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As President Trump prepared to return to the White House on Monday after a four-day stay at the hospital, his Democratic rival, Joseph R. Biden Jr., campaigned in Florida, where he expressed hope that the president was recovering but urged Americans not to minimize the threat posed by the coronavirus.
“I hope the president’s recovery is swift and successful, but the nation’s Covid crisis is far, far from over,” Mr. Biden said at a gym in Miami’s Little Havana, where people in a small, socially-distanced crowd were seated at least six feet apart from one another and wore masks.
Mr. Biden once again urged Mr. Trump — who has sent lukewarm-to-mixed signals on the importance of wearing masks, and who had mocked the vice president at the debate just last week for wearing masks — to embrace universal masking, saying it would save lives.
“Since the president was in the hospital, since Friday, more than 100,000 more people have been diagnosed with Covid,” Mr. Biden said, according to a pool report. “Cases and deaths are climbing in many states.”
The president’s hospitalization after testing positive for the coronavirus — and the virus’s spread through his administration and orbit — brought the pandemic back to the center of the presidential campaign.
Earlier, as he prepared to leave Delaware on Monday morning, Mr. Biden had declined to weigh in on Mr. Trump’s decision to briefly leave Walter Reed National Military Medical Center on Sunday evening to drive past his supporters, an excursion that may have endangered members of his security detail and that runs counter to health guidelines, which call for sick people to isolate.
“I’ll leave that to the docs to talk about,” a masked Mr. Biden told reporters.
Asked what precautions he would like to see for the next presidential debate, which is scheduled for Oct. 15 in Miami, Mr. Biden said that he would follow the advice of experts. “Listen to the science,” he said.
“I’ll do whatever the experts say is the appropriate thing to do,” he said. At one point, his wife, Jill Biden, physically pulled Mr. Biden a few feet back when he got too close to the news media.
Mr. Biden will make a concerted push in the Sun Belt this week, as his rival remains off the campaign trail.
On Monday afternoon, Mr. Biden visited the Little Haiti Cultural Center in Miami, where he appealed to South Florida’s Haitian-American community. “The Haitian community itself can determine the outcome of this election,” he said.
Later Monday, he was scheduled to appear at an NBC News town hall. After his visit to Florida on Monday, he plans to make a joint appearance in Arizona with his running mate, Senator Kamala Harris, later in the week.
The trips are a telling shift in geographic focus for Mr. Biden, who has largely concentrated his travel in the Midwest so far, and it comes as polls show that the traditionally Republican belt of states stretching from North Carolina down to Florida and across the South to Texas and Arizona has become increasingly competitive in the campaign.
President Trump’s exhortation “Don’t be afraid of Covid” was denounced by Democrats and others who criticized him for taking a dismissive tone about a disease that has killed more than 200,000 Americans, sickened more than 7.4 million and upended daily life across the country.
“Don’t be afraid of Covid,” Mr. Trump wrote on Twitter as he announced his plan to leave Walter Reed National Military Medical Center in Bethesda, Md., where he was brought by helicopter on Friday after testing positive for the coronavirus. “Don’t let it dominate your life.”
His statement quickly resonated in the political world, with some Democrats denouncing it as cavalier, saying it implicitly suggested that those who died after contracting the virus were weak. And several warned that minimizing the dangers posed by a virus that is spreading across the country — and the highest levels of government — sent a dangerous message at a moment health officials are pleading with the public to take precautions, wear masks and practice social distancing.
“‘Don’t be afraid of Covid’ is an evil thing to say to those of us who lost our loved ones to Covid 19,” Representative Ilhan Omar, a Democratic congresswoman from Minnesota whose father died from complications of Covid-19, wrote on Twitter. “This man is unfit to be President, he lacks the compassion and humanity it takes to lead our country.”
Carlos del Rio, an infectious disease expert at Emory University in Atlanta, responded to the president’s post with one of his own: “Are you telling the relatives of 210,000 Americans who have died of #COVID19 not to be afraid? Please tell everyone the truth once and for all, this is serious & #WearAMask You didn’t and got infected.”
