With help from Renuka Rayasam and Myah Ward
2016, MINUS CONTEXT — Good evening from I-76 in western Pennsylvania, where the highway was clogged with trucks flying Trump flags racing towards Johnstown, where President Donald Trump is holding his second rally since declaring himself Covid-free and coronavirus-immune.
Last night, in Florida, the president said he felt “so powerful” and wanted to “kiss everyone in that audience,” so who knows what tonight will bring. He began speaking just after 7:30 p.m. ET.
The big story of Trump’s return to the campaign trail has been the shockingly lax Covid precautions taken by his campaign. His campaign has been schizophrenic about big events for months. In June there was the controversial event in Tulsa, Okla., that was supposed to mark the return of the MAGA rally but turned into an embarrassment because of low attendance and a subsequent Covid outbreak. (It might also have killed Herman Cain.) Gradually live events returned but without the “rally” moniker. Now they’re back.
Yet while Trump is pretending it’s 2016 again, not just with rallies but with his calls to release Hillary Clinton’s emails, he’s also lost the populist message that won him an unlikely victory. At this point four years ago, Trump was a disciplined candidate, by his standards at least, who had a consistent message about immigration, trade and Washington corruption.
And it’s not just Trump who’s lost his talking points. So have his surrogates. Last night I stopped by a Trump campaign event in Northeast Philadelphia featuring Rudy Giuliani. The campaign was booted out of a larger venue, so it packed supporters in an airless campaign office. Despite promising to take people’s temperatures — the most basic screening — there was nobody with a thermometer to be found upon entry. Just an airless hallway and a room full of shoulder-to-shoulder Trump supporters, plenty of whom weren’t wearing masks. (Not to be overly dramatic, but this was the first political event I’ve ever covered where I felt my health was at risk. After seeing the setup I mostly waited outside, though I recorded Giuliani’s remarks.)
Giuliani — no mask — praised the use of hydroxychloroquine, which he said he started taking after being exposed to Trump’s Covid-infected debate team a few weeks ago. Most chillingly, he declared, “People don’t die of this disease anymore.” The current 7-day average is almost 700 deaths per day in the United States.
There was a moment at the Giuliani event when a supporter in the crowd yelled, “Build the wall!” Giuliani ignored him. He managed to talk about Hunter Biden allegedly smoking crack, George Soros conspiracies, how “Black Lives Matters equals kill cops,” how Biden has “dementia,” how he believes in a “deep state” but not QAnon. He never got around to discussing immigration or trade or health care or a policy agenda for a second Trump term.
After Rudy spoke I watched Trump’s Florida remarks. It struck me that the press’s policing of the Trump campaign’s YOLO attitude toward masks and social distancing has obscured Trump’s abandonment of his 2016 message about policy: make better trade deals, build the wall, drain the swamp. It’s jarring to take aggressive precautions for months and then show up at an event where anything goes, so naturally we reporters emphasize that.
And both things matter to Trump’s reelection campaign. These two things — Trump being cavalier about Covid and also lacking a coherent message — aren’t mutually exclusive reasons for Trump’s decline in the polls. They reinforce each other.
Not caring about Covid has become the Trump message.
Welcome to POLITICO Nightly. Renu is taking suggestions for her toddlers’ Halloween costumes this year. Reach out at [email protected] or [email protected] or on Twitter at @RyanLizza or @renurayasam.
POLITICAL INOCULATION— The FDA is resisting Trump administration pressure to rebrand the emergency authorization of a Covid-19 vaccine as a “pre-licensure,” over worries that it would appear the agency is politicizing its scientific determinations, according to four senior administration officials with knowledge of the debate, health care reporter Adam Cancryn writes.
FDA Commissioner Stephen Hahn rejected attempts to alter the terminology tied to its closely watched regulatory process in recent weeks, frustrating health department officials who contend the agency is holding coronavirus vaccines to a far higher standard than normal for an emergency authorization — and that its description should reflect that, the officials said.
ACB PLAYS DODGEBALL — Barrett repeatedly declined to answer questions today about her views on abortion and Obamacare, frustrating Democrats on the second day of her confirmation hearings.
Barrett emphasized during her Senate confirmation hearing that she had no political agenda and frequently cited her current role as a judge on the Seventh Circuit Court of Appeals when asked about her views on specific issues, congressional reporters Marianne LeVine and Andrew Desidero write. She consistently referenced the long-standing tradition of judicial nominees refusing to weigh in on specific issues.
