Chat transcript: How does a SCOTUS vacancy impact the 2020 race?

Sep 24, 2020

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Over the summer, Aaron Blake gamed out a few things  that could change the contours of a presidential race. The first thing on that list has happened. 

Ruth Bader Ginsburg is being mourned at the Supreme Court today, as the clock ticks down to Nov. 3. So we’ve been analyzing ramifications of her death, on the court, Congress, and the presidential and down-ballot races. We're sure you have thoughts and questions too. What are they? Let's chat. 

Since the replacement of RBG by a conservative judge is a foregone conclusion, why is so much attention being paid to it?

I think the first reason was her life, and the timing of her death, were both politically momentous.

Now President Trump has the rare chance to add three new justices to the Supreme Court, and Republicans are hoping that eases the sting in polls for how he's handled the pandemic.

Then, this is big news for how this nominee is moving forward -- less than six weeks before an election, led by Republicans who opposed filling a Supreme Court vacancy in an election year when the shoe was on the other foot and a Democratic president had the opportunity to fill it. 

In announcing his decision to support a vote on Trump's Supreme Court nominee, Sen. Mitt Romney said this: “My liberal friends have over many decades gotten very used to the idea of having a liberal court, but that's not written in the stars,” the Utah Republican told reporters after this decision. He called it “appropriate for a nation that is … center-right to have a court which reflects center-right points of view.” Do you have any idea what he meant by this? I ask because the last time a majority of Supreme Court justices had been appointed by Democratic presidents was 1969. Second, polling on most issues shows that Americans are center-left, not right. And third, even if his premise were factual, that still doesn't address the brazen hypocrisy of proceeding with hearings and a vote six weeks before a national election.

I think he was referring to the Supreme Court deciding some big cases against Republican and conservative wishes -- like most notably legalizing gay marriage, or more recently, LGBTQ workplace protections, or upholding gun control and abortion right laws in states. Another phrase you'll hear for this is "activist judges." But it wasn't all liberal judges deciding this. Chief Justice John Roberts, a Bush appointee, was a big vote for legalizing same-sex marriage. And Trump's first appointee, Neil Gorsuch, wrote the opinion enshrining LGBT workplace protections.

Barack Obama is probably the most popular Democrat around. How do you see Biden and Democrats deploying him this fall? I'm starting to get worried about Warnock making the runoff in the Georgia special.

It appears that Joe Biden may use Barack Obama to connect with the groups on the left that he is most popular with -- voters of color and young voters. The thought behind this approach is that had these voters shown up in 2016 at rates similar to how they turned out in 2008, then Trump would have lost the election. Biden's hope might be that Obama can encourage these demographics to vote at a higher rate than they did in 2016.

Murkowski, Collins, and Moore Capito are the only three Republicans who are at least nominally pro-choice. Murkowski and Collins have publicly stated their thoughts on a vote. What about Moore Capito?

Capito has said she's on-board: "The Constitution authorizes the president to name a nominee, and it gives the Senate the power to approve or disapprove of that nomination. West Virginians and the American people expect us to exercise that responsibility. I support the choice to move forward with the confirmation process and will consider President Trump’s nominee on her merits as West Virginians would expect me to do."

It's worth noting that supporting or opposing doesn't necessarily mean "I will vote yes" or "I will vote no." I'd expect Capito will support whoever it is, as she has with Gorsuch and Kavanaugh. But the process argument might make it easier for Murkowski and Collins to oppose the nominee -- and avoid the tough questions about Roe v. Wade.

The Post is tracking the positions of all Republican senators on filling the Supreme Court vacancy here.

What options are on the table to stop, or at least slow the confirmation of a new justice? Obviously, the filibuster requirement was removed. But what happened to anonymous holds? If Democrats retake the Senate (and White House), could they strip the Court of jurisdiction in key areas another conservative may influence (e.g., abortion, Obamacare, EPA regulating greenhouse gases)? Basically, what are the options beyond court-packing?

