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2020 Daily Trail Markers: How the veepstakes will go on amid coronavirus

Even as a pandemic has trapped voters and candidates indoors and consumed American politics, one key element of the presidential campaign may remain virtually unaltered: the vice presidential selection process. Five to eight candidates are now being seriously considered, CBS News campaign reporters Bo Erickson,Zak Hudak and Alex Tin have learned, though the sources said a "dark horse" candidate could be added. 

The first stage of the search has likely already begun, say veterans of past vice presidential picks, with aides scouring the internet, press clippings, and public records. This probe can largely be carried out even during quarantine. Once Biden's list is sufficiently narrowed, vetters need shortlisters' cooperation to continue the audition. Potential running mates must complete lengthy questionnaires, turn over troves of personal records, and submit their families to invasive interrogations of their public and private lives. Several running mate finalists recounted thorough searches by vetters, uncovering embarrassing details untouched even by other official and campaign background checks. 

Social distancing wrought by the spread of COVID-19 has already reshaped one assessment: a potential running mate's performance on stage with the nominee's message. Michigan Governor Gretchen Whitmer fueled speculation last week, joining Biden on his campaign's podcast. Another rumored running mate — California Senator Kamala Harris — called in Wednesday to a virtual fundraiser with Biden. 

But beyond a pick's public chemistry with the nominee and their campaign, Democratic campaign veterans say the nominee's final decision often ends with an intensely private assessment. "I met with Barack Obama for three and a half hours. They want to see what the comfort level is like, after all you're going to be in a foxhole together," recalled former Indiana Senator Evan Bayh. 

Obama's selection in 2008 came down to Biden and Bayh, according to multiple Democrats on the campaign at the time, but an additional disadvantage plagued Bayh:  a Republican governor would have selected Bayh's replacement in the Senate.

"It was an honor to be considered, but to be in that final three, anyone will tell you that it can feel like a colonoscopy. Except they use the Hubble Telescope," Bayh said.

Read here for more vetting tales from former Kansas Governor Kathleen Sebelius, who was extensively vetted by Mr. Obama's search in 2008; former New Mexico Governor Bill Richardson, who faced vetting by the presidential campaigns of Al Gore, John Kerry, and Obama; Bob Shrum, a top adviser to John Kerry's 2004 campaign; Robby Mook, Hillary Clinton's 2016 campaign manager; and more. 

FROM THE CANDIDATES

JOE BIDEN

Bernie Sanders endorsed Joe Biden on Monday during a sometimes-scripted virtual town hall on the economic response to the COVID-19 pandemic,CBS News campaign reporter Bo Erickson reports. A few minutes into Biden's remarks on how President Trump "downplaying the danger" of coronavirus to keep the stock market high, the virtual curtain was raised and Sanders popped onto the screen. Sanders called on all Americans including "every Democrat and independent and Republicans to come together to support your candidacy, which I endorse." Both men were frank with each other. Sanders said it was "no great secret that we have our differences and we are not going to paper them over." Biden chimed in that people may be surprised how close they are on some issues while apart on others. Going forward, the two men announced they will work together on six different campaign task forces ranging from the economy to criminal justice to climate change. We also saw friendship as Sanders jokingly challenged Biden to a game of chess. With Sanders' endorsement, Elizabeth Warren is the only major Democratic presidential candidate to not endorse Biden. She dropped out of the race 39 days ago.

PRESIDENT TRUMP

The Trump campaign and the Republican National Committee announced Monday morning that they raised over $212 million in the first fundraising quarter of 2020, reports CBS News political unit associate producer Eleanor Watson. According to the campaign, the joint fundraising committees raked in $63 million in March alone, showing the nationwide quarantining has not dented their numbers yet. This quarter's fundraising numbers are the highest the campaign has seen yet, and are a 36 percent increase from the last quarter of 2019. The campaign has over $240 million cash on hand, according to a press release.

Separately, CBS News campaign reporter Nicole Sganga says the president's re-election campaign also filed a 63-page defamation lawsuit against Wisconsin television station WJFW-NBC Monday, after the NBC affiliate ran an advertisement from Democratic super PAC Priorities USA Action alleging the president called the coronavirus outbreak a "new hoax." In the 30-second spot featuring spliced audio from the president's February 28 rally in North Charleston, South Carolina, Mr. Trump says "the coronavirus—this is their new hoax." Yet the full speech reveals the President criticized the Democratic response and media coverage surrounding his administration's coronavirus response, not the virus itself. Various fact checkers have deemed Priorities USA's edited video falsemanipulated and wrong.  "WJFW-NBC has perpetrated a fraud on the public by recklessly broadcasting PUSA's defamatory and false advertisement," the Trump campaign lawsuit reads, in part, "which WJFW-NBC knew or should have known was produced through the use of technology that depicted a clearly false statement."

