As the U.S. coronavirus death toll approaches 200,000, the topic of health care takes center stage ahead of Election Day. Federal data released Tuesday reveals nearly 30 million people in the United States lacked health insurance in 2019, prior to the coronavirus pandemic.
President Trump again this week vowed to release a proposal to protect Americans with pre-existing conditions. "I have it all ready. I have it all ready," Mr. Trump told ABC News on Tuesday during a Town Hall. Since running for president in 2015, President Trump has promised to bring forth a "terrific" and "phenomenal" new health care plan to replace the Affordable Care Act, but has yet to deliver.
White House chief of staff Mark Meadows told reporters on Wednesday the president would be rolling out an executive order on health care before Election Day, report CBS News campaign reporter Nicole Sganga and CBS News associate producer Sarah Ewall-Wice.
Trump campaign spokesperson Tim Murtaugh doubled down on the president's expressed commitment to replace Obamacare on CNN on Wednesday night. "Of course it's real," Murtaugh said. The senior campaign official offered no further details, adding, "I'm not going to get ahead of the White House and their plans for the announcement."
But top health care officials in the Trump administration testifying before Congress on Wednesday said they are not aware of a health care plan to replace the Affordable Care Act from the White House. At a Senate Appropriations subcommittee on the federal response to the coronavirus crisis, Admiral Brett Giroir told senators, "I don't know what that is. I supply public health advice as much as I can for whatever that plan would be." Dr. Robert Redfield, director of the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, concurred that he is "not aware" of any such plan. In 2017, Mr. Trump and congressional Republicans tried and failed to repeal Obamacare and pass their own health care plan.
In an ongoing fight to repeal the Affordable Care Act, the Trump administration filed a Supreme Court brief in June, asking the high court to invalidate it. The case will be heard by the highest court exactly one week after Election Day in November.
A poll released Thursday by the Cook Political Report and Kaiser Family Foundation found a majority of voters in Sun Belt political battleground state trust Democratic nominee Joe Biden over Mr. Trump to better handle the nation's health care - Arizona (53% - 44%), North Carolina (53% - 45%) and Florida (52% - 45%).
Since March, job loss has further gutted Americans reliant on their employers for health care. And according to the Federal Reserve, nearly 40% of households with income below $40,000 were laid off or furloughed by April.
FROM THE CANDIDATES
Arizona is one of the battlegrounds the Trump campaign is focusing heavily on. Second Lady Karen Pence is in the state for the latest in a flurry of Trump administration and campaign visits this week, kicked off by a visit by Mr. Trump on Monday, reports CBS News campaign reporter Alex Tin. "We just came from the Latinos for Trump headquarters, a place that was buzzing with energy," Arizona's Governor Doug Ducey said Wednesday at a roundtable with Ivanka Trump. "We had the president of the United States in on Monday. We've got Ivanka in on Wednesday. We've got the second lady tomorrow and Vice President Pence on Friday. There couldn't be a better way to kick off Hispanic heritage month." The president's campaign has aggressively traveled to Arizona even at the height of the pandemic, a state that the Cook Political Report concluded Thursday was "slipping away from Trump" after decades of reliably supporting GOP presidential candidates. Meanwhile, Biden has yet to visit the state this year. In late August, Biden had first floated plans to return to in-person campaigning amid the pandemic with stops in Wisconsin, Minnesota, Pennsylvania and Arizona. After stops in the other three states, Biden and his running mate have yet to disclose any plans to visit the state in person.
Joe Biden's campaign on Thursday aimed to push a middle-class centered economic message ahead of the candidate's drive-in town hall in Scranton, Pennsylvania, on CNN. Asked about Biden's insistence last week that he would raise corporate taxes on "day one" of his presidency, campaign policy director Stef Feldman explained, "I think what the vice president was being clear about the fact that he has no patience for people who say that we do not have the capacity to make sure that the super wealthy and corporations pay their fair share." CBS News campaign reporter Bo Erickson notes conservatives have questioned Biden's willingness to raise taxes at all if elected, as the economy tries to rebound from the brunt of the pandemic. In addition to raising the corporate tax rate back to 28%, Biden hopes to increase individual taxes for Americans making more than $400,000. If enacted, Biden's proposed tax increases would be the fifth largest tax increase since the 1940s, according to a nonpartisan Tax Foundation analysis. And late on Thursday, Biden along with wife Jill, wished a happy new year to Jewish Americans celebrating Rosh Hashanah. During the virtual event, Biden quipped, "The rabbis and I have been learning the same skills recently: how to sermonize over Zoom."