Yeah, so stopping it isn't going to happen. Democrats' only option was to put public pressure on moderate Republicans to hold this thing up, and that fell flat pretty quickly. Within days of learning of RBG's vacancy -- and before Trump has even announced someone -- Republicans appeared to have the 51 votes they needed to approve Trump's nominee.

Democrats can and probably will try to delay this, by throwing out procedural motions to draw out the nominee's hearing. The hope there might be they win back the Senate in November and the White House, and then it looks even more politically awkward/opportunistic for Republicans to push through this nominee in a lame-duck session. (Though I still think Senate Republicans would be tempted to do it.)

I don't think Democrats can pass laws to take away the court's ability to decide cases. That would seem like an overstep of separation of powers. 

What they can do, and are discussing, is getting rid of the filibuster in the Senate so they can pass laws over Republicans' objections. That doesn't really solve the Supreme Court conservative tilt, but it takes obstacles in Congress largely out of the way.

I ask the Post to publish the information from the states. I suspect that no states send out absentee ballots to just anyone, “millions and millions”. Could the Post list each states rules regarding that? If the ballots are sent to all REGISTERED voters only, if they are sent to those who request them and are registered, whether no excuse required or not. Please do this so it is clear about the misinformation.

The Post's graphics team has a very handy tool for this, which I hope you'll find useful!

we could go for the whole week between these chats without the ground shifting beneath the political landscape?

I feel like every week I am writing chat intros along these lines ("Can you believe what happened since our last chat?" or some such). Big stories keep us motivated and focused in this weird time, so I am grateful to be in a position where we can help people make sense of things. But yeah, if this pace keeps up, I'm going to need to have a word with whoever coined the phrase "may you live in interesting times." 

Do you think Lindsay Graham's reelection will be helped or hurt by his decision to support a nominee and the time taken away from campaigning by the nomination process?

The confirmation process could end up helping Graham by galvanizing and shoring up support among the conservative base. Graham will regularly be on national television as chairman of the Senate Judiciary Committee in the closing weeks of a race where he is being outspent by his Democratic challenger, Jaime Harrison, so it's very possible that this nominating fight could benefit Graham's electoral prospects in a tight race. However, a majority of voters nationally have said the president elected in November should choose the nominee for the Supreme Court vacancy, which could hurt Graham.

Hi everyone -- thanks for taking questions during another pivotal week (but aren't they all?). Just like the impeachment trial, Sen. Collins gets to cast a risk-free no vote for moving forward with a new Supreme Court justice before the election. Being the meticulous vote counter that he is, my cynical take is that Leader McConnell knew in advance that he had the votes so she got the go-ahead to break with him because her vote would make no difference in the end. Do you think that her position is going to help her with Maine voters?

There is no question that this kind of thing goes on -- letting people vote no if their vote doesn't matter and the vote will succeed anyway. And Collins would be the top of that list, as far as getting a pass.

But it's still not an easy situation for her. What about the Trump voters that it might turn off? She needs them too. there any % of a Biden win that Trump would say on/near end of election week--okay, he won?

Trump has provided no numbers that he would find so trustworthy that it would lead him to automatically accept the results. Based on his words and actions in the months leading up to the election, it seems more likely that if Biden was beating Trump significantly that the president would accuse his opponent and the left of cheating. 

If there is a "blue surge" where the vote tally swings from Trump to Biden after the mail-in ballots are counted, how do you think Trump will respond? Do you think the apocalyptic scenarios are likely?

I think it's possible he would try to argue those votes were somehow wrongly cast -- he's been laying such a groundwork all summer -- while GOP lawyers challenge some counts in states in court cases, dragging this out for weeks. 

That is what some political scientists think could be the worst of all situations: It's not immediately clear who won, and there's an opportunity for Trump to try to muddle the results, and then use that confusion to argue he should stay in power. 

