President Trump is set to make his third trip to a battleground state in as many weeks tomorrow when he visits a Ford plant in Ypsilanti, Michigan that has been making ventilators, according to CBS News campaign reporters Nicole Sganga and Adam Brewster. With the U.S. coronavirus death toll climbing towards 100,000, the Trump administration is seeking to highlight one success: an unexpected surplus of ventilators. The president will tour the plant and give remarks to workers. He's also scheduled to meet with local and national black leaders at the plant.
The COVID-19 pandemic has taken a devastating toll on Michigan. More than 5,000 people have died and the state ranks seventh nationwide in deaths per capita, according to Johns Hopkins University. More than 1.7 million Michiganders have filed for unemployment since March 15, more than a third of the state's labor force based on the numbers in February. Black Michiganders have been hit particularly hard, representing 31% of diagnosed COVID-19 cases and 40% of the deaths in the state, but just 14% of the population.
The visit also marks the president's return to a state he won by just 11,000 votes in 2016, when he became the first Republican to win Michigan since 1988. After big wins by Democrats in 2018, both parties are fiercely competing for Michigan's 16 electoral votes.
"Michigan is ground zero," said Congresswoman Debbie Dingell, whose district includes Ypsilanti. "Anybody that understands politics knows that this is a competitive state, which they didn't four years ago. Democrats laughed at me when I said Donald Trump could win."
To reclaim the state in November, Dingell says Democrats must do a better job of talking about manufacturing jobs sent overseas, further amplified by the COVID-19 pandemic's spotlight on outsourced medical supply chains.
Michigan GOP Chair Laura Cox remains confident in the Trump administration's coronavirus response. She believes the strong economy that was in place before the pandemic shows the president is best fit to lead the country through recovery.
"His aggressive action and unprecedented leadership show that he is the man for the job," Cox said. "I think it's really important that people recognize that his strength is definitely something that we need and will continue to need as we weather this storm."
FROM THE CANDIDATES
Joe Biden's virtual focus today was on Wisconsin, hosting a panel discussion and a virtual "rally." His first panel discussion was 79 minutes long and focused on how the pandemic is impacting rural states, CBS News campaign reporter Bo Erickson reports.
During this event, Biden said on "day one" he will appoint an inspector general to look into how the COVID-19 relief spending for businesses was dispersed. Biden said not "one penny" should go to Fortune 500 companies.
Later on he scolded Republican senators who he said used to hold inspector generals as their "hobby horse." He specifically called out Senator Chuck Grassley. "Where are they? It really bothers me," Biden said. In the afternoon, Biden turned his attention to his granddaughter's law school graduation where he served as Columbia Law School's virtual commencement speaker.
His granddaughter, Naomi, is named after his deceased daughter who was killed 48 years ago in a car crash. Biden implored the graduates to fight for governance because it is "under attack" now. "The very people tasked with enforcing the rule of law are abusing their powers, protecting their friends, weakening the very principles that make our country work," Biden said. "Yes, our legal system is adversarial by design, but it depends on rule norms and ethics, our democracy is messy, but a free press and checks and balances hold that democratic project together."
Wisconsin Republicans took aim at Biden ahead of his virtual events today, painting him as a far left candidate who is out of touch with the state's voters. According to CBS News campaign reporter Adam Brewster.
"One of the most frustrating things to me is it seems like he's outsourced his agenda," former Wisconsin Governor Scott Walker said. He noted that Representative Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez was recently named a co-chair of the Biden-Sanders unity task force on climate change. "This is really outsourcing to the very far fringe of the party, to the folks in the Bernie Sanders category," Walker added.
PRESIDENT DONALD TRUMP
Trump allies are working on an initiative to have pro-Trump doctors publicly support the president and his views, multiple senior Trump campaign official confirmed to CBS News campaign reporter Nicole Sganga. The move comes amid the president's determination to boost the economy, which has been ravaged by the deadly coronavirus.
