with a big assist from Sarah Ferris
THE COMMANDER-IN-CHIEF GETS COVID — President Donald Trump and first lady Melania Trump have tested positive for coronavirus, just 32 days before the election and two days after Trump debated Joe Biden on stage, where the president teased the Democratic presidential nominee for wearing such large masks and taking other precautions to avoid contracting the virus.
The early morning tweet that rocked Washington, and the world: “Tonight, @FLOTUS and I tested positive for COVID-19. We will begin our quarantine and recovery process immediately. We will get through this TOGETHER!” This comes after Trump’s top aide, Hope Hicks, started experiencing symptoms and received a positive diagnosis, as Bloomberg’s Jennifer Jacobs first reported Thursday.
Okay, so now what? Well, it certainly seems unlikely that there will be more presidential debates or Trump rallies. The president is now effectively sidelined during the critical final stretch of the campaign. And it seems likely that other high-level White House officials — as well as Biden — will now need to get tested for Covid-19.
ALSO, this is only going to renew a fierce debate on Capitol Hill over testing. Remember, the Capitol still does not have wide-scale testing for people who enter the building, despite pleas from rank-and-file members and even some high-ranking lawmakers such as House GOP Leader Kevin McCarthy.
A string of lawmakers — who constantly travel back and forth — have already contracted the virus. And not to mention, a number of congressional Republicans have close and pretty regular contact with the president. Speaker Nancy Pelosi and Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell both huddled with Treasury Secretary Steven Mnuchin earlier this week to discuss a coronavirus relief deal (Mnuchin tested negative this morning, as well as Vice President Mike Pence).
But Pelosi and McConnell rejected an offer at the beginning of the pandemic to have rapid testing in the Capitol, saying it would be unfair and bad optics since the American people were struggling to get tests at the time. More on how Trump’s coronavirus diagnosis exposes the Capitol’s “laissez-faire” approach to testing, from Marianne and Burgess: https://politi.co/3cS14kw.
GROUNDHOG DAY — Less than 24 hours ago, House Democrats passed their biggest coronavirus relief bill since May. But Congress is no closer to knowing whether any relief money will actually go out the door before Election Day.
Day six of “Will they, won’t they?”… Speaker Nancy Pelosi and Treasury Steven Mnuchin say they’ll try at least one more day to clinch a multi-trillion dollar stimulus deal. But both telegraphed Thursday that enormous gaps remained, including state and local government funding, of course, as well as items like the child tax credit. Pelosi herself sounded pessimistic speaking to her members on Thursday, and the White House was accusing Democrats of making “illegal immigration” requests.
Mods in mutiny … Frustration is climbing among endangered members in both parties. Among House Democrats, roughly two dozen frontliners personally texted Pelosi urging her to take a deal with the GOP — many eager for something rather than nothing. And 18 of them actually voted against their party’s partisan bill on the floor Thursday, holding out for a bill that can actually become law and anxious about going home without a deal. “This is just a vote to make people feel good,” said Rep. Cindy Axne (D-Iowa). “I want to help people. That means sitting at the table and getting a damn deal.” The latest from Sarah, your Huddle host and Heather: https://politi.co/3cS14kw
Across the Capitol … some of the GOP’s most vulnerable senators are also starting to get antsy about heading into the election empty-handed. Many Republicans up for reelection say it would be a mistake to adjourn this month without taking any action (though they’re careful not to point any fingers at Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell). “There’s no reason we shouldn’t all be here until the election if that’s what it takes to pass a follow up to the CARES Act,” Sen. Thom Tillis (R-N.C.) said. More from Burgess and Bres: https://politi.co/3ijP0cR.
PAYBACK’S A MITCH — The Senate will officially be here next week, and Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell is already teeing up votes on more judges as a kind of a payback for Democrats’ delay tactics in the SCOTUS fight. But even if Republicans can’t get Amy Coney Barrett across the finish line by Nov. 3, McConnell made clear Thursday night that he would move ahead with the vote during the lame-duck — regardless of the less-than-ideal optics. “There are no reduced constitutional prerogatives during either of our tenures,” McConnell told Fox News. The Hill’s Jordain Carney with more: https://bit.ly/3l52ET5.
