Top GOP lawmakers dismissed President Trump's refusal to commit to a peaceful transfer of power should he lose the election to Joe Biden, although many congressional Republicans have so far remained silent on the subject, CBS News campaign reporter Nicole Sganga and digital politics reporter Grace Segers report. Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell tweeted Thursday: "The winner of the November 3rd election will be inaugurated on January 20th. There will be an orderly transition just as there has been every four years since 1792." Although McConnell did not single out Mr. Trump by name, his statement proved a clear response to the president, who was asked at a White House news conference Wednesday evening if he would commit to a peaceful transfer following the election. "Well, we're going to have to see what happens," the president remarked before railing against the use of mail-in ballots as he has done for months.
The president's comments come days before he is expected to announce his nominee to the Supreme Court to fill the vacancy left by Justice Ruth Bader Ginsburg's death. If Mr. Trump's nominee is confirmed, conservatives will have a solid 6 to 3 majority on the court, which may help to tilt any election-related cases in the president's favor. The president also stated he does not believe he will lose, adding there would not be a transfer of power but instead a "continuation." White House press secretary Kayleigh McEnany told reporters on Thursday that the president would accept the results of the election if he loses: "The president will accept the results of a free and fair election."
But just 40 days always from Election Day, GOP lawmakers bristled at Mr. Trump's open questioning of the U.S. electoral process. Republican Senator Mitt Romney of Utah, a frequent critic of the president, quickly rebuked Mr. Trump, calling his comments "unthinkable and unacceptable." Republican Senator Marco Rubio of Florida also responded to Mr. Trump's comments on Thursday morning, tweeting, "as we have done for over two centuries we will have a legitimate & fair election." Senator Lindsey Graham, the chairman of the Senate Judiciary Committee, said in an interview with Fox News on Thursday morning that the transfer of power would be "peaceful." Graham added, "Now, we may have litigation about who won the election, but the court will decide if the Republicans lose we will accept that result." He continued, "No matter who challenges the results of the election, eventually the Supreme Court is likely to hear that challenge. And when they rule that is that is the end of it." If the Republican-controlled Senate confirms a justice to the Supreme Court ahead of the election, that means that three of the nine justices would have been nominated by Mr. Trump.
Congressman Steve Stivers, the former chair for the National Republican Congressional Committee, was one of the first House Republicans to address the topic on Thursday morning, tweeting, "I've taken an oath to support and defend the Constitution, and I will uphold that oath." CBS News political unit broadcast associate Aaron Navarro reports that members in competitive seats such as John Katko in New York's 24th or Michael McCaul in Texas' 10th agreed the transition will be peaceful. Other House Republicans like Jim Banks of Indiana and Jim Jordan of Ohio have pushed back, saying that Democrats have still refused to accept the 2016 results. "Not sure why R's get so many questions about honoring election results. It is D's that have refused to accept election results for 4 years, using a special counsel & impeachment to overturn 2016. They're even talking about changing the rules & getting rid of electoral college!" Banks tweeted. Congresswoman Elissa Slotkin of Michigan, a freshman House Democrat running in a district Mr. Trump won by 7 points, said in a statement, "He has laid the groundwork to refuse the peaceful transition of power. And if he loses, it will be up to those around him to either support his claims, or step back." Slotkin is a former CIA analyst who has previously challenged Mr. Trump before on matters of national security, such as the Ukraine transcript, and added in her statement that she's pressed DHS and senior military officials before about a peaceful transition of power.