Last month, the Trump campaign issued cease-and-desist letters to numerous television stations including WJFW, forewarning legal action. "We fully expected the station would recognize their error and immediately cease under their FCC obligations," said Jenna Ellis, Senior Legal Adviser to Donald J. Trump for President, Inc. in a written statement. "The Trump campaign is now left with no other option than to use the force of law to ensure these false and defamatory ads cease.  Defamation law helps ensure that news outlets are accountable to viewers, who should be able trust the accuracy and truth of content aired to the public."

Monday's lawsuit seeks a monetary "reward for punitive damages," and "attorney's fees," but does not set a price tag. Priorities USA has doubled down on its television advertisement, part of a nearly $7 million, five-state ad buy in the key battlegrounds of Michigan, Pennsylvania, Wisconsin, Florida and Arizona, according to CBS News political unit associate producer Sarah Ewall-Wice. "Donald Trump doesn't want voters to hear the truth and he's trying to bully TV stations into submission," Priorities USA Chairman Guy Cecil said in a response to the new lawsuit. "The truth is that Trump ignored warnings from experts and his own team and downplayed the coronavirus even as it spread unchecked across the country and the world. Americans are now suffering as a result of his inaction. We will never stop airing the facts and holding the president accountable for his actions." WJFW-NBC did not immediately respond to request for comment by CBS News.

LIFE AFTER 2020

ELIZABETH WARREN

Senator Elizabeth Warren and Congressman Ro Khanna are pushing Congress to include a set of safeguards to protect workers on the front lines of the coronavirus pandemic. CBS News campaign reporter Zak Hudak says the lawmakers on Monday proposed a "bill of rights" for health care workers, delivery drivers, grocery store employees and others whose jobs increase the chances they'll contract COVID-19. The 10-point package calls for essential workers to be given health care, "robust premium compensation," retroactive from the time the pandemic began, and guaranteed sick leave.  Warren and Khanna also called for protections against collective bargaining agreements and protections for whistle blowers who expose unsafe conditions, as well as government support for child care. The lawmakers said that essential workers "must be at the table in developing responses to coronavirus" and that Congress must hold corporations accountable for protecting their employees. "Essential workers are the backbone of our nation's response to coronavirus," Warren said in a statement. "We have a responsibility to make sure essential workers have the protections they need, the rights they are entitled to, and the compensation they deserve." 

CONVENTIONAL WISDOM

GAME CHANGER

While the country grapples with the economic impact of the coronavirus pandemic, Democratic and Republican leaders are left considering how they will fund national conventions in the fall. CBS News campaign reporters Jack TurmanLaCrai Mitchell, Nicole Sganga and political unit associate producer Eleanor Watson spoke with more than two dozen Democratic and Republican party leaders, who expressed mixed levels of concern about the economic implications and planning surrounding both parties' political conventions in August.  "Even when we're not in the midst of a public health and economic crisis, it's an expensive undertaking to go to a national convention," said North Dakota Democratic–Nonpartisan League Party Chairwoman Kylie Oversen. "And so, that strain is just even larger in the circumstances."

The Democratic National Convention Committee has said it will work with state parties and delegations to mitigate financial hardships due to the coronavirus. And multiple senior party officials told the CBS News political unit that the RNC has built a war chest of contingency plans for convention planning. But American industries and households face continuing economic hardship, and political party officials say it's important to remain sensitive to how their conventions may be perceived by struggling Americans."[If] we are the party of the people … then we need to make sure we demonstrate that during the convention," added South Carolina DNC member Clay Middleton. "People, hourly workers, have been hit hard by this. The people we claim to represent have been hurt the hardest and will take the longest to recover."

PRIMARILY CONCERNED

WISCONSIN

A group of Wisconsin voters filed a federal lawsuit on Monday asking for a full or partial revote of last week's election just hours before results were set to be released, according to CBS News campaign reporter Adam Brewster. The class action lawsuit argues that holding the election last week was an attempt to "disenfranchise thousands of voters in the Spring Election." The lawsuit asks for allowing people who weren't able to vote in the election to be able to cast a vote. This may include people who stayed home for health reasons or who had issues with their absentee ballots arriving on time. The case was filed before results were released in Wisconsin to show "that this action is not partisan (about winners and losers)." Instead, the lawsuit argues, it was about the fact that voters had to decide between "exercising their fundamental right to vote in an in-person election during a pandemic" and "forgoing their right to vote in order to preserve their life and health and the lives and health of those close to them and the public overall."

