Oct 29, 2020

Analysis | The Daily 202: Despite GDP growth, polls suggest Trump’s advantage on economic stewardship is narrowing

James Hohmann

42-54 minutes - Source: The Washington Post

The U.S. economy grew at 7.4 percent between July and September, recovering about two-thirds of its losses during the first half of the year. This is a number Trump will ballyhoo for the five days remaining until the election, but the gross domestic product is now about the size it was in the first quarter of 2018. Growing hospitalizations and deaths from the virus, combined with uncertainty about when another stimulus bill might pass, put dark storm clouds above the economy.

For the economy to recover all that was lost in the previous quarter, third-quarter GDP would have had to surge and hit 10 percent, and even more to make up for smaller first-quarter losses,” Rachel Siegel and Andrew Van Dam report. “Officials such as Federal Reserve Chair Jerome H. Powell have long said that a robust and stable recovery depends on controlling the pandemic. … Economists put the risk of a double-dip recession later this year or early next year at 30 to 35 percent, depending on the course of the virus, the prospects of another stimulus package and any trade tensions with China.”

Another 751,000 people applied for jobless claims last week, down about 40,000 from the week before, in the final unemployment report before the election. “Claims for Pandemic Unemployment Assistance, for gig and self-employed workers, went up slightly, to 359,000,” Eli Rosenberg reports. “All told, there were about 22.6 million people claiming some form of unemployment insurance … The economy has begun to flash more warning signs in recent weeks. Companies announcing layoffs in recent weeks include aerospace giant Raytheon, financial services company Charles Schwab, and Disney World. … An increasingly large group of people are transitioning off regular state unemployment insurance to a temporary federal program for people whose state benefits have expired — a sign of the growing duration of joblessness for many.”

Speaker Nancy Pelosi (D-Calif.) revealed Thursday that she and Treasury Secretary Steven Mnuchin have remained farther apart on key issues in their negotiations for a stimulus package than many believed. A letter to Mnuchin, released to the media, casts doubt on whether a deal can get done at all during the lame-duck session. “Pelosi listed a litany of outstanding issues including state and local aid, school funding, child care money, tax credits for working families, unemployment insurance aid, and liability protections for businesses sought by the administration but opposed by Democrats,” Erica Werner reports. “She also said that she was still awaiting a final answer from the administration on agreeing to the Democrats’ language on a national coronavirus testing strategy – something Mnuchin had said on Oct. 15 that he was prepared to accept subject to minor edits.”

Trump is trying to make this election more about jump-starting the economy than controlling the pandemic, which White House Chief of Staff Mark Meadows said over the weekend that they are not going to be able to do. “This election is a choice between a Trump boom and a Biden lockdown,” Trump said on Wednesday in Arizona.

Joe Biden countered that America must get control of the contagion in order to revitalize the economy. The Democratic nominee has emphasized the uneven nature of what he calls a K-shaped recovery. The rich are bouncing back strong while the suffering of the poor only gets worse. 

“Even if I win, it’s going to take a lot of hard work to end this pandemic,” Biden said in Wilmington, Del. “I’m not running on the false promise of being able to end this pandemic by flipping a switch. … We will deal honestly with the American people, and we’ll never, ever, ever quit. That’s how we’ll shut down this virus so we can get back to our lives a lot more quickly than the pace we’re going now.”

A decline in the stock market has been one of several “October surprises” in this election. The Dow Jones industrial average fell 943 points Wednesday, closing about 9 percent lower than at the start of last month. The selloff has been driven by the rising number of new infections and the growing recognition that a gridlocked Washington will not deliver coronavirus relief anytime soon. The markets opened flat on Thursday after the GDP and jobs numbers were released because they were in line with expectations.

A Washington Post-ABC News poll released Wednesday showed Trump’s advantage on the economy receding in a vital swing state. In Wisconsin, 47 percent approve of how the president is handling the economy and 50 percent disapprove. Last month, the same poll had Trump’s economic rating net positive by seven points. “Since September, the president has also lost his narrow five-point edge over Biden on who is better able to handle the economy, with 52 percent of Wisconsin voters now saying they trust Biden more on this issue, while 44 percent say they trust Trump more,” Scott Clement, Dan Balz and Emily Guskin report. “In Michigan, Trump’s economic approval is in positive territory, 52 percent to 44 percent, which contributes to his narrower deficit in the state.”

The Post-ABC polling showed Biden leading 57 percent to 40 percent among likely voters in Wisconsin and 51 percent to 44 percent in Michigan. When it comes to handling the pandemic, Biden is trusted more than Trump by double digits in both states.

The Post’s poll of Wisconsin is an outlier. A Marquette Law School poll released later in the day showed Biden leading Trump 48 percent to 43 percent among likely voters in the Badger State. Disapproval of Trump’s handling of the economy has risen from 45 percent to 48 percent since the start of the month in that survey.