Wow. The competitive Senate races feel very volatile and hard to gauge. Of the less discussed races, where are you focusing your attention on? Kansas, Alaska, South Carolina or others?

Alaska is always an intriguing state, and it's slightly different in that it's a Republican versus and independent (albeit one who has said he'll caucus with Democrats). Remember that the state in 2014 elected an independent governor.

Kansas is also intriguing, though the GOP dodged a bullet by not nominating Kobach. But it's also an open seat, and the state just elected a Democratic governor.

South Carolina might wind up being closer than both of them, but I just wonder how much more difficult it might be for Democrats to actually WIN it -- as getting over that hump in the South is often very difficult, particularly in a presidential election year.

It's tough to choose between them, honestly.

...about state legislatures assigning electors on the basis of "the mail-in count can't be trusted," and other things. Do you have any thoughts or perspective on this? It seems like a top priority of journalists in this period should be hammering home over and over again that the count will not be done by Election Day but that that is not a sign of fraud or inaccuracy.

The Post has yet to confirm The Atlantic reporting about state legislators potentially assigning electors while ignoring all or parts of the mail-in vote in that state.

It seems quite obvious why Trump wants to fill RBG's seat BEFORE Election Day. That way, no matter how badly the popular and Electoral College votes go against him, he can sue his way to the Supreme Court and get the results he wants. And who is going to stop him? Not the current Senate. And even if it appears that the Democrats have won back the Senate, he will try to have those elections challanged and results thrown out. So much for American democracy.

I have no idea whether this is part of the calculus, but I wouldn't be so sure the Supreme Court would give him what he wants. Gorsuch and Roberts have both voted against him on some key stuff. There would need to be real doubt about something in order for that to come into play -- both a very close race and some actual viable controversy about what transpired. And even then, the justices would no longer have to deal with Trump if they voted that he lost.

When it's all said and done, is there really anything at all my fellow Democrats can do to stop or stall the Republicans filling the seat now?

Not if the GOP has the votes. The majority can do what it wants, regardless of past stated principles. The best recourse for Democrats is try to convinced 3-4 Republicans to vote against it and try to make it an issue in the election (which they didn't do very well with Garland in 2016, though that was much further out).

Does the shooting of police officers during protests help Trump's "Law and Order" platform enough to overcome unhappiness at a system that prevents charging police officers for killing an innocent Black woman? Or is the systemic issue large enough to negate the impact of cops being shot?

It really depends on which group you are talking about. Some lawmakers have joined the president in drawing more  attention to the fact that two cops were shot than to the decision not to charge any police officers for the Breonna Taylor's death. There has been reporting to support that some voters -- mostly those who are from groups that have backed Trump in the past -- are concerned with ongoing protests across the country and fear them turning more violent. Learning that two police officers were killed amid protests appears to reinforce those concerns. 

Would the House impeaching Barr and/or DeJoy necessarily mean a delay in the Senate's confirmation of a replacement for RBG? My recollection is that an impeachment case from the House necessarily takes priority over all other Senate business.

Any impeachment trial is supposed to start at around 12, so the Senate could do its regular work in the morning. (Plus, that wouldn't stop any Senate Judiciary Committee hearings, which is where the bulk of the work for this nomination will be done.)

But I think an impeachment in the House would probably take longer than speeding through a Supreme Court nominee. 

Polls show that Trump has retaken the lead in FL, GA, TX, NC, IA, AZ, and the rest of the red "swing states," while Biden's lead is dwindling in PA, MI, and WI. Biden needs to win all three to take the White House. Are we looking at a repeat of 2016?

I'm not sure I see Biden's lead in PA and WI "dwindling" -- particularly in WI. And some of those other states remain very close. The key for me right now is Florida. If Biden loses that, he needs at least two of WI, MI and PA, but he's favored in all 3 by 4.5-6.5 points. If he wins Florida, he probably only needs 1 of the 3. If he can pick off another close state, he's got even more margin for error along the Rust Belt.