Are you telling the relatives of 210,000 Americans who have died of #COVID19 not to be afraid? Please tell everyone the truth once and for all, this is serious & #WearAMask You didn’t and got infected.
— Carlos del Rio (@CarlosdelRio7) October 5, 2020
Julián Castro, a former secretary of the Department of Housing and Urban Development, wrote: “More than 200,000 American lives have been lost to Covid-19. The president himself and countless staff have been infected. Yet, nine months into the pandemic, the president’s advice is ‘don’t be afraid of Covid.’”
Several Republicans embraced Mr. Trump’s dismissive message. Senator Kelly Loeffler, a Georgia Republican, tweeted “COVID stood NO chance against @realDonaldTrump” and shared a crudely doctored video of the president in a wresting match with the virus. And Representative Matt Gaetz of Florida posted: “President Trump won’t have to recover from COVID. COVID will have to recover from President Trump.”
Many Democrats noted that Mr. Trump has access to better health care than most Americans. Senator Sherrod Brown, an Ohio Democrat, reacted to the president’s tweet by posting “tell that to all the Americans who – unlike you – DON’T have access to the best healthcare in the world, funded entirely by taxpayers.”
Senator Chris Murphy of Connecticut went further, noting reports showing that Mr. Trump had paid little or no federal income tax in recent years. “Don’t be afraid, says the guy with a team of a dozen doctors, access to experimental treatments that no one else gets, a four room hospital suite, who lives in a house with top doctors on site 24/7,” he wrote on Twitter. “All of which is provided to him for free because he refuses to pay taxes.”
“In all seriousness, the President’s incompetence has already gotten 200,000 killed,” he added. “The consequences of this tweet will probably kill a couple thousand more. Just bone chilling.”
The doctor overseeing President Trump’s care, Dr. Sean P. Conley, was asked about the president’s tweet at a news conference on Monday afternoon at Walter Reed. “I’m not going to get into what the president says,” he said at the briefing, where he had also noted that the president was not “out of the woods yet” in his fight against Covid-19.
When Vice President Mike Pence and Senator Kamala Harris of California meet for the vice-presidential debate on Wednesday in Salt Lake City, the two will be separated by plexiglass dividers, according to a person familiar with discussions between the campaigns and the Commission on Presidential Debates.
The dividers are intended as an extra safety precaution to prevent any transmission of the coronavirus, an idea that grew out of discussions between the debate commission, the Cleveland Clinic, which is advising on health and safety precautions,and the two campaigns.
A virtual event is also under consideration for the scheduled town hall-style debate on Oct. 15 between President Trump and Joseph R. Biden Jr., according to two people familiar with the commission’s deliberations.
Much remains unknown about that second presidential debate, including if Mr. Trump, who has contracted the coronavirus, would be well enough to attend, and if Mr. Biden’s team would be comfortable with the former vice president sharing an indoor stage with a president who has been contagious.
Beaming in the candidates remotely is one option being discussed by members of the Debate Commission, but both people said the conversations were still preliminary and that the commission is unlikely to finalize its plans until after this week’s vice-presidential event is completed.
The commission had also planned to issue changes to its debate format in the aftermath of last week’s Cleveland debate, where Mr. Trump repeatedly interrupted Mr. Biden and the moderator, Chris Wallace of Fox News.
A decision on those changes is likely to be delayed because of Mr. Trump’s positive test for the virus. But the option of muting a candidate’s microphones is unlikely to be implemented in the upcoming debates, one of the people said.
Mr. Trump’s entourage, including several members of his immediate family, removed their masks in the Cleveland debate hall, flouting the safety protocols laid down by the Debate Commission.
A spokeswoman for the debate commission did not respond to a request for comment.
The Trump campaign is hoping the nation will rally around the ailing president as he battles the coronavirus. But the first polls conducted since the president’s announcement of his diagnosis early Friday did not seem to show a sympathy bounce.
Polls by Ipsos/Reuters and YouGov/Yahoo conducted on Friday and Saturday found that most Americans feel the president hadn’t been taking the coronavirus seriously, in terms of policy or personal conduct, and that he could have avoided getting sick.
