Just weeks before Election Day, officials in both parties are preparing for an extraordinary flood of mail-in ballots — and increasingly toxic politics over voting.
A private telephone conference scheduled today between dozens of secretaries of state from around the country and Louis DeJoy, the postmaster general, is expected to give a glimpse into the acrimonious state of voting by mail and the blame game likely to follow should voting devolve into election chaos. Democrats have pushed hard to expand mail voting, while Republicans have fiercely opposed such moves, falsely linking them with fraud.
Several secretaries of state said in interviews that they intended to use the session to voice concerns about operational and policy changes that have slowed mail delivery. Already, the Postal Service faces a temporary restraining order blocking the sending of a postcard urging voters to “plan ahead” if they intended to vote by mail. Election officials in Colorado and several other states say the mailer was filled with misinformation.
A report published Wednesday by Senator Gary Peters of Michigan, the top Democrat responsible for postal oversight, found that controversial operational changes instituted by Mr. DeJoy over the summer had delayed nearly 350 million pieces, or 7 percent, of the country’s first-class mail over five weeks.
Distrust over voting by mail is running particularly high, with Democrats accusing Mr. DeJoy, a major donor to the president, and the Republican majority installed by Mr. Trump on the postal board of governors of sabotaging the Postal Service to help the president. Mr. Trump, meanwhile, has spent months stoking false claims that mail-in voting is rife with fraud and is being used to rig the election.
All of this rancor comes as absentee voting is already underway in multiple states. By the end of this week, voters will be able to cast in-person ballots in eight states.
President Trump on Wednesday rejected the professional scientific conclusions of his own government about the prospects for a widely available coronavirus vaccine and the effectiveness of masks in curbing the spread of the virus as the death toll in the United States from the disease neared 200,000.
In a remarkable display even for him, Mr. Trump publicly slapped down Dr. Robert R. Redfield, the director of the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, and promised that a vaccine could be available in weeks and go “immediately” to the general public while casting doubt on the usefulness of masks, despite evidence to the contrary.
The president’s comments put him at odds with the C.D.C., the world’s premier public health agency, over the course of a pandemic that he keeps insisting is “rounding the corner” to an end. Mr. Trump lashed out just hours after Dr. Redfield told a Senate committee that a vaccine would not be widely available until the middle of next year and that masks were so vital in fighting the disease caused by the coronavirus, Covid-19, that they may even more important than a vaccine.
“I think he made a mistake when he said that,” Mr. Trump told reporters. “It’s just incorrect information.” A vaccine would go “to the general public immediately,” the president insisted, and “under no circumstance will it be as late as the doctor said.” As for Dr. Redfield’s conclusion that masks may be more useful than a vaccine, Mr. Trump said that “he made a mistake,” maintaining that a “vaccine is much more effective than the masks.”
The sharply divergent messages further undercut any effort to forge a coherent response to the virus. With Mr. Trump saying one thing and his health advisers saying another, many Americans have been left to figure out on their own whom to believe, with past polls showing that they have more faith in the experts than their president.
Joseph R. Biden Jr., the Democratic presidential nominee, said Mr. Trump’s undisguised fixation on the election calendar in declaring when a vaccine will be available had damaged his credibility.
“So let me be clear. I trust vaccines. I trust the scientists. But I don’t trust Donald Trump,” Mr. Biden said. “And at this moment, the American people can’t either.”
Here are the daily schedules of the presidential and vice-presidential candidates for Thursday, Sept. 17. All times are Eastern time.
Joseph R. Biden Jr.
Afternoon: Hosts a virtual fund-raising event.
Afternoon: Hosts a virtual Rosh Hashana event.
8 p.m.: Holds town-hall-style event in Scranton, Pa., telecast live on CNN.
11:30 a.m.: Attends credentialing ceremony for newly appointed ambassadors in the Oval Office.
2:30 p.m.: Delivers remarks at White House Conference on American History at the National Archives in Washington.
9 p.m.: Holds a campaign rally in Mosinee, Wis.
Afternoon: Attends a conversation hosted by She Can Win, a Democratic women’s group.
Afternoon: Attends a community conversation with Latino leaders and elected officials.
To be determined.
