Politics Live with The Fix

Oct 15, 2020

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Hi chatters,

Remember when this was supposed to be the day of the second presidential debate? It’s not that anymore, but there’s still plenty to talk about. 

We’ve been following the Amy Coney Barrett hearings, which, Amber Phillips writes, have brought us nothing to slow down her fast-track journey to the Supreme Court. 

Meanwhile, the campaign rolls on. There will be competing Biden and Trump town halls tonight, as Trump throws ever more bizarre conspiracy theories at the wall and his path to victory narrows further.

What’s on your mind? 

Two questions, why haven't the Dems seized on her opinion to allow felons to own guns (I find this concerning), and do you think that it will be a down the party line vote?

1. They talked about this case a lot during the two days of hearings, actually. But you probably heard more about health care, because that was their strategy going in to yell about the threat to Obamacare from the rooftops, in the hopes it gets people out to vote.
2. But people voting won't change the fact Republicans have the votes to get her on the court, it's looking likely before the election (and before that Obamacare case comes before the court). And yes, it's looking like a mostly party-line vote. Republicans Lisa Murkowski of Alaska and Susan Collins of Maine could vote against her nomination alongside Democrats, to protest the fact it's happening weeks before an election. (Collins is in a very tight reelection back home in a state that's not a fan of Trump.)

When it comes to polling, is there a difference between people who identify as Hispanic versus Latino? I've seen many news stories that will refer to "Hispanics in Arizona" and "Latino in Florida," where the context is usually Hispanic = Democrat and Latino = Republican. I don't know much about these communities so I'd like to learn more.

I have not seen one poll use the term Latinos for some voters and Hispanic for others in the same poll. What term is used usually depends on the style guides of the media organization reporting on the poll and how the poll itself refers to members of the community.

Is anyone tracking the incidence of covid-19 after rallies for Trump? We have large crowds of people jammed together, most of them maskless. Seems like an ideal sociological and epidemiological research topic.

There was indeed some of this after his Tulsa rally in June, with a health official saying it "more than likely" contributed to an increase in cases. It's difficult to measure, though, because it can take a few weeks to get a true handle on how many people are actually testing positive (and it's not always clear if it owes to the gathering or something else). My guess is we won't know too much by Election Day.

Last month, Trump held a rally in Bemidji, Minn. Since then, Minnesota health officials have associated nine coronavirus cases with that rally.

But you are correct that it is a bit piecemeal. It also can be hard to definitively link cases to certain events without contact tracing that pinpoints different strains of the virus in various communities and events, as The Post reported this week.

There might be ones I'm forgetting, but I think it was Kamala Harris, Bernie Sanders, Elizabeth Warren, Amy Klobuchar, Cory Booker, Kirsten Gillibrand and Michael Bennet run for President also with Jeff Merkley and Sherrod Brown openly considered. Mentioning it because it seems like A LOT of Republicans currently serving in the U.S Senate will be running for 2024. Any clue how many?

I'd guess it will be another free-for-all, just like 2016. But sometimes we're more surprised by who doesn't wind up running than who does. Top of the list are: Cruz, Cotton, Hawley, Rubio, Rick Scott, Tim Scott, among others.

I would love to see some ads with Obama talking about why our country is going down the wrong path. I know former presidents don't smear current ones, but the current one has sure smeared Obama. Would be nice to see a pitch for votes for non-Trump policies from a trusted politician.

Obama is hitting the trail within the next week to talk to voters in swing states about why he believes four more years under Trump would be disastrous for America. I think there's a good chance that the Biden campaign will use some of the former president's words in some ads before Election Day.

I don't recall Republicans touting Scalia's fatherhood of nine as a qualification for SCOTUS while they took great pains to claim that Barrett's motherhood of seven somehow made her a better nominee for the court.

Well, yeah, everyone is looking at Barrett's nomination through the lens of gender. (Not saying that's right, it's just the reality.) Trump, and thus Republicans as a whole, are struggling in the polls with women, including White suburban women. Republicans hoped being the party that sends a mom of school-aged children to the Supreme Court can help them mitigate some of that damage. 

Refresh my memory: Does EVERY October in an election year seem like the election began roughly 296 years ago? The entire country must have rug burns from dragging itself to the finish line. How does this year feel to you?

