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Trump admits downplaying virus, but told Woodward it was "deadly"

Trump admits to downplaying COVID threat
Trump admits to downplaying coronavirus threat in audio recordings 04:30

President Trump defended his administration's coronavirus response following new revelations that he admitted to downplaying the threat of COVID-19 amid worldwide spread, in a March interview with journalist Bob Woodward.

President Trump told reporters at the White House, Wednesday, he "had to show calm," amid the virus' dramatic spread, report CBS News digital White House reporter Kathryn Watson and campaign reporter Nicole Sganga. But in a recorded interview with Woodward on February 7, the president recalled a recent conversation with Chinese President Xi Jinping about the virus, calling it "more deadly" than "even your strenuous flus," and difficult to address because "it goes through air." Mr. Trump told Woodward, "This is deadly stuff."

Just three days later, Mr. Trump stated publicly at an event with the nation's governors that the U.S. is in "great shape," adding, "a lot of people think that goes away in April with the heat, as the heat comes in."

Woodward interviewed the president for a total of nine hours for his new book, "Rage." Recorded audio clips of the conversations appeared on CNN and The Washington Post, Wednesday.

On March 19, the president conceded to Mr. Woodward that he publically downplayed the dangers of the virus. "I wanted to always play it down. I still like playing it down, because I don't want to create a panic," Mr. Trump told Woodward. While the Trump administration sent mixed messaging on mask-wearing in public, the president openly mocked his political opponent, Joe Biden, for donning a face covering while pushing states to reopen in the spring. Into the summer, President Trump alleged the virus will "go away" on its own and told thousands gathered at a crowded campaign rally in Tulsa, OK that he directed officials to slow down COVID-19 testing.

"The last thing we can show is panic or excitement or fear or anything else," President Trump responded Wednesday, when probed about his administration's pandemic response. "We had to take care of the situation we were given."

Asked if the president intentionally misled the public about the seriousness of the virus, White House press secretary Kayleigh McEnany said, "Absolutely not." On Wednesday, McEnany insisted the president has "always been clear-eyed with the American people."

Biden calls Trump book revelations "life and death betrayal" 01:53

While campaigning in Warren, Michigan, Democratic nominee Joe Biden took aim at President Trump's comments to Woodward, according to CBS News reporter Adam Brewster.

"He knowingly and willingly lied about the threat it posed to the country for months," Biden said. "He had the information. He knew how dangerous it was. And while this deadly disease ripped through our nation, he failed to do his job on purpose. It was a life and death betrayal of the American people."

Biden also said Mr. Trump's inaction sent the economy "in a tailspin" and said his "negligence" caused the recession. "It's beyond despicable. It's a dereliction of duty, it's a disgrace," Biden said. Just hours following reports of President Trump's interviews with Bob Woodward, pro-Biden super PAC American Bridge incorporated newly released audio recordings into a 30 second advertisement.

The main focus of Biden's visit to Michigan according to Brewster was to highlight new policies about penalizing companies who ship manufacturing jobs overseas and creating incentives for American manufacturing.

Speaking at a UAW facility in Warren, Biden talked about his plans for a 10% tax penalty on companies who offshore manufacturing jobs overseas in order to sell goods back to Americans. Biden is also proposing a 10% tax credit for companies who make investments in creating American jobs.

A major part of President Trump's 2016 platform was focused on American manufacturing and trade deals that he argues cost American jobs. Biden, though, accused the president of breaking his promises, including a pledge from Mr. Trump in Warren in 2016 that no plants would close if he was elected.

In 2019, GM closed its transmission plant in Warren. "He now hopes we don't notice what he said or won't remember," Biden said. "He's hoping we just have poor memories. He doesn't give us much credit. But the American people are smart, honest, decent and they're hard working."

Warren sits in Macomb County, home to many white working class voters who backed President Trump in 2016. But while Mr. Trump won the county by 11.5 points in 2016, Michigan's Democratic Governor Gretchen Whitmer won the county by 3.5 points during her 2018 election. Winning in Macomb County, which is considered the home of Reagan Democrats, has often been predictive of statewide success. Since 2006, every gubernatorial candidate and presidential candidate who has won statewide carried Macomb County. That's four wins for Democrats and three wins for Republicans in the past seven statewide elections.

Bob Woodward will appear on CBS News "60 Minutes"this Sunday with audio excerpts from nine hours of on-the-record interviews with President Trump.



