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2020 Daily Trail Markers: Biden's search for a VP is likely underway

Joe Biden's search for a running mate is likely well underway, CBS News campaign reporter Bo Erickson reports. The vetting process may look a little different this year because of the constraints caused by the coronavirus pandemic. Biden recently said he expects the vetting process to take at least five to eight weeks. Previously, he said he hopes to announce his decision by July. 

While he has also said that at least a dozen women are under consideration, sources have told CBS News Biden is seriously considering five to eight of these potential picks. Beyond contact with the vetting committee, top Biden staff like campaign manager Jen O'Malley Dillon and other senior advisers are in frequent contact — sometimes every day — with aides to these women.  Several high-profile Democrats told CBS News they are urging Biden to pick a woman of color

Read more here from our 2020 campaign reporters about the women Biden is likely considering.

FROM THE CANDIDATES

JOE BIDEN

Joe Biden will join Yahoo News and chef Jose Andres for a livestream event Tuesday evening. Earlier in the day, Face the Nation moderator Margaret Brennan moderated a discussion with Biden top foreign policy adviser Tony Blinken. Asked about recent criticism of how the World Health Organization (WHO) has handled the COVID-19 pandemic, Blinken told Brennan the U.S. under a Biden administration would not "necessarily have to remain the number one donor" to the WHO, contributions he noted that are all voluntary. And if Biden takes office, Blinken said their administration would "certainly need an after-action report" on how the Trump administration handled the global pandemic response. He did not say who would conduct such a report. 

PRESIDENT TRUMP

President Trump called a study from the Food and Drug Administration about hydroxychloroquine and its effectiveness in treating the coronavirus "phony" during a cabinet meeting Tuesday afternoon. "I'll stay on it for a little while longer. I'm just very curious myself. But it seems to be very safe," said the president. CBS News campaign reporter Nicole Sganga says Mr. Trump, 73, revealed to reporters during a White House event on Monday that he has been taking the antimalarial drug he frequently touts as treatment for COVID-19. According to the FDA, hydroxychloroquine is linked to serious and even fatal heart risks in some patients. The largest study on the drug to date showed it did not improve the condition of coronavirus patients and was tied to a greater number of deaths. The agency has warned against its widespread use. White House physician Dr. Sean Conley confirmed in a memorandum he and Mr. Trump had several discussions about hydroxychloroquine and decided "the potential benefit from treatment outweighed the relative risks."

Earlier in the day, the president also responded to comments made by House Speaker Nancy Pelosi after he said he was taking the drug.  "I don't respond to her.  I think she's a waste of time," Mr. Trump told reporters. He later called the California lawmaker a "sick woman" who has "a lot of mental problems." Pelosi said Monday night Mr. Trump should not be taking hydroxychloroquine due to his age and weight. "As far as the president is concerned, he's our president and I would rather he not be taking something that has not been approved by the scientists, especially in his age group and in his, shall we say, weight group, morbidly obese, they say," Pelosi said during an interview with CNN on Monday night. "So I think it's not a good idea."

Vice President Mike Pence chaired the 7th National Space Council Meeting at NASA headquarters in Washington, D.C. on Tuesday afternoon. The VP, joined by various cabinet officials, discussed the upcoming and historic launch of two American astronauts next week into space on American rockets from American soil. CBS News campaign reporter Musadiq Bidar reports astronauts Robert Behnken and Douglas Hurley, who also joined the meeting, will be the first to fly in SpaceX's Crew Dragon capsule. Since the last space shuttle flight from Kennedy Space Center in July of 2011, NASA astronauts have flown to the International Space Station on rockets managed by Russia. The Vice President called the astronauts "trailblazers of a new era," adding, the launch next week comes "at an important time in the life of our nation" as the country recovers from the coronavirus pandemic. "We are one week and one day away from when America will return, American astronauts on American rockets from American soil to space," Pence said. "It is a time of great hope and encouragement." Towards the end of the meeting, a pool reporter asked Pence if he is also taking hydroxychloroquine. Pence smiled and simply said "thank you." In an interview following the Space Council Meeting, Fox News' Kristin Fisher asked the vice president if he is taking hydroxychloroquine. "I'm not. But I would never begrudge any American taking the advice of their physician," Pence replied. "Hydroxychloroquine is a drug that's been around for more than 40 years for treatment of malaria. But, early in this process, the FDA approved what's called off-label use where physicians could prescribe hydroxychloroquine in terms they deemed appropriate. So my physician has not recommended that, but I wouldn't hesitate to take the counsel of my doctor. Any American should do likewise."

