Good morning and welcome to our newest edition of the Essential Politics newsletter. I’m Laura Blasey, an editor on the newsletters team, and I’m writing to you from The Times’ Washington bureau.
Each Wednesday, we’ll bring you the best work from The Times’ state, national politics and election teams, stories that will take you beyond breaking news. Don’t worry — we’ll continue to send you smart analyses from our Sacramento and Washington bureau chiefs on Mondays and Fridays. This new edition will offer another angle, so you won’t miss a thing on the road to November and beyond.
This week’s big story: The death of Ruth Bader Ginsburg on Friday has opened a new front in an already contentious presidential election and a new conflict between congressional Republicans and Democrats. President Trump and Joe Biden aren’t the only ones vying for a win in November. Nor is the only question which man should be the one to name her replacement. Times reporters Janet Hook and Jennifer Haberkorn write that, like a chain of dominoes, the showdown over the vacancy could have ramifications that ripple and reshape Senate races as partisan lines harden among voters. Let’s get started.
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A court vacancy’s fallout
By November, voters will choose a president and which party controls the Senate. Republicans now hold 53 seats, while Democrats have 45, plus two seats held by independents who caucus with them. With 35 seats up for grabs, most of them held by Republicans, the majority is very much at stake.
The outcome remains unpredictable and tied to Trump’s fate: Many Republicans will prevail or fall with him. In politically polarized times, fewer voters than ever are inclined to pick a president from one party and a senator from another. And few issues could be more polarizing than a debate over replacing a Supreme Court justice, especially when early voting for the next president has begun.
“It’s another wild card,” Sen. John Thune of South Dakota, a member of the Senate Republican leadership, told The Times. “It certainly is something that our candidates — and the candidates on both sides, for that matter — are going to have to manage, because both sides are going to be heavily invested in the outcome of this decision.”
Hook and Haberkorn write about how the Republicans’ at-risk senators are maneuvering in the wake of Ginsburg’s passing. Susan Collins of Maine and Cory Gardner of Colorado must woo centrist and independent voters in states that lean to the left, a delicate task that had them focusing on less divisive local issues until this week. Meanwhile, Lindsey Graham of South Carolina, Thom Tillis of North Carolina and Joni Ernst of Iowa, among others, are locked in tight races in states where Trump remains popular; they need to energize their states’ voters on the right. There’s also Doug Jones, the lone Democrat up for reelection in a conservative state, Alabama, now more endangered than before.
Another issue is at play in the court battle: healthcare, a core part of the Democratic platform, especially amid the pandemic. The court is due to take up a case pivotal to the future of the Affordable Care Act just a week after the election.
Still, even among those in tough reelection fights, Republicans see far more to be gained by sticking with the president and supporting his bid to fill the court seat as soon as possible. If they back away from him, they fear, they will lose conservative voters without picking up many liberal ones, Hook and Haberkorn wrote. Collins is the only Republican up for reelection who has said Trump should not pick a nominee before the election; the second party defector, Sen. Lisa Murkowski of Alaska, is not on the ballot.
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The view from the Supreme Court
— President Trump said Monday he is likely to name a replacement for Ginsburg on Saturday. Senate Republicans appear increasingly likely to have the votes needed to confirm his choice, barring some revelation, Haberkorn writes. On Tuesday, Trump critic Mitt Romney joined his party colleagues in saying he is willing to consider Trump’s nominee, regardless of the looming election.
— In 2016, nine full months before that year’s presidential election, Republicans argued that a vote on Obama’s Supreme Court nominee would deprive Americans of the chance to have a say in who should fill the seat. Arit John compared their statements then and now and found that when it comes to being consistent, several Senate Republicans are not.
— Biden, having served in the Senate for decades, knows the thorny politics of Supreme Court nominations perhaps better than anyone, writes Melanie Mason. He not only helped shepherd Ginsburg’s nomination in 1993, he was involved in at least 14 others.
From The Times archives
The battle to replace Ginsburg stands in stark contrast to her nomination and confirmation. In June 1993, the political climate surrounding the court was less charged, and Ginsburg’s reputation was as a centrist judge, not the liberal icon she became. The Times announced her nomination with the headline “Clinton Picks Moderate Judge Ruth Ginsburg for High Court.” The Times’ David Savage wrote in his analysis that Ginsburg was considered “an articulate moderate jurist.” She came with support from Justice Antonin Scalia, who reportedly quipped that if he had to spend the rest of his life on a desert island with a liberal, he’d choose her.