"The president has been outspoken about the fact that he wants to get the country back open as soon and as safely as possible because there are also health risks associated with a prolonged lockdown," Trump campaign communications director Tim Murtaugh said. "There are a lot of doctors who agree with that and support what the President has done to combat the coronavirus."
In audio from a May 11 call with political allies first reported by AP and obtained by CBS News, a Republican activist said they'd submitted a list of 27 "extremely pro-Trump doctors" to top Trump campaign adviser Mercedes Schlapp, and said the campaign is working on building that coalition and vetting names. The former reality television star-turned president has long valued those who can effectively defend his viewpoints publicly on television, something perhaps more critical to him now than ever as he battles the greatest crisis yet during his presidency. It's not clear which medical professionals will be touting the president's points of view, or when this initiative might be unveiled.
Vice President Mike Pence traveled to Florida on Wednesday where he met with Governor Ron DeSantis to discuss the state's re-opening strategy and deliver personal protective equipment to a nursing home. CBS News campaign reporter Musadiq Bidar reports that the vice president said the administration is considering announcing additional international travel restrictions for some countries.
"We are watching very carefully what's taking place in South America including in Brazil. We saw it recent days it was a significant spike in cases," Pence said. The vice president and DeSantis delivered eye protection, masks, gloves, and gowns to the Westminster Baldwin Park nursing home. "Not a single coronavirus case," in this facility, Pence said while commending Shirley Schultz, the director of nursing at Baldwin Park.
Pence and DeSantis also addressed a group of masked workers inside the building using a smart phone as a microphone. The vice president said he thinks "Florida has set the pace" in terms of fighting back against the coronavirus. He also told DeSantis that "as Florida begins to open up again…we are going to continue to partner with you to protect your most vulnerable." As Pence was walking away following this stop, a reporter asked if he knew the president was taking hydroxycholorquine before he announced it. The vice president did not respond.
The Biden campaign criticized Pence's visit to the state as "damage control" that is "too little and too late." Biden's communications director, Kate Bedingfield, said in a statement that "the economic and public health pain that Floridians are going to experience for years to come will be in large part due to the failure of leaders like Vice President Pence to listen to the experts and prepare our country for this pandemic accordingly."
Central Florida Congresswoman Val Demings, one of about a dozen women on a short list of possible running mates for Joe Biden, also took aim at Pence, dismissing his plans to drop off protective equipment at nursing homes as meaningless.
"Another smoke-and-mirrors moment," Demings said on a video press conference call Tuesday ahead of Pence's visit. "The president and vice president want you to take your eyes off the real condition on the ground. Pay no attention to the people who have died. Pay no attention to the people who are sick."
CBS News campaign reporter LaCrai Mitchell spoke to state and local Republican leaders who said that the vice president's visit signals that "things are getting back to normal."
As previously reported, Florida entered into a "full phase 1" reopening across the state on Monday. The vice president's visit also coincides with Disney Springs beginning a phased re-opening of shopping and dining locations.
Polk County Republican Party chair J.C. Martin said it's good to see the president and vice president resuming travel.
"The president went to Pennsylvania, the vice president's here in Florida, that's what people want them to do is get out there and get back to work," said Martin, who is also a member of the state party's Board of Directors. "Governor DeSantis is being used as the example of how states should have dealt with the crisis."
Republican Florida Representative Cord Byrd added, "I think we're a model and hopefully, [Vice President Pence] can take what we're doing right and spread that to other states."
With a loosely fastened sheet of printer paper displaying Joe Biden's campaign logo printed on it hanging behind her, Senator Tammy Baldwin made her debut virtual rally appearance with Biden today in an event targeting voters in Wisconsin, according to CBS News campaign reporter Zak Hudak.
In brief remarks at the end of the virtual Milwaukee rally, Baldwin said that the Trump administration has not helped Wisconsin families, workers or farmers. Biden, she said, has shown leadership at times of crisis and he shares values with people in the state.