FROM THE CANDIDATES
Almost 500 national security officials, including former senior military leaders, endorsed Joe Biden for president and cited in a letter Biden's responsibility and moral clarity for reason enough to vote for the Democratic presidential ticket. The Biden campaign on Thursday also criticized Mr. Trump for proactively suggesting the November election results may not be valid. "Donald Trump is trying to distract from his catastrophic failures as president of the United States in order to - to talk about something that, frankly, you know is - spins up the press corps so that you guys are focused on this and not focused on how he has not put forward a meaningful healthcare plan and how he has spent the entirety of this administration in court trying to tear down the Affordable Care Act," deputy campaign manager Kate Bedingfield said on a healthcare conference call with reporters. "Joe Biden has obviously participated in peaceful transition of power before, he certainly will this time around as well," she added. With 40 days to go until the election, Democratic nominee had no public events today. Asked by CBS News campaign reporter Bo Erickson about Biden's debate preparation, the campaign was mum on details but they did lay down some expectations for next week's debate moderator, Chris Wallace. "In terms of how the moderator chooses to referee the debate, obviously you know our hope is that he will hold Donald Trump accountable for things that he says that are simply lies and mistruths," Bedingfield said. "But that will be up to the moderator and we'll see what he chooses to do."
Mr. Trump is holding a rally Thursday night in Jacksonville, Florida, located in Duval County, an area he won by little more than a point in 2016 over Hillary Clinton, reports CBS News political unit associate producer Sarah Ewall-Wice. The county went to Republicans in the 2012 and 2008 presidential elections as well, but turned blue for the gubernatorial and Senate races in the 2018 midterms. The president is now focusing in with Florida being one of the biggest battlegrounds of 2020. Trump supporters in their MAGA gear had been lining up all day. Some supporters carried "Florida loves Judge Amy Barrett!" signs signaling their support for one of the names floated at a potential Trump pick to fill the Supreme Court vacancy. They also chanted "fill the seat" as they waited to enter the hanger at Cecil Airport. Supporters claimed Democrats would try to do the same if the shoe were on the other foot, and they wanted a vote on a nominee before the election. For multiple people, this was not their first Trump event. And while the pandemic continues, few practiced social distancing or wore masks. Multiple people praised the president's handling of the coronavirus, claiming he shut down the border to China and was trying to keep the calm, a claim the president has made amid recent revelations he played down the virus early on despite knowing how dangerous it is. Florida has in-person, absentee voting by mail and early in-person voting, which begins October 19 and ends November 1. While the President has continually claimed vote by mail is fraudulent, he tweeted in August that Florida's vote by mail is "Safe and Secure," a call echoed by some of his top surrogates in the state and Florida Republicans, reports CBS News campaign reporter LaCrai Mitchell. Some of his supporters in Jacksonville indicated they would be voting by mail or early in-person for the November election. All supporters CBS News spoke with expressed confidence the president would win re-election when every vote was counted.
Meanwhile, Vice President Mike Pence traveled to Wisconsin and Minnesota today for White House and campaign events. At a "Made in America" event in Eau Claire, Wisconsin, Pence toured Midwest Manufacturing and highlighted the Trump Administration's work to bring manufacturing jobs back to America. Pence credited the United States, Mexico and Canada (USMCA) trade deal for helping make that happen. The vice president attacked Democratic VP nominee Kamala Harris for her vote against the USMCA. "Dairy farmers in this state, you all deserve to know that Joe Biden's running mate, Senator Kamala Harris actually put her own environmental agenda ahead of Wisconsin dairy and ahead of Wisconsin manufacturing," Pence said. The crowd cheered loudly when Pence said the president will nominate a "principled, conservative woman" on Saturday. The vice president also commented on the two police officers who were shot during protests last night in Louisville, Kentucky. Pence said the two officers are expected to recover and added that "violence against law enforcement must stop, and it must stop now." After Wisconsin, Pence held a "Cops for Trump" campaign event in Minneapolis. The listening session also included the president's daughter and senior adviser Ivanka Trump. Prior to the event, several voters told CBS News campaign reporter Musadiq Bidar they are concerned about violence at protests and worry about the safety of police officers. Gwen Arsoneli is retired and lives in the Twin Cities suburbs. She said she is "disgusted" by some of the violence she's seen at recent protests and added that "you can raise yourself up" from poverty through hard work, not protests. Arsonelli said she believes those protesting police injustice are seeking a government handout. "I think they are taking it too far. There are other ways to going about solving the problems instead of looting," she said. According to pool reports, Pence also made a last-minute unscheduled stop at a beauty salon in the area. Flora Westbrooks' salon was burned to the ground during protests in Minneapolis at the end of May. According to a GoFundMe page that was set up to help Westbrooks rebuild, she said police "never showed" and didn't patrol her area that night her business was destroyed. The salon was burned down just as it was getting ready to reopen after being closed because of the coronavirus.