Meanwhile, ACB had her first Dem meeting on Thursday night, quietly sitting down with Sen. Joe Manchin (D-W.Va.) even after he complained about the GOP’s process for getting her on the court, WaPo’s Seung Min Kim scooped. Other Democrats have said they’re open to a sit-down, including Sens. Dick Durbin and Cory Booker. Another, Sen. Patrick Leahy (D-Vt.), said he was willing but was still upset that the White House reached out the same day RBG was lying in state, per CNN’s Manu Raju.
And the intense public vetting has already begun. NBC News’ Heidi Przybyla reported that Coney Barrett had taken part in a 2006 two-page newspaper ad calling for Roe v. Wade to be overturned, describing the law’s legacy as “barbaric.” And LA Times’ Jennifer Haberkorn revealed that one week before RBG died, Barrett participated in a mock court on the Obamacare case going to the Court next month — in which none of the judges sided with the White House in striking the entire law.
Related read: “In Supreme Court Fight, McSally Sees a Chance to Reboot Her Senate Campaign,” via NYT’s Glenn Thrush and Hank Stephenson: https://nyti.ms/3nc16ss.
HAPPY FRI-YAY! Welcome to Huddle, the play-by-play guide to all things Capitol Hill, on this Oct. 2, where your host really wants to get her hands on one of these foul-mouthed parrots. Could use a new coworker to replace Bres when I work from home!
THURSDAY’S MOST CLICKED: BuzzFeed’s story on Rep. Tom Malinowski facing death threats and QAnon attacks was the big winner.
SCHUMER’S TRICK GETS SIX — A half dozen Senate Republicans, almost all in tight races next month, broke with Trump on Thursday in a symbolic vote about the fate of Obamacare. Just weeks before the election, Senate Minority Leader Chuck Schumer had forced the health care vote through a rarely used procedural move in protest of the GOP’s quick march to confirm the next Supreme Court Justice, as Alice Miranda Ollstein explains: https://politi.co/33kLcE1.
Endangered Republicans were split on the vote though. Five were in favor — Sen. Susan Collins of Maine, Joni Ernst of Iowa, Cory Gardner of Colorado, Martha McSally of Arizona and Dan Sullivan of Alaska — while the others, Sen. Steve Daines of Montana, Sen. Thom Tillis of North Carolina and Georgia Sen. David Perdue opposed. (Sen. Lisa Murkowski of Alaska, who’s not up this year, also voted in favor.) More from CNN’s Alex Rogers, Ted Barrett and Manu Raju: https://cnn.it/3inIcLA.
WHAT RECESSION? — The race to control the White House and Congress in 2020 is shattering records this year, with political spending expected to hit nearly $11 billion, according to a new analysis from the Center for Responsive Politics. That’s almost twice the amount spent in 2016. And the battle to control Congress makes up $5.6 billion of that, roughly on par with the 2018 midterm elections. CNN’s Fredreka Schouten explains: https://cnn.it/3jqSQSV.
Just call him CA$H Cunningham … The Democratic candidate seeking to unseat Sen. Thom Tillis (R-N.C.) raised an eye-popping $28.3 million in the third quarter, his campaign announced today.
GOP comes to Graham’s rescue … Sen. Lindsay Graham (R-S.C) is getting a $10 million ad blitz thanks to the Senate GOP leadership PAC. The last-minute cash infusion comes as Graham’s opponent, Jaime Harrison, has defied his own party’s expectations with his massive fundraising haul, largely from small donors. McClatchy DC’s Alex Roarty and Joseph Bustos report: https://bit.ly/3jmYVQs.
‘Holy crap numbers’... At least seven Democratic candidates exceeded $2 million in the third quarter, with plenty more still to report. Three of those are Democrats hoping to pick up GOP seats — Reps. Jeff Van Drew in New Jersey and Lee Zeldin in New York, and a seat in Colorado where Rep. Scott Tipton was defeated in the primary.
Related read: “Rating changes: Collins, Tillis now underdogs, Graham in tougher race,” from Roll Call’s Nathan Gonzalez: https://bit.ly/3ifsOAM.
MITCH-IGAN — Senate Republicans don’t have a ton of opportunities to go on offense this cycle. But they are trying to make a big play in Michigan, where Sen. Gary Peters (D) is up for reelection. A McConnell-aligned super PAC is planning a $9 million ad buy against Peters, per Roll Call. And since the GOP is favored to flip Sen. Doug Jones’ (D-Ala.) seat, a Republican win in Michigan would make Democrats’ path to the majority that much more narrow. The deets from Kate Ackley: https://bit.ly/33iSGr2.