“If I express a view on a precedent one way or another … it signals to litigants that I may tilt one way or another on a pending case,” Barrett said.
Supreme Court nominees typically avoid answering specific questions about how they would rule in cases that could come before the court. But Barrett’s responses stymied Democrats, who have zeroed in on health care as their top issue in the Supreme Court fight — in particular, protections for Americans with pre-existing health conditions. Those protections, legislated by the Affordable Care Act, could be eliminated as a result of a pending case before the court.
IS TRUMP IMMUNE? On Sunday, scientists confirmed that a 25-year-old was infected with Covid twice — the first known case of reinfection in the U.S. That news came hours after Trump posted on Twitter that he was Covid-free and immune: “A total and complete sign off from White House Doctors yesterday. That means I can’t get it (immune), and can’t give it. Very nice to know!!!”
Nightly’s Myah Ward asked experts: Is Trump immune? These responses have been edited.
“If I were him, I certainly would not make that assumption. We don’t know much yet about long-term protection from reinfection. One of his physician’s reports noted the presence of antibodies, but antibodies alone don’t always equal immunity and he was given an antibody cocktail, so uncertain how his own antibodies would be distinguished from those provided via the Regeneron infusion.” — Tara C. Smith, professor of epidemiology at Kent State University’s College of Public Health
“I think that the president is likely immune from Covid reinfection for at least several months. The vast, vast majority of those infected develop antibodies and T-cells that protect against reinfection. In fact, the CDC guidance states those who have recovered, if re-exposed, don’t have to self-quarantine if their past infection was in the last three months. Additionally, the president has augmented antibodies due to the use of the Regeneron product that also will confer immunity for possibly a month or longer.” — Amesh Adalja, senior scholar at the Johns Hopkins University Center for Health Security
“Documented reinfection with SARS-CoV-2 is extremely rare, so he is probably immune. We don’t know, however, how long this immunity lasts. He also received treatment with the Regeneron monoclonal antibody, and there is some concern that this could blunt the normal immune response to infection. However, this is only a theoretical concern.” — Dean Winslow, infectious disease specialist at Stanford Health Care
“There’s been a lack of clarity regarding his lab results and clinical course in general. People who have mild Covid sometimes make very little antibodies, and may be at risk for a new infection. That may explain the case just reported in Lancet Infectious Diseases of a Nevada man who had a Covid infection in April and then again in June.
“The fact that the president received such aggressive and early therapy may also have limited his ability to make his own antibodies, by making his into a ‘mild’ case — but we just don’t know. There’s no benefit to assuming the president is immune. He’d be well advised to take reasonable precautions to ensure his own health and the health of those around him.” — Keith R. Jerome, head of virology division at the University of Washington
ANOTHER RESEARCH PAUSE — A government-sponsored clinical trial of a coronavirus antibody treatment from Eli Lilly has stopped enrolling volunteers over safety concerns — days after the company asked the FDA to approve emergency use of the treatment, health care reporter Zachary Brennan writes. “Lilly is supportive of the decision by the independent [data safety monitoring board] to cautiously ensure the safety of the patients participating in this study,” a company spokesperson said today.
Neither Lilly nor the National Institute of Allergy and Infectious Diseases, which is sponsoring the trial, have described the safety issue that prompted the decision to pause the study. NIAID has not yet responded to a request for comment. The late-stage study is examining whether Lilly’s antibody could help hospitalized patients. The treatment is a monoclonal antibody that mimics the antibodies the body makes naturally. It’s similar to the Regeneron antibody cocktail that Trump received recently after being diagnosed with Covid-19.
Last week, Lilly asked the FDA to grant an emergency-use authorization that would allow use of the antibody treatment in high-risk patients recently diagnosed with mild-to-moderate Covid-19. That application is largely based on preliminary data from a Phase II trial released in mid-September that showed patients who received any dose of the antibody were less likely to be hospitalized or visit the ER.
Nightly asks you: What’s the one question you would ask President Trump and the one question you would ask Joe Biden? You only get one each. Send us your answers via our form, and we’ll include select responses in Friday’s edition.
BEDMINSTER OUTBREAK AVOIDED — New Jersey Gov Phil Murphy said today that state and local health officers have not identified any outbreaks of coronavirus linked to attendance at a fundraiser earlier this month at Trump’s golf club in Bedminster, Sam Sutton writes.