On Wednesday, VP Pence will travel to Orlando, Florida, where he will meet with Governor Ron DeSantis to discuss the state's reopening. Pence will also deliver personal protective equipment to a nursing home as part of an initiative to deliver PPE to more than 15,000 nursing homes across America.

VEEPSTAKES

VAL DEMINGS

CBS News campaign reporter LaCrai Mitchell reports that Congresswoman Val Demings of Florida joined the state's Democratic Party during a virtual press conference on Tuesday to call out the Trump administration's handling of the coronavirus pandemic. The press conference came one day ahead of Pence's upcoming visit to Orlando, where he's scheduled to pass out personal protective equipment to nursing homes — a move that the FLDP Chair Terrie Rizzo called "too little, too late." Demings called the move another "smoke and mirrors moment" where the administration wants to distract voters. "The president and the vice president want you to take your eyes off the real conditions on the ground: Pay no attention to the number of people who have died, pay no attention to the number of people who are sick, ignore the fact that this country's numbers continue to increase," Demings said during the virtual gathering. "We have had the worst response in the world compared to other industrialized countries." Demings added that while the president isn't responsible for COVID-19, "we would be in a much different place today" if his administration had heeded to earlier warnings from public health experts and scientists. Earlier this month, presumptive nominee Biden said Demings was one of a group of women being considered as one of his vice presidential picks. And the former Democratic House manager in the impeachment trial of Mr. Trump has said herself that she would be "honored" to serve as VP. But when asked whether she'd had contact with the Biden campaign during the virtual press conference, a FLDP moderator said they wouldn't be taking questions on that subject at the moment.

ELIZABETH WARREN

Senator Elizabeth Warren on Tuesday pressured Treasury Secretary Steven Mnuchin to require that all large and mid-sized businesses getting pandemic aid from a $500 billion Federal Reserve fund keep their workers on payroll. Mnuchin declined to make such a commitment, citing payroll requirements for airline bailouts and the Main Street Lending Program. "And the rest was left up to you and what you're saying is that you won't do it…You're boosting your Wall Street buddies and you are leaving the American people behind," Warren said in a Senate Banking Committee hearing, according to CBS News campaign reporter Zak Hudak. Mnuchin, who has the authority under the CARES Act to set the terms of pandemic relief bonds purchased by the Federal Reserve, said he had set the terms based on bipartisan discussions. "I think that's a very unfair characterization," he said. "And these issues were discussed with both Republicans and Democrats at the time. You were not necessarily part of those discussions but these were completely discussed." The Federal Reserve has set some restrictions on companies from whom it will buy bonds, including that a majority of their employees are in the United States and that they are not already receiving other CARES Act support. Ahead of the hearing, Warren sent a letter to the Federal Reserve in Boston and New York, requesting that executives of companies receiving that aid be "subject to criminal and civil penalties, including disgorgement, if they provide fraudulent or misleading information or misuse funds."  Mnuchin said in the hearing that, "we will review that."

Warren also released her second wave of endorsements for up and down-ballot Democrats since leaving the presidential race. Notably, she backed MJ Hegar, an Air Force veteran who will appear in a runoff election in mid-June to be Democrats' challenger for Senator John Cornyn. "As a dedicated combat veteran and working mom who has lived through many of the challenges facing Texans, MJ Hegar is a proven fighter," Warren said in a statement. "She will ensure every Texan has affordable health care, economic opportunity and a government that works for the people – not corporate special interests or billionaires." In addition to a slew of incumbents, Warren endorsed Georgette Gomez, a progressive backed by Congresswoman Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez who is running against former Hillary Clinton adviser Sara Jacobs to replace Rep. Susan Davis in California when she retires.