Dr. Jill Biden participated in a community conversation on schools reopening in Prior Lake, Minnesota. Biden, who was joined by Minnesota Governor Tim Walz, Minnesota Senator Amy Klobuchar, Minnesota Congresswoman Angie Craig and Minnesota educators, said she gets excited at the start of every school year.

"Teaching is more than a job to me. Like all of you, it is a calling," Biden said. CBS News campaign reporter Jack Turman says Biden added that if elected, educators will have a president who will listen to input from local officials and educators. "Joe knows that the best policies don't come from politics," Biden said. "They come from educators, parents and students and Joe is going to listen."

Biden told reporters later they "absolutely can win Minnesota" this November, but added, "We are not taking any vote for granted."


Less than two months until Election Day, President Trump unveiled a new slate of 20 potential nominees to the Supreme Court, Wednesday, in the event of a vacancy - highlighting a cornerstone of his presidency among Republicans and a major campaign issue responsible for coalescing conservative and evangelical support around him in 2016, reports CBS News campaign reporter Nicole Sganga.

In a White House address, Mr. Trump called appointing justices to the Supreme Court "the most important decision an American president can make," suggesting he might name as many as four justices if he wins a second term in office. "For this reason, candidates for president owe the American people a specific list of individuals they consider for the United States Supreme Court," Mr. Trump remarked.

Today's list of contenders featured three current Republican U.S. senators -- Tom Cotton of Arkansas, Ted Cruz of Texas and Josh Hawley of Missouri. Former Solicitor General Noel Francisco, who defended the Trump administration before the Supreme Court also made the cut, along with Judge Amy Coney Barrett of the 7th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals and Judge Thomas Hardiman of the 3rd U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals - both previously considered to replace Justice Anthony Kennedy following his 2018 retirement.

There is no vacancy on the Supreme Court, but it is possible the next president will appoint at least one justice in years to come. Justice Ruth Bader Ginsburg, who has emerged as the high court's liberal icon in recent years, faces health challenges. The bench's longest serving member, Justice Clarence Thomas is 72. Justice Stephen Breyer turns 83, next week.

Democratic presidential candidate Joe Biden doesn't plan to release a list of potential Supreme Court nominees but has vowed to appoint a Black woman to the high court should a vacancy occur during his presidency.

Biden told CBS News political correspondent Ed O'Keefe at a news conference in late June that he would release a list of potential picks once they've been fully vetted. This week aides wouldn't say where the vetting of potential candidates stands.

In response to the president's comments about potential Biden nominees, Biden spokesman T.J. Ducklo said, "We look forward to Donald Trump releasing his tax returns in the spirit of his newfound appreciation for transparency." Read President Trump's full SCOTUS list here.

Looking ahead to the weekend, CBS News campaign reporter Alex Tin reports airport officials in Northern Nevada have rejected President Trump's plans to host an in-person rally at a hangar in the battleground state, citing the state's cap on large gatherings. The campaign's state co-chair Adam Laxalt expressed outrage over the move, decrying the cancellation as "partisan political retribution." In a release, aviation authorities insisted their move "has nothing to do with politics."

In a statement Daren Griffin, president and CEO of the Reno-Tahoe Airport Authority, said, "We would hold our tenants to the same standard whether it was a Democratic or Republican rally or any other type of gathering. We are complying with the Governor's directive and Washoe County's recommendation during a pandemic." The president's campaign says Mr. Trump still plans to visit Nevada, with additional details to "be announced soon."



In the latest edition of CBS News COVID Chronicles, campaign reporter LaCrai Mitchell revisits the impact of the coronavirus on small minority businesses in the battleground state of Florida.

Two months ago, Mitchell spoke with a physical therapist in Maitland who was trying to break-even after taking a financial blow during the pandemic. Dr. Fitzherbert Harry, 35, was just a few months away from having to consider other sources of income. And just over an hour away in Lakeland, Glenn and Jahlinda Jones were utilizing more digital and social media tools to expand their business, Ensure Financial Group, while dealing with the impacts of not being able to meet clients in person.

Now, less than two months out from the general election, these Florida businesses have been able to stay afloat, but they say the impact of the coronavirus pandemic won't be the deciding factor for how they vote in the general election. "The EIDL, the paycheck protection, I think those were awesome gestures and were necessary, were healthy and were good...[but] I'm not like feeling like I have an owed responsibility to vote a certain way because of those things," said Glenn Jones. "...we shouldn't be bought by gestures. We still have to look at policies that allow a quality of life that we believe should be had in the American dream."