Definitely have that feeling, though less so than in 2016, when it was just so constant on both sides in the primaries. This campaign in many ways at least seemed to feature a break for a few months, in large part because of the pandemic.

Does the president have the power to decide to appoint more justices to the Supreme Court? If not who can decide and is there a limit to the number of justices that can be appointed?

Congress has the authority to determine the number of justices on the Supreme Court, and the number has changed over the years. There have been nine justices since the Judiciary Act of 1869. So while a president could propose expanding or subtracting justices, Congress would have to approve it.

She wasn't as shouty and defensive as he was, but I didn't think she was any more honest about her judicial views than he was.

To some degree, this is expected. They won't weigh in on anything that might logically come before the court. So people really shouldn't be surprised that she won't weigh in on whether a president can pardon himself, whether Roe is a super-precedent, etc. But I did write that, in certain respects, she was pretty cagey about things that she seemingly could have talked or should have known about -- like Trump's well-known positions on issues like getting rid of Obamacare.

Also, she wasn't facing a sexual assault accusation like he was -- and determined to show outrage about it. 

As a New Yorker, I am SO tired of presidential elections being decided by those blasted swing states. It turns out that my vote doesn’t really count any more. I think that if somehow one could wave a magic wand and eliminate gerrymandered districts, made voting safe and easy and got rid of the electoral college, then it would be a contest for the best ideas. I think that would truly invigorate our democracy. What do you think?

People vote the way they do for many reasons. And the truth is that having the best ideas isn't always the main motivator for all voters. So even if all of the changes that you're suggesting are made, I think there is still a good chance that the worldview and values of those who vote differently than you could be a main motivator for how they cast their ballots.

Wapo had an article yesterday mentioning that many people who planned to vote by mail decided to vote early in person instead. I've noticed a similar trend among friends/family. But, do we know what percentage of early votes are in person vs. By mail? How does this affect election night results and Trump's ability to cast doubt on the results? Of course he'll do it no matter what, but would it be an even harder message to deliver if he still loses just with in-person votes?

No, we don't have stats on that from states, yet.  Other than knowing that early voting lines are long in many states AND most states expect a significantly higher number of ballots to be mailed in.

People may decide to switch how they vote at the last minute, but that doesn't change the fact more people than ever will probably vote by mail in many states -- which will give Trump an opening to allege fraud, as he's already doing. (There is no evidence of widespread fraud in mail voting, which is done by the thousands every year, and five states do their elections entirely this way.)

Do you think we will ever get the real story about how chaotic the Trump White House is? I don't know if we ever will

I have wondered whether, if he loses, people like John Kelly, etc., might feel less encumbered to say exactly what happened. We've seen plenty of accounts of the chaos from anonymous sources, but it's difficult to go on the record while he's still in office. Once he has less power? Maybe people say what happened, if for no other reason than that they might want the GOP/country to move past the Trump era. Of course, Trump will still command a dedicated base, and he has regularly turned it against people who deign to criticize him.

I get one is based out of New York and New York gets more coverage in the national press, but is Marjorie Taylor Greene going to get the full AOC treatment where you and other Capital Hill journalists follow her around all the time, interview her on 60 minutes and amplify all her positions and make all other members of her party respond to whatever she is saying or does that kind of stuff only apply to 'Dems in disarray' narratives?

To be determined!

will not be cast either because in person voters don't have required ID, go to the wrong place and can't get to the correct polling place or don't fill out their mail in ballots correctly? Is it likely that such mistakes are concentrated in Democratic leaning areas? Can the Trump campaign do anything to stop the initial count of ballots in places like Pennsylvania or Florida or others? How close do the initial results have to be for a losing campaign to invoke an automatic recount? Can they get a recount even if the totals aren't close by paying for it? Thanks.

Yeah, states tallied estimates in the primaries of how many legitimate ballots were tossed because of voter mistakes in filling them out. The most common mistake was not putting an outside envelope on the ballot (called naked ballots). And signatures that didn't match what the state had on file.

So far, these mistakes are definitely affecting voters of color (who tend to vote Democratic) more than other voters. 

I wouldn't say that campaigns can stop counting of ballots, but legal battles are playing out in states like Pennsylvania to shape how people vote and whether certain ballots incorrectly filled out, or delivered late, count. Those rules are changing by the day, almost, with different court rulings.

