. Meanwhile, the Biden campaign boosted its weekly spend in Georgia to $1.5 million over the last seven days.
TV and radio spending don't make up the full story. Trump's campaign is still spending heavily on digital platforms, and if money meant everything, Trump would have lost the 2016 race to Democrat Hillary Clinton.
But it's the latest sign of ways in which the resource gap may be having an impact on the race — dueling announcements from the campaigns last week revealed that the effort to elect Biden significantly outraised the Trump re-elect in September, and that the pro-Biden effort entered October with $180 million more in the bank than Trump's re-elect.
Senate Democrats post historic fundraising totals as battle for Senate control reaches home stretch
WASHINGTON — Senate Democrats are riding a wave of historic third-quarter fundraising numbers into the final weeks before Election Day, even as Republicans are raising significant money of their own.
Before this quarter, no Senate candidate had ever raised more in a single three-month quarter than former Texas Democratic Rep. Beto O'Rourke, who raised more than $38 million in the third quarter of 2018.
But between July and September of this year, South Carolina Democrat Jaime Harrison raised $58 million, Maine Democrat Sara Gideon raised $39.4 million and Arizona Democrat Mark Kelly raised $38.7 million.
Six other Democrats — Kentucky's Amy McGrath ($36.8 million), Iowa's Theresa Greenfield ($28.8 million), North Carolina's Cal Cunningham ($28.3 million), Montana's Steve Bullock ($26.8 million), Colorado's John Hickenlooper ($22.6 million), and Georgia's Jon Ossoff ($21.3 million) all raised more than $20 million last quarter.
With Harrison raising more than any other Democrat, South Carolina Republican Sen. Lindsey Graham outraised all other Republican Senate candidates with $28.4 million. Arizona Republican Sen. Martha McSally raised $22.7 million, Kentucky Republican Sen. Mitch McConnell raised $15.7 million, Michigan Republican John James raised $14.4 million and Montana Republican Sen. Steve Daines raised $11.5 million.
It's clear the Democrats have the fundraising edge — when looking at all the Senate races rated "likely" or more competitive by the Cook Political Report (except Georgia's special election, where a slew of candidates are still running in a jungle primary), the average Democrat raised about $26 million last quarter compared to the average Republican's $10.2 million.
But as Democrats spend big, primarily on television airwaves, the average Democrat has a similar amount of money in the bank than the average Republican candidate — $9.5 million in cash on hand for the average Democrat and $7.1 million for the average Republican.
For example, despite raising almost $58 million last quarter, Harrison's South Carolina campaign had about $8 million in cash-on-hand, about equal with Graham. And while North Carolina's Cunningham outraised Republican Sen. Thom Tillis by a factor of four, Tillis ended the quarter with $6.6 million in the bank to Cunningham's $4.2 million.
Biden camp appears to be heading into final stretch with serious cash advantage over Trump re-elect
WASHINGTON — Joe Biden's campaign apparatus appears to have significantly outraised President Donald Trump's re-election effort in September, according to both campaigns, with the Democrat heading into the final stretch of the presidential campaign with a massive resource advantage.
On Wednesday, the Biden campaign announced that it (along with the Democratic National Committee and its affiliated joint-fundraising committees) raised $383 million in September, ending the month with $432 million in cash on hand between them all.
The Trump campaign tweeted Thursday that the Trump re-election apparatus (the campaign, the Republican National Committee) raised $247.8 million in September and had $251.4 million banked away.
That means the Biden effort outraised the Trump effort by $136 million, and went into October with a more than $180 million cash advantage. Since all of these groups have to file their campaign finance reports at different times, the campaigns historically announce the top-line totals for their whole apparatus each month. So it's unclear at this moment how much of the money raised by each side is hard money raised directly to the campaign versus how much is controlled by the national parties.
The dynamic hasn't changed in recent months, with the Biden organization significantly outpacing Trump both in fundraising and cash-on-hand. And that's been reflected in how they are spending their money.
Biden's campaign has spent $355.5 million on TV and radio ads since March 31, compared to Trump's $201.8 million, according to data from Advertising Analytics. And the discrepancies in the battleground states have been striking.
The Democrat has outspent Trump by about a 2-to-1 margin in Arizona and Minnesota, as well as by roughly a 3-to-1 margin in Pennsylvania, Michigan and Wisconsin.
And the spending disparity has exacerbated down the stretch — since Labor Day, the Biden campaign has spent about $166 million in key battleground states (Arizona, Florida, Georgia, Iowa, Michigan, Minnesota, Nevada, North Carolina, Ohio, Pennsylvania, Texas and Wisconsin), compared to Trump's $72 million in those states.
Biden camp taps Hollywood stars, jam bands, retired general for fundraisers
WASHINGTON -- Justin Timberlake, Natalie Portman, Alanis Morissette and more are lending their star power to Joe Biden's campaign coffers for virtual fundraisers in the closing weeks of the campaign, according to a list of invitations to the events obtained by NBC News.