If the Democrats do flip enough seats, will Schumer become Majority Leader, or will there be a challenger(s)?

I'm not hearing any rumblings that it wouldn't be Sen. Schumer. Typically, if a leader helps navigate his party into the majority, she or he is going to get rewarded with the top leadership spot. 

Supreme Court justices don’t necessarily act the way we think they will. There are plenty of SCOTUS picks who disappointed or even angered the president who picked them, such as Oliver Wendell Holmes, Earl Warren, Sandra Day O'Connor, David Souter, Anthony M. Kennedy, Salmon P Chase, among others.

No question. Roberts has already alienated Republicans on several occasions, including Obamacare. And Gorsuch has some rulings against Trump's side. These justices have lifetime appointments, so they can do what they want. That doesn't mean they don't have ideologies that tend toward one side or another or don't feel political pressure, but it's no so simple as believing all of Trump's appointees will vote with him on something as momentous as a contested election.

Are there any Republican senators running for re-election whose chances could be hurt by a rushed SCOTUS pick? Are there three or four of them who could be convinced that they stand a better chance to be re-elected if they don’t approve a vote on a SCOTUS nominee before Nov. 3?

This is certainly a vote Collins would prefer to have after the election. I'd probably say that about Gardner too, given his state has trended blue. It's not an easy decision for either of them.

That said, I don't see there being enough no votes, because being part of depriving the GOP of a 6-3 conservative court (rather than, say, being a no vote even if it passes) would totally invite people to stay home. And I'm not sure any of the others come from a blue enough state to warrant voting no.

Will this really help the Democrats or is it too late in the game for a huge infusion of cash to make a difference? Should this outpouring worry the Republicans?

Senate Democratic strategists I've talked to say they're excited by the rush of donations and see it as a good sign. And Republicans do seem a little worried that, this time, Democrats have caught on to how important court battles are. (It's an issue that normally animates conservatives.) That could be because liberals feel like their back is against the wall when it comes to keeping Roe v. Wade legalized. 

Recent polls show Biden giving Trump a run for his money there. Given how handily Trump won it in 2016, how significant is this? Not in electoral votes, necessarily, but does indicate a possible trend/wave overall? And how does it impact the incumbent Ernst?

If Trump loses Iowa (and a poll today from Monmouth University showed him +6 with registered voters and +3 with likely voters), he's lost the election. There's no way he loses that without also losing Wisconsin and Michigan and quite possibly Ohio and Pennsylvania.

How many states that did not provide universal mail-in ballots for general elections will be doing so this year? Because that is where the administration is focusing their made up claims of voter fraud, and I'm curious how many of those states are even swing states.

Five states mail ballots to all registered voters for every election: Colorado, Hawaii, Oregon, Utah and Washington.

Four additional states plus the District of Columbia are mailing ballots to all registered voters in the 2020 election because of the coronavirus pandemic: California, Nevada, New Jersey and Vermont.

To your point, only Nevada could reasonably be considered a "swing state" in the 2020 presidential election, per states that the Cook Political Report rates as a "toss up," "lean Democrat" or "lean Republican."

Considering the presence of Senators Manchin and Sinema, and then the possibility of some more liberal institutionalists, how many seats would the Democrats have to hold in 2021 to realistically be able to abolish the filibuster?

It's a very good question -- one that I don't think people raise enough. It's not just a matter of getting to 51 Democratic votes in the Senate, just like it's not so simple as McConnell snapping his fingers and doing it right now, with 53 votes.

I'd guess mid-50s, at least, for a full nuclear option? Unless there is a serious sense of grievance that pushes some others over the edge.

The polls have recently changed from al voters to likely voters, Normally, this tends to increase the Republican vote since Republicans are more likely to turn out to vote than Democrats. Have recent conditions regarding issues changed this so that there are more likely Democratic votes than usually expected?