“We’re not aware of any outbreaks and the federal response was extremely disappointing,” Murphy told reporters after an unrelated press conference with Sen. Bob Menendez, Rep. Tom Malinowski (both D-N.J.) and state legislative leaders in Somerset County, about 20 miles from Trump National Golf Club Bedminster.
DOWN IN THE OLD TEXAS TOWN — Jill Biden started a campaign tour of Texas this morning with an outdoor rally in El Paso, the first day of early voting in the state. A mariachi band played and folklórico dancers twirled lime green and turquoise gowns as masked supporters took their seats, placed in a socially distanced pattern, in a courtyard at the University of Texas at El Paso, emails Nightly’s Renuka Rayasam. The border town has seen a spike in infections and hospitalizations in recent days, and the former second lady took few chances: She wore a mask as she spoke for about 10 minutes to the crowd of about 75 supporters and journalists. Later in the day she traveled to Dallas and Houston.
It’s been 24 years since a presidential candidate stopped in El Paso during a general election campaign. Presidents have visited, mostly to talk about immigration or visit the troops at Fort Bliss, but Texas is hardly seen as a battleground state. This year isn’t much different. Joe Biden isn’t making a serious play for Texas, Jill’s visit notwithstanding. He hasn’t stepped foot in Texas since the primaries. The campaign announced a $6 million ad buy, but that’s a fraction of what’s needed to win a state that hasn’t voted for a Democrat for president since Jimmy Carter in 1976. Then Biden scaled back the ad buy.
DeeAnne Croucher, who was holding a Biden Harris campaign sign in her lap, said she pulled her daughter out of school in 1996 to see Bill Clinton when he stopped in El Paso, but said she couldn’t get close enough to see much. This morning she had a clear view of Jill Biden, in a bright pink suit and white blazer.
“This is my first, first lady,” said Croucher, who said she planned to vote later today. Gov. Greg Abbott extended early voting a week, but the state hasn’t eased requirements for mail balloting.
CONTINENTAL COVID CONUNDRUM — Headlines across Europe are pointing to rising Covid-19 cases across the continent, as governments weigh the reinstatement of pandemic restrictions. The latest:
— The Dutch government ordered a partial lockdown today and mandated masks in public spaces in a bid to control one of the worst coronavirus infection rates in the EU. “We are going to a partial lockdown,” Dutch Prime Minister Mark Rutte said during a press conference. “That hurts, but it’s the only way.”
— New restrictions to control the spread of the coronavirus in Belgium could be announced on Friday, according to Health Minister Frank Vandenbroucke. The government will also present a barometer, with color codes for different places based on the number of hospitalizations and infections, as well as the rate of positive tests. These color codes could signify which sorts of measures need to be taken.
— The Czech government imposed new measures late today to try to curb a second wave of coronavirus infections, including shutting all schools except kindergartens and restricting social gatherings. The move came after the number of Covid-related deaths in the country of 10.7 million surpassed 1,000 and the daily infection rate became one of the highest in the world.
— Central Europe is struggling after being barely touched in the first wave of the coronavirus pandemic — something that threatens to overwhelm the medical systems of many of the EU’s poorer member countries. In the spring, countries including Slovakia, the Czech Republic, Hungary, Poland and others in the region clamped down hard and fast — slamming shut borders, locking up their populations, shutting down schools, restaurants, bars and most shops. A looser summer combined with a reopening of schools, plus some mixed messaging from politicians, has helped spark a huge surge in infections.
FOUR QUESTIONS FOR ACB — If she achieved nothing else today, Judge Amy Coney Barrett displayed her skills as a law professor, Kimberly Wehle writes in POLITICO Magazine. Under gentle questioning by Sen. Ben Sasse (R-Neb.), Barrett explained important and complex legal concepts like originalism, textualism, standing to sue and “living constitutionalism.”
But when she was pressed by Democratic senators on specific cases related to hot-button issues such as abortion, gay marriage and Obamacare, Barrett retreated behind a shield of what she called a “judicial canon” that allegedly precludes her from commenting on certain categories of cases. She was not entirely consistent, however, in how she applied that rule. She avoided any discussion of abortion rights and Shelby County v. Holder, which struck down a critical provision of the Voting Rights Act, for example, but was happy to weigh in on Second Amendment law and the need, in her words, for First Amendment law to become “better organized.”
Wehle offers tips for how Democratic senators can get Barrett to say what she really thinks.
Did someone forward this email to you? Sign up here.
POLITICO Nightly: What’s missing at Trump’s new rallies – Politico