A CNN poll released Wednesday showed Biden leading Trump nationally by 12 points, 54 percent to 42 percent, with only 39 percent of Americans saying that things are going well in the country right now. “That figure has only dipped lower twice in reelection years since 1980: In 1992 (35% going well) and in 1980 (32% going well),” CNN notes. That said, Trump still led Biden on who is best to handle the economy by five points, 51 percent to 46 percent.

Ultimately, the pandemic seems to be a higher priority in the minds of voters than the economy right now. A Monmouth University poll of Georgia on Wednesday showed Biden ahead 50 percent to 45 percent. Asked who they trust more to create jobs, Trump lead Biden by 10 points (49 percent to 39 percent.) Asked who they trust more to handle the pandemic, Biden led by 12 points: 49 percent to 37 percent.

Here are three smart takes on the latest batch of polling numbers:

Trump in recent days has touted the stock market as central to his 2020 reelection bid, frequently pointing to Americans’ 401(k) accounts. … The stock market’s sharp decline clouds this characterization,” Jeff Stein reports. “Even some of the president’s allies acknowledge the challenge posed by the market decline, arguing that Trump must continue to blame Pelosi for the absence of a stimulus agreement. ‘It’s a big, big decline. … It’s very ugly,’ said Stephen Moore, an outside economic adviser to the White House. ‘Trump has to keep saying ‘Pelosi blocked the plan because she wanted the blue state bailout.’’ … [But] Trump kept trying to cancel and then un-cancel the negotiations, sometimes multiple times in a week. … 

Wall Street has had mixed assessments of which presidential candidate would be best for growth. Analysts at JPMorgan Chase said in a report Monday that an ‘orderly’ Trump victory represents ‘the most favorable outcome’ for the market. … Moody’s Analytics estimated stronger GDP growth under Biden’s economic plans than under Trump’s. Other financial analysts have pointed out that Trump’s term in office has been punctuated by erratic swings in the market: It dropped dramatically during the 2018 government showdown and again when trade tensions flared in the summer of 2019.”

By another metric, Wall Street clearly prefers Biden. CNBC reports that people who work in the securities and investment industry have contributed over $74 million to back Biden’s candidacy, compared to $18 million for Trump. That is less than the $20 million Trump received from the finance industry in 2016.

Endorsing Biden this morning, The Economist magazine sought to reassure investors who might be jittery: “Much of what the left wing of the Democratic Party disliked about him in the primaries—that he is a centrist, an institutionalist, a consensus-builder—makes him an anti-Trump well-suited to repair some of the damage of the past four years. … Although his policies are to the left of previous administrations’, he is no revolutionary. His pledge to ‘build back better’ would be worth $2trn-3trn, part of a boost to annual spending of about 3% of GDP. His tax rises on firms and the wealthy would be significant, but not punitive. He would seek to rebuild America’s decrepit infrastructure, give more to health and education and allow more immigration. His climate-change policy would invest in research and job-boosting technology. He is a competent administrator and a believer in process.”

Trump won the presidency on a pledge to engineer an economic turnaround in the Rust Belt. He hasn’t delivered,” Tory Newmyer writes in today’s Finance 202. “The forces weighing on the region predate Trump, but the president’s trade wars have also exacerbated pain for the farmers and manufacturers that make up key engines of the local economies. … Twenty-three of [Wisconsin’s] 72 counties flipped from supporting Obama in 2012 to Trump in 2016. They have not fared well, even before the pandemic struck: Just over a third experienced job growth from the first quarter of 2018 to that same period this year, according to data from the Economic Innovation Group. … Compared to similar voters in five other swing states, consumer confidence among those in Michigan ‘saw the largest drop from the beginning of the year to Oct. 15 at a 36.4-point decline,’ a Morning Consult analysis finds.”

Across the industrial belt from Wisconsin to Pennsylvania, private job growth from the first three months of 2017 through the first three months of 2020 lagged the rest of the country — with employment in Michigan, Wisconsin and Ohio growing 2% or less over that time compared to a 4.5% national average,” according to Reuters.

Trump’s 25 percent tariffs on foreign-made steel did not fuel the revival for American steel that the president promised, the Wall Street Journal reports. “Initial job growth withers as demand and prices sink; older mills face a dim future.” 

It will get worse before it gets better: States now face their biggest cash crisis since the Great Depression. “Nationwide, the U.S. state budget shortfall from 2020 through 2022 could amount to about $434 billion,” the WSJ reports. “The estimates [from Moody’s Analytics] assume no additional fiscal stimulus from Washington, further coronavirus-fueled restrictions on business and travel, and extra costs for Medicaid amid high unemployment. That’s greater than the 2019 K-12 education budget for every state combined, or more than twice the amount spent that year on state roads and other transportation infrastructure … Even after rainy day funds are used, Moody’s Analytics projects 46 states coming up short, with Nevada, Louisiana and Florida having the greatest gaps as a percentage of their 2019 budgets. … Hawaii, for example, is expecting fewer than half the visitors it took in last year in 2020, and state officials forecast its general fund revenues won’t recover to pre-pandemic levels until its 2025 fiscal year.”

