The medical team treating President Trump for COVID-19 at Walter Reed National Military Medical Center said he has improved enough to return to the White House on Monday, but warned he is not yet fully in the clear and declined to provide key details about the president’s condition. “Though he may not entirely be out of the woods yet, the team and I agree that all our evaluations, and more importantly, his clinical status, support the president’s safe return home, where he’ll be surrounded by world-class medical care, 24/7,” Dr. Sean Conley, the White House physician, told reporters outside the facility on Monday afternoon.
CBS News campaign reporter Nicole Sganga reports Mr. Trump continues to be treated with dexamethasone, a powerful steroid recommended for use to treat severe cases of COVID-19 that can carry serious psychological side effects. Conley said the president has not exhibited any of those side effects. He repeatedly declined to provide specifics about the president’s lung condition and the last time he tested negative for the virus, citing federal privacy laws.
Minutes before the briefing with the doctors, the president said on Twitter that he is leaving Walter Reed later in the evening, three days after he was admitted to receive treatment for COVID-19. “I will be leaving the great Walter Reed Medical Center today at 6:30 P.M. Feeling really good!” he wrote on Twitter. “Feeling really good! Don’t be afraid of Covid. Don’t let it dominate your life. We have developed, under the Trump Administration, some really great drugs & knowledge. I feel better than I did 20 years ago!”
The virus has killed more than 210,000 Americans since the pandemic began. The president has received aggressive treatment since testing positive for the coronavirus last week, including a dose on Saturday of a steroid meant to treat severe cases of COVID-19.
FROM THE CANDIDATES
Vice President Mike Pence and second lady Karen Pence both tested negative for the coronavirus on Monday morning. They departed for Salt Lake City, where the vice-presidential debate is set to take place on Wednesday night. Before leaving for Utah, Pence told reporters he spoke Monday with Mr. Trump, who he said “sounded great.” Pence said, “When the president told me that he was headed back to the White House, he told me to head to Utah and we’re looking very much forward to the vice-presidential debate.” The vice president said that the “stakes in this election have never been higher,” and added “I look forward to the opportunity to take our case to the American people.” The vice president did not take questions from reporters in his first on-camera appearance since Mr. Trump tested positive for COVID-19. CBS News campaign reporter Musadiq Bidar reports Pence will kick off “Operation MAGA” on Monday night during a virtual event that will also feature Donald Trump Jr., Lara Trump, and Kimberley Guilfoyle. It is the first official Trump campaign event since Mr. Trump tested positive for COVID-19. The Trump campaign describes “Operation MAGA” as a “full marshalling of top-level surrogates” and campaign coalitions to rally behind President Trump as he recovers from COVID-19. But top-level surrogates routinely campaigned before Mr. Trump was infected with the virus and coalitions like “Women for Trump” have been on bus tours across battleground states for the last few months. Earlier on Monday, CBS News confirmed that Pastor Greg Laurie of Harvest Christian Church in Riverside, California, tested positive for COVD-19. Laurie was at the Prayer March on the National Mall on Saturday, September 26, where Pence also made an appearance. Laurie was also at the Amy Coney Barrett nomination event that same day. In a video post on Facebook, Laurie said he tested positive last Friday and has been in quarantine since then. The Trump campaign announced new details over the weekend for Pence’s return to Arizona on Thursday, headlining a rally in the battleground state following the debate Wednesday with Senator Kamala Harris in neighboring Utah. Mr. Trump had also announced rallies in Arizona this week, before news of his COVID-19 diagnosis. The vice president first floated plans of the stop during his third Arizona visit of the year less than a month ago. Owners Jason and Jane Beck of TYR Tactical, the police and military equipment manufacturer hosting the event, are vocal Trump supporters and donated $2,800 to the president’s campaign over the summer, reports CBS News campaign reporter Alex Tin. “If you’re going to roll for [President Trump] then you need to roll big,” Beck said last month, posting photos of Trump campaign signs adorning the company’s sprawling Phoenix-area facility ahead of a visit later that month by the president’s son Eric Trump. “Let’s all start working together to ‘Make America Great Again’,” added Beck.