BATTLEGROUNDS IN THE BATTLEGROUNDS
MICHIGAN - *KENT COUNTY*
For decades, Kent County in the western part of Michigan has been a Republican stronghold, reports CBS News campaign reporter Adam Brewster. It's where Gerald Ford was raised and where the DeVos family earned its fortune. According to the Daily Kos' presidential tracker, just one Democrat has carried the county since 1964: Barack Obama in 2008. While Mr. Obama won Michigan by 16.5 points, he carried Kent County by just half a point, or 1,573 votes. But in the past decade or so, the county's biggest city, Grand Rapids, and its surrounding suburbs have seen major growth. It's the fourth most populated county in the state with over 600,000 residents and the most populated county outside of southeast Michigan. The growth has come from more younger people moving to the area and the population has become more diverse, two trends that have opened the door to Democratic gains. In 2014, former Republican Governor Rick Snyder beat Democratic candidate Mark Schauer by 26 points. Two years later, Republicans in the county softened on President Trump. He kept the county red, but won it by about 3 points. He beat Hillary Clinton by 9,497 votes, nearly the same margin as his 10,704 vote win in Michigan in 2016. Michigan's Democratic Governor managed to turn the county blue in 2018, winning by 4.1 points, fueled partly by gains in the suburbs that helped Democrats around the country during the midterms. Democrats have tried to seize on the changing demographics. They've moved their county party office into a more visible area and Kent County Democratic Chair Gary Start says there has been a "crush of volunteers" largely motivated by beating President Trump. "I think the overriding issue with Democratic voters here is that we have to get rid of Donald Trump," Stark said. "It's a referendum on Trump." Stark and local Democrats also hear a lot about health care and the environment. Party volunteers haven't been knocking doors due to the pandemic but have been dropping off packets of information at doors, urging voters to support Democrats up and down the ticket.
While Whitmer won by 4 points, Democratic Senator Debbie Stabenow beat Republican challenger John James by just 0.3 points. Republicans in the county credit that performance partly to more enthusiasm for James than Whitmer's opponent. There's no lack of enthusiasm for the president, Kent County Republican Chair Joel Freeman said, and with Trump back on the ticket, people who may have sat out the race in 2018 will be back casting ballots. "I think for Democrats, they still saw the president as being on the ticket," Freeman said, referring to 2018. "A lot of those new voters that came out for Trump didn't necessarily see him on the ballot." The President's supporters in the county are focused on the economy and some are feeling motivated by Whitmer's response to the pandemic, Freeman said. Jill Biden visited Grand Rapids last week and Freeman hopes the president will make a stop in the area before the election. In 2016, Trump's final campaign stop was in Grand Rapids to shore up the vote in Kent County and strongly Republican surrounding areas. "He closed out that campaign in 2016 here and that was, you know, the west side of the state, we brought it home for him," Freeman said.
CBS NEWS COVID CHRONICLES
COLORADO TOURISM - FOLLOW-UP
CBS News campaign reporter Cara Korte spoke with business owners from Colorado's tourism industry, all of whom shared thoughtful insights into the pandemic and how the country/their state is responding. Each said that while the pandemic and shutdown was the worst situation imaginable, business-wise they're doing better than they first anticipated at the start of the pandemic. They've had to make creative alterations to their business models - like an amusement park owner who is short staffed is hoping to hire retirees who travel the country in RVs looking for seasonal work. And to accommodate his latest hires, they are building RV outposts near the park entrance. The world-renown ski season in Colorado will look completely different this year as well. The owners CBS spoke to feel they are prepared for anything.