The state of Michigan’s budget director, Chris Kolb, calculated that even if he eliminated 12 state departments—including education, environment and treasury—and used up every penny in state reserves, Michigan would still be short $1 billion needed to balance his budget. “We really have uncharted waters in front of us,” Kolb told the Journal. “The waves appear to be getting more choppy.”

Zeta is roaring inland after slamming into New Orleans. 

“The powerful Category 2 hurricane, which struck near Cocodrie, La., intensified right up until landfall, defying earlier forecasts for a substantially weaker storm,” Andrew Freedman, Matthew Cappucci, Paulina Villegas and Jason Samenow report. “Shortly after crossing the coast, Zeta slammed into New Orleans, its eye moving directly over the city, cutting power to more than 80 percent of its residents. … The storm unleashed wind gusts over 100 mph in both coastal Louisiana and Mississippi, and the high winds cut power to over 800,000 customers in Louisiana, Mississippi and Alabama. Coastal Mississippi was also subject to a storm surge that raised water levels nine feet above normally dry land at the coast, resulting in severe inundation. Zeta is now poised to race through central Alabama, northern Georgia and the Mid-Atlantic, covering 1,250 miles through Thursday evening. Damaging winds could stretch into interior parts of Georgia, where gusts to 50 mph are forecast in Atlanta.”

The coronavirus

America's hospitals are under attack.

“Russian-speaking cybercriminals in recent days have launched a coordinated attack targeting U.S. hospitals already stressed by the coronavirus pandemic with ransomware that analysts worry could lead to fatalities. In the space of 24 hours beginning Monday, six hospitals from California to New York have been hit by the Ryuk ransomware, which encrypts data on computer systems, forcing the hospitals in some cases to disrupt patient care and cancel noncritical surgeries,” Ellen Nakashima and Jay Greene report. “The criminals have demanded a ransom ranging upward of $1 million to unlock the system, and some hospitals have paid … On Tuesday, the FBI, the Department of Homeland Security and the Department of Health and Human Services issued a joint advisory alerting health-care providers to the threat. …

“A woman in Germany died last month when the hospital she went to for emergency care turned her away because it had suffered a ransomware attack. She died en route to another facility. … The attacks have shut down some procedures at Sky Lakes Medical Center in Klamath Falls, Ore. … The hospital is unable to offer cancer treatments that are computer-controlled, and the attack has curbed some diagnostic imaging as well. Doctors and nurses have turned to paper for patient records with the electronic system offline … Sonoma Valley Hospital in Sonoma, Calif., was also infected … Likewise, St. Lawrence Health System in Potsdam, N.Y., was hit Monday … The hospital disconnected its computer systems to prevent the malware from spreading.”

The New York Times reports these are "the same Russian hackers who American officials and researchers fear could sow mayhem around next week’s election": "‘We expect panic,’ one hacker involved in the attacks said in Russian during a private exchange on Monday that was captured by Hold Security, a security company that tracks online criminals. … The Russian hackers, believed to be based in Moscow and St. Petersburg, have been trading a list of more than 400 hospitals they plan to target, according to Alex Holden, the founder of Hold Security, who shared the information with the F.B.I.”

  • A hacker released election data from Georgia’s Hall County after a ransom they demanded from officials was not paid. (WSJ)
  • Trump loyalist John Ratcliffe, the director of national intelligence, went off script when he alleged last week Iran was trying to “damage Trump.” Two senior administration officials told Politico that the reference to Trump was not in Ratcliffe’s prepared remarks about foreign election interference, as shown to and signed off by FBI Director Chris Wray and Chris Krebs, the director of DHS's Cybersecurity and Infrastructure Agency.
  • The FBI Agents Association called on Trump and Biden to retain Wray as director, throwing its muscle behind their leader amid reports Trump has discussed firing him immediately after the election. (Matt Zapotosky)
  • Officials are stressing the security of election systems to reassure voters, following revelations of foreign meddling. (Amy Gardner, Isaac Stanley-Becker and Elise Viebeck)
  • Election disinformation is arriving via text. Voters in swing states are receiving messages either discouraging them from voting or sharing false information about Biden. (Stanley-Becker and Tony Romm)
  • Florida Gov. Ron DeSantis (R) was briefly unable to vote this week because a 20-year-old man in Naples allegedly altered his voter registration. Authorities arrested Anthony Steven Guevara and charged him with felony voter fraud. (Politico)

Record numbers of covid-19 cases are leading to new state and local restrictions. 