GRETCHEN WHITMER

Michigan Governor Gretchen Whitmer commented on speculation that she is being considered as Democratic presumptive nominee Joe Biden's potential running mate, according to CBS News campaign reporter Jack Turman. Asked on the "Today" show if she is being vetted by the Biden campaign, Whitmer responded that she has had "a conversation with some folks," but added that she is focused on leading Michigan through the coronavirus pandemic. "It was just an opening conversation and it's not something that I would call a professional, you know, formalized vetting," Whitmer later added. This is the most direct answer Whitmer has given to a question about being a vice presidential contender. Whitmer has been asked repeatedly about vice presidential speculation in the last month but has typically only responded that her energy is dedicated to handling the current crisis. Whitmer, one of the national co-chairs for Biden's campaign, recently participated in a virtual roundtable hosted by the Biden campaign with Connecticut Governor Ned Lamont and New Jersey Governor Phil Murphy.

STATE-BY-STATE

FLORIDA

One day after every Florida county entered into a "full phase 1" reopening across the state, the number of COVID-related deaths surpassed 2,000 in Florida on Tuesday. The full Phase 1 reopening allows for restaurants and retail establishments to expand indoor occupancy to 50% and also permits museums, libraries and gyms to operate at 50% of their buildings' capacities. During a virtual press conference with the Florida Democratic Party, Demings and state leaders, CBS News campaign reporter LaCrai Mitchell asked what the leaders thought about this new phase of the state's re-opening. "Our economy is suffering, this is Florida where tourism is so critical. But to reopen while our numbers are continuing to increase — and look, I know also that the rate of increase has gone down somewhat — but we have to be so careful and so, strategic in terms of reopening," said Demings who added that she did appreciate the idea of a phased re-opening but countered that Floridians have received mixed messages from the state's governor. Florida Democratic State Senator Victor Torres said that idea of a gradual re-opening isn't being adhered to by some patrons in restaurants, salons, and bars. "That's where I have a problem because guess what? If this comes back, it's gonna come back double the amount," said Torres during the virtual press conference Tuesday. "We're gonna really face a challenge in the safety for our people."

MICHIGAN

Michigan Secretary of State Jocelyn Benson announced today that Michigan will be mailing all registered voters absentee ballot applications for the August primary and November general election, according to CBS News campaign reporter Adam Brewster. There are 7.7 million registered voters in Michigan and 1.3 million are already on the permanent absentee voter list. "By mailing applications, we have ensured that no Michigander has to choose between their health and their right to vote," Benson said in a statement. "Voting by mail is easy, convenient, safe, and secure, and every voter in Michigan has the right to do it."  In 2018, Michigan voters passed a ballot measure that made the state a "no-excuse" absentee voting state, meaning anyone could request a mail ballot without a reason. This goes a step further to put the application in voters' mailboxes. During the March presidential primary, the first statewide election since the no-excuse absentee law took effect, 876,845 people returned absentee ballots. That was almost double the number from the 2016 presidential primary.

NEW YORK

A three-judge panel ruled Tuesday that the New York Democratic presidential primary may proceed as planned on June 23rd. CBS News campaign reporter Nicole Sganga says the decision by the U.S. Court of Appeals for the Second Circuit follows New York State's appeal of a federal judge's order last month that required New York State hold its election, returning all qualified candidates – including Senator Bernie Sanders – to the ballot. "We have reviewed all of the remaining arguments raised by Defendants on appeal and find them to be without merit," judges wrote in a joint decision, Tuesday. New York State Board of Elections co-chair Douglas Kellner confirmed another appeal would not be filed following the opinion.