Joe Biden on Monday said he is open next week to debating Mr. Trump, who tested positive for COVID-19 last week and was hospitalized over the weekend — if it is deemed safe to do so, CBS News campaign reporter Bo Erickson reports. “If the scientists say that it’s safe and the distances are safe, then I think that’s fine,” Biden told reporters before boarding his plane to campaign in Florida. “I’ll do whatever the experts say is the appropriate thing to do.” The next presidential debate is scheduled for October 15 but the president’s health may require the debate to be rescheduled or canceled. Asked about Mr. Trump’s motorcade trip on Sunday evening to wave at supporters gathered outside of Walter Reed hospital in Maryland, Biden replied, “I’m reluctant to comment on the president’s health, what he’s doing or not doing. I’ll leave that to the doctors.” At one point during the brief Q & A between Biden and his limited traveling press corps, former Second Lady Jill Biden grabbed Biden’s shoulders and physically moved him farther away from the reporters. “I’m sorry,” Biden responded. On Monday Biden is making his second in-person trip to Florida during the general election, focusing this trip in the Miami area. The state is seen as one of the most competitive battlegrounds this election. The CBS News Battleground Tracker poll estimates Biden has a slight lead over Mr. Trump in the state, 50 to 48, well within the margin of error.
Meanwhile, a group of women-led political action committees have pledged $10 million in digital ads to Democratic vice presidential nominee Kamala Harris as she prepares for the first — and only — debate against Vice President Mike Pence. CBS News campaign reporter Tim Perry reports that PACRONYM, which has been running a $75 million anti-Trump effort since 2019, will join Black PAC, Planned Parenthood Votes and EMILY’s List WOMEN VOTE! in committing the $10 million worth of digital ads. In an interview with CBS News, Tara McGowan, the CEO of PACRONYM, a political action committee said, “We have seen some concerning signs of an enthusiasm gap among voters that, frankly, were left behind by Democratic outreach in 2016.” She added, “This program is one of many solutions to make sure that we are not taking these voters for granted and that we are giving them a reason why they should be voting for a Biden- Harris ticket in November.”
Harris, who arrived Friday in Salt Lake City, the sight of Wednesday’s vice presidential debate, spent Monday in debate prep. A former rival Democratic rival, Mayor Pete Buttigieg, and his husband Chasten Buttigieg, were spotted in Harris’ hotel lobby in downtown Salt Lake City Monday morning. Buttigieg has reportedly been tapped to play Vice President Mike Pence during Harris’ debate prep. Campaign officials have declined to comment on those reports. Senator Tim Kaine, the last Democrat to debate Pence in a vice-presidential debate, told CBS News, “as a former professional talk show host, Vice President Pence is a strong communicator who can deliver a line — even a false one — extremely well.” But, Kaine added, “as a former prosecutor, Senator Harris can effectively present evidence in a case. There’s a lot of evidence for how the Trump-Pence Administration has failed the American people, so I have no doubt she’ll do well.”
UP FOR DEBATE
The Trump campaign confirmed to CBS News that Mr. Trump plans to debate former Vice President Joe Biden on October 15 in Miami, Florida. “Yes, it’s the President’s intention to debate,” Trump 2020 Communications Director Tim Murtaugh told CBS News campaign reporter Nicole Sganga. But officials have also shared their concern and consideration of Mr. Trump’s health ahead of the next match up. Director of press communications for the Trump campaign Erin Perrine told Fox News Monday, “At this point the main concern is to make sure the president gets well. We know he wants to be able to have those debates, that exchange of ideas.” Campaign spokesperson Hogan Gidley told Fox News on Monday that he “hopes” the debates will go on as planned. Gidley added, “doctors will dictate a lot of the president’s movements going forward.” Former New York City Mayor Rudy Giuliani, who helped with Mr. Trump’s first debate prep, said to Fox News on Monday that an October 15th debate was “very possible.” The debate advisor to Mr. Trump said that while he did not think debate rules should change ahead of the second contest, moderators might directly just “remind both candidates stay within your two minutes.” In reference to the candidate crossfire at the last debate in Cleveland, Giuliani added, “don’t interrupt. I think they both understand what happened last time.”
Meanwhile, the Biden campaign confirmed to CBS News that the Commission on Presidential Debates has confirmed the use of plexiglass in the VP debate this week.