As Donald J. Trump ran for the White House, he promised to “come up with a great health plan” that would replace the Affordable Care Act with something better that maintained its biggest selling point: protecting people with pre-existing medical conditions.
Once elected, he swore he had a “wonderful plan” and would be “putting it in fairly soon.”
On Tuesday night, President Trump returned to the theme during a town-hall-style meeting broadcast on ABC, where he was taken to task by Ellesia Blaque, an assistant professor at Kutztown University in Pennsylvania. She told him she had a congenital illness, demanded to know what he would do to keep “people like me who work hard” insured.
“We’re going to be doing a health care plan very strongly, and protect people with pre-existing conditions,” Mr. Trump told her, adding, “I have it all ready, and it’s a much better plan for you, and it’s a much better plan.”
But after four years, the unkept promise may be catching up to Mr. Trump. There still does not seem to be any plan, because other than abolishing the Affordable Care Act — which requires insurers to cover pre-existing conditions and which the White House is asking the Supreme Court to overturn — the Republican Party cannot agree on one.
And with tens of thousands of Americans losing their coverage to a coronavirus-induced economic turndown, fears of inadequate or nonexistent health insurance have never been greater.
“What the public wants to know is, ‘Where am I going to get health insurance and how much is it going to cost me,’ and that plan didn’t really provide any kind of direction for getting answers to that,” said James C. Capretta, a resident fellow at the American Enterprise Institute who advised President George W. Bush on health policy.
Attorney General William P. Barr told federal prosecutors in a call last week that they should consider charging rioters and others who had committed violent crimes at protests in recent months with sedition, according to two people familiar with the call.
The highly unusual suggestion to charge people with insurrection against lawful authority alarmed some on the call, which included U.S. attorneys around the country, said the people, who spoke on the condition they not be named describing Mr. Barr’s comments because they feared retribution.
The attorney general has also asked prosecutors in the Justice Department’s civil rights division to explore whether they could bring criminal charges against Mayor Jenny Durkan of Seattle for allowing some residents to establish a police-free protest zone near the city’s downtown for weeks this summer, according to two people briefed on those discussions.
The directives are in keeping with Mr. Barr’s approach to prosecute crimes as aggressively as possible in cities where protests have given way to violence. But in suggesting possible prosecution of Ms. Durkan, a Democrat, Mr. Barr also took aim at an elected official whom President Trump has repeatedly attacked.
Justice Department representatives did not respond to requests for comment. The Wall Street Journal first reported Mr. Barr’s remarks about sedition.
The disclosures came as Mr. Barr directly inserted himself into the presidential race in recent days to warn that the United States would be on the brink of destruction if Mr. Trump lost. He told a Chicago Tribune columnist that the nation could find itself “irrevocably committed to the socialist path” if Mr. Trump lost and that the country faced “a clear fork in the road.”
Mr. Barr’s actions have thrust the Justice Department into the political fray at a time when Democrats and former law enforcement officials have expressed fears that he is politicizing the department, particularly by intervening in legal matters in ways that benefit Mr. Trump or his circle of friends and advisers.
Former President Barack Obama’s long literary struggle is over.
Well, half over.
On Thursday, Crown Publishing announced that the first half of Mr. Obama’s long-anticipated presidential memoir — “The Promised Land” — would be released on Nov. 17, after the election and in time for the holidays.
The first book, all 768 pages of it, took Mr. Obama about four years to complete, and will span his early political career, to the killing of Osama bin Laden in 2011. The split-it-up decision was made earlier this year when it became clear he was not likely to complete the entire tome anytime soon.
Demand for the book is expected to be extraordinary, and Crown, an imprint of Penguin Random House, has ordered a first printing for the U.S. edition of 3 million copies. To accommodate the order, Crown plans to print about 1 million books in Germany and has arranged for three ships, outfitted with 112 shipping containers, to bring those copies to the United States.
Mr. Obama and Michelle Obama sold their memoirs to Crown in 2018 as a package deal for a record-smashing $65 million. So far, it doesn’t look like they overpaid. Mrs. Obama’s book, “Becoming,” has sold more than 8.1 million units in the United States and Canada since it was published in the fall of 2018.