“Officials in Colorado, Idaho, Massachusetts and Texas are imposing new restrictions on schools, businesses and social gatherings,” Joel Achenbach and Karin Brulliard report. “Although this has been a highly politicized pandemic, some of the new restrictions are arising with no regard for local political inclinations: Liberal-leaning El Paso is under a nightly curfew, while conservative-leaning Coeur d’Alene, Idaho, on Tuesday passed a mask mandate. In Massachusetts, a spike in cases prompted Boston Public Schools to suspend in-person learning last week … One forecast published Wednesday, by modelers at Children’s Hospital of Philadelphia, warned that the virus is spreading at exponential rates across at least half of the states and that only Hawaii will not see a rise in hospitalizations during the next four weeks. … 

“A federal government briefing document circulated to top officials and obtained by The Post rates the 3,141 counties in the country by levels of ‘concern’ and suggests it would be theoretically possible to travel from the Canada border all the way to northern Mississippi without exiting a ‘sustained hotspot’ county. Another forecast, updated Oct. 22 by the University of Washington’s Institute for Health Metrics and Evaluation, projected that by Nov. 11, the country would once again surpass 1,000 deaths a day from covid-19 … That same projection said the country would exceed 2,000 daily deaths Dec. 28. Those numbers are slightly less grim than the models projected in September, but they still envision close to 400,000 cumulative deaths from the virus by Feb. 1."

  • A Long Island wedding and birthday party infected 56 with the coronavirus. (Katie Shepherd)
  • The D.C. region hit an 11-week high in new infections. The rolling seven-day average of new infections across D.C., Virginia and Maryland stands at 1,949 cases, the most since Aug. 9. (Dana Hedgpeth, Laura Vozzella, Lola Fadulu and Rebecca Tan)
  • Tony Fauci, the government's top infectious-disease expert, said for the first time the federal government should “maybe” consider instituting a national mask mandate. (Antonia Farzan and Rick Noack)
  • “I think we’re entering the most difficult phase of the pandemic right now,” Trump's former FDA commissioner Scott Gottlieb said on CNBC.
  • Indiana’s RV capital faces its worst coronavirus outbreak alone. Health officials in communities like Elkhart County — where Trump is popular — feel they are being left to struggle with surging case counts and the worrisome price of an uncontrolled outbreak. (Todd Frankel)

A Maryland family battled covid-19 at the same time as Trump. It devastated them.

Trump climbed the steps of a White House balcony when he left the hospital after three days, saluted nobody in particular, took off his mask and urged Americans not to fear the disease. Thirty miles away, Carlton Coates Jr. sat in an Annapolis funeral home, staring at the casket that contained the body of his older sister, Michael Miller reports. “Carol Coates had battled covid-19 at the same time as the president. But instead of a suite at Walter Reed, the 46-year-old Black teacher self-isolated in the basement of her family’s home. And instead of the experimental cocktail of antibodies that Trump was given, she received get-well cards from her fifth-grade students. Carol had taught nine miles from the White House. But her illness unfolded in what seemed like a different universe than the one the president described. … ‘Don’t let it take over your lives,’ Trump said during his triumphal homecoming video. Yet for many people of color in the United States, the coronavirus has already taken the life of someone they loved. …

"It would take even more from Carlton Coates. His phone buzzed during his sister’s funeral, but the 43-year-old truck driver ignored it. It was only when he returned home and saw people gathered in the driveway that he knew something else had gone wrong. As they stepped out of the car, his fiancee pulled him aside. ‘I hate to tell you this,’ she said, ‘but your mom passed away.’ … 

“It’s not clear how the coronavirus crept into the pretty house with blue shutters in Anne Arundel County. But when it did, it was little surprise that both mother and daughter got sick. … ‘As the saying goes, ‘When White folks catch a cold, Black folks catch pneumonia,’’ said the Rev. Stephen Tillett, [the pastor] at Asbury Broadneck United Methodist Church [where Carlton’s mother, Dale, was a member]. … Dale was one of two Black receptionists at a predominantly White retirement home called Sunrise Senior Living in Annapolis. … Dale kept working despite her worries over falling ill."

White House officials called off a CDC effort to trace and contain its outbreak. 

“Officials say the White House called off early efforts to get to the bottom of the outbreak [after the Sept. 26 superspreader event in the Rose Garden], including sequencing the genomes of virus samples from infected individuals,”  Desmond Butler, Tom Hamburger, Lena Sun and Sarah Kaplan report. "This genetic analysis could have revealed shared mutations that linked cases in Washington and other affected communities. Had the administration done such an investigation, it would know whether infections among aides to Vice President Pence that were reported this past weekend bore the same genetic signature as earlier cases at the White House. That could indicate whether the virus was circulating among administration officials for weeks or had slipped through infection-control measures a second time.”

White House spokesman Brian Morgenstern claimed it is “unknowable” how the president became infected. “Of course it’s knowable,” countered Tom Frieden, who directed the CDC under President Barack Obama … “It’s only unknowable if you don’t want to know.” The White House also does not appear to have traced contacts or taken other basic public health precautions with the Gold Star families who visited on Sept. 27. Most attendees did not wear masks or maintain social distance as they talked with the president.