"We have a job to do, Wisconsin," she said. "We know that the road to the White House runs right through our state. And we know what we have to do."
Baldwin has twice won statewide elections in Wisconsin, a state where in 2016 Trump was the first Republican presidential candidate to win since Ronald Reagan. She urged viewers to download the campaign app, volunteer or join in social media efforts.
Senator Kamala Harris raised concerns today during a Senate committee vote to subpoena a Democratic public relations consulting firm with potential ties to former Vice President Joe Biden's son Hunter. The Republican-led committee voted along party lines to subpoena Blue Star Strategies which did consulting for the Ukrainian energy company Burisma, a company of which Hunter Biden sat on its board.
During the hearing, Harris called out the committee's chairman, GOP Senator Ron Johnson, and accused him of neglecting the COVID-19 pandemic in favor of prioritizing "divisive, political subpoenas," according to CBS News campaign reporter Tim Perry.
"Mr. Chairman, you made a unilateral decision to convene this meeting on a matter wholly unrelated to the deadly threat facing our constituents. You made the decision to force a vote on a purely political matter that will do absolutely nothing for those at risk of contracting COVID-19," Harris said during her prepared remarks at the hearing. "Sadly, there are literally matters of life and death waiting for our committee's attention. But instead, this committee is doing the president's personal bidding."
Johnson pushed back at complaints from Democrats, telling reporters outside of the hearing, "the Democrats are objecting, and I think maybe they're protesting too much. It actually raises my suspicion level, [of] what is to be found out in these documents."
MAILING IT IN
Millions of voters across the country were forced to shelter in place this spring when the coronavirus swept through the nation. The pandemic disrupted elections and reignited calls for expanding vote-by-mail, amid concerns for voter safety. In a number of cases, implementing vote-by-mail has correlated with increased voter turnout.
But CBS News campaign reporters LaCrai Mitchell and Adam Brewster and political unit associate Producer Sarah Ewall-Wice report that while "vote-by-mail" dominates headlines nationally, activists warn it could also disenfranchise vulnerable voting blocs if certain measures are not put in place. Activists told CBS News that some Americans don't have one of the most critical features for mail voting: a traditional or permanent address. And even if voters do have access to vote-by-mail, the process still poses other challenges that need to be addressed including numerous cases of ballot rejections.
Research from the University of Florida and Dartmouth College found that in Florida's 2018 general election, ballots from 18 to 21-year-olds and 22 to 25-year-olds were rejected at more than eight and six times the rate, respectively, compared to voters 65 and older, the largest vote-by-mail cohort. Black, Hispanic and other minorities' mail ballots were more than twice as likely to be rejected than ballots from white voters. In Florida, ballots can be rejected if a signature is missing or doesn't match a signature on file.
Voter protection groups say that low-income voters could face disadvantages because they move more frequently. Younger voters also face new challenges, given the uncertainty surrounding whether they will physically return to school this fall.
"In normal election years, turning out the youth vote can be challenging because young voters are new voters," said Rock the Vote Executive Director Carolyn DeWitt. "It's important to educate them and empower them with information to walk them step by step through the process. But the time we're in, there's nothing normal about it, and if anything, it's going to be more complicated and challenging to communicate with them in a clear manner."
Gilda Daniels, litigation director at the Advancement Project, says inadequate education could lead to further disenfranchisement, and states need to help voters understand the processes. She also added that it's been a challenge to try to combat the high levels of distrust, especially among black voters whose distrust is oftentimes historically rooted in the fight to obtain voting rights. But most voters ultimately want help in ensuring that their voices will be heard. "I'm not hearing apathy," said Daniels. "I'm hearing…help us to understand. Help us to know what steps we need to take to make sure it's an election where we can cast a ballot and those votes are counted."