“There’s no feeling like finishing a book, and I’m proud of this one,” Mr. Obama said in a statement. “I’ve tried to provide an honest accounting of my presidential campaign and my time in office: the key events and people who shaped it, my take on what I got right and the mistakes I made, and the political, economic, and cultural forces that my team and I had to confront then — and that as a nation we are grappling with still.”
He did a lot of grappling himself. At times, he has groused to friends about the grinding process, likening it to a never-ending school project.
“She had a ghostwriter,” Mr. Obama told a friend who asked about his wife’s comparatively speedy work. “I am writing every word myself, and that’s why it’s taking longer.”
Mr. Obama’s first book, “Dreams From My Father,” was published in 1995 by Peter Osnos at Times Books. Mr. Osnos said he paid a $40,000 advance after Mr. Obama’s original contract with Simon & Schuster was canceled because he had taken too long to deliver the book.
Senator Lindsey Graham, Republican of South Carolina and chairman of the Judiciary Committee, said Wednesday night that James B. Comey, the former F.B.I. director, would testify before the committee on Sept. 30 without a subpoena.
“The day of reckoning is upon us when it comes to Crossfire Hurricane,” Mr. Graham told the Fox News host Sean Hannity, referring to the internal code name for the 2016-17 F.B.I. investigation into the Trump campaign’s ties to Russia.
“I appreciate Mr. Comey coming before the committee,” Mr. Graham said. “He will be respectfully treated, but asked hard questions.”
The testimony would be one day after the first of three debates between President Trump and Joseph R. Biden Jr., and three days after Showtime begins airing “The Comey Rule,” the miniseries adaptation of “A Higher Loyalty,” Mr. Comey’s best-selling book.
Mr. Graham said his committee was also negotiating to get an appearance by Andrew McCabe, the former deputy director of the F.B.I., and has invited Peter Strzok, a former F.B.I. counterintelligence investigator, to appear. Special Counsel Robert S. Mueller III declined to appear, saying he did not have time, Mr. Graham said.
In July, as the coronavirus pandemic raged, Joseph R. Biden Jr. made one trip to a battleground state. In August, he again visited just one swing state. And on the second weekend in September, less than eight weeks before Election Day, Mr. Biden’s only activity was going to church near his Delaware home.
Mr. Biden’s restraint has spilled over into his campaign operation, which was late to appoint top leaders in key states and embraced a far more cautious approach to in-person engagement than President Trump, and even some other Democratic candidates. While the Trump campaign says it is knocking on hundreds of thousands of doors a day, the Biden team is relying heavily on TV ads and contacting voters largely through phone calls, text messaging and other digital outreach.
That guarded strategy reflects the bet Mr. Biden’s campaign has made for months: that American voters will reward a sober, responsible approach that mirrors the ways the pandemic has upended their own lives, and follows scientific guidance that Mr. Trump almost gleefully defies.
Yet as Mr. Trump barrels ahead with crowded, risky rallies, some Democrats in battleground states are growing increasingly anxious about the trade-offs Mr. Biden has made. With some polls tightening since the beginning of the summer, they are warning him that virtual events may not be enough to excite voters, and urging him to intensify in-person outreach.
The concern among these Democrats is whether, in closely fought states that may be won on the margins, the Biden campaign is engaging every possible voter with an affirmative case for his candidacy, when the other side simply has more traditional tactics they are willing to use.
“It feels like asymmetric warfare,” said Matt Munsey, the Democratic chair in Northampton County in eastern Pennsylvania, one of the counties Mr. Trump narrowly flipped in 2016, referring to Mr. Biden’s approach versus Mr. Trump’s.
Senate Democrats made a last-ditch attempt on Wednesday to quash a forthcoming Republican report on Hunter Biden’s work for a Ukrainian energy firm, warning that the document could amplify Russian disinformation in an attempt to politically wound his father, Joseph R. Biden Jr., the Democratic presidential nominee.
Introducing a resolution to block the report, Senator Chuck Schumer of New York, the minority leader, argued that the Homeland Security Committee’s inquiry into the younger Mr. Biden was aiding a Russian attack on the election by reviving the same unsubstantiated claims about the Bidens that the American authorities have said Moscow was promoting, actions that resulted in new sanctions last week against a Ukrainian with ties to Russia.
The resolution called for senators to “cease any activities that allow Congress to act as a conduit for foreign election interference campaigns that launder and amplify Russian disinformation.”