Democrats have long tapped Hollywood stars for money and glitz, but the shift from in-person to virtual events during the coronavirus pandemic has made it easier for campaigns to book stars and put on more elaborate events, such as re-assembling the entire cast of a classic film for the first time ever to perform a live script read.
Meanwhile, retired four-star Gen. Stan McChrystal, the former top commander in Afghanistan who endorsed Biden earlier this month, is hosting a virtual fundraiser with Richard Armitage, a former top State Department official under George W. Bush.
Morissette, the Canadian-American singer, will appear with the cast of the new Broadway musical based on her 1995 hit album Jagged Little Pill. The cast of "The West Wing," a political touchstone for many liberals, will host a trivia night, while the creator and stars of Amazon's "Marvelous Mrs. Maisel" will appear together for Biden as well.
The cast of the 2001 cult-classic comedy "Wet Hot American Summer" and others — including Elizabeth Banks, Chris Pine, Jason Schwartzman and Michael Cera — will perform a live reading of the script later this month.
Vice presidential nominee Kamala Harris will host a virtual reception for Tennessee-based donors with Memphis-native Timberlake and actress Ashley Judd, who once considered a Senate run in neighboring Kentucky.
Former Texas Rep. Beto O'Rourke will host an event featuring musicians Willie Nelson, David Crosby, the Grateful Dead's Bob Weir and jam band Widespread Panic's Dave Schools. Actresses Fran Drescher and Shannon Elizabeth will also appear, along with TV personality Montel Williams "and more" yet to be named.
The Biden campaign is also holding a Star Trek-themed "Trek the vote" event featuring actors from five versions of the sci-fi franchise, including Patrick Stewart, George Takei, and LeVar Burton along with three Democrats who have spoken publicly about their love of Star Trek: Andrew Yang, Pete Buttigieg, and Stacey Abrams.
Natalie Portman will appear at food and agriculture-themed virtual event alongside former Obama White House chef and policy adviser Sam Kass and Roots drummer Questlove. Restaurateur José Andrés, who clashed with President Donald Trump over aborted plans to open a restaurant in his Washington, D.C. hotel, will discuss Biden's plans to help revive the restaurant industry after the pandemic.
Golden State Warriors coach Steve Kerr will appear with former Rep. Gabby Giffords and her husband Mark Kelly, who is running for Senate in Arizona.
Comedians Aasif Mandvi, Aparna Nancherla and Sendhil Ramamurthy will help host a "South Asian Block Party." And Rita Moreno, one of the few Puerto Rican members of the cast of the original "West Side Story" film, will host a conversation with Democratic strategist Maria Cardona.
The Biden campaign has been raking in money at an unprecedented clip after a slow start, which has allowed it to outspend the Trump campaign in key battlegrounds.
DNC launches new radio and print ad campaign to target Latino voters
HOUSTON — With early voting set to begin in several more key battleground states this week, the Democratic National Committee is rolling out a radio and print ad campaign aimed at boosting turnout among Latino voters for former Vice President Joe Biden.
"Latino communities across the battleground states have a critical voice in this election, that's why we are reaching out directly to these voters and ensuring they have the tools they need to make their plan to vote," Democratic National Committee Chair Tom Perez said in a statement.
Perez emphasized the ways the Covid-19 pandemic has disproportionately affected Latinos, blaming a "failed response to the pandemic" on the part of the Trump administration.
The ad campaign, which the DNC says is a six-figure effort, strikes a similar tone with an equally stark message. "This November 3rd, our lives are on the ballot," the ads say in Spanish before imploring those reading or listening to "make your plan to vote" and directing potential voters to visit VoyAVotar.com. The Spanish site, hosted by the DNC, allows prospective voters to check their registration status and register while also making plans to vote absentee, in person early or on Election Day.
With the latest polls in several battleground states showing Biden ahead or neck-and-neck with President Donald Trump — including Florida, Nevada, Pennsylvania and Wisconsin — turning out key demographics could be the difference in those states.
The number of eligible Latino voters has grown more than among any other racial or ethnic group in battleground states over the past nearly two decades, but historically Latinos have had lower turnout rates than white and Black voters. According to Pew Research Center data, the number of eligible Latino voters who did not vote in 2016 was higher than the number of those who did.
In 2016, Democratic candidate Hillary Clinton underperformed among Latino voters compared to President Barack Obama. This cycle, the Biden campaign has faced criticism for what some view as slow and lackluster outreach to the community. Even so, the latest Pew Research poll showed Biden with a 34-point lead among Latino voters nationally, but it also revealed a possible area of concern — enthusiasm. The poll showed that while 79 percent of white Biden supporters are extremely motivated to vote for him, only 57 percent of Latino supporters say the same.
The ads will run in Spanish print publications and on radio shows in Arizona, Florida, Nevada and Wisconsin. Voters in Pennsylvania and North Carolina will also see print ads, while those in California, Texas and Colorado will hear them on the airwaves.