Documents obtained by congressional investigators show HHS Assistant Secretary for Public Affairs Michael Caputo sought to use a taxpayer-funded campaign to boost the president personally. “During a September meeting, for instance, he proposed that one of the themes be ‘Helping the President will Help the Country,’ according to one document they obtained from a contractor,” Yasmeen Abutaleb reports. “The documents show that Trump political appointees and the contractors they hired also vetted celebrities for the public health campaign based on whether they had ever criticized the president, or supported [Obama], gay rights or same-sex marriage. Of at least 274 celebrities under consideration, only 10 appear to have been approved, according to a document the lawmakers obtained. Among those who did not make the cut were actress Jennifer Lopez, because she had criticized the president’s immigration policies at her Super Bowl performance … None of the celebrity PSAs went live, and the campaign is under review at HHS.” Caputo has taken a leave of absence.

  • Jared Kushner bragged in April that Trump was taking the country “back from the doctors.” The president's son-in-law and senior adviser boasted, in a recorded interview with Bob Woodward, that Trump had cut out the scientists. (CNN)
  • A retired Maryland correctional officer arrested after trying to vote without a mask sued the Harford County Board of Elections and the sheriff’s office, saying his rights were violated. He’s seeking a temporary restraining order prohibiting the election board from requiring voters to wear masks. (Ovetta Wiggins and Erin Cox)
  • Principals are critical of the D.C. school system’s plan to reopen elementary schools, which involves reassigning staff in non-teaching positions, including behavioral technicians, to monitoring jobs watching children while teachers focus on small groups during video class. (Perry Stein)

Major League Baseball is investigating Justin Turner. 

“By returning to the field in the aftermath of the clinching win Tuesday — after leaving in the eighth inning following the news of a positive test and being placed under isolation, per MLB’s protocols — Turner and the members of the Dodgers who backed him thrust baseball directly into the larger societal divide over how to deal with a virus that has killed more than 226,000 Americans.” Dave Sheinin and Jesse Dougherty report. “On Wednesday afternoon, MLB said it was investigating the matter with the players’ union ‘within the parameters of their joint 2020 operations manual.’" The league said in a statement: "When MLB Security raised the matter of being on the field with Turner, he emphatically refused to comply."

  • The Big Ten, which joined college football on the field last weekend, joined it off the field yesterday in the burgeoning category of scheduling derailments. Wisconsin canceled its Saturday game against Nebraska because it reached a troubling number of positive tests – six players and six coaches. (Chuck Culpepper)
  • The Houston Texans closed their facilities after a player tested positive. (Mark Maske)
  • The Boston Marathon is postponing its 2021 race to at least autumn. The marathon is traditionally held on the third Monday in April. (Des Bieler)

Gloom settles over Europe as days darken and the virus surges. 

“The clocks were dialed back an hour across Europe this week, and the long nights come early. The hospitals are filling up as the cafes are shutting down. Governments are threatening to cancel Christmas gatherings,” William Booth, Chico Harlan, Loveday Morris and Michael Birnbaum report. “As new coronavirus infections surge again in Europe, breaking daily records, the mood is growing dark on the continent — and it’s not even November. … Germany and France on Wednesday joined those announcing shutdowns to try to get the virus under control. The new measures are less restrictive than in the spring, and yet they are facing more pushback. People are no longer so willing to bunker down in their little apartments, stepping out in the evenings to applaud courageous nurses. Nobody is singing arias from their balconies anymore. 

"Europeans remain scared of covid-19, but they are just as scared about jobs. They’re fried — and growing angry and belligerent, too. … Anti-riot squads in Italy this week fired tear gas to disperse violent crowds in Milan, who were protesting new lockdown measures. In Turin, demonstrators hurled gasoline bombs at police. In Germany, the streets swelled with protesters from the hospitality industry, while Chancellor Angela Merkel met with regional leaders to debate the partial lockdown, in which restaurants are closed but schools are staying open.” (A man shouting “Allahu akbar” killed three in a knife attack this morning at a church in Nice, France. President Emmanuel Macron is heading to the scene.)

One of the world’s largest lockdowns wound down yesterday in Australia. Melbourne allowed roughly 5 million people to leave their home anytime they want after more than three months. “The rollback came after the city reported zero new coronavirus cases on Monday and Tuesday, a dramatic drop from the hundreds logged each day during the outbreak’s peak in late July and early August,” Farzan and Miriam Berger report. "While the 111-day lockdown helped stop the spread of the virus, it has also taken a devastating toll on the local economy and mental health of residents." Meanwhile, Taiwan on Thursday celebrated its 200th day with no locally transmitted coronavirus infections, a milestone no other nation has reached.

The Trump agenda

Trump formalizes one of the most sweeping public lands rollbacks in U.S. history.

“Trump will open up more than half of Alaska’s Tongass National Forest to logging and other forms of development, according to a notice posted Wednesday, stripping protections that had safeguarded one of the world’s largest intact temperate rainforests for nearly two decades,” Juliet Eilperin reports. “As of Thursday, it will be legal for logging companies to build roads and cut and remove timber throughout more than 9.3 million acres of forest — featuring old-growth stands of red and yellow cedar, Sitka spruce and Western hemlock. … For years, federal and academic scientists have identified Tongass as an ecological oasis that serves as a massive carbon sink while providing key habitat for wild Pacific salmon and trout, Sitka black-tailed deer and myriad other species. It boasts the highest density of brown bears in North America, and its trees — some of which are between 300 and 1,000 years old — absorb at least 8 percent of all the carbon stored in the entire Lower 48′s forests combined. 