PENNSYLVANIA

Tens of thousands of voters in Montgomery County, Pennsylvania, likely received faulty supplemental instructions for filling out their mail-in ballots, according to the official in charge of elections in the county. Although the instructions printed on the ballots themselves were correct, the ones printed on a separate sheet of paper incorrectly directed voters to fill in bubbles to the left, rather than the right, of the names of candidates for whom they wish to vote. As a result, a voter following the supplemental instructions and not the correct ones would fill in bubbles for presidential or state attorney general and auditor general candidates when trying to cast their votes for delegates. Lee Soltysiak, the chief operating officer and clerk for Montgomery County, told CBS News campaign reporter Zak Hudak in a statement that the county became aware of the mistake May 14 and corrected the supplemental instructions sent with all ballots since then. Soltysiak said he did not think voters would make mistakes on their ballots because of the incorrect directions. "Since the instructions are correct on the ballot itself, and many candidates do not have an oval to their left on the ballot, we do not believe this will have an impact on how people will mark their ballots or our ability to accurately count their vote," he said. The supplemental instructions also contradicted the ones on the ballots themselves with regard to what color ink voters should use to fill in the bubbles. While the ballots directed voters to fill in the bubbles with a black pen, the supplemental instructions said they could also use blue. Soltysiak said this will not be an issue because scanners read both colors of ink accurately, and "If there was ever an issue with the type of pen used by a voter, the scanner would recognize the issue and the ballot would instead be counted by hand at tabulation." The blunder comes as Pennsylvania election boards cope with issuing well over 10 times the number of mail-in and absentee ballots they've sent in past years. Late last year, the state legislature passed a bill to allow no-excuse mail-in voting across the state. As the spread of COVID-19 shut down the state and the legislature moved the primary back a month, Pennsylvanians applied in droves to vote by mail. They can apply to vote by mail until May 26, a week before the election.  

TOP ISSUES

STUDENT LOANS

Anonymous donors have pooled together $8 million to pay off college loans for up to 400 students who overcame personal hardships – from homelessness and extreme poverty – to become first-generation college students. The donors are longtime supporters of the Bay Area nonprofit Students Rising Above (SRA), and the money is intended to eliminate student debt for the graduates of the scholarship program. These donors are also passionate about tackling the issue of student debt. On a recent Zoom call, SRA CEO Elizabeth Devaney shared the news with the program's alumni and read a short letter from the donors. "People lent us a hand and now, we are able to extend a hand to these young people. Not to change who they are but to reveal who they are," the letter reads. "We believe it is important to leave the world a better place than we came into it. To that end, we have decided to pay off all student loans for the 400 Rising Star alumni to date." CBS News campaign reporter Musadiq Bidar says he is one of the 400 alumni benefiting from this generosity. Click here to read more about his story and the impact this news will have on other alumni of the scholarship program.

MONEY MATTERS

PAC ATTACK

Democratic group Priorities USA announced Tuesday it had received $25.1 million in commitments across all of its entities since the beginning of April, and the group's fundraising continues to strengthen. In the first half of May, CBS News political unit associate producer Sarah Ewall-Wice reports Priorities USA brought in about $9.3 million with an additional $8.2 million in commitments, up from about $7.6 million raised during the month of April. Overall, Priorities USA says it raised more than $145 million this cycle including $126 million already in the door and another $19 million in additional commitments, putting it well on its way to surpassing its $200 million budget for the 2020 election cycle. "Donald Trump and his allies have started advertising in battleground states and it's imperative that Priorities gives Joe Biden the air cover he needs as he builds his general election campaign," said Priorities USA Chairman Guy Cecil in a statement. "So far, our donors are rising to the occasion and we have seen an increase in our fundraising."

According to Priorities USA, it has been outspending the president online and on TV in key states since July 2019, including more than $12 million on ads addressing Trump's response to the coronavirus. On Tuesday, the Super PAC announced it was launching a new TV and digital ad campaign focused on the president downplaying the pandemic. One ad titled "Way Down" will run in Wisconsin, Michigan and Pennsylvania as part of the PAC's $65 million TV buy through Election Day. The 30 second spot uses clips of the president saying "we have it totally under control" and "it's going to go away" about the coronavirus. In another ad "Mission Accomplished," the president states "we have met the moment and we have prevailed" before a narrator goes through the number of deaths and unemployment figures as the pandemic continues.

GOVERNOR'S MANSION

STAMP OF APPROVAL

A new poll shows consistently higher approval ratings for governors and their handling of the coronavirus pandemic, according to data by SurveyMonkey and shared with the Washington Post. Of the eight governors running for re-election this year, their combined average was a 72% approval rating. The lowest of this group was Missouri Republican Governor Mike Parson, who had 54%, and the highest was New Hampshire Republican Governor Chris Sununu, who had 82%.  Vermont Republican Governor Phil Scott also had a 82% rating, but has not yet finalized his reelection plans says CBS News political unit broadcast associate Aaron Navarro. The poll shows every governor having a higher approval rating than Mr. Trump, except for Georgia's Republican Governor Brian Kemp who tied with the president at 43%. On a Monday teleconference call with first lady Melania Trump and the governors with their respective spouses, Mr. Trump praised Georgia's reopening process. "I'm hearing your numbers are going down as you open. That's a pleasant thing to hear," the president said to Kemp, a departure from his previous disagreements with his early reopening. 