I'm not sure on recount rules. I imagine first will come to challenges to ballot counting, which could take weeks and go all the way to the Supreme Court, where they could necessitate a recount if deemed necessary.

On mail-in ballots, we have some preliminary data from primaries earlier this year in states like Florida.

The percentage of rejected mail-in ballots in Florida's Aug. 18 primary was 1.5 percent, mainly due to missed deadlines or technical flaws. That percentage is on par with the percentage of rejected mail-in ballots in the 2016 and 2018 elections.

But given that more people are expected to vote by mail this election, it is one of a number of things worth keeping an eye on this year.

The appointment was a foregone conclusion; was there any value in holding the hearing other than tradition?

There was and is little doubt Barrett will be confirmed. I do think Democrats had plenty to work with, given Barrett's past comments on Roe v. Wade (which were somewhat unusual for a nominee) and Obamacare (which strongly suggested she disagreed with Roberts upholding it).

One thing I keep thinking: This might have shaken out quite differently if Trump nominated her instead of Kavanaugh (which was all about personal issues and occurred when there was a smaller GOP majority), and if Democrats hadn't overreached on invoking religion during her 2017 confirmation, which made them skittish about doing anything that might lead down that road this week.

I think there is always value in going through the Democratic process, even if it feels like just going through the motions. So much that happens in Congress these days can be a forgone conclusion. And I'd argue the hearings did underscore that she will be a reliably conservative voice on the Supreme Court. 

Republicans run and run hard on appointing judges who will this or won't do that so it seems fair to me wonder why Amy Coney Barrett pretends she has no clue why she was nominated as if she was picked out of a hat or something. Seems all very weird to me.

At best, I think it is difficult for nominees to say what they will do for sure if presented with a hypothetical and I think that is part of why Barrett isn't giving direct answers. She also likely does not want to be boxed into an answer that she might later decide differently on when she is on the bench. But to your point, it is clear to most people observing what Republicans expect of Barrett when she is on the bench -- and those expectations are based on past things she's said, written and done that align with the more conservative wing of the GOP.

David Fahrenthold for his fine investigation and reporting on the Trump family's use of the federal government to enrich the family coffers. I suppose it's too much to hope that someday an army of forensic accountants will unearth all the ways that our tax dollars have been used to sweeten the pot for the Trumps.

You're talking about him making a prestigious list of the 10 greatest works of journalism over the past decade. Our colleagues who catalogued police shootings, where no such data existed, also made the list. It's pretty impressive journalism, especially coming at a time when there is SO MUCH news to cover all day long. Fahrenthold and other colleagues found time to dig into really long, meaningful projects.

Three weeks to go and Biden has a good lead, but I still have a nagging feeling Trump will pull off a win. I don't think I can take four more years of the drama. I have also thought if he does win, who will work with him? Several senators may lose and he's pretty much reached the bottom of the barrel for staff. I have to remind myself to keep breathing --- three weeks will pass quickly.

If Trump wins reelection, I honestly don't think GOP will lose a lot of ground in the Senate. They could still (likely) lose Colorado and Arizona, but they'd almost definitely win Alabama and Maine would be in-play. The rest are Senate results that would likely follow the top of the ticket, and I tend to think Collins would survive. So still a 52-48 or 51-49 majority.

Every week you guys tells me that this or that story won't affect Donald Trump's kind of low support yet who is this mythical voter who cares about Hunter Biden or Burisma or whatever who isn't already voting for Donald Trump? Why do you guys only apply the 'won't hurt him among his supporters' test to Donald Trump and just Donald Trump?

Our polling -- as has the data from other organizations -- shows that when it comes to certain members of Trump's base, nearly nothing could cause them to walk away from the president. The fact that Trump's approval rating hasn't consistently dropped below 40 percent for a significant period of time is a testament of this. Obviously, there are people who backed Trump in 2016 who no longer support him. The polls show this. But it is true that the president has some supporters who are so loyal to him that nothing will cause them to walk away from him. 

I may be seeing it with prejudice, but the press sure seems trying very, very hard to report every piece of conspiracy theory garbage (also known as lies) about Biden. I'm tired of "both sides".

I think we've seen a very (and appropriately) skeptical response to the New York Post's story on Hunter Biden. A case-in-point is our colleague Glenn Kessler of The Post's Fact Checker.