ISSUES THAT MATTER
Mr. Trump has signed a series of "America First" executive orders aimed at halting surprise medical billing and assuring health care coverage for Americans with preexisting medical conditions, reports CBS News campaign reporter Nicole Sganga. "The days of ripping Americans off are over," Mr. Trump declared to supporters in North Carolina on Thursday at an official White House event. Health and Human Services Secretary Alex Azar told reporters on a press call Thursday that one of the new executive orders will make "a statement of United States policy...that preexisting conditions are protected" while another will pressure Congress to pass legislation stopping surprise medical billing by January 1 before "us[ing] the full regulatory power of the U.S. government to protect patients." The president's executive action comes as the Trump administration aims to repeal the Affordable Care Act, which prevents insurers from discriminating against Americans with preexisting conditions. The Trump administration filed a Supreme Court brief in June, asking the high court to invalidate it. The case will be heard in November, one week after Election Day. "If we win, we will have a better and less expensive plan that will always protect individuals with preexisting conditions," President Trump said of the lawsuit, offering few details. Medical experts have expressed skepticism that Mr. Trump has the authority to require insurers to cover individuals with preexisting conditions. On the conference call Thursday, Azar stressed the president's executive orders were legally enforceable. "We will work with Congress, more or otherwise, to ensure that they're protected," he added.
The number of Americans filing for unemployment aid remains stuck at a high level, reports CBS News digital data reporter Irina Ivanova. Some 870,000 people filed for state unemployment benefits in the week ending September 19, the Labor Department said Thursday. (The figures are adjusted for seasonal variation.) That amounts to an increase of 4,000 from the week before, and is four times the typical weekly level before the coronavirus pandemic began in March. Another 630,000 workers applied for Pandemic Unemployment Assistance, a program for the self-employed and gig workers. "Layoff announcements are ongoing, indicative of continuing strains in the labor market," Rubeela Farooqi of High Frequency Economics told investors in a research note. "Even as nearly half of payroll losses have been recovered, it is likely further progress will be more modest given slowing momentum in economic activity recently." Most economists say that the job market will not fully recover without more aid from the federal government. Job growth has slowed in recent months, and employers in most industries appear reluctant to hire new workers in the face of deep uncertainty about the course of the virus. "[T]he clear picture that has emerged in the recent employment figures is a continued slowdown in the pace of rehiring across the private sector," Michael Pearce, senior U.S. economist at Capital Economics, said in a research note. A total of 26 million people were receiving some sort of unemployment aid in the first week of September, a drop of 3.7 million from the last week of August. That figure has declined steadily over the past several months, reflecting that some unemployed people are being re-hired but others are exhausting their jobless aid, which is time-limited in most states. Since the end of July, an extra $600 weekly benefit that some unemployed workers received has run out, and Congress has failed to agree on additional financial assistance. Some states have applied for a temporary $300 weekly boost Mr. Trump created via executive order, but that benefit has expired in at least seven states. The new unemployment data coincides with evidence that some newly laid-off Americans are facing delays in receiving unemployment benefits, with state agencies intensifying efforts to combat fraud, the Associated Press reports. California has said it will stop processing new applications for two weeks as it seeks to reduce backlogs and prevent fraudulent claims. Pennsylvania has found that up to 10,000 inmates are improperly receiving aid. The growing concerns about fraudulent applications for unemployment benefits have focused mainly on Pandemic Unemployment Assistance. The new federal program, created as part of the Coronavirus Aid, Relief and Economic Security Act in March, made self-employed people, gig workers and contractors eligible for jobless aid for the first time. Though roughly 14 million people are classified as receiving aid under that program, economists increasingly regard that figure as unreliable and likely inflated by both fraudulent applications and inaccurate counts. The number of people receiving benefits under the PUA program is probably overstated by several million, economists say.