Both polls also showed Joseph R. Biden Jr. maintaining his national lead over Mr. Trump. The Ipsos/Reuters poll showed Mr. Biden up by 10 percentage points — one point higher than in its last several national polls, including one from after last Tuesday’s first presidential debate.
The poll found that nearly two-thirds of Americans, including half of Republicans, think Mr. Trump could have avoided the virus if he had taken it more seriously.
The YouGov/Yahoo poll found Mr. Biden up by eight points, a three-point improvement for Mr. Biden compared with the YouGov/Yahoo poll conducted immediately before the debate.
It’s still early to say for sure how the president’s diagnosis will affect the race, but a clearer sense of how the first presidential debate moved voter sentiment is emerging, and it’s not encouraging for the president.
Polls by The New York Times/Siena College and CBS/YouGov both found Mr. Biden with a seven-point lead in Pennsylvania, a critically important state for Mr. Biden that Mr. Trump carried by less than three-quarters of a percentage point in 2016.
|Pollster||Margin||Diff. from ’16 result|
New York Times/Siena College
Sept. 30-Oct. 2, 706 L.V.
Sept. 30-Oct. 2, 1,187 L.V.
New York Times/Siena College
Sept. 25-27, 711 L.V.
Sept. 24-26, 774 L.V.
ABC News/The Washington Post
Sept. 21-26, 568 L.V.
Redfield & Wilton Strategies
Sept. 23-25, 1,015 L.V.
Fox News/Beacon Research/Shaw & Co. Research
Sept. 20-23, 856 L.V.
Garin-Hart-Yang (Dem. pollster)
Sept. 17-19, 400 L.V.
The state is such an important indicator that a big lead for Mr. Biden in Pennsylvania is tantamount to a big lead over all, while a tight race in the state all but translates to a close race over all — regardless of what the national polls say.
The polls are behind the news, and they will be for a while, but what we’ve seen so far is pretty consistent with what we have been seeing for a while: Mr. Biden is ahead, and the president needs to make up ground.
President Trump’s hospitalization with the coronavirus has catapulted this week’s vice-presidential debate into the spotlight to an extraordinary degree, putting pressure on Vice President Mike Pence and Senator Kamala Harris to use this forum to reassure an anxious public they are prepared and qualified to step in as president.
For Mr. Pence, Wednesday’s debate will most likely compel him to account for the administration’s record on a virus that has now infected 7.4 million Americans and answer for his own stewardship as chairman of the federal coronavirus task force. For Ms. Harris, a former prosecutor, the debate is a chance to show that she is capable of being president in a national emergency, as well as to demonstrate that she can challenge the Trump record on Covid-19 without seeming overly aggressive against an ailing president.
The vice-presidential candidates bring markedly different styles to the event. Mr. Pence in debates has proved to be a calm and disciplined figure, difficult to fluster and, given his easy bearing, unexpectedly adept at going on the attack.
He speaks quickly, rarely leaving a space between sentences for an opponent to jump in. “He is a very consistent, smooth, regulated debater,” said John D. Podesta, who was Hillary Clinton’s campaign chairman in 2016. “His experience as a radio host taught him to be well prepared. He’ll be the anti-Trump in this debate. It will be the opposite of what you saw last Tuesday.”
Ms. Harris has proved to be an intense and effective interlocutor as a member of the Senate Judiciary Committee. She raised her stock with Democrats with her aggressive questioning of, among other officials, William P. Barr, the attorney general.
Jeff Weaver, a senior adviser to Senator Bernie Sanders, called her a strong debater. “Because of her prosecutorial background,” he said, “she is someone who is good at mastering presentation like you would do in a courtroom.”
“She is better on offense,” Mr. Weaver added. “When she is on offense, she is better scoring points than in a defense.”
As President Trump prepared to return to the White House on Monday after spending three nights at Walter Reed National Military Medical Center, his physician, Dr. Sean P. Conley, said the president was not “out of the woods yet” in his fight against Covid-19.