Read the full story here.



A new Marquette University Law School poll shows Joe Biden with a four point lead over President Trump, 47% to 43%, among likely voters in Wisconsin, according to CBS News campaign reporter Adam Brewster.

The poll, which was taken after the unrest in Kenosha and both conventions, showed little movement among likely voters compared to the August Marquette poll when Biden was leading 49% to 44%. The poll found 47% of Wisconsinites approve of the protests against police shootings, while 48% disapprove. That's nearly identical to the numbers in August when there was a tie at 48% among those who approve and disapprove.

The Black Lives Matter movement also still had a 49% favorable rating, compared to a 37% unfavorable view, the same numbers as August. There was a slight increase in approval over President Trump's handling of protests (36%) compared to early August (32%). A majority of voters (54%) still disapproved of his handling.

Mr. Trump did see a bump in approval of handling the protests following his visit to Kenosha. Before his visit 34% approved of his handling and 38% approved after his visit, with Republican approval increasing from 65% to 87%.

Overall, Trump's approval rating remained relatively steady -- 42% approve of the job he is doing, compared to 54% who disapprove. The president's approval numbers have barely changed since June.

Biden's favorability (45%) was a slight increase from August (43%). 47% of Wisconsinites had an unfavorable opinion of Biden. Finally, the poll showed 68% of Biden voters are still planning to vote absentee by mail, while 58% of Trump supporters are planning to vote in-person on Election Day.



With 55 days until the presidential election, President Trump's campaign announced, it along with the RNC and joint fundraising committees raised more than $210 million in August - $154 million less than Joe Biden and Democrats raised last month with their record $364.5 million cash haul.

The president and Republican party's fundraising includes $76 million raised over the four days of the Republican National Convention. According to the Trump campaign, August was the largest online fundraising month for the re-election effort ever.

"Both campaigns are raising massive amounts of money, but have very different priorities about how to spend it. In addition to advertising, President Trump's campaign has invested heavily in a muscular field operation and ground game that will turn out our voters, while the Biden campaign is waging almost exclusively an air war," said Trump campaign manager Bill Stepien in a statement. "We like our strategy better."

The president's $210 million cash haul comes after his campaign announced in early August it and the RNC had surpassed raising a combined $1 billion since the start of the election cycle. But an examination of FEC filings show that the president, RNC and joint fundraising committees have also spent more than $830 million on re-election efforts before even reaching Labor Day, according to CBS News political unit associate producer Sarah Ewall-Wice and campaign reporter Nicole Sganga.

On Tuesday, the president defended his campaign spending, claiming they had to put up a lot of money to combat stories about the coronavirus. He said would put up his own cash for his re-election bid if he has to, but said they are doing very well. Neither Trump nor Biden's campaigns have announced how much cash on hand they had at the end of August, but earlier last month Biden's campaign revealed it had nearly closed the gap over the summer after facing a nearly $200 million cash disadvantage earlier this year. So where has some of the president's campaign cash all gone?

Read more on his spending here.


Democrats and the groups supporting them are leaning in once again on health care ahead of the November election - an issue that played to their advantage during the 2018 midterms says CBS News political unit associate producer Sarah Ewall-Wice.

In a new television advertisement titled "masks" released by the pro-Biden Super PAC Priorities USA Action, the narrator claims "57 million Americans have lost their jobs, many have lost their health insurance too, but Donald Trump remains laser focused on gutting health care."

It goes on take aim at the president over Medicare, Obamacare and pre-existing conditions. According to Priorities USA, the 30-second spot is airing on TV in Michigan, Pennsylvania, Wisconsin and Arizona.

It's also running in Florida as part of an ad partnership with Everytown for Gun Safety Victory Fund. At the same time, the Super PAC MeidasTouch started airing an ad Wednesday that includes clips of President Trump promising to repeal and replace Obamacare on the 2016 campaign trail before moving on to clips as Mr. Trump as president promising to unveil a health care plan. In the years since efforts to repeal and replace Obamacare failed in Congress in 2017, the president has said on numerous occasions Republicans would put forward their own health care plan, but it has not yet happened.

Most recently in early August, the president teased an executive order to require health insurers to cover pre-existing conditions, but that has not yet been unveiled. This comes as less than a week ago, the Biden campaign also started airing another ad in which Biden talks about his experience with health insurance, saying Obamacare is personal to him and taking aim at the president. Right now, a lawsuit backed by the Trump administration is asking the Supreme Court to strike down the entire Affordable Care Act (Obamacare), including the provisions protecting people with pre-existing conditions. That case goes before the court in November, one week after Election Day.