"‘While tropical rainforests are the lungs of the planet, the Tongass is the lungs of North America,’ Dominick DellaSala, chief scientist with the Earth Island Institute’s Wild Heritage project, said in an interview. ‘It’s America’s last climate sanctuary.’ While Trump has repeatedly touted his commitment to planting trees through the One Trillion Tree initiative, invoking it as recently as last week, his administration has sought to expand logging in Alaska and in the Pacific Northwest throughout his presidency. Federal judges have blocked several of these plans as illegal: Last week, the administration abandoned its appeal of a ruling that struck down a 1.8 million-acre timber sale on the Tongass’s Prince of Wales Island.”

Sen. Dan Sullivan (R-Alaska), who is locked in an unexpectedly tight reelection race, lobbied the president personally to exempt the state from the roadless rule on the grounds that it could help the economy in Alaska’s southeast. But, but, but: "Logging in Alaska costs U.S. taxpayers millions each year, because of a long-standing federal mandate that companies profit from any timber sale. This means the Forest Service often covers harvesters’ costs, including road building. … After Taxpayers for Common Sense commented during the federal environmental review that it would be more economically efficient to hold timber sales in parts of the forest that already have roads, the Forest Service acknowledged that that was true. … Ninety-six percent of the comments during the U.S. Forest Service’s environmental review opposed lifting the existing safeguards, while 1 percent supported it. … All five Alaska Native tribal nations withdrew as cooperating agencies in the process two weeks ago … ‘We refuse to allow legitimacy upon a process that has disregarded our input at every turn,’ the tribal leaders wrote.”

A Turkish bank case showed Erdogan’s influence over Trump.

“Geoffrey S. Berman was outraged. The top federal prosecutor in Manhattan, Mr. Berman had traveled to Washington in June 2019 to discuss a particularly delicate case with Attorney General William P. Barr and some of his top aides: a criminal investigation into Halkbank, a state-owned Turkish bank suspected of violating U.S. sanctions law by funneling billions of dollars of gold and cash to Iran,” the New York Times reports. “For months, President Recep Tayyip Erdogan of Turkey had been pressing President Trump to quash the investigation, which threatened not only the bank but potentially members of Mr. Erdogan’s family and political party. 

“When Mr. Berman sat down with Mr. Barr, he was stunned to be presented with a settlement proposal that would give Mr. Erdogan a key concession. Mr. Barr pressed Mr. Berman to allow the bank to avoid an indictment by paying a fine … In addition, the Justice Department would agree to end investigations and criminal cases involving Turkish and bank officials who were allied with Mr. Erdogan … ‘This is completely wrong,’ Mr. Berman later told lawyers in the Justice Department … ‘You don’t grant immunity to individuals unless you are getting something from them — and we wouldn’t be here.’ …

“Six months earlier, Matthew G. Whitaker, the acting attorney general who ran the department from November 2018 until Mr. Barr arrived in February 2019, rejected a request from Mr. Berman for permission to file criminal charges against the bank, two lawyers involved in the investigation said. Mr. Whitaker blocked the move shortly after Mr. Erdogan repeatedly pressed Mr. Trump in a series of conversations in November and December 2018 to resolve the Halkbank matter. … 

“At the White House, Mr. Trump’s handling of the matter became troubling even to some senior officials at the time. The president was discussing an active criminal case with the authoritarian leader of a nation in which Mr. Trump does business; he reported receiving at least $2.6 million in net income from operations in Turkey from 2015 through 2018, according to tax records … And Mr. Trump’s sympathetic response to Mr. Erdogan was especially jarring because it involved accusations that the bank had undercut Mr. Trump’s policy of economically isolating Iran."

Trump has waged war on his own government.

“Early in the new administration, the White House wanted a big win for Trump on one of his top campaign promises — getting rid of poor performers at the Department of Veterans Affairs. Scott Foster got the order from his boss, a senior political appointee: Draw up a list of underachievers and give ‘your best 10’ so the president could announce their firing at a signing ceremony for a law allowing fast dismissals at VA. Foster, a seasoned personnel official, balked. The employees still had the right to due process, he argued. Within weeks, his boss tried to sack him,” Lisa Rein, Tom Hamburger, Eilperin and Andrew Freedman report. “It was one of the first shots in what became an unwavering four-year war on the civil servants who have operated as the backbone of the federal government for more than a century. … 

“In the past four fiscal years, the Office of Special Counsel, an independent anti-corruption office, has received 20,505 complaints from federal employees alleging government wrongdoing, retaliation for whistleblowing or other improper treatment, a 26 percent jump from [Obama’s] first term … Nowhere has Trump’s campaign to undermine career public servants been more forceful than at the Justice Department … Many civil servants quit Trump’s government in frustration. Others were forced out, if not by overt firings then by efforts to make their jobs untenable. A growing number have gone public with their concerns. Still others kept quiet, choosing to ride out the storm.” 