Related read: “Has Elissa Slotkin Detected Early Hints of a Biden Blowout?,” via Tim Alberta for POLITICO Magazine: https://politi.co/2SjQ4D8.
PARTY POOPERS — Joe Lieberman and his son Matt are doing their darndest to deny their own party a Senate majority, with potentially costly interventions in Maine and Georgia that have Democrats livid. The story from Burgess and James Arkin: “In the wild race for a Georgia Senate seat, Joe’s son Matt Lieberman could play spoiler and allow two Republicans to advance to a runoff. Democrats are calling on Matt to drop out in favor of the party’s preferred candidate Rev. Raphael Warnock, but he is unbowed.
“About 1,000 miles north, Joe Lieberman has endorsed Sen. Susan Collins (R-Maine) in a race that Democrats likely need to win to seize the majority. Lieberman is even showing up in pro-Collins ads touting the independent bona fides of a Republican that liberals are eager to defeat. Taken together, the events show a political family once at the peak of Democratic politics directly undermining Democrats’ bid to win the Senate and haunting the party nearly eight years after Joe Lieberman left office.” More: https://politi.co/2Sivjb5.
FREE ADVICE — House GOP Leader Kevin McCarthy has a piece of advice for Trump in the next presidential debate: let Joe Biden talk. There’s a feeling in GOP circles that Trump didn’t do himself any favors — in fact, he may have only helped his opponent — by talking over Biden and not even allowing him a chance to slip-up. “Joe Biden usually gets in trouble … just by talking,” said McCarthy, a top Trump ally. “The more he talks, I think the stronger President Trump’s campaign is.”
But McCarthy’s advice may not even be needed: Even before his coronavirus diagnosis, Trump hinted Thursday that he might not participate in the next debate if there’s a rules or format change, as the commission has vowed to do. “Why would I allow the Debate Commission to change the rules for the second and third Debates when I easily won last time?” Trump tweeted.
A FIT BY A KING — Controversial Rep. Steve King (R-Iowa) took to the House floor Thursday to re-air his grievances with GOP leadership and the media and defend his infamous interview to the New York Times, in which he questioned how the terms “white nationalist,” “white supremacist,” and “Western civilization” became so offensive.
And yes, that’s the same interview from January 2019 that got King kicked off his committees and contributed to his primary defeat earlier this year. “They’ve got a sanctimonious attitude about what’s right and what’s wrong,” King said of his own party leaders.
King — whose speech came days after Trump declined to explicitly denounce white supremacy at the first presidential debate — even whipped out charts to try to make his points. Oh, and he also said he’s writing a book, titled “Walking Through the Fire,” that explains it all further, in case you somehow haven’t had enough. A rundown from The Hill’s Juliegrace Brufke: https://bit.ly/3kZPDdi.
POLITICO POD ALERT — POLITICO’s “Dispatch” has a new episode out this morning with Eric Geller on “Why secretaries of state matter more than ever.” It used to be a pretty low profile gig in states across the country, but with the looming threat of foreign interference and an upcoming election unlike any other, now it’s one of the most important jobs in America. Check it out.
Philip Rossetti joined the R Street Institute as a senior fellow on the energy and environmental team. Rossetti comes to R Street from the minority staff of the Select Committee on the Climate Crisis in the U.S. House of Representatives.
Thomas Rice will be government affairs lead at GoodRx. He currently is legislative director for Rep. Michael McCaul (R-Texas).
The House gavels in at 9 a.m., with first votes expected around 11:30 a.m. Today’s agenda: https://bit.ly/3inCNUJ.
The Senate is out.
THURSDAY’S WINNER: Jack Howard was the first person to guess that Harding was the former U.S. president who had voted for the 18th amendment imposing Prohibition as a senator and went on to serve alcohol illegally in the White House during his tenure.
TODAY’S QUESTION: From Jack: Which former U.S. President was arrested for running over a woman with a horse, allegedly while drunk? The first person to correctly guess gets a mention in the next edition of Huddle. Send your best guess to [email protected].
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- Melanie Zanona @MZanona