In conversations with some leaders of voter outreach organizations, it appears that there has been an uptick in registration among some groups that do not have a history of turning out as highly as Republicans. Groups who target young voters and Latino voters have seen an increase in registration among those groups and others this summer amid racial protests. And data supports that these groups are more likely to back Democratic candidates than those on the Right.

If Trump wins re-election, what does the Senate look like? I assume the GOP retains its seats in IA, NC, MT, and GA, but can Gardner win in CO, and can the GOP pick up seats in MI and MN?

This is speculation, but I do think it makes sense to predict that if the president wins re-election, Republican voters have coalesced around the president and the party in a way the polls haven't shown, and that means a number of endangered Senate Republicans keep their seats. Iowa and Montana and Georgia and North Carolina are all good guesses. Maybe even Martha McSally in Arizona, where a recent Post-ABC poll showed the race tightening (in a good way) for her against her Democratic challenger.

Unless there's a pretty big GOP wave, which seems unlikely, I don't see Republicans picking up seats anywhere but Alabama. And Sen. Gardner in Colorado would still seem to be in trouble.

Here's my most recent rankings of the most competitive Senate races, and here's my step-by-step path for how Democrats take back the Senate.

The nomination and confirmation of Trump's appointment is a done deal. Assuming it occurs before Election Day, is that possibly better for Democrats? Meaning that Republicans would no longer have the argument they need to be elected to control the Court while it will focus Democrats more on the Court than they ever have been and potentially increase turnout and support?

There's an old political saying that it's better to have something to vote for or against rather than to ask people to reward you for something that's already happened.

There is certainly reason to wait for the lame duck, politically. But that's probably offset by the fact that waiting till then would create possibly and even-shorter timetable to get this done (if Dems take the Senate). And what happens if the nominee suddenly has a problem? GOP doesn't want to risk that, given the momentousness of getting this one confirmed.

Confirming them after you've lost the Senate could also be politically problematic, in that you'd be pushing through someone despite voters explicitly rejecting your party's control of such a process.

So sad that my hero, Ruth Bader Ginsberg, died last Friday. Given my current feelings, I am taking a hiatus from most news and especially social media. I can't bare to see politicians from both sides politicizing RBG's death. Thank you all for the good work you do as journalists in this difficult time.

Thank you for your support. This is indeed a difficult time for many Americans.

Natalie, the full phrase is "may you BE CURSED TO live in interesting times." You don't have to have a word with them; they knew it isn't a picnic. (Also, they died a long time ago, in China.)

So you are saying I shouldn't compare my plight (dealing with a news storm on a beautiful fall weekend) to the originators (and whatever horrors transpired that they found curse worthy)? I guess. 

Is Trump helping or hurting his reelection chances by nominating a replacement for Ginsburg before the election? On the one hand, it could bolster his reputation for doing whatever it takes to nominate conservative judges. On the other hand, it could be the final thing on-the-fence Republicans want from him before they're willing to let him go. Even without buying into the argument that the next president should make the nomination, Trump could simply (and plausibly) claim that there isn't enough time to choose a nominee/hold hearings before the election. Same goes for Lindsay Graham and other senators who face a tough reelection. Maybe the more establishment Republicans (McConnell, Grassley, Romney) are acting so quickly because they know (and possibly don't mind) that there's a good chance Trump will lose?

One of the reasons Trump saw significant support from some groups that many people doubted would back him in such high numbers (white conservative Christians, for one) is because of his support for conservative judges. The president is hoping that by nominating a judge that aligns with these individuals views of America, he can remind them of one of the stronger points of his administration (according to conservatives) and move some of those voters who have become less enthusiastic about him to actually turn out in support of him.

Will this help Biden (and Kelly) in AZ? She clearly didn't care that Trump was certain to disparage her in a tweet the next morning (at 4:22 am?).