LIFE AFTER 2020
Senator Bernie Sanders described Mr. Trump's refusal to commit to a peaceful transfer of power as a threat to democracy in an impassioned speech on Thursday, saying that the president "has little respect for our constitution or the rule of law." In a speech delivered at The George Washington University Sanders said, "This is not just an election between Donald Trump and Joe Biden. This is an election between Donald Trump and democracy - and democracy must win." He called Mr. Trump a "pathological liar" with "strong authoritarian tendencies," adding that the president is "prepared to undermine American democracy in order to stay in power." CBS News digital politics reporter Grace Segers reports Sanders also criticized Mr. Trump for continuing "to be obsessed with the belief that there is massive voter fraud in this country," even though instances of voter fraud are extremely rare. The president has repeatedly claimed, without evidence, that mail-in voting leads to widespread voter fraud, even as he urges supporters to vote by mail in critical swing states like Florida. "Trump's strategy to delegitimize this election and to stay in office if he loses is not complicated. Finding himself behind in many polls, he is attempting massive voter suppression," Sanders said. "He and his Republican colleagues are doing everything they can to make it harder and harder for people to vote. In addition, he is sowing the seeds of chaos, confusion and conspiracy theories by casting doubt on the integrity of this election and, if he loses, justifying why he should remain in office."
Following Mr. Sanders' remarks, the senator spoke with CBS News campaign reporter Cara Korte, who covered Sanders on the campaign trail. Sanders said that he worries "very much" about violence and chaos in this country popping up after the election, no matter the result. He threatened the president for potentially not accepting election results with a message: "Sorry, too many people fought and died to defend democracy to allow him to destroy it." Korte asked Sanders if by elevating this issue he's playing into the president's hands and amplifying a scary scenario that may never happen. Sanders laughed and denied he is helping the president. When CBS News asked if Sanders was in consultation with the Biden campaign on the issue of a power transition, Sanders said simply that he has "spoken" to the Biden camp about it.
In an article published Thursday, Politico reported Democrats in Florida are apprehensive as the margin of voter registrations for Republicans and Democrats shrinks after the state's Republicans "added a party record of almost 58,000 new voters -- a 91 percent increase compared to August 2016" last month. According to data provided by the Florida Division of Elections, there were more than 5.2 million active registered Democrats in the state as of August 31--just 183,596 more than the more than 5 million Republicans that have registered to vote in November. Florida Communications Director for the Biden campaign Carlie Waibel said in a statement that despite the shrinking gap in voter registrations and a mostly virtual operation due to the coronavirus pandemic, Florida Democrats still have momentum in the state. "The reality is Democrats have amassed an overwhelming vote by mail advantage and turned out in historic numbers for the primary election in August," said Waibel in a statement. "That momentum, coupled with our voter registration advantage this cycle, prove Democrats here are fired up and ready to make Trump a one-term president." The Republican Party of Florida and Trump Victory Florida currently have more than 200 staffers and have made more than 17 million voter contacts with nearly 2 million knocked doors according to a spokesperson. Their team has also held more than 5,000 grassroots events with tens of thousands of volunteers, according to their team. CBS News campaign reporter LaCrai Mitchell reports that state elections data also shows that to date, of the 3,039 voters that have already voted by mail, more than half were Democrats. Additionally, 2.2 million Democrats have been provided with absentee ballots compared to 1.5 million provided to Republicans in the state. Sharon Shierholz, a Florida senior in Leesburg, plans to vote for President Trump in November and said she'll be voting in person because she doesn't trust the postal service and fears her ballot could be lost. "I'm getting in my car with my ballot, I'm driving to the supervisor of elections, I'm getting out, I'm walking in the building, I'm putting it in there," said Shierholz describing her voting plan. "I will let no one touch my ballot."