Mr. Trump’s announcement early Friday morning that he had tested positive for COVID-19 left many of his donors gathered at his last public event at risk of potential exposure to the virus. It also left New Jersey officials scrambling to contact trace attendees and staff, CBS News campaign reporter Nicole Sganga and political unit associate producers Eleanor Watson and Sarah Ewall-Wice report. The governor’s office told CBS News that it received 206 names from the RNC shortly afterward on Friday afternoon, but an official briefed on New Jersey’s contact tracing project noted the GOP’s disclosure was incomplete. According to the official, the only contact information provided by the RNC were the names and emails of attendees — no states, towns or telephone numbers were shared, despite the fact that donors had come from multiple states. For their part, the RNC said that New Jersey officials never followed up to ask for additional information. In an interview with CBS This Morning Monday, New Jersey Governor Phil Murphy described the contact tracing process as “extremely frustrating,” noting attendees at the event were “nationally based, not just in New Jersey.” The governor added, “We’ve done everything and we continue to do everything we can. We need more out on the federal side of this.”
BATTLEGROUNDS IN THE BATTLEGROUNDS
ARIZONA – *NORTHEASTERN ARIZONA*
Nearly 280,000 Arizonans are Native American, more than double the national average. Largest among them in the battleground state is the Navajo Nation, where a little more than 40,000 votes were estimated to have been cast in 2016. These voters have historically proven a key part of the Democratic party’s base in the battleground state, according to CBS News campaign reporter Alex Tin, with precincts across the Navajo Nation – which spans thousands of square miles across northeastern Arizona – casting a majority of their ballots to Hillary Clinton in 2016. From the presidential race to the state’s toss-up Senate fight, both sides of the aisle insist they have fought to campaign aggressively for votes in Indian Country with advertisements and events. The Navajo Nation’s president and vice president both figured prominently at the party conventions this year, delivering remarks at the Democratic and Republican nominating events respectively. And Arizona election officials have touted changes to its own outreach to Native American voters, like adding support for non-standard addresses to its online voter registration portal. But activists warn Native Americans still face steep challenges to voter turnout in the state, from delayed mail delivery to a lack of physical addresses, even before the tribe was ravaged by the COVID-19 pandemic.
Lawyers for Pennsylvania’s top elections official argued Monday that the U.S. Supreme Court should reject a request from state Republicans that it halt a mail ballot deadline extension in Pennsylvania. Attorneys from Pennsylvania’s AG’s office, representing Secretary of the Commonwealth Kathy Boockvar, argued that the U.S. Supreme Court doesn’t have the authority to overrule the Pennsylvania Supreme Court, which granted the extension, on issues of state law. “Applicants engage in a slight of hand,” they wrote. “They attempt to convert a case that hinges upon state law into one that is about the Electors and Elections Clauses of the United States Constitution and federal law.” They also argued that a stay on the state court’s order would “irreparably harm the public by disenfranchising voters suffering under a global pandemic.” Led by Oklahoma, 18 states on Monday also filed an amicus curiae brief asking the court to grant Republicans’ request for a stay on the state court’s order. Their lawyers argue that the Pennsylvania Supreme Court had no right to “alter” the law based on issues in the primary. “Deadlines cannot be judicially rewritten merely because some voters will not act in a timely fashion to comply,” they wrote.
CBS News campaign reporter Zak Hudak reports Pennsylvania’s top elections official is asking the state Supreme Court to use its King’s Bench authority to order that county elections officials cannot reject mail ballot applications or ballots themselves “based on a subjective perception of signature variation.” The request also asks the court to order that third parties, such as poll watchers, cannot challenge signatures on ballots or applications. “Thousands of Pennsylvania voters will be disenfranchised in violation of the Free and Fair Elections Cause if arbitrary signature comparisons and challenges to signature variations are allowed to be used as a basis for rejecting absentee and mail-in ballots,” her lawyers wrote to the court just before midnight Sunday night. In mid-September, Boockvar issued guidance to county election offices that the “the Pennsylvania Election Code does not authorize the county board of elections to set aside returned absentee or mail-in ballots based solely on signature analysis by the county board of elections.” Last week, the Trump campaign asked a federal court judge in Pennsylvania’s Western District to deem Boockvar’s guidance unconstitutional and unnecessary to follow. They argued that Boockvar, a Democrat, is acting to hurt the president’s reelection chances. “Secretary Boockvar continues to issue illegal guidance memos to all 67 Pennsylvania County Boards of Elections promoting defiance of Pennsylvania’s Election Code – all in order to oust a President she does not favor.”