I can't pretend to know how much regard Arizonans have for Cindy McCain. But prior to his death, John McCain was very unpopular with Arizona Republicans and also unpopular with independents -- while being popular with Democrats. That could have changed after his death, but I wonder how many voters that aren't already on-board with Biden that it truly might sway.

Whatever happened with the effort by the chairman of the House Ways and Means committee to get Trump's tax returns under Internal Revenue Code § 6101(f)(1)? Section 6101(f)(3) requires Treasury and the IRS to turn any tax return requested by the chairs of House Ways & Means, Senate Finance and Joint Committee on Taxation. That is entirely separate from the House impeachment and the Manhattan District Attorney lawsuits.

In January, District Court Judge Trevor McFadden stayed the lawsuit until the DC Circuit ruled on a separate House Judiciary Committee lawsuit to compel the testimony of former White House Counsel Don McGahn.

In August, a three judge panel dismissed the Judiciary Committee lawsuit, but House Speaker Nancy Pelosi (D-Calif.) said she would seek a review by the full D.C. Circuit. Pelosi also told reporters in August that the House would still pursue Trump's tax returns even if he loses the 2020 election.

So in short, the Ways and Means lawsuit for Trump's taxes is still on hold until the McGahn lawsuit is resolved.

Which party benefits if the seat is filled before the election? Which party is hurt if the battle rages and it is postponed to the Lame Duck Session?

Republicans can't decide what schedule works best for them politically. Some say they think moving quickly could keep the base motivated by showing they're really committed to this -- and risk having to push it through after the election, in the potential chaos of not knowing all the results, and if they lost power. 

Others argue that they should wait for the lame duck to confirm this person because it would give conservative voters a reason to come out, and then a "reward" for doing it.

What's Kamala Harris been up to? I haven't heard much about what she has been doing the past few weeks.

She's been around, doing some travel and campaigning, but you're right that she hasn't made news in weeks. Her debate is coming up in two weeks, and remember, she is on the Senate Judiciary committee, which will hold hearings to vet Trump's SCOTUS nominee. Her handling of that will be highly scrutinized. 

Please address the fact that in 2016, Joe Biden said "Deciding in advance simply to turn your back before the president even names a nominee is not an option the Constitution leaves open. It's a plain abdication from the Senate's duty." Now he says the Senate should, in fact, do what he said before was unconstitutional. Is it fair to say that potential president Joe now thinks his own personal power trumps the Constitution?

As I wrote this week, some Democrats did argue in 2016 that there was some kind of constitutional imperative for the Senate to take up a nomination. You could certainly argue that should apply to today, if it was truly a constitutional principle (which I think goes too far, given the "consent" of the Senate could also be read to be declining to consent to consider a nomination).

But when your opponents effectively change the rules when it benefits them, continuing to follow a different rule is a great recipe for ceding power.

Although it may not affect the Electoral College, I wonder how the President is doing in the so-called Red States. Is his percentage in the polling showing that he is losing support in these states, not enough to affect the outcome, but to show that his message is losing ground in his natural turf?

You know, there hasn't been a lot of polling in these states. But overall, there's a trend that Trump's lead is slipping. In congressional districts he won by double digits, it's expected to be closer. Or in Montana, a state he won by 20 points, strategists say he could win by 10 or 12, so a lot less. And the trendline is Republican support slipping away because of his handling of the pandemic.

Hi Fixers, First, I don't think that the SC vacancy should be filled this year. I really like the idea of reasonably balanced SC. That said, much of the coverage has been of the Republican flip/flop since the SC situation in 2016. But haven't a number of folks on the other side also flopped and flipped? Also, imagine if Garland had been appointed back in 2016, and Gorsuch was still Trump's first appointee. Do you think Kavanaugh would be his current selection, or would he still have gone with promising to appoint a woman to fill the vacancy left by Ruth Bader Ginsburg?

