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The Morning Dispatch: SCOTUS Nomination Battle Is in the Works
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The Morning Dispatch: SCOTUS Nomination Battle Is in the Works

Plus, Joe Biden's big cash advantage.

Happy Tuesday! We hope everyone enjoyed the holiday last night, and celebrated responsibly.

Quick Hits: Today’s Top Stories

  • The United States confirmed 34,678 new cases of COVID-19 yesterday per the Johns Hopkins University COVID-19 Dashboard, with 4.7 percent of the 732,722 tests reported coming back positive. An additional 338 deaths were attributed to the virus on Monday, bringing the pandemic’s American death toll to 199,812.

  • President Trump said yesterday he plans to announce his Supreme Court nominee on Friday or Saturday, after Justice Ruth Bader Ginsburg’s memorial services. Judges Amy Coney Barrett and Barbara Lagoa are widely seen as the top two finalists for the nod.

  • The Biden campaign and DNC currently have $141 million more cash on hand than the Trump campaign and RNC, a sharp turnaround from the situation earlier this spring. The Biden team spent more than twice as much as the Trump campaign did in August.

  • Just days after the Centers for Disease Control updated its coronavirus guidance to account for the aerosolization of viral particles, the agency removed those changes, with the deputy director of infectious disease saying “an early draft of a revision went up without any technical review.”

  • Asked by a local Wisconsin TV station on Monday, Joe Biden refused to say whether he would support packing the Supreme Court if Republicans confirm Justice Ginsburg’s replacement in the next few months. “It’s a legitimate question. But let me tell you why I’m not going to answer that question: because it will shift all the focus. That’s what [Trump] wants,” Biden said. “He never wants to talk about the issue at hand. He always tries to change the subject.”

  • The Congressional Budget Office released a long-term budget outlook projecting a 2050 U.S. population 2.8 percent smaller than the one it projected last year. The report cites declining birth rates and net immigration—paired with increased mortality from Alzheimer’s disease, suicide, and drug overdoses—as the cause of the 11-million-person discrepancy.

  • Stocks tumbled on Monday, with the Dow Jones Industrial Average dropping by more than 500 points as hopes for another coronavirus relief package continue to fade and a bombshell report tied several major banks to potential money laundering.

  • A federal judge ruled Monday that, as long as absentee ballots in Wisconsin are postmarked by Election Day, they can be counted up to six days afterward.

SCOTUS Nomination Battle Already in the Works

Hours after Justice Ruth Bader Ginsburg’s death was announced on Friday, Majority Leader Mitch McConnell sent a note to his Republican colleagues in the Senate urging them to exhibit caution in their public comments regarding the coming nomination fight and to keep their powder dry. “This is not the time to prematurely lock yourselves into a position you may later regret,” he wrote.

It appears that memo bought McConnell enough time to lock down the votes necessary to move ahead with whatever Supreme Court nominee President Trump settles on later this week. The majority leader could afford only three defections—and he quickly got two over the weekend in Sens. Susan Collins and Lisa Murkowski. But then other Republicans came forward expressing their openness to moving ahead with a confirmation process: Sens. Lamar Alexander, Thom Tillis, Chuck Grassley, Joni Ernst, Cory Gardner. Sen. Mitt Romney told reporters Monday he wouldn’t comment until he meets with his colleagues on Tuesday.

Senators varied in the extent of their commitments. In Ernst’s statement, for example, the senator from Iowa pledged only to carry out her duty to “evaluate the nominee for our nation’s highest court.” Tillis, on the other hand, guaranteed he will support the “well-qualified and conservative jurist” President Trump will nominate, without knowing who that jurist will be. Senate Judiciary Chairman Lindsey Graham told Fox News’ Sean Hannity last night that “the nominee is going to be supported by every Republican in the Judiciary Committee, and we’ve got the votes to confirm the justice on the floor of the Senate before the election. And that’s what’s coming.”

As for who that nominee will be, Trump said Monday morning he will announce his decision on Friday or Saturday—out of respect for the late Justice Ginsburg and her upcoming memorial services. Though Judges Barbara Lagoa of the 11th Circuit and Allison Jones Rushing of the 4th Circuit are among the five women who are still under consideration for the seat, Amy Coney Barrett of the Chicago-based 7th Circuit remains the frontrunner on the president’s shortlist. Barrett reportedly met with President Trump at the White House on Monday.