Do you believe the polls saying that the Senate races there are actually competitive? I am having a hard time believing a lot of this polling. Is there anything to indicate that those polls might be off/not capturing a representative sample?

I do believe the polls on these Senate races, for a few reasons:
1. There have been a number of them in both states showing similar results, a tied or near-tied race (Georgia has two Senate elections; let's just talk about the regular one with two major candidates)
2. In Georgia, population growth is helping fuel that state's competitiveness. 
3. It's harder to explain what's happening in South Carolina, but Democrats I've talked to there say Democrat Jaime Harrison is a uniquely strong candidate at a time when Lindsey Graham is weak in part because some Trump supporters are peeling away from him, apparently not convinced by his overt embrace of the president. (Or turned away by the flip-flopping nature of it.) Also, polls show Trump's coronavirus response is dragging him and Republicans down even here.

I moved South Carolina to a toss up race in my most recent Senate rankings.

At least with Arizona now considered a swing state, that goofy song is getting a bit more play.

It's quite possible Trump carries the state but McSally still loses. If that happens, you can bet there will be plenty of talk about why someone who lost in 2018 was appointed to the seat.

Michael McDonald, a professor from Florida, is tracking this data on his website, including state-level numbers: http://www.electproject.org/


Right there in black and white to specify when elections take place. No putting it off or do-overs. How could ACB punt on that????

I listed this among the things where her non-answers were puzzling, though I'm not sure it was the most egregious example. Experts are solid on saying this the domain of Congress. About the only instance in which it could conceivably be up to the president is in the time of an emergency, but even that could be pretty strained. As a constitutional law professor, Barrett probably could have weighed in on this more or at least better explain why she punted.

NC's Cunningham got himself into a nasty mess with his sexting scandal - and his poll numbers went UP. Harrison's still putting the squeeze on Graham in SC and I see similar numbers in other southern states. I'm hoping that's a sign of a "throw all the bums out" mentality at play.

Re Cunningham in North Carolina's Senate race, his approval numbers went down, but knowledge he had an affair hasn't seemed to drag down his campaign to unseat Sen. Thom Tillis (R). Democrats tell me they see early evidence that, yeah, voters don't like what Cunningham did, but that many of them will still see the broader picture of how this plays into the majority for the Senate and still vote for him. So, you might be right about such a mentality at work here. 

Also presumably at some point people will notice how appalling it is that Giuliani chose to distribute sexually explicit videos of Biden’s son? I feel like if the Biden campaign had sent MSNBC an Ivanka sex tape, people would perhaps have issues with this.

It might be difficult for some people to recognize just how troublesome Giuliani's actions are because of just how low the former mayor's reputation has fallen with some Americans who used to think more highly of him prior to 2016. The expectations that critics -- and perhaps even some who are closer to allies -- have for Giuliani might be lower than what some normally expect of the former leader of America's largest city.

Do you think anything can be deduced by the size of the Town Hall airings of Trump and Biden? I think the viewing audience will be small in total than if they were on the same broadcast. I also think that most of the country is so locked into their choice that comparative viewing numbers will have no impact.

I think you're right that the audience will likely get split, compared to what it would have been with a debate.

If one candidate receives a significantly larger viewing audience than the other, that could signal something. Or it could just mean people wanted to see what one candidate said, regardless of whether they support or plan to vote for him.

And you are also correct that many voters have been locked into their views for some time. There is still time for Trump to close his significant polling deficit, but it is quickly running out.

Thanks to all of you for taking questions today as we inch ever closer to November 3. I know that this is a highly unusual election year for many reasons, but if candidates can simply do an end-run around the commission and go to the networks directly to schedule appearances, I wonder about the long term viability of the commission. If I was a member and given the amount of work that goes into selecting moderators and so on, I'd be enormously annoyed at this point that they seem not to have much sway in the end over the process.

I can't imagine how frustrating it must be for this highly professional, experienced commission to see a general election presidential debate get trashed. And for the moderator (CSPAN's Steve Scully) and his team who worked so hard on this. And for the voters who were going to ask these candidates questions (since it was supposed to be a town hall format). And the voters who were going to watch.
We can argue about the utility of debates. But polls show most people have their minds firmly made up, but that people are also very interested in following this election. 