Yes, there is definitely hypocrisy among Senate Democrats around the vacancy left by Ginsburg. Many of the same Democrats who wanted to fill the vacancy in 2016 are now saying it should be held open until 2021. And Democrats and Republicans have changed their rhetoric about Senate rules and procedures for confirming judicial nominees depending on the outcome they have wanted, some of which I documented here.

Obviously there are some differences with the 2020 vacancy -- namely that it is much closer to the election and the Senate and White House are controlled by the same political party -- but years of partisanship and hypocrisy by Democrats and Republicans has led to this moment, as I wrote about in 2018.

We are long past the days when the Supreme Court was said to have a "Jewish seat" and a "Catholic seat." But the justices include five confessed Catholics (and one cradle Catholic who converted to Episcopalianism) and two Jews, and the two most prominent judges being bandied about by the president are both Catholic. Is there any sense that this Catholic tilt is a political issue for anyone? Are evangelical Protestants, for instance, exerting pressure to see evangelicals on the Court?

I have not seen any significant pushback to the amount of Catholic representation on the courts from those who believe that the faith of certain justices could have negative implications for Americans more broadly. Conservative Catholics align well with the issues that come before courts that matter most to white evangelicals. For that reasons, many white evangelicals seem content with the presence of conservative Catholics on the court and have not made much fuss about wanting to see an evangelical on the bench.

The Biden campaign is apparently focusing on debate prep over public appearances. Is his campaign is calling "lids" on activities more regularly than previous candidates?

I don't know if it's more regularly than previous candidates -- it's hard to compare this election in a pandemic to any other.

But I do think it's interesting that Biden is preparing while multiple reports say the president is not in any formal way (like holding mock debates). He seems to think his sparring with the press, or being president, will help him. Though he seemed unprepared in a recent town hall to answer basic critical questions about his record.

Here's more on the debates. The first one is Tuesday, can you believe it?

Could you all pull quotes/tweets from Trump (not other Repubs) about Merrick Garland? I ask because yesterday his comments about 'we need 9 SCOTUS justices in case there are election cases' -- but did he say that in 2016, when there also could have been election cases?

In 2016 Trump said the next president should fill the vacancy.

IT'S THE PANDEMIC, STUPID! Until it's controlled, many other factors that Trump is trying to play won't matter as much. Already more than 200,000 Americans dead of it, and in the next 6 weeks running up to the election, how many more deaths are there likely to be? (Another 50K, 100K, even more?)

I've long said Trump's desire to move on from this is foolhardy. The best strategy was to nip this in the bud early, so you COULD talk about other things. but he seemed to worry more about the short-term economic pain hurting his key issue in the 2020 election. Plus, people didn't even blame him for the economic downturn that resulted from the shutdowns.

Imagine a world in which our situation mirrored Europe, and he could spend all his time talking about an even more robust economic recovery from something voters understood (at least initially) wasn't his fault.

I just saw a headline that you-know-who (prez) would like the SCOTUS set so he has someone in the seat because the election is likely to be decided there. (I mean, I'm old enough to remember Bush/Gore in 2000. Ugh. Those were tense weeks. Seems so unreal now) So I understand this year it could be a very, very real possibility. I guess my question is this: What IF we do not have definite answer by the time of Inauguration? Is there a rule/law for a date certain the President must be determined? When is Congress sworn in (assuming a Blue Sweep) could this help w/ appointing a justice and possibly changing things? Realistically, how long can we go without knowing the results and what is the current admin going to do to ruin us even more, in those indeterminate weeks, especially if it's looking like he does not win. I am extremely worried. Though I saw something that might be true - too close to call in Graham's senate race?

I don't have answers yet to all your questions about timing. But do read this article, on game theory by political actors and political scientists, on the various scenarios for Nov. 3 where we don't know election results.

Why isn't is on the list of topics for the first Presidential debate? Here in the Pacific NW we've just spent two weeks in a miasma of smoke and ash from wildfires related to climate change impacts on the weather.