LIFE AFTER 2020
Former Democratic presidential candidate Pete Buttigieg announced 28 endorsements through his Win the Era PAC, which is aimed at helping and supporting down ballot candidates who represent the next generation of leaders, reports CBS News campaign reporter Jack Turman. Some notable candidates who the PAC is endorsing include Democratic Senate candidates, such as Theresa Greenfield in Iowa, MJ Hegar in Texas and Reverend Raphael Warnock in Georgia. In addition to supporting several state House races, Buttigieg is also endorsing several congressional members who were in tough races last cycle, including Congresswoman Elissa Slotkin in Michigan and Congressman Andy Kim in New Jersey. "This election, we need to replace the current President and elect leaders at every level of our government who will deliver solutions to the biggest challenges we face," Buttigieg said in a statement. "I believe the voices of these twenty-eight candidates are essential to changing our politics, and I'm committed to doing everything I can to make sure they are successful on November 3rd." According to a press release, Win the Era plans to hold virtual campaign events to support these candidates over the next two months.
ISSUES THAT MATTER
More Than A Vote and the NAACP Legal Defense and Educational Fund, Inc. launched a 30-second ad that will air during gme 2 of the NBA Eastern Conference Finals. The ad, titled "We Got Next," focuses on recruiting younger people to become poll workers and is narrated by Portland Trail Blazers guard CJ McCollum. The ad features visuals of NBA players kneeling, activists protesting and footage of young people staffing polling Glocations. "We got a legacy to uphold. People to make proud," McCollum says in the ad. "We got to take advantage of the moment. Of the momentum. To protect our power, be the vanguards of our voices." Sherrilyn Ifill, the president and director-counsel of the NAACP Legal Defense Fund, said in a statement that COVID-19 has disproportionately impacted Black communities and that the elderly population is particularly vulnerable to the virus, reports CBS News campaign reporter Jack Turman. "For decades, we have relied on our seniors to staff polling places on Election Day," Ifill added in her statement. "This year, we are making the call to young people to serve so that we can protect our vote and protect our seniors during this pandemic. This is an important, powerful, and urgent call to action to serve our communities in one of the most consequential elections in our lifetime."
Arizona Secretary of State Katie Hobbs, a Democrat, has asked a federal court to dismiss a suit brought by members of the Navajo Nation who claim the state's election-day deadline for mail-in ballots violates the Voting Rights Act. CBS News campaign reporter Alex Tin reports the secretary's filing came as Chief Judge G. Murray Snow issued a rare rejection late Wednesday of a myriad of motions to intervene as defendants, including from President Trump's campaign and the Arizona Advocacy Network. Hobbs warned the court that changing the state's deadline mere weeks before Election Day could "sow confusion in the electorate generally as well as among Navajo voters." The Navajo Nation has also distanced itself from the suit, according to a court filing, in a cease-and-desist letter warning the organization behind the suit against "libel and defamation" for initially claiming to represent the tribe as a whole.
A day before early voting starts in the state, several Minnesota counties have seen an increase in absentee ballot applications, reports CBS News campaign reporter Jack Turman. Phil Chapman, the elections supervisor for Saint Louis County, which is home to Duluth, Minnesota, said that part of the initial preparations for the start of early voting included getting the absentee ballot applications in their system. Chapman noted that in 2016, approximately 16,000 Minnesotans voted by mail in the county, and as of Wednesday, the county has received 29,000 absentee ballot applications. The increase in absentee applications compared to 2016 is also prevalent in some Minneapolis suburbs. Paul Linnell, an elections manager for Anoka County, said for the 2016 general, the county had accepted 37,967 absentee ballots, including mail and in-person. As of Wednesday, Anoka County surpassed that total as it has processed 51,440 applications. Linnell also said that the county is in a "good position" when it comes to recruiting and training poll workers for Election Day. "We are getting lengthy list of backups to work the polls on Election Day," he added. In 2016, Dakota County had roughly 30,000 absentee ballots returned, but has seen nearly 70,000 absentee ballot applications for the general election as of Thursday, according to county elections director Andy Lokken.