Weeks later, on Aug. 4, The Times reported she’d been approved “swiftly and with remarkably little dissension” by a Senate vote of 96-3 — “the most agreeable Supreme Court confirmation process in recent history.” Three Republicans voted against her over her pro-abortion-rights stance.
The latest from the campaign trail
— Unlike most states, Maine and Nebraska can split their electoral votes, awarding a vote to the winner in each House district. That has made one rural congressional district in Maine into a tiny battleground for the Biden and Trump campaigns, Janet Hook writes.
— From 2020 reporters Evan Halper and Seema Mehta: With the help of lots of cash from Californians, including past Republican donors, Joe Biden is eclipsing President Trump in fundraising as they head into the final stretch.
— Cindy McCain has endorsed Biden for president. It’s a stunning rebuke of President Trump by the widow of the Republican Party’s 2008 nominee.
— The first debate is Tuesday. White House reporters Eli Stokols and Noah Bierman report that Trump and Biden are taking very different approaches to preparing.
The view from California
— Gov. Gavin Newsom on Monday defended his efforts to fix an outdated state unemployment benefits system that has delayed payments to tens of thousands of Californians who have lost their jobs since the COVID-19 pandemic began.
— L.A. County’s Project Roomkey, a $100-million-plus program to repurpose hotels and motels emptied by the coronavirus as safe havens for homeless people, is ending after months of mixed performance. An official said the program is being squeezed by uncertain funding from the Federal Emergency Management Agency, which pays about 75% of its cost.
After 30 years in politics, Carole James retires with a new pair of boxing gloves and no regrets – CBC.ca
Carole James is leaving the political ring with a few victories under her belt.
As leader of the B.C. NDP in the early 2000s, she helped it grow from only two seats in Victoria to more than 30 before John Horgan took on the role. Now, as outgoing finance minister, she is retiring in the wake of an orange wave after the party won a projected historic majority this fall.
James announced in March she had been diagnosed with Parkinson’s Disease and planned to focus on her family and her health.
She told CBC she has spent her last week on the job tripping down memory lane — both reflecting on her own experiences and the success of the party.
“It’s been really extraordinary,” she said.
Watch Carole James talk about the good, the bad, and the ugly in politics:
The long-serving MLA for Victoria-Beacon Hill is leaving the legislature with a unique parting gift from her colleagues — a pair of purple boxing gloves.
Boxing, says James, is a great exercise for people with Parkinson’s and she plans to step out of her comfort zone and give it a go.
“Much to the surprise of my kids who I’m not sure really believe that I’m going to follow through with it,” she said.
But not following through doesn’t really come off as a trait of James, who led a party when she didn’t even have her own seat in the house and later, as finance minister, had the unprecedented responsibility of controlling B.C.’s budget during an economically-crippling global pandemic.
“I don’t tend to take on the easy things. I tend to take on the challenging pieces,” said James, adding it was drilled into her early in life to take responsibility and get involved.
Raised by a single mom in the very community she served as MLA, James said she spent much of her childhood at protests and at her grandparents’ home where, as foster parents, there were always kids that needed caring for.
“The expectation in my family was that you have to contribute, that it’s not a choice,” she said.
Watch the retiring MLA reflect on the things that matter most to her:
But now, James is choosing to spend more time on her health and with her two children and grandchildren and her husband, Albert Gerow, the former elected chief of the Burns Lake First Nation.
“I couldn’t do this job if it wasn’t for family and friends and that’s why I remind MLAs when the come in, politics will come and go, but your family and friends — you’ve got to make sure you hang on to those relationships,” said James.
She said she plans on working somewhat during her retirement and while she didn’t specify what she would be doing, she did say it would involve what she loves — problem solving and “bringing folks together across party lines.”
And when she does think back on her time working for British Columbians, it will be with fondness for her colleagues and her constituents.
“I don’t regret a minute.”
How to talk to kids about the election and fraught politics – CNN
Children are experiencing politics more intensely
Give them a sense of control
Help them understand the rules
Teach them to try to see both sides
Use stories from history
Remember each family, and child, is different
Trump administration vetted stars' politics for planned ad blitz promoting U.S. president's virus response – CBC.ca
Public relations firms hired by the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services vetted political views of hundreds of celebrities for a planned $250-million US ad blitz aimed at portraying U.S. President Donald Trump’s response to the coronavirus outbreak in a positive light, according to documents released Thursday by a House committee.
A political appointee at the department suggested creating a government-funded campaign to rival the Second World War icon Rosie the Riveter, according to the documents, and taglines such as “Helping the president will help the country.”
None of the celebrities agreed to participate — they may not have known they were being vetted — and the campaign has been put on hold.