WAR OF WORDS
President Trump, a leading critic of vote-by-mail efforts, is threatening to withhold funds from states over the issue, according to CBS News campaign reporter Musadiq Bidar. The president doubled down on his assertion that mail in ballots are "very dangerous" and subject to forgeries, Wednesday afternoon, though he provided no evidence to reporters gathered in the Oval Office.
In a tweet Wednesday morning, President Trump wrote "State of Nevada "thinks" they can send out illegal vote by mail ballots, creating a great Voter Fraud scenario for the State and the U.S. They can't! If they do, "I think" I can hold up funds to the State. Sorry but you must not cheat in election." President Trump also issued the same threat to the state of Michigan.
"Michigan sends absentee ballot applications to 7.7 million people ahead of Primaries and the General Elections," Mr. Trump tweeted, correcting an earlier version which said voters would receive ballots, not absentee ballot applications. "This was done illegally and without authorization by a rogue Secretary of State. I will ask to hold up funding to Michigan if they want to go down this Voter Fraud path!" President Trump did not specify to reporters what funding he would cut to punish Michigan for sending out millions of mail-in ballot applications, Wednesday afternoon.
In a statement to CBS News campaign reporter Nicole Sganga, Trump campaign communications director Tim Murtaugh said, "President Trump is correct. There is no statutory authority for the secretary of state in Michigan to send absentee ballot applications to all voters. Existing case law in Michigan supports that conclusion as well."
But Michigan Secretary of State Jocelyn Benson responded in a tweet, noting that Republican secretaries of state have done the same thing in states like Iowa and Georgia. In 2018, Michigan voters overwhelmingly approved a ballot measure that allowed for no-excuse absentee voting, meaning any voter is able to request a mail ballot.
Michigan Governor Gretchen Whitmer criticized the president's threat during a press conference Wednesday, CBS News Campaign Reporter Jack Turman reports. "I would appreciate any federal partnership that wants to stay focused on solving problems and not get into politics. We got to take politics out of this crisis moment," Whitmer said.
In an interview with CBS News campaign reporter Adam Brewster, Michigan Republican chair Laura Cox said Benson should only be sending absentee ballots to voters who request them. "I think that we are in grave danger of fraudulent activity and she needs to follow the law," Cox said.
On Monday, RNC Chair Ronna McDaniel was asked about a lawsuit in Wisconsin asking the court to require the state to send absentee ballot request forms to registered voters. "I don't really have an issue with absentee ballot request forms being sent out to voters," McDaniel said. She said the action should come from state leaders, such as a governor, state legislature or secretary of state, but not from courts requiring states to do this. In Nevada, Democratic Governor Steve Sisolak condemned the president's funding threat as "inappropriate and outrageous." Unlike in Michigan, counties in Nevada are automatically mailing ballots to all voters under a vote-by-mail plan spearheaded by a Republican, Secretary of State Barbara Cegavske.
CBS News campaign reporter Alex Tin says the president's tweet comes as the RNC announced it had sent a letter to Nevada's attorney general demanding an investigation into a move by Clark County, the state's most populous, to expand mailing ballots to "inactive" registered voters.
Democratic Association of Secretaries of State Chair and California Secretary of State Alex Padilla called Trump's threat "unconscionable." Padilla said "Trump has gone Ukraine on Michigan and Nevada, threatening to cut off funding for their audacity to not make voters choose between protecting their health and exercising their right to vote."
Padilla went on to add that Trump is seeking to "distract from his pandemic response by once again attacking our right to vote, spreading disinformation about mail in ballots, and undermining confidence in our free and fair elections."
BY THE NUMBERS
A Pew Research Center poll out Wednesday found that Americans who rely most on the White House for COVID-19 information are focusing more attention on the economic impact, reports CBS News political unit associate producer Eleanor Watson. About 6 in 10 of the Americans who rely on the White House for information are paying close attention to the economy, and about 51% of the of the group relying on the White House think the outbreak has been made a bigger deal than it really is.