Nevada's Democratic Governor Steve Sisolak late Wednesday released a letter that was sent to Vice President Mike Pence decrying Mr. Trump's recent campaign rallies in the state, expressing "confusion and utter disbelief" over rallies held in defiance of the state's caps on mass gatherings and social distancing guidelines, reports CBS News campaign reporter Alex Tin. The president has repeatedly denounced Nevada's governor after the campaign's initial plans ran afoul of Nevada's coronavirus measures, accusing Sisolak of being "a political person" in a recent White House briefing and linking his criticism to the state's recent move to expand mail-in voting amid the pandemic. "It's the secretary of state here, who happens to be a Republican, who oversees the election here as well as our administrators, our local registrars," Nevada Attorney General Aaron Ford, a Democrat, told Fox News. "There won't be any cheating on behalf of the governor or anyone here."
Pennsylvania's highest court made several rulings Thursday that have the potential to help Biden in the state, reports CBS News campaign reporter Zak Hudak. First, the state Supreme Court ruled that the Green Party's presidential candidate can't be on the general election ballot because of a failure to closely follow nomination procedures. Then, the court ruled that Pennsylvanians will have a three-day extension to return mail ballots with the Postal Service and the option to return them in drop boxes. That decision could mean many more Democratic votes are counted in Pennsylvania. In the state's June primary, over twice as many Democrats as Republicans applied to vote by mail. In that election, counties received nearly 100,000 mail-in ballots after Election Day, the majority of which came in the three days following it, the secretary of the commonwealth testified in another court case. That's over twice as many votes than Mr. Trump won the state by in 2016.
The court also ruled that voters can return ballots by hand to drop boxes set up by counties. The Pennsylvania State Department allowed the drop boxes in the primary, but the Trump campaign asked a federal court to ban them. After the state Democratic Party filed a parallel lawsuit asking the Commonwealth Court to explicitly allow them, the federal court judge stayed the Trump campaign's case to let state courts make a ruling on the issue. The state Supreme Court used its King's Bench authority to overtake the case and ruled in favor of Democrats. Additionally, the court denied a request from the Trump campaign to allow out-of-county poll watchers. But it sided with the Trump campaign on so-called "naked ballots," ruling that ballots missing a secrecy envelope should not be counted. It also ruled that third parties cannot return ballots for voters, a decision Mr. Trump praised in a tweet. Read more about the Green Party decision and its implications here and the court's other rulings here.
IN THE SENATE
Biden participated in a conference call with Democratic Senators on Thursday where, according to senators on the call, Biden spoke about how he wants to work with everyone and understands the work of the senators, report CBS News Capitol Hill producer Alan He and CBS News associate producer Eleanor Watson. Senator Joe Manchin of West Virginia told reporters there weren't many questions on the call but there were comments asking Biden to come to their state, and Manchin said that Senator Doug Jones of Alabama was appreciative of the effort and support Biden has put toward the state. Senator Chris Coons of Delaware told reporters Biden and the senators during the call spoke about current Senate races broadly with some incumbents speaking about their own races.
After a Quinnipiac poll released Wednesday showed the South Carolina Senate race tied, the Democratic Senatorial Campaign Committee announced a seven-figure investment in the state to bolster Democrat Jaime Harrison against incumbent Republican Senator Lindsey Graham, reports CBS News associate producer Eleanor Watson. In the announcement, the DSCC said the investment will go towards supporting TV ads and other resources. Harrison's campaign announced Thursday morning it raised $1 million alone yesterday. The Cook Political Report rates this race as leaning Republican.