By Giovanni Russonello
Barrett demurs on climate change and presidential power, while NBC draws heat for setting up a standoff on the airwaves tonight. It’s Thursday, and this is your politics tip sheet. Sign up here to get On Politics in your inbox every weekday.
Where things stand
We already know, thanks to Bob Woodward’s book, that President Trump was fully aware of how severe the coronavirus was back in February, even as he was publicly downplaying it. As it happens, senior White House economists that month repeatedly warned board members at the conservative Hoover Institution — many of them Republican donors — about the dangers of the virus during closed-door meetings, at a time when some of those same officials were giving rosy predictions to the public.
A hedge fund consultant who attended the meetings wrote a memo that circulated among hedge fund investors, with one clear message: that a devastating virus outbreak in the United States was increasingly likely. Or, as one major investor who was briefed on the memo reacted, “Short everything.”
The information from the administration helped give elite traders a financial advantage by offering them a sobering economic assessment during a chaotic stretch in late February, when the public was struggling to understand the severity of the crisis, according to the hedge fund consultant’s memo and Times interviews with a range of investors.
Judge Amy Coney Barrett blurred the line between principle and evasion yesterday at Day 3 of her Supreme Court confirmation hearing, declining to answer a question from Senator Cory Booker — and others from various Democrats — on whether it was “wrong to separate children from their parents to deter immigrants from coming to the United States.”
When she demurred, Booker broadened the query: “Do you think it is wrong to separate their child from the parent not for the safety of the child or parent but to send a message?”
Barrett again declined. “Senator, I think you’re trying to engage me on the administration’s border separation policies, and I cannot express a view on that,” she said.
She also avoided answering a question from Senator Kamala Harris, the Democrats’ vice-presidential nominee, on whether she believed the scientific consensus on man-made climate change. Barrett called that question “a very contentious matter of public debate,” contradicting the established scientific evidence and alarming some observers.
Similarly, Senator Patrick Leahy asked Barrett a range of questions about the limits to President Trump’s power — including whether he could be compelled to obey a court ruling, and whether his refusing to do so would be a threat to the system of checks and balances — but she declined to give a definitive answer or a fleshed-out response.
When the court hears big cases, observers look for clues in the justices’ questions during oral arguments, gauging how they might rule. Yesterday Lindsey Graham, the chairman of the Judiciary Committee, invited Barrett to do something similar, only in reverse: Questioning her, Graham invited the judge to give a preview of how she might rule to save — not overturn — the Affordable Care Act.
Graham brought up a legal doctrine known as “severability,” which could be invoked to allow the 10-year-old health law to stand even after one key component of it has been ruled unconstitutional. And Barrett basically co-signed the idea, offering a thorough description of how severability works and why it might apply to Obamacare.
Graham’s remarks seemed aimed at soothing fears that Barrett’s confirmation would spell the end of the health care law — concerns that Democratic senators have repeatedly raised in their questions to Barrett, pointing out that the Trump administration has joined a challenge to the law that is set to be argued in the coming weeks.
Her willingness to answer in the affirmative, and to get into theoretical details around a possible ruling, stood in stark contrast to her tight-lipped responses to questions from many Democrats, including Booker.
Trump, meanwhile, has been much more explicit than presidents past in describing what he expects the judges he nominates to do, as Carl Hulse writes in an analysis. It’s been a central focus of the president’s appeal to the Republican base throughout his political career. Back in 2016, for instance, he said that if he was elected, the overturning of Roe v. Wade would “happen automatically, in my opinion, because I am putting pro-life justices on the court.”
This has put Barrett in the position of being peppered with questions from Democrats this week over everything from the president’s past statements on his Supreme Court preferences to whether she would rule in his favor if a case came before the court concerning his re-election.
Trump held a rally yesterday at an airplane hangar in Des Moines, seeking to make up ground in a state that his campaign had originally seen as an easy victory. Polling averages now show Iowa threatening to slip into Joe Biden’s column.
Trump opened his speech in Des Moines with a broadside against Biden, citing an unsubstantiated New York Post report on Biden’s son Hunter’s business dealings in Ukraine. Biden’s campaign has flatly rejected the report, which Facebook and Twitter viewed as so dubious that they limited access to the article.
During a rambling monologue, the president also made a pitch to farmers in the heavily agricultural state, pointing to his administration’s cash support to farmers left stricken by his trade war with China.
NBC will host a town hall event with Trump at 8 p.m. tonight, directly opposite a previously scheduled town hall broadcast featuring Biden on ABC. Here’s what to watch for at the forums.
NBC drew criticism from top Democrats and members of the news media when it announced the plan yesterday, because it will make it impossible for Americans to watch both events live. “The point of a news organization is to serve the public,” Vivian Schiller, a former NBC executive, tweeted. “This is the opposite.”
The two candidates had been scheduled to face off in a debate tonight until Trump withdrew last week, objecting to a plan from the Commission on Presidential Debates to conduct the event via video conference, a response to the president’s positive coronavirus test. But he said he was unwilling to debate virtually, and it was called off, leading Biden to arrange his own town hall event with ABC.
Photo of the day
Judge Amy Coney Barrett during the third day of her nomination hearings yesterday.
Why voting in the Navajo Nation takes time, in a critical battleground state.
By Maggie Astor
DENNEHOTSO, Ariz. — If you live where Darlene Yazzie does, everything takes time.
Hauling water takes time. Hauling hay for the sheep takes time. Mailing a ballot takes time: 10 days, to be specific, and that’s after you’ve gotten to the post office that’s open only a few hours a day.
There are no mailboxes or mail carriers in Dennehotso or the other Navajo communities that dot the mesas and scrublands of northeastern Arizona. There are only 27 postal locations in 18,000 square miles — roughly equivalent to having 13 mailboxes in all of New Jersey — and an envelope sent from here to anywhere else in the state travels hundreds of miles through Albuquerque and Phoenix first.
In a year in which tens of millions of people plan to vote absentee, in a state that could decide both the presidency and control of the Senate, this geographic isolation has more profound implications than ever before. President Trump won the state in 2016 by just 91,000 votes, and the 67,000 eligible voters who live in the Arizona portion of the Navajo Nation tend to lean Democratic.
With the help of Four Directions, a Native American voting rights group, Yazzie and other members of the Navajo Nation filed a lawsuit against the Arizona secretary of state to extend the deadline for counties to receive ballots from the reservation. It argues that the state’s uniform Nov. 3 receipt deadline violates the Voting Rights Act of 1965 by giving Navajo voters less opportunity to vote than other Arizonans.
But Election Day is less than three weeks away, and the Court of Appeals for the Ninth Circuit just heard oral arguments on Tuesday. So the Navajo and their supporters in other tribes are doing what Native Americans have long done: Organize on the assumption that the U.S. government will not help them.
Navajo leaders have used food and supply distribution events, begun during the pandemic, to encourage voter registration as well. Separately, a team led by Donna Semans, the grass-roots organizing director at Four Directions, has spent weeks training Navajo Nation residents to register their neighbors.
The biggest challenge, though, is still ahead, because while there are several ways Arizona voters can submit their ballots, none are easily accessible on the reservation.
“I’ve heard people say it’s not their fault that we’re located where we’re located, and it’s not — but this is where they live, and they have just as much right to vote as anybody else,” Semans said. “All we’re trying to do is bring equality like we were promised.”
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