Trump’s order creating a new class of federal employees without workplace protections beckons images of the spoils system the civil service was designed to defeat, Joe Davidson explains.

Miles Taylor was “Anonymous.” 

“Taylor, the ex-chief of staff in the Department of Homeland Security who has spent the past two months building a case against reelecting Trump, revealed himself Wednesday to be the presidential critic from inside the administration known only as ‘Anonymous,’” Colby Itkowitz and Josh Dawsey report. “Taylor, who served in the administration for two years, wrote in a Medium post revealing his identity that his criticisms of Trump were ‘widely held among officials at the highest levels of the federal government. In other words, Trump’s own lieutenants were alarmed by his instability.’ Using the nom de plume, Taylor first wrote a scathing New York Times op-ed in 2018 purporting to be among a group of people inside the administration working to protect the country from the president’s worst instincts … Anonymous reemerged in 2019 with a buzzy tell-all book … Trump, at a campaign rally in Arizona, vilified Taylor, calling him a ‘sleazebag’ and a ‘low-life.’"

As Kirstjen Nielsen's right-hand man, Taylor was "involved in some of the administration’s most draconian immigration policies, including the ban on travel from mostly Muslim countries and the separation of immigrant children from their parents at the border. He regularly met with Trump during the president’s tirades about immigration before the 2018 midterm elections. … Reaction to Taylor’s unmasking was mixed, with critics questioning the New York Times’ decision to grant anonymity to a staffer at his level, as many had been left with the impression that the author was someone in the Cabinet or more senior."

The election

Democrats in Pennsylvania and North Carolina claim key wins at the Supreme Court. 

The justices allowed extended periods for receiving mail-in ballots in both states, Robert Barnes reports. “They declined to disturb decisions that allow Pennsylvania officials to receive ballots cast by Election Day and received within three days, and a ruling by North Carolina’s elections board that set a grace period of nine days. In both of the cases, the Republican Party and GOP legislators had opposed the extensions, and Trump has railed on the campaign trail about the mail-in vote. Three conservative justices – Clarence Thomas, Samuel A. Alito Jr. and Neil M. Gorsuch – objected in both cases. New Justice Amy Coney Barrett did not participate in either case. Her decision did not signal a blanket recusal in election cases involving Trump … Instead, Barrett indicated through a court spokeswoman that the cases needed prompt decisions and that, having started work Tuesday, she did not have time to fully review the legal arguments.”

  • At least 73.3 million people have voted nationwide. That’s 53 percent of the total number of votes cast in 2016. (Brittany Renee Mayes and Kate Rabinowitz)
  • More than 42 million of the 92 million mail ballots requested by voters nationally have not been returned as the window closes for USPS delivery, prompting a flurry of warnings from election officials that ballots sent via mail at this point may not arrive in time to be counted. (Derek Hawkins and Jacob Bogage)
  • USPS reports distressingly poor delivery rates in swing states, with numbers falling below 60 percent. (Bogage)
  • About $14 billion will be spent in the 2020 election, according to the Center for Responsive Politics. That's more than twice as expensive as 2016. In fact, more money will be spent on this year's campaigns than the previous two presidential cycles combined. (OpenSecrets.org)
  • Rupert Murdoch, the owner of Fox News, has told associates that he’s resigned to a Trump loss but is preparing for Fox News to become the “standard-bearer of the resistance” in a Biden administration. (Sarah Ellison and Jeremy Barr)
  • Judy Kosik, 70, will be voting for the first time ever this year. The mother of two grown children lives in Scranton, Pa., and will back Biden. “This year, I have all the reasons in the world to vote,” she told Karen Heller. “Trump doesn’t care about us. He thinks this virus is just going to go away. This world is chaos. This world is nuts.”
  • An NBC-Marist poll out this morning puts Biden up 4 points among likely voters in Florida, 51 percent to 47 percent.

Unrest in Philadelphia after police killed a Black man is a problem for Biden in Pennsylvania.

“Trump has seized on riots and looting that erupted in the aftermath of Monday’s shooting in an effort to portray Biden as soft on crime,” Sean Sullivan reports. “Biden has pushed back on those attacks, saying repeatedly that he does not condone looting and has no tolerance for violence against police. He also expressed outrage at the killing of Walter Wallace Jr., condemning in strong terms ‘another Black life in America lost.’ … To secure victory, Biden is counting on strong support from the populous suburbs around Philadelphia. Those areas have swung sharply Democratic since 2016, but Trump believes he can win back some of his supporters with his law-and-order message. … But Biden also needs high turnout among African Americans and other supporters in the city, where voters tend to be more liberal. And the former vice president’s emphasis on violent protesters has frustrated some, who say he should focus less on looting and more on racial justice.”