The pro-Trump Super PAC America First Action also announced Wednesday, it's investing $22 million in battleground states. The spending, which starts this month, will include digital and television advertisements in Florida, Wisconsin, Pennsylvania and Ohio.

The five ads all unveiled today focus around the argument that Joe Biden and Kamala Harris are "too weak" and "too radical" to protect Americans and keep small businesses safe. In one, a man named Scott talks about businesses being burned to the ground. "I'm not much for politics but Joe Biden is so weak, he'll never stand up for folks like us," he says.

In another titled "Promises," small business owners "Kevin and Kimberly" argue, "we need President Trump." The three other ads titled "An Officer & a Mom," "All Across the Country," and "Not All There" also focus on police funding, national protests and question's Biden's ability to lead. The $22 million investment is in addition to another $18.6 million September spend previously announced by the PAC which was already focused on Wisconsin, Pennsylvania, North Carolina and Florida.



Ohio Secretary of State Frank LaRose announced that as of September 4, Ohio's county boards of elections have received 1,000,579 absentee ballot applications. CBS News campaign reporter Jack Turman reports the announcement comes 55 days before Election Day.

In a press release, LaRose's office noted that absentee ballot applications did not surpass one million until 28 days before the 2016 election. In a statement, LaRose said that the high number of applications shows that Ohioans trust the state's election infrastructure.

"While we're making sure voters will be able to safely vote in-person, this incredible demand for absentee voting speaks to the confidence Ohioans have in the system," LaRose said in a statement. "It's strong. It's secure. And our county boards of elections are prepared."


A federal judge denied a request from the Trump Campaign for a preliminary injunction to isolate ballots collected from drop boxes in the November election pending the state Supreme Court's ruling on whether the boxes can be used, reports CBS News campaign reporter Zak Hudak.

Western District Judge Nicholas Ranjan stayed the case over drop box use in mid-August to allow state courts to rule on a parallel lawsuit filed by the Pennsylvania Democratic Party. Before the Pennsylvania Supreme Court decided to take that case, lawyers for the Trump Campaign requested a preliminary injunction to keep mail-in ballots returned by drop box from being mixed with ones sent by mail.

In Tuesday's order, Ranjan said that if the state Supreme Court doesn't make a decision, soon, it could be "too late to un-ring the bell." But he said that concern is "premature" because the Supreme Court ordered that all supplemental briefing on the case to be filed by yesterday and appears to be on track. He left open the possibility of lifting the stay on the case if the Supreme Court hasn't made a decision by October 5.

Former Pennsylvania Governor Tom Ridge, a Republican, today called for Pennsylvania counties to be allowed to pre-canvass mail ballots ahead of Election Day. This follows a June primary where a surge in mail-in voting led to counties counting ballots over a week after Election Day, and the leading candidate in 10 down ballot races changing after election night.

Election officials across the state have asked the legislature to let them begin processing, but not tabulating, ballots early. The current governor, Democrat Tom Wolf, and the Pennsylvania Secretary of State's office have recommended that the state legislature allow counties to begin opening, checking signatures on and scanning mail ballots three weeks before the election.

A bill that passed the state House last week would give counties three days to do so, but Wolf's spokesperson said he would veto it in current form because it would ban drop boxes. On a press call held by VoteSafe Pennsylvania, Ridge said he doesn't have a preference on drop boxes but that early pre-canvassing should be supported by both sides. "I just don't see this as being a partisan issue," he said. "We've got Republicans and Democrats at the local level who are asking the governor and the legislature, Republicans and Democrats, to ease these restrictions and let them give them adequate time to do their job."




Georgia Democratic Senate candidate Raphael Warnock launched his third TV ad of the cycle on Wednesday, recounting a childhood experience with racism in his hometown of Savannah. CBS News campaign reporter LaCrai Mitchell reports that in the 30-second ad titled "Store," Warnock says he'll fight for the vulnerable if elected.

"1982. A 12-year-old is accused of stealing and dragged out a store, told he looks suspicious because his hands are in his pockets. I'm Raphael Warnock and that boy was me," said Warnock in the ad. "Back then I didn't understand how much the system works against those without power and money, that the rules were different for some of us. Too often that's still true today, especially in Washington. I approve this message because it's time for that to change."

Warnock is the senior pastor of Ebenezer Baptist Church in Atlanta, the church that was home to Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. -- and he's one of 21 candidates running to replace Trump supporter Senator Kelly Loeffler in a special election on November 3 to fill Johnny Isakson's seat for the remaining two years of his term.


On Tuesday night, President Donald Trump's endorsed candidate Corky Messner won the New Hampshire Republican primary, reports CBS News political unit associate producer Eleanor Watson. Messner defeated retired brigadier general Don Bolduc and will now compete in the general election against incumbent Senator Jeanne Shaheen who won the Democratic primary easily on Tuesday. In 2016, Hillary Clinton won New Hampshire by under one percentage point, which has made it an offensive target for Republicans, including the Trump campaign. President Trump has held three rallies in the state since the start of 2019. However, right now, the Cook Political Report rates the Senate seat in New Hampshire solidly Democratic.



The House Democrat campaign arm began their second rollout of television ads specifically geared towards the Asian American and Pacific Islander community. The committee announced in August they had made a buy on VietFace TV, a Vietnamese cable network based in Los Angeles. The ads began running in California's 48th district in Orange County, in English and Vietnamese.

The ads hit Republican candidate Michelle Steel on alleged corruption from her 2013 Board of Supervisors campaign co-chairs, and her vote to eliminate a watchdog office in Orange County. Steel is in a competitive race against Democrat Congressman Harley Rouda. In numbers shared with CBS News political unit broadcast associate Aaron Navarro,Rouda's campaign and the DCCC have made over 3,000 calls and 12,000 texts to those in the Vietnamese community. According to the census, this district has more than 146,976 Asian residents, roughly a quarter of the population. Earlier this summer, the DCCC ran ads in Chinese and Hindi in Texas' 22nd district, another district with a substantial AAPI population and voter base.

The House GOP-backed Congressional Leadership Fund also got on the air in California's 48th today, as well as five other competitive House seats. Their ad in California's 48th attacks Rouda for a 2008 age discrimination settlement with his real estate company. Their ad in New York's 2nd district, an open seat, draws parallels between Democrat Jackie Gordon and New York City Mayor Bill De Blasio. "We wouldn't vote De Blasio for Congress, so vote against Jackie Gordon," it ends.


Democrat Congressman Chris Pappas, who flipped New Hampshire's 1st district in 2018, now has a general election opponent. CBS News political unit broadcast associate Aaron Navarro says Republican Matt Mowers, a former Senior Advisor in the State Department, won about 60 percent of the vote in a crowded primary field. In June, Mowers was endorsed by Mr. Trump, who narrowly won this district by about 2 points. Mowers beat Republican Matt Mayberry, who got the second most votes and was endorsed by former Arkansas Governor Mike Huckabee.

On Wednesday, two police unions in Manchester, NH that backed Pappas in 2018, endorsed Mowers. In a statement, Mowers said he won't "use our police as a political punching bag like Chris Pappas," continuing his criticism of Pappas' vote to remove qualified immunity, by supporting the George Floyd Justice in Policing Act. Lieutenant Mark Brave, who serves in the Strafford County Sheriff's office and supports Pappas, pointed to past funding the congressman got for "critical training efforts." He added that Pappas is "the only candidate in this race working to help to bridge the gap between our police departments and the communities they serve." Brave himself is running as a Democrat in the Strafford County Sherriff race, and won his primary Tuesday.



The gubernatorial election in New Hampshire also has its November matchup set, according to CBS News political unit broadcast associate Aaron Navarro. State Senator Dan Feltes won the Democratic primary and will face Republican incumbent Governor Phil Scott, who is seeking a third two-year term. In a statement, Feltes hits Sununu on opposing paid family and medical leave, as well as being someone who is "actually pro-choice, not one who just says he is around election time." Sununu has consistently held high approval ratings and popularity in New Hampshire.

A University of New Hampshire poll from August had his approval rating at 70%. "I know the pollsters and the pundits think this a long shot, but we've proved them wrong before and I believe in the people, not the pundits," Feltes said in a statement.

Feltes beat New Hampshire Executive Councilor Andru Volinsky, who was the first gubernatorial candidate to be endorsed by Vermont Senator Bernie Sanders. Volinsky held a press conference to congratulate Feltes on Wednesday, as well as to thank his campaign supporters. "We need to help Dan get elected in the fall. I will pitch in, you should pitch in. We need to stop Sununu," Volinsky said.


More from our latest CBS News Battleground Tracker poll...

Over a Third of Voters Plan to Vote by Mail in 2020

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