CBS News political correspondent Ed O'Keefe reports that Trump also told the governors his administration "will step in" if needed to assist states with reopening plans but didn't specify when or how exactly federal intervention would occur. "Our gradual reopening plans are moving along and they're moving along very rapidly," the president said, according to audio of the call obtained by CBS News. "The governors are making their decisions, and want to make their decisions, and that's the way I want it too, and we will step in if we see something going wrong, or if we disagree, and some people say that's nice, and some people say I shouldn't be doing that, but we're going to do it if we see something wrong." Melania Trump also called on governors to focus on the physical and mental health of young children during the pandemic. Children "need us in this time more than ever," the First Lady said, adding later she's especially worried about younger kids "because they don't have anybody to turn to when they're, we could say, locked up at home because of no school, no kindergarten. I'm worried about them and we need to take care of them and go and check on them."

CONGRESSIONAL COVERAGE

IN THE HOUSE

Democratic congressional candidate Jamaal Bowman was endorsed by the New York State Nurses Association Tuesday, adding to his list of support in his challenge against Congressman Eliot Engel, reports CBS News political unit broadcast associate Aaron Navarro. Their June 23 primary has turned into a vote-by-mail election, with ballots expected to be mailed out soon. Bowman's campaign has been drawing contrasts with Engel over who is present and active in the Bronx and Westchester area district, an epicenter of the COVID-19 pandemic. "NY-16's nurses and essential workers are grateful for Jamaal Bowman's partnership throughout the ongoing crisis, including joining nurses rallying at St. Joseph's Hospital to demand an increased production of PPE, and repeatedly calling out the corrupt price gouging of this life-saving equipment," NYSNA President Judy Sheridan-Gonzalez said in a statement. 

Congressmen-elect Mike Garcia of California and Tom Tiffany of Wisconsin were sworn in Tuesday on Capitol Hill. In a presser, Garcia, who won California's 25th special election, said the level of access to vote for his race was unique to the pandemic and said he still had concerns about vote-by-mail.  "It's concerning in that, there is a significant chain of custody challenges with voting by mail. In California, we're able to track it now online so we do get the warm fuzzy after about a week or so, that our ballot was not only received but also counted. But it also allows for opportunity for fraud, and other issues that we can't necessarily manage," he said. California Governor Gavin Newsom has switched to an all-mail-ballot election for November. Garcia's flip of a district Hillary Clinton won has been an energizer for House Republicans in their efforts to take back the House. Garcia seemed hopeful his success could be replicated in other House races in November, and said Tuesday, "In the end if you've got the right candidate, if you've got the right message...we can win every election that we run in and we will." Garcia himself will have to face Democratic candidate Christy Smith in a rematch this November, where Democrats are expecting a different turnout due to the presidential election.  

Meanwhile, the Democratic House Campaign arm has made it clear that in the 167 days until Election Day, they will be focused on health care. In a joint memo with virtually all campaign arms up and down the ballot, Democrats say they'll continue to bring up the ongoing legal efforts to eliminate Obamacare and the votes of Congressional Republicans to repeal the Affordable Care Act. "It is the worst possible time to try to dismantle our health care system. But Republicans at every level of the ballot are fighting in court to take away people's health care – or blocking millions of working families from life-saving Medicaid coverage," a joint statement by the committee chairs reads.

IN THE SENATE

In an election cycle expected to have record Hispanic turnout, a conservative Hispanic group is endorsing three incumbent Republican senators facing high-profile reelection battles. The conservative LIBRE Initiative Action PAC is rolling out endorsements for incumbent Senators Cory Gardner in Colorado, Thom Tillis in North Carolina, and John Cornyn in Texas, reports CBS News political unit associate producer Eleanor Watson. But LIBRE is not yet weighing in on Arizona, a state with a competitive Senate match-up where Hispanic turnout is influential. Senator Martha McSally is facing a special election in November against former astronaut Mark Kelly.

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