There were no questions about climate change during the 2016 presidential and vice presidential debates. However, there are still two presidential and one vice presidential debate scheduled after Tuesday's debate, so it's possible that climate change could be a topic at one or more of those debates.

FBI Director Wray says there's no evidence of fraud with mail in voting. This isn't the first time he's gone against the Trump line, but somehow he still has a job. Why is that?

The FBI director, the CDC head, the FDA commissioner, the Defense secretary, Anthony Fauci. All of these people have contradicted Trump in ways he doesn't like, yet still have a job. Not a lot of firing of his top officials going on lately.

I watched with disgust as a young activist was calling for "the revolution" since Biden didn't meet his purity standards as a candidate. Did these people learn nothing from 2016? How do they expect to effect change when the Trumpers have locked up and locked out the levers of power?

There is much interest in seeing whether young voters who are left of Biden show out in support of him in this election in ways that they did not in 2016. Pressure from the larger block of voters on the left could be a motivating factor for those who are disappointed that Biden is the nominee but who would be more upset with another Trump presidency.

Thanks for taking my question. Can the great infusion of last minute cash to ActBlue and WinRed make a difference? All the ads in battleground states seem to become blaring noise. Are the campaigns using money in unique, creative ways?

Money can absolutely make a difference, by allowing parties to spend in congressional races they  might otherwise have had to forgo. 

I see Democratic ads talking about health care and tying vulnerable Republicans in suburban areas to Trump. And I see Republican ads trying to tie Democrats to looting and protesting and even rioting in cities. 

Supreme Court confirmation hearings are an exercise in "gotcha" questions, with politicians trying to please their base and partisans taking quotes out of context. We survived without them until 1916, so do we need them now?

Whatever you think of how these processes are handled -- and I confess I think most lines of questioning at confirmation hearings are awful and basically nobody is open to actually being convinced -- I'm not sure the solution is to scrap them. However imperfect, it's vital for people seeking these positions to take questions from the lawmakers who will or won't confirm them.

What is the criteria that networks use to project a winner? Do they have access to information about the percentage of mail-in ballots counted vs. day-of ballots? Do you expect that some states will make calls about Pres but not Senate, or vice versa? Thanks!

States should offer estimates for how many mailed ballots are left uncounted, yes. I have every reason to believe that election officials will announce results if they have them when they have them in specific races. (They won't wait until the presidential race is called to share who won that state's Senate race.) Typically networks are either following the Associated Press, which is in touch with election officials across the country tracking results, or doing that themselves. But we can expect a lot of uncertainty on election night about how much is left uncounted -- and, again, I would hope and expect we'll see some kind of percentage, if election officials know it, about how many mailed ballots are still uncounted. Some states don't even allow mailed ballots to start to be counted until Election Day. 

That's all today. Thanks for your questions.
The next week is sure to contain some more interesting times, including the first presidential debate next Tuesday. We'll hold our weekly chat next Wednesday (instead of Thursday to talk about how that goes). Join us then -- you'll find the chat here

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Amber Phillips
Amber Phillips writes about politics for The Fix. She was previously the one-woman D.C. bureau for the Las Vegas Sun and has reported from Boston and Taiwan.
Aaron Blake
Aaron Blake is senior political reporter for The Fix. A Minnesota native, he has also written about politics for the Minneapolis Star Tribune and The Hill newspaper.
Eugene Scott
Eugene Scott writes about identity politics for The Fix. He was recently a fellow at the Georgetown University Institute of Politics. And prior to joining the Post, he was a breaking news reporter at CNN Politics.
JM Rieger
JM Rieger is the video editor for The Fix, covering national politics. He joined The Washington Post in 2018. Previously, Rieger worked as a video producer covering national politics for HuffPost. He began his career as a video editor covering Congress for Roll Call.
Natalie Jennings
Natalie Jennings is editor of The Fix. She has been at The Washington Post since 2010 and was previously a senior producer for Post Video.
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