“Over the past 24 hours, the president has continued to improve,” Dr. Conley said in announcing that Mr. Trump would return to the White House, where he will receive round-the-clock care. “He’s met or exceeded all standard hospital discharge criteria.”
Yet the full picture of the president’s health remained unclear as Mr. Trump’s doctors evaded some key questions about his condition, including his lung function and the date of his last negative coronavirus test. They said that he had received a third dose of the antiviral drug remdesivir, and that he has continued to take dexamethasone, a steroid drug that has been shown to be beneficial to patients who are very sick with Covid-19.
The doctors’ remarks came after Mr. Trump tweeted that he would be returning at 6:30 p.m. to the White House, which has a medical suite of its own. In doing so, as he has throughout the pandemic, he downplayed the seriousness of a virus that has killed more than 209,000 people in the United States, writing in his post, “Don’t be afraid of Covid. Don’t let it dominate your life.”
Amid questions about whether Mr. Trump could relocate to the White House without endangering himself and others came a reminder that the virus may still be spreading through the West Wing and beyond: Mr. Trump’s press secretary, Kayleigh McEnany, announced that she, too, had tested positive and would be isolating. Ms. McEnany, who said she had previously tested negative several times, had spoken briefly to reporters outside the White House on Sunday. She did not wear a mask.
Two more members of the press team, Karoline Leavitt and Chad Gilmartin, who is Ms. McEnany’s relative, also tested positive but learned about their diagnosis before Ms. McEnany, according to two people familiar with the diagnosis.
Mr. Trump pushed to be discharged earlier on Sunday, according to people familiar with the events, looking to show the country and the world that he is functional and not bedridden. He posted videos on Twitter on Saturday and Sunday in which he looked and sounded run-down but spoke fairly normally.
But Mr. Trump’s doctors did not favor him returning to the White House on Sunday. Instead, a decision was made to allow Mr. Trump, who is still infectious, to leave briefly so he could be driven past crowds of supporters outside the hospital — an excursion that may have endangered hospital staff and members of his security detail and that runs counter to health guidelines, which call for sick people to isolate.
The announcement that he was returning to the White House was a dramatic turn of events given that just a day earlier, his medical team had presented mixed messages about his condition, saying that the president was feeling well but also revealing that he had been prescribed the steroid dexamethasone, which is typically not used unless someone needs mechanical ventilation or supplemental oxygen.
Some medical experts said on Monday that, given Mr. Trump’s risk factors — he is 74, male and overweight — that he should be closely watched for at least the first week of his infection, given that some patients quickly deteriorate several days into their illness.
As President Trump’s re-election campaign shifts to accommodate a candidate who is sidelined by the coronavirus, Mr. Trump’s family members are trying to fill the holes he has left.
To that end, his daughter and senior adviser, Ivanka Trump, is planning to serve in his place at two virtual fund-raisers on Tuesday. Later this week, she will hold a virtual campaign event.
Ms. Trump is still in quarantine after being part of the ring of people exposed to her father, to the senior White House adviser Hope Hicks, and others who have contracted the coronavirus. She is being tested daily and received another negative result on Monday.
But she is likely to become a more visible presence in the remaining days of the campaign.
Ms. Trump’s efforts are part of an “Operation MAGA” that is being rolled out by the Trump campaign to try to keep up a sense of forward movement while the president remains off the campaign trail.
She has been among the most requested surrogates to appear on behalf of her father, and the campaign has seen opportunities to get the Trump name into local news coverage of events by having Ms. Trump or her brothers Donald Trump Jr. and Eric Trump hold events in battleground states.
Before the virus outbreak at the White House temporarily halted campaign events, Ms. Trump had made several stops in key states on behalf of her father.
Carolina Hurley, a spokeswoman for Ms. Trump at the White House, said that she “takes this pandemic seriously, rigorously adhering to best practices including always wearing a mask when unable to maintain social distance and urging others to follow suit.”
Ms. Trump was photographed taking off her mask in the debate hall last Tuesday when her father faced off against former Vice President Joseph R. Biden Jr., at a debate co-hosted by the Cleveland Clinic. Other members of the Trump family did the same, drawing widespread criticism