Harris to attend Barrett hearings from Senate office
Sen. Kamala Harris, D-Calif., will be attending the Supreme Court nomination hearings for Judge Amy Coney Barrett this week remotely, from her office on Capitol Hill, her senate communications director, Chris Harris, said Sunday.
The hearings, which begin Monday morning, come just weeks after what has been described as a "superspreader" event to announce Barrett's nomination in the White House Rose Garden just over two weeks ago. President Donald Trump and at least 13 others who attended the event have tested positive for Covid-19 in the wake of the ceremony, including Sens. Mike Lee, R-Utah, and Thom Tillis, R-N.C., who also sit on the Senate Judiciary Committee.
Harris, the Democratic vice presidential nominee, has frequently tweeted from her senate office twitter account calling the decision to move forward with the hearings “reckless” and putting the health of senate staffers and other workers in the Capitol at risk.
She, along with Sens. Cory Booker, D-N.J., and Patrick Leahy, D-Vt., also sent a letter to Senate Judiciary chairman Lindsey Graham, asking to have testing procedures in place if the hearings were to move forward.
“We urge you against unsafely moving forward with these hearings while no clear testing regime is in place to ensure that they do not become another super-spreader of this deadly virus,” the senators wrote.
“Without these precautionary measures in place, Senators, Senate staff, press, Judge Barrett and her family will face a serious, unnecessary risk of contracting Covid-19. We also have a moral responsibility to protect the workers who make it possible for us to do our jobs in the Senate each and every day.”
Sen. Ted Cruz, R-Texas, called Democrats’ request for a delay in the hearings “procedural games and shenanigans.”
“I think they are looking for anything to delay things even a day or two or three,” Cruz said on Meet the Press Sunday morning, “I think that Senate Republicans will follow the guidance, the medical guidance of the Capitol physician," he said. "But the delay tactics of the Democrats aren't going to work.”
While Harris told reporters during a recent trip to North Carolina that she is “definitely going to be involved in the hearings,” she is also missing critical time on the campaign trail, with just 23 days left until Election Day.
Her campaign has said “no day will go on unspared” in terms of reaching out to voters, and it’s possible Harris will continue both virtual and in-person events in the next few weeks.
Progressive groups call for release of all Barrett's records from Notre Dame
WASHINGTON — A coalition of progressive watchdog groups are calling for the full release of more records pertaining to Supreme Court nominee Amy Coney Barrett's time at the University of Notre Dame, which accounts for the majority of her professional career.
The call came after a second previously undisclosed anti-abortion ad Barrett was associated with became public Friday evening. The 2013 ad, signed by Barrett, ran on the 40th anniversary of Roe v. Wade, the 1973 decision that established the right to abortion and was sponsored by the Notre Dame Fund to Protect Human Life.
The ad, and the group’s activities, which among other things include arranging seminars and conferences and participating in the annual March for Life in Washington DC., raises questions about the extent to which Barrett was involved in other activist groups and activities during her tenure at the university, where she’s been a faculty member since 2002, the groups argue. The Senate will begin confirmation hearings on the nomination Monday.
In a letter to Barrett provided to NBC News, Kyle Herrig, president of Accountable.US, asks Barrett to allow Notre Dame to “make public documents relevant to your nomination, including all communications, including emails, as well as your personnel file, student evaluations, and any information regarding your involvement in faculty groups and committees.”
In response to the letter White House spokesman Judd Deere told NBC that Barrett has been “extraordinarily transparent throughout this process.” Judge Barrett “has provided more than 1,800 pages of information to the Senate Judiciary Committee. This is in addition to the more than 600 cases that she has participated in that comprise her judicial record. She has spoken with nearly every member of the Committee and she will answer questions before the Senate Judiciary Committee this week,” said Deere.
On Sunday, Senate Judiciary Committee Democrats also sent a letter to the Department of Justice asking about materials that Barrett left off her initial paperwork, outlining several examples.
The Notre Dame Fund to Protect Human Life aims to educate students in “the rich intellectual tradition supporting the dignity of human life” and to prepare students to “transform the culture into one where every human life is respected,” according to the Catholic News Agency.
Barrett’s decision to include the ad in her Senate paperwork comes in response to media reports, including that she failed to disclose a different anti-abortion ad in her nomination questionnaire: her participation in a 2006 ad calling for Roe v. Wade to be overturned and ending its “barbaric legacy,” as well as two talks she gave in 2013 hosted by two anti-abortion student groups.
Accountable.US is among watchdog groups with pending records requests on Barrett through the Freedom of Information Act and state open records laws.
“Without more disclosure, we are getting a very limited sense of the nominee — and the narrative is being completely driven by what she wants to put forward,” Herrig told NBC. “If she was at a public university, we could’ve gotten her emails. We got emails from federal agencies and even the White House in past nomination fights. To not have any emails or much of a more in depth look at her work history is not normal.”
“There has never been a nominee about whom we know so little,” said Austin Evers, executive director of American Oversight. “Mitch McConnell would like to keep it that way, but the public has a right to understand who has been nominated to fill the most consequential Supreme Court vacancy in recent memory,” he said in a statement.