A federal court is hearing arguments late Monday in an 11th hour plea by a prominent Latino advocacy group to extend Arizona’s voter registration deadline – set for Monday, October 5th – over obstacles posed by the state’s coronavirus restrictions, reports CBS News campaign reporter Alex Tin. Mi Familia Vota’s suit prompted a forceful rebuke in filings from Arizona Secretary of State Katie Hobbs, a Democrat, Governor Doug Ducey, a Republican, and the Senate GOP’s campaign arm, who moved to intervene as defendants in the case late Friday.
The Biden campaign in Florida opened its first Victory Center in Duval County on Sunday, the first of multiple locations that will be opened throughout the state this week to serve as a distribution site where supporters can pick up campaign supplies, according to the campaign. The event Sunday featured state and county leaders as the campaign distributed yard signs via drive-thru. CBS News campaign reporter LaCrai Mitchell reports that both the Biden and Trump campaigns are focusing on Duval County this cycle as the county — home to the largest city in the state, Jacksonville — is a battleground within the battleground state of Florida. Both the president and vice president have visited Jacksonville this year and the Trump campaign has hosted multiple MAGA meet-ups in the county.
Ohio Secretary of State Frank LaRose issued a new directive that allows each of Ohio’s county boards of elections to install multiple ballot drop boxes at its office location for voters to return their absentee ballots. The directive also clarifies that the bipartisan election officials may stand outside the county boards of elections office to receive returned absentee ballots from voters. CBS News campaign reporter Jack Turman reports LaRose’s office announced the directive days after a panel of judges in the 10th District Court of Appeals in Ohio ruled that LaRose did not have the legal authority to limit the number of drop boxes per county. The court also determined that the law does not require LaRose to tell the county boards of elections to implement more drop boxes. The directive also comes as Ohio’s voter registration deadlines ends after October 5, with early voting starting in the state on October 6. “Despite predictable partisan politics that attempt to create phony crises, we have kept our eye on the ball and Ohio’s election officials are ready to administer a safe, secure, and accurate election,” LaRose, a Republican, said in a statement. The Ohio Democratic Party, which sued the LaRose over his directive to prohibit more than one ballot drop box at each of the county boards of elections, and voting rights groups were quick to criticize the directive, arguing that the directive does little to increase access for voters. “Frank LaRose pledged publicly that he would allow expanded drop box locations if he were allowed under Ohio law,” Ohio Democratic Party chairman David Pepper said in a statement. “We proved our case, and he lost, showing that drop boxes are permitted in multiple locations in Ohio counties. Now he’s going back on his word with a transparent, cynical ploy.”
Pennsylvania’s online voter services site was down due to an equipment failure from Sunday evening until Monday morning, according to Secretary of the Commonwealth Kathy Boockvar. While the outage kept Pennsylvanians from registering to vote or applying for a mail ballot with the state’s online portal, downloadable copies of those forms remained available online. The outage also did not affect counties’ ability to process those hard copy registrations and applications, according to a release from the State Department. “All data was backed up, as always,” Boockvar said in a statement.
Also in Pennsylvania, CBS News campaign reporter Zak Hudak reports that Senator Pat Toomey, the only Republican politician currently holding statewide office, will not run for reelection in 2022, he announced Monday morning. Toomey, who was also considered a favorite to challenge Governor Tom Wolf that year, also said he would not make a gubernatorial run. The announcement opens up a key Senate seat for Democrats to target and opens the gates for other Pennsylvania Republicans to seek Wolf’s seat. Toomey, who has held federal office in Pennsylvania for a cumulative 18 years, including six years in the House of Representatives, told reporters the reasons for his upcoming retirement from government are “not political, they’re personal.” He said he has long believed there should be term limits, and although he didn’t publicly set a limit to his time in the Senate, he always planned to serve two terms. He has no specific plans other than to work in the private sector and spend more time in Pennsylvania with his family, he said. Read more here.