Overall, only about 16% of all U.S. adults rely most closely on the White House for information, and of that group 92% identify as Republican or Republican-leaning. The largest percentage of U.S adults 65 and older (39%) who are especially vulnerable to the virus said they rely on the White House and its task force.
About 26% of Americans said they rely on national news outlets for the coronavirus news, and about 18% look to information from public health organizations and officials. Of those who consistently watch national news outlets, 83% say the media have done "very" or "somewhat" well covering the outbreak. The poll found that young adults make up 26% of the group that mainly relies on public health organizations and officials for news about the virus. The highest percentage of racial and ethnic minorities are in the group that relies most on local news with nonwhite adults accounting for 45% of that group.
ON THE $$$
April is seeing strong fundraising numbers despite the pandemic. On Wednesday, ActBlue, which is used by Democrats and progressive groups to raise funds, announced donors gave $141 million through the platform last month. The cash haul came from more than 1.8 million donors making more than 4.4 million contributions reports CBS News political unit associate producer Sarah Ewall-Wice.
The average donation was just $32. According to ActBlue, Senate candidates raised double the amount raised in April 2018, while House candidates raised 43% more than they did using the platform at this time in 2018. April 2020 happened to be the first full month candidates had to raise funds completely digitally due to the coronavirus.
Compared to March 2020, contributions to House races were up 24% last month, while donations to Senate races were up 5%. More than 420,000 contributors donated using ActBlue for the first time from March 15 through the end of April.
The latest fundraising numbers come after some strategists and candidates expressed concerns about how the pandemic would impact fundraising in the middle of an election year, but ActBlue's numbers continue a trend of strong April numbers.
Eight million people have given through ActBlue this election cycle so far, and the platform remains on track to raise $3 billion through the November election. "Pundits predicted a decrease in enthusiasm among small-dollar donors because of the pandemic, but these April numbers show that the grassroots is as energized as ever," said ActBlue Executive Director Erin Hill in a statement.
"They continue to invest in a better future by chipping in to Democrats, supporting progressive organizations, and helping their neighbors by giving to nonprofits on the front lines. Their resilience and dedication is critical for change come November."
Last week, the Republican platform WinRed, which is less than a year old, also reported it raised nearly $60 million in April, almost half of the $130 million it raised across the first three month of the year. Its April cash haul came from more than 1.6 million donations. The average donation was $37.
CBS News campaign reporter Tim Perry reports the Planned Parenthood Action Fund announced endorsements in 10 critical congressional races today. This also includes candidates in two high-profile senate races, Montana Governor Steve Bullock and Reverend Raphael Warnock in Georgia. These are the latest in a series of endorsements made by the political action committee for Planned Parenthood after the organization announced an investment of $45 million in key races and states to win elections "from the White House to state houses."
In a statement, Alexis McGill Johnson, the acting president of Planned Parenthood Action Fund said, "As we face a pandemic, this election is about our survival and our future. That's why Planned Parenthood Action Fund is investing in candidates up and down the ballot to win big in the U.S. Senate and U.S. House." McGill Johnson added, "In Georgia, the Action Fund is proud to endorse Rev. Warnock, whose commitment to reproductive health has been lifelong."
She continued, "In Montana, Governor Steve Bullock is an outspoken supporter of sexual and reproductive health and rights, and we're excited to support him in this election season. We would be well-served to have both these candidates continue their critical work in the Senate."
Both Senate candidates are currently competing in primaries in their respective states. Warnock is participating in Georgia's special election, a tight and crowded race for the seat currently held by Republican Senator Kelly Loeffler. After today's endorsement Warnock, the senior pastor of Atlanta's famous Ebenezer Baptist Church, tweeted, "I have been an advocate for reproductive justice my entire life. As a US Senator, I promise to fight for and protect access to reproductive health care. I'm honored to have the support of @PPact as we fight to restore the soul of our nation."