The city imposed a 9 p.m. curfew and called in the National Guard last night. “The moves by Philadelphia Mayor Jim Kenney (D) were aimed at curbing incidents of looting, fires and dozens of minor injuries to officers that officials said were caused by people taking advantage of the backlash against the shooting," Robert Klemko, Katie Shepherd, Maura Ewing, Mark Berman and Griff Witte report. “The order to shut down the city overnight came as Philadelphia’s police union demanded that authorities release information about the Monday afternoon shooting that has so far been kept out of public view.”

  • Protesters marched through D.C., attacking police vehicles and confronting officers outside a district station for a second night as they sought information about the death of Karon Hylton. Tensions grew along with the size of the protest, and police used pepper spray and flashbang devices to push demonstrators away from the station. (Clarence Williams, Samantha Schmidt and Tom Jackman)
  • Breonna Taylor’s mother said her case should be considered by a new prosecutor, a demand backed by two grand jurors who say the Kentucky state attorney general’s office refused to give them all the evidence they asked for in weighing whether to bring charges against officers who shot and killed Taylor in her home. Protesters have been marching in Louisville for more than 150 straight days. (Marisa Iati)
  • A Black voting rights activist is confronting the ghosts of racial terror in North Carolina. For Cynthia Brown, this election isn't just about the future. It’s also about Wilmington's harrowing past. (Sydney Trent)

A surge of new voters and Trump antipathy are giving Democrats hope for a win in Texas.

“The state has led the country in early voting, and more than 8 million Texans have cast ballots, more than 90 percent of the overall number who voted in 2016. Some experts project that turnout could hit 12 million by Election Day,” Jenna Johnson and Arelis Hernandez report. “Democratic super PACs are pumping millions of dollars into the state during the final days of campaigning, which Republicans say they probably will not be able to match. On Wednesday, Biden’s campaign launched a three-day ‘Soul of the Nation’ bus tour that will stop in Amarillo, Lubbock, Abilene, Fort Worth and Dallas. [Harris] plans to campaign Friday in McAllen, Fort Worth and Houston — a rare move for a vice-presidential candidate of any party so close to Election Day. … In the four years since the last presidential election, at least 2 million people have moved to Texas, many of them Democrats from places like California, Florida, New York and Illinois. An estimated 800,000 young Latino Americans have turned 18, and a wave of immigrants became naturalized citizens. More than 3 million Texans have newly registered to vote.” (The Cook Political Report shifted its rating for Texas from “Leans Republican” to “Toss Up.”)

Trump attacked and belittled female politicians during an Arizona rally. 

“Trump purposely mispronounced Sen. Kamala Harris’s first name, and then repeatedly accused her of being angry about it, leaning into racist and sexist tropes about Black women,” Itkowitz reports. “‘Kamala, you know, if you don’t pronounce her name exactly right, she gets very angry at you,’ Trump said. ‘And then, you know what she does when she gets angry, she starts laughing. … Uncontrollable laughs. That means she’s angry.’ The president also repeated his standard rally attacks against U.S. Reps. Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez (D-N.Y.) and Ilhan Omar (D-Minn.), two young women of color, questioning the former’s education and the latter’s loyalty to America. ‘How the hell does she get elected? She does not like our country,’ Trump said of Omar … Trump also patronized U.S. Sen. Martha McSally, who is locked in a difficult reelection fight in Arizona. While he invited several male lawmakers from out of state and Nigel Farage, a former British politician, to come speak, the president acted put out when he brought McSally up to address her constituents. ‘Martha, come up. Just fast. Fast. Fast. Come on, quick. You got one minute. One minute, Martha, they don’t want to hear this, Martha. Come on, let’s go. Quick, quick, quick, quick. Come on, let’s go,’ he said as she hurried to the stage.”

  • The use of a Marine Corps helicopter at a Trump campaign event has raised questions about both safety and partisanship in the unit. Trump shared a video on Wednesday of the aircraft hovering low over a large group of the president’s supporters as many of them cheered. (Dan Lamothe)
  • A man was arrested at a rally for Trump headlined by South Dakota Gov. Kristi Noem (R) after he brandished a knife and a wooden baton. (ABC News)
  • A Delaware man accused of plotting to kidnap Michigan Gov. Gretchen Whitmer (D) also threatened to hang Trump and posted a hit list on Facebook targeting other elected leaders, including Obama, according to an unsealed search warrant affidavit. (Detroit News)

Quote of the day

“I don’t see myself really staying where I’m at for the rest of my life,” Rep. Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez (D-N.Y.), 31, told Vanity Fair

Social media speed read

Minnesota Gov. Tim Walz (D) and three of his predecessors, including Tim Pawlenty (R) and Jesse Ventura (I), jointly recorded a public-service announcement urging people to vote – and wear masks:

Former Republican senator Jeff Flake urged conservatives to vote for Biden in Arizona:

And some people are having too much “fun” with their Halloween decorations:

Videos of the day

Seth Meyers warned that Trump and Justice Brett Kavanaugh are signaling their intent to steal the election:

Trevor Noah compared Biden and Obama’s campaign performances now that Obama is the one who gets to have fun, and Biden has to be serious: 

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