Earlier on Monday, Wisconsin Democratic Party Chair Ben Wikler said "every legal option is on the table" for how the state Democratic Party may challenge last week's election. "The key principles for us are that the election be as fair as possible, so that voters' voices are heard after the extraordinary and outrageous sacrifices they were asked to make to cast ballots, and that we fight really for voters and elections going forward," Wikler said. Both Wikler and Democratic National Committee chair Tom Perez said many voters sat out the election because they had to decide between health and exercising their right to vote. "It was voter suppression on steroids," Perez told reporters on Monday. As of Monday morning, data from the Wisconsin Elections Commission showed that nearly 1.3 million voters requested absentee ballots. Almost 1.1 million ballots had been returned.

Last week, on the eve of the election, the U.S. Supreme Court struck down an extended deadline for voters to turn in absentee ballots until Monday. But the Supreme Court said that for absentee ballots to be counted, they had to be turned in by 9:00 p.m. ET on Election Day or postmarked by April 7. But many voters reported that they didn't receive their ballots until after Election Day. "It's impossible to submit an absentee ballot by Election Day, when you haven't even received the damn ballot by Election Day," Perez said.

ISSUES THAT MATTER

VOTING RIGHTS

Former First Lady Michelle Obama is backing new efforts to make voting safer and more accessible in light of the coronavirus pandemic, reports CBS News correspondent Nikole Killion. Her nonprofit initiative, When We All Vote, announced Monday that it supports expanded vote by-mail, early in-person voting and online voter registration. Michelle Obama, who serves as co-chair of the organization, called the steps "critical" and "long overdue." In a statement, she said "Americans should never have to choose between making their voices heard and keeping themselves and their families safe." For the first time, the group endorsed proposed federal legislation that would require states to adopt contingency plans and permit absentee voting if a significant number of voters or poll workers are quarantined due to COVID-19. "It's our responsibility to help all voters exercise their right to vote, and to give them the best information on exactly how to do that," said When We All Vote Board chair Valerie Jarrett.

The announcement comes on the heels of Wisconsin's primary, which drew harsh criticism from some Democrats, including Michelle Obama, after mask-donning voters endured long lines to cast their ballots. She posted on Twitter last week: "We must do better to ensure voting is safe for all voters." Her husband, former President Obama, called the Wisconsin election "a debacle" and has also expressed support for mail-in voting. "Let's not use the tragedy of a pandemic to compromise our democracy, " he tweeted. 

Mr. Trump, who voted by mail in the Florida primary, opposes mail-in voting and claims it could lead to voter fraud.  But several GOP officials are moving ahead with vote-by-mail in their respective states. Five states currently conduct all elections entirely by mail and 28 states and the District of Columbia offer no-excuse absentee voting.  "There is nothing partisan about striving to live up to the promise of our country," Mrs. Obama said.  

GOVERNOR'S MANSION

STAYING HEALTHY

A group of 12 Democratic governors sent a letter to the Trump administration on Monday calling for a 30-day special enrollment period for the federal health care exchange in response to the COVID-19 pandemic. The request comes weeks after the Trump administration opted against a special enrollment period to help those that lost their employer-sponsored healthcare due to the pandemic. In the letter, CBS News political unit broadcast associate Aaron Navarro reports that the governors say many of their residents are uninsured or underinsured and are "choosing to forgo coronavirus testing and treatment out of fear of the potential costs to themselves and their families at a time of increasing economic distress."

At least 12 states that run their own healthcare marketplaces have opened their own special enrollment periods, and according to the Kaiser Family Foundation, 37 states and D.C. have opted into Medicaid expansion that helps make this federal health care exchange available. In the letter addressed to Health and Human Services Secretary Alex Azar and Center for Medicare and Medicaid Services Administrator Seema Verma, the governors argue that in addition to getting more people in these states covered, opening up a federal special enrollment period will help in implementing widespread coronavirus testing. "In a time of a fast-moving pandemic, taking every step possible to expand access to health insurance is not just a responsible choice for the health of the individual, but also for the health of our communities, our states, and the country," the letter states. 

AND IN CASE YOU MISSED IT…

 
On Friday, CBS News campaign reporters Cara KorteZak HudakTim PerryJack Turman and Bo Erickson joined CBSN to break down their takeaways from covering the Democratic presidential primary for the past year. Watch here

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