Senator Ron Johnson of Wisconsin, the committee’s chairman, objected to the measure, and vigorously defended his inquiry, which is slated for completion in the coming days. Mr. Johnson insisted he was not being used by Russian intelligence and accused Democrats of a “smear campaign” to protect Mr. Biden.
“I am well aware of what Russia is doing,” Mr. Johnson said. “I don’t condone it. I condemn it. I don’t have any part in spreading it.”
Mr. Johnson has made no secret of the fact that he wants a report out before the election and hopes that his conclusions will sway voters against Mr. Biden.
Secretary of State Frank LaRose of Ohio, a Republican, on Wednesday pushed back against a court ruling that had paved the way for counties to deploy multiple drop boxes for absentee ballots in November.
Mr. LaRose said in a written statement to the court that he could not comply with the judge’s ruling because Ohio law mandates that only one drop box may be placed in each county.
The Ohio Democratic Party had filed a lawsuit saying that Mr. LaRose was disenfranchising voters by trying to limit the number of ballot boxes. On Monday, Mr. LaRose moved to block the installation of six drop boxes at libraries in Cuyahoga County, home to Cleveland and a substantial percentage of Black voters in the state, a battleground that President Trump won in 2016.
Judge Richard A. Frye of the Franklin County Common Pleas Court ruled on Tuesday that state law did not preclude the installation of multiple drop boxes per county and that Mr. LaRose’s order was “arbitrary and unreasonable” during a pandemic. Mr. LaRose will appeal the ruling, his spokeswoman said.
With concerns about postal slowdowns and delayed mail-in ballots, election officials in some states are looking to alternative options, like drop boxes, which provide voters an option for casting absentee ballots without having to rely on mail delivery.
The Ohio Democratic Party said that the one drop box in Cuyahoga County, which has more than 860,000 voters, was not enough, and that voters who rely on public transportation could more easily reach a drop box if there were more in different locations. The party said it could take more than one hour on public transportation to travel from several communities in Franklin County, home of Columbus, to that county’s drop box.
Mr. LaRose said on Wednesday that he supports adding drop boxes if is legal to do so, but that existing law prohibits drop boxes from being at locations other than a county’s board of elections office.
“Yesterday’s ruling has enormous implications for holding a secure and fair election in Ohio and assuring voters of the integrity of its result,” his spokeswoman, Maggie Sheehan, said. “For those reasons, Ohioans deserve a full and immediate review of the ruling by the appellate courts.”
On Wednesday, Judge Frye put his order on hold, staying his ruling pending the outcome of the appeal.
Readers of newspapers like The Miami Herald and The Kansas City Star will probably have to choose a presidential candidate in November without the help of their local editorial boards, according to a memo circulated by the company that owns the newspapers, McClatchy.
McClatchy’s 30 papers will be permitted to make a presidential endorsement only if they conduct interviews with both Joseph R. Biden Jr. and President Trump, who is not in the habit of talking to local newspaper editorial boards. The company’s policy was distributed internally by Colleen McCain Nelson, McClatchy’s national opinion editor.
“If we don’t interview the candidates, we won’t make a recommendation for president,” the memo says. “Most readers aren’t turning to us for national political commentary, and they can choose among dozens of news organizations that deploy journalists to cover the presidential campaign full-time. If we’re simply observing the race from afar, our ability to provide unique content and our own reporting is severely limited.”
The decision is part of an attempt to keep the newspapers, which were recently purchased out of bankruptcy by a hedge fund, Chatham Asset Management of New Jersey, focused on their local mission. “Local, Local, Local,” reads one section of the memo, which was first circulated in January, according to a McClatchy spokeswoman, but had not been previously reported.
The memo represents a retreat from an important feature of 20th-century newspaper journalism. It also reflects an effort to steer away from the all-consuming vortex of national news and carve out a place for local news sources whose businesses are in free fall. Other local papers, including The Dallas Morning News, have said they will not endorse this year.
The McClatchy newspapers include several in key swing states, including The Herald, The Charlotte Observer, and The Centre Daily Times in State College, Pa.
Newspaper endorsements, or a lack thereof, may not prove crucial to the outcome in November. In 2016, only two of the 100 largest newspapers in America endorsed the winner, Mr. Trump.