Director Judd Apatow believes Trump “does not have the intellectual capacity to run as president,” according to notes made on a list of names of more than 200 celebrities compiled by one of the firms.
Singer Christina Aguilera “is an Obama-supporting Democrat and a gay-rights supporting liberal,” the document says, and actor Jack Black is “known to be a classic Hollywood liberal.”
A public service announcement by comedian George Lopez was “not moving forward due to previous concerns regarding his comments regarding the president,” according to the documents.
The names were among the spreadsheets, memos, notes and other documents from September and October released by the House oversight and reform committee.
The firms’ vetting came as political appointees planned to spend more than $250 million US on a confidence-building campaign surrounding the virus, which has killed more than 228,000 people in the United States and is a core issue in the presidential race between Trump and Democrat Joe Biden.
Pushback from federal employees
While government public health campaigns are routine, the ad blitz planned by HHS was mired from the start by involvement from department spokesperson Michael Caputo, a fierce loyalist and friend of Trump with little experience in the field. In September, a spokesperson for Caputo said he was taking a medical leave from HHS as he battled cancer.
WATCH | Trump claims he is now immune to COVID-19:
Trump, a Republican, has repeatedly minimized the dangers of the coronavirus, even as the nation is in its third wave of infections, with tens of thousands of cases reported each day.
According to one memo compiled by a subcontractor to Atlas Research, one of the firms hired by HHS, Caputo suggested a series of sound bites and taglines for the campaign, including “Helping the president will help the country.”
The notes say that Caputo wanted the campaign to be “remarkable” and to rival Rosie the Riveter, the character who symbolized women who worked in factories and shipyards during the Second World War against Germany.
“For us, the ‘enemy’ is the virus,” Caputo said, according to the memo.
The documents also show pushback from some of the federal employees leading the work, who removed Caputo from an email chain and thanked one of the contractors for dealing with a “challenging” environment.
The Democrat-led Oversight panel said Caputo was overstepping his bounds, interfering in work that is supposed to be done by contract officers at the department and politicizing what is supposed to be nonpartisan.
“Of course, it is completely inappropriate to frame a taxpayer-funded ad campaign around ‘helping’ President Trump in the weeks and days before the election,” said House oversight chairwoman Carolyn Maloney, a Democrat from New York, and Reps. James Clyburn of South Carolina and Raja Krishnamoorthi of Illinois, both subcommittee chairmen, in a letter to HHS Secretary Alex Azar.
“This theme also ignores the reality that more than 220,000 Americans have died from coronavirus — a fact that should not be whitewashed in a legitimate public health message.”
Azar put the entire project on hold earlier this month, telling the oversight subcommittee led by Clyburn that it was being investigated internally.
“I have ordered a strategic review of this public health education campaign that will be led by our top public health and communications experts to determine whether the campaign serves important public health purposes,” Azar told the subcommittee, which is investigating the federal government’s response to the coronavirus outbreak.
Because public health policy around the coronavirus pandemic has become so politically polarized, it’s unclear how well a confidence-building campaign from the government would play.
HHS officials acknowledge a major challenge to any campaign would involve finding trusted intermediaries to make the pitch to average Americans. On health-care matters, people usually trust doctors first, not necessarily celebrities. And Trump has alienated much of the medical establishment with his dismissive comments about basic public health measures, such as wearing masks.
The 34-page “PSA Celebrity Tracker” compiled by Atlas Research and released by the committee does not say whether the celebrities were aware they were even being considered or if they had agreed to participate. The report says that no celebrities are now affiliated with the project but a handful did initially agree to participate.
Singer Marc Antony, who has been critical of Trump, pulled out after seeking an amendment to his contract to “ensure that his content would not be used for advertisements to re-elect President Trump.”
Actor Dennis Quaid also initially agreed and then pulled out, according to a document from Atlas Research. In an Instagram video post last month titled “No good deed goes unpoliticized,” Quaid said he was frustrated that a taped interview he did with Dr. Anthony Fauci, the nation’s top infectious-disease expert, for the campaign was portrayed in the media as an endorsement of Trump.
“Nothing could be further from the truth,” Quaid said, noting that the interview was still available on his podcast.
Antony and Quaid were among just a few celebrities who were approved for the campaign, according to the documents. Others included TV health commentator Dr. Oz and singer Billy Ray Cyrus.
“Spokespeople for public service campaigns should be chosen on their ability to reach the target audience, not their political affiliation,” the letter from the Democrats reads. “Yet, documents produced by the contractors indicate that the Trump administration vetted spokespeople based on their political positions and whether they support President Trump.”
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