I know this super pedantic, but is it really 'sexting'? I mean I read the screenshots and the most implicit it gets it is stuff like wanting to kiss. That doesn't seem like 'sexting'?

You know it's 2020 when this is actually something I had to research when this story broke. (My verdict: It fits under some definitions, but others imply something more specific than what we know about Cunningham's actions.)

Makes me weep to see them together again--how we miss President Jed Bartlett.

One thing that will always set me apart from many people in DC: I couldn't stand that show. And I've tried to watch it multiple times.

Don't listen to Aaron. The West Wing is great -- sappy or not, it's part of my adolescence, and I'm thrilled for this show.

Assuming the polls are right and Trump loses, he will clearly want to continue to use whatever platforms are available, in perpetuity, to air his thoughts. What kind of press coverage will he get? Thanks.

Is his own TV station out of question? And all those Twitter followers -- though journalists won't be writing as much about his tweets.

I am starting to think about how to handle election night in my house. In states that are seeing massive vote-by-mail or early-voting returns, are we going to be getting results on election night? Early on election night? What meaningful information is going to be coming in, especially in those early (7-9 pm) hours as East Coast polls close? What should I be watching to get a sense of which direction the winds are trending?

The Post has launched a new expected votes tracker for this election, that will help readers track how many votes each candidate has, how many votes remain outstanding and how many of those outstanding votes are expected to go for each candidate.

Additionally, while a lot of recent coverage has focused on why we may not know the final results for a few days or potentially even a week or two, because of expected record mail-in voting, the surge of early in-person voting could actually help us know the winner on election night.

Finally, there are about a dozen states that will likely determine the Electoral College outcome. Those states especially are the ones to watch on election night.

So is Kamala Harris no longer coming to Texas...

It appears that her immediate plans have been cancelled but the campaign is looking at other opportunities to get Harris to Texas. 

I was happy to see that. Several years ago I worked at a newspaper in Florida that had a Features section. We had a number of prize winning writers, including Anne Hull, who moved on to the Washington Post. Hull and Dana Priest produced some fascinating feature stories. I really miss those in-depth stories.

Yeah, to your point, at least one piece of local journalism, by the Miami Herald's Julie K. Brown on reporting about Jeffrey Epstein, made this list. And, the judges pointed out, this happened while her paper was suffering a lot of economic upheaval. But there's no question that regional and local journalism is suffering these days.

Amber can start covering the coming partial government shut down. Yes, that is a prediction. Yes, I mean no matter who wins or even if there is still some uncertainty as to who has won on December 12th.

So noted you think that when it's time for them to talk about funding the government this December, they won't be able to come to an agreement. One way of thinking about this that boosts your prediction is we'll be in a lame duck, where there won't be as many political consequences for doing so. 

What is your reaction to Twitter banning "content obtained without authorization"? It seems like that broad standard could apply to and silence many political stories.

Yeah, that's way too broad. The phrase could be used to describe much of the best journalism of the past several decades! It seemed they were trying to refer to hacked materials, but that phrase encompasses so much more.

What are your thought on this (besides the fact that “messaging” is a horrible word)? I’m surprised that she hasn’t done a better job. I also think the reporting could be more complete. For one thing, the fact that the Freedom Caucus has a “hell no” attitude should be in her talking points. But she could also do a better job explaining, as Katie Porter did on a recent podcast, that small stimulus amounts won’t save jobs or homes so they have to deliver enough meaningful help. Also, it takes too long negotiate these bills to do small amounts and it takes time to implement the programs passed in these bills. Finally, the Fed is says we need a big stimulus. Thanks.

I think everything to do with this is moving so quickly and confusingly -- the president wants a small bill, then negotiations are off, and now he wants to "go big" as Republicans in Congress plan to vote on a narrow one -- that it's made it difficult for either side to talk effectively about this. Pelosi also has to be careful because some of her vulnerable Democrats feel they could get punished at the polls for not having more federal help to talk about. 

Will we ever know?

On the one hand, we know Trump had a high fever at one point and was given supplemental oxygen. But you are correct that there is a lot that we still don't know, including the last time the president tested negative for the coronavirus before he first tested positive. It is possible that more could come out about his illness in the coming days and weeks.

All done for today. See you back here next week to tee up the final debate. Thanks for chatting! 

In This Chat
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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