A special election will occur in February 2021 in Minnesota's 2nd congressional district following the death of Legal Marijuana Now Party candidate Adam Weeks, reports CBS News campaign reporter Jack Turman. In a statement, Minnesota Secretary of State Steve Simon offered condolences to Weeks' families and friends and outlined the next steps for the election. "The loss of any of us is a tragedy, and that's felt especially in someone who has put his energy into a campaign to serve in public office," Simon added. "The law is clear on what happens next. If a major party nominee dies within 79 days of Election Day; a special election will be held for that office on the second Tuesday of February (February 9, 2021)." Weeks was challenging Democrat incumbent Angie Craig and Republican candidate Tyler Kistner. In a press release, Simon's office said that if voters have already voted absentee or voted early in person, they do not need to request another ballot. A Simon spokesperson said that votes in the 2nd congressional district race will not be counted until the special election in February 2021.
The Pennsylvania Supreme Court on Thursday denied a request to stay their decision to accept mail-in ballots 3 days after Election Day if they're postmarked by Election Day. Requests earlier this week from the Pennsylvania GOP and state legislature interveners for the stay signaled they would appeal to the U.S. Supreme Court. They argue that the ruling permits ballots to be counted that are cast after November 3, but the law states that they cannot be. The ruling does allow ballots with an illegible postmark to be counted if received 3 days after the election, so some of those could theoretically be cast the day after Election Day and counted.
Also in Pennsylvania, lawyers for a half dozen states today sought to connect the Postal Service's leadership with mail delays they say could affect the 2020 election. A PowerPoint from a July 10 presentation given by David E. Williams, chief logistics and processing operations office at the Postal Service, informed officials that "Effective July 13 all extra trips and Postal caused late trips are unauthorized contractual commitments." CBS News campaign reporter Zak Hudak reports it was among the documents presented by Democratic attorneys general in a Pennsylvania federal court this morning, and it had been turned over by USPS in discovery. Lawyers for the Postmaster General Louis DeJoy and for the Postal Service said the PowerPoint was in fact prepared by a low-level manager. They argued in court on Thursday that the directive was meant only to call for more mail to be delivered on time, and thus for fewer extra trips to be needed. The lawsuit, led by Pennsylvania Attorney General Josh Shapiro, asks the court to halt USPS service changes that he and the attorneys general of five other states and the District of Columbia say could lead to some mail votes not being counted.
A federal investigation has found that nine military general election ballots were discarded in the battleground county of Luzerne in Pennsylvania, according to U.S. Attorney David Freed from the Middle District of Pennsylvania. Seven were for President Donald Trump, and the other two are unknown, said Freed, a Republican. Mr. Trump's press secretary, Kayleigh McEnany, mentioned the finding earlier in a White House press briefing. The Luzerne County District Attorney's office said in a statement that they were informed of "issues with a small number of mail-in ballots," on September 17. That was the same day that the Supreme Court ruled that the Green Party would not be on the ballot, lifting a stay and allowing the secretary of the commonwealth to certify the ballot. Luzerne's district attorney, Stefanie Salavantis, a Republican, said that the county elections office had already sent some military ballots ahead of the court's decision because of a deadline to do so by two days after. The local district attorney's office found out about the returned ballots because some of them had been opened despite state law stating that they can't be opened until Election Day, she said.
Nevada announced this week it would become the latest to offer voters statewide the option to subscribe to phone or email tracking when voting by mail, as several counties in the battleground state are beginning to send out ballots, reports CBS News campaign reporter Alex Tin. Nevada will rely on BallotTrax for the alerts, which is currently offering the service without charge to the state for the current election. Though just one in ten votes in Nevada were returned by mail in 2018, the state moved in August to mail ballots to all active registered voters in response to the coronavirus pandemic. "BallotTrax was chosen because it was offered at no charge and was recommended by other states that regularly conduct mail-in elections," Jennifer Russell, public information officer for Nevada Secretary of State Barbara Cegavske, said in an email. John Stavinga, a spokesperson for BallotTrax, says four other states - California, Colorado, Georgia, and North Carolina - have also signed contracts with the firm, with counties inside those states electing to opt into the service. Some 400 counties total are planning to use BallotTrax, according to Stavinga. For more on how to vote in your own state, head to CBS News States & Dates.