A graduate—and former faculty member—of Notre Dame Law School, Barrett is a favorite among pro-life activists and social conservatives, and she’s incredibly well-connected within Washington’s elite conservative legal circles. Barrett, 48, is married to former prosecutor Jesse Barrett and has seven children. She clerked for Justice Antonin Scalia on the Supreme Court, and she has penned nearly 100 opinions since she was appointed to the 7th Circuit in 2017. But her short time on the federal bench is a cause for concern among some Republicans preferring predictably partisan decisions and fearing another David Souter, nominated by President George H.W. Bush but a justice who went on to become a rather reliably liberal vote on the court.

Barrett’s Catholic faith and pro-life jurisprudence are already a point of contention for Democratic lawmakers, who have for decades warned that conservative appointed justices are dead set on overturning Roe v. Wade. “The conclusion one draws is that the dogma lives loudly within you,” California Sen. Dianne Fenstein said during Barrett’s confirmation hearing in 2017, “and that’s of concern when you come to big issues that large numbers of people have fought for years in this country.” 

Barrett was quick to respond. “I’m being considered for a position on the court of appeals and there would be no opportunity to be a no-vote on Roe,” she said. “And as I said to the committee, I would faithfully apply all Supreme Court precedent.” 

Polls continue to find a Supreme Court fight redounding to the advantage of the Democrats. A Morning Consult survey released Monday found a 12-point week-over-week surge in Democratic voters saying the Supreme Court is “very important” to their voting decision. Republicans got only a 4-point bump. Exactly half of the registered voters reached by Morning Consult said “the winner of the 2020 presidential election” should pick RBG’s replacement, compared to 37 percent who believe President Trump should, regardless of the election outcome. Meanwhile, 12 percent weren’t sure or didn’t have an opinion.

But this electoral price is far from guaranteed; voters’ opinions of the proceedings are far from fully formed. McConnell made clear on Monday that the Senate “will vote on this nomination this year,” notably leaving the exact timing—before or after the election—ambiguous. We’ll likely learn more later today as Republican senators meet as a group for the first time since Ginsburg’s death.

Earlier this month, the Biden campaign reported that the former vice president had raised $364 million during the month of August. It was an eye-popping, record-breaking sum, nearly double the amount any previous campaign had managed to raise in a month (the former record-holder being Barack Obama’s July 2008 haul of $200 million). Biden outstripped President Trump by nine figures even though Trump also blew past Obama’s former record haul in August, raising $210 million himself. 

Still, those numbers came with one small asterisk: As we’ve been saying for ages, the best metric for assessing a campaign’s financial strength isn’t just intake, but cash on hand. Well, those numbers are now in too, and it’s safe to throw that asterisk in the trash. Joe Biden and his affiliated groups are currently sitting on a ludicrous $466 million in the bank, compared with $325 million on hand for the Trump campaign and company. That’s a more than $300 million swing since Biden emerged as the presumptive Democratic nominee in late April, when he was about $187 million behind Trump.

To put an exclamation point on that figure, Biden spent last month spending far more furiously than Trump, to the tune of $130 million compared with the president’s $61 million. At this point, it’s pretty much indisputable: Biden’s financial operation dwarfs Trump’s and will likely continue to do so until Election Day.

We don’t need to spend much time rehashing the circumstances that led us here, except that the Trump campaign’s huge early fundraising lead apparently let them grow flabby. That’s changed since Trump fired his old campaign manager Brad Parscale back in July and replaced him with Bill Stepien, who has since kept a far more parsimonious grip on the campaign checkbook. But while Stepien’s leadership has undoubtedly narrowed the cash-on-hand gap, there’s only so much ground that can be made up when Biden’s raising money faster than any candidate in history. 

One counterpoint is still worth raising, however. Biden’s got the undeniable edge in terms of sheer financial volume, but it remains to be seen whether he’ll get the same per-dollar return on investment that Trump will. The biggest question mark remaining here is Biden’s complete lack of a ground game around the country, as the Democratic nominee has opted to run an almost entirely virtual campaign down the stretch due to the ongoing threat of the COVID-19 pandemic.

Worth Your Time

  • On this date 158 years ago, then-President Abraham Lincoln issued his Preliminary Emancipation Proclamation, announcing that as of the upcoming January, “all persons held as slaves within any State … the people whereof shall then be in rebellion against the United States shall be then, thenceforward, and forever free.” Take two minutes to read the whole thing and reflect on its importance.

  • David joined The Ezra Klein Show yesterday to discuss his new book, and how it compares and contrasts to Klein’s own work on American polarization. The two debate how best to approach politics in this divided era, with David advocating for federalism that effectively lowers the stakes of national elections by letting states go their own ways. Klein, unsurprisingly, agrees on the diagnosis but not the remedy, arguing for an assertive central government to solve the nation’s ills.

  • In his latest installment of ChinaTalk, Jordan Schneider breaks down key concerns regarding the tentative Oracle and Walmart purchase of a stake in TikTok Global, the company that is spun off from ByteDance. The current deal, as laid out, makes no effort to address the app’s content moderation, collection of American’s data, or algorithmic manipulation of political content, he argues. Schneider predicts the deal will implode when senators pressure President Trump to reverse the purchase after recognizing the danger of allowing ByteDance to retain partial ownership. With Trump afraid of looking ‘soft on China,’ Schneider speculates that the president will likely pursue a more favorable buyer. So what comes next? “If Trump says no deal, I’d say there’s a 40% chance it actually sells its business + data + algorithm to someone like Microsoft, and a 60% chance it just ceases operating in the US thanks to Beijing vetoing the type of sale that would make Congress happy.”

  • Ben Smith’s latest New York Times column tells the tale of Jeff Zucker, the president of CNN, who many see as having played a large role in the rise of Donald Trump back in 2015. “The story of Mr. Trump and Mr. Zucker is a kind of Frankenstein tale for the late television age, about a brilliant TV executive who lost control of his creation,” Smith writes, detailing how Zucker gleefully provided minute-by-minute coverage of the Trump campaign in search of sky-high ratings. But now, CNN’s “signature prime-time broadcasts, from Don Lemon and Chris Cuomo, are nightly cris de coeur, featuring monologues about Mr. Trump’s misdeeds, competing with MSNBC for the same enraged American audience.” Smith asks whether Zucker, personally popular at CNN and by all accounts hardworking and committed to his job, is just chasing a new source of ratings; or is he—like a cable-TV Dr. Frankenstein—“willing to dent his network’s nonpartisan brand in order to kill his runaway monster, Mr. Trump.”

Presented Without Comment

Presented Without Comment

Presented Without Comment

Toeing the Company Line

  • Sarah and Andrew have a new edition of The Sweep, focusing on—what else—the politics of filling Ruth Bader Ginsburg’s Supreme Court seat. They discuss the effect the vacancy will have on existing court cases, how the fight over Ginsburg’s seat will change Senate races, and the various strategies open to Trump and Mitch McConnell concerning both when they move for a vote on the nominee, and who that nominee will be.

  • We’re biased, but the latest Advisory Opinions episode was among the best Sarah and David have put out. They walk us through the history of SCOTUS vacancies, reflect on the legendary friendship between Justices Ginsburg and Justice Scalia, and offer some rank punditry about what this SCOTUS vacancy means for the future of our republic. We still don’t know whether the GOP can fill Ginsburg’s seat before the election, but what’s clear is the president will fight tooth and nail to get a nominee through as part of an effort to energize his base. “The more the Democrats threaten him, his brand is that he cannot give in to threats,” Sarah explains. “It’s the ultimate ‘own the libs’ move to fill the Ginsburg seat and enrage the left.”

Let Us Know

For all this talk about campaign cash, have you seen any political ads this cycle that changed your mind about a candidate or a policy? Did an ad you saw make you more likely to vote?

Reporting by Declan Garvey (@declanpgarvey), Andrew Egger (@EggerDC), Charlotte Lawson (@charlotteUVA), Audrey Fahlberg (@FahlOutBerg), James P. Sutton (@jamespsuttonsf), and Steve Hayes (@stephenfhayes).

Photograph by Tom Williams/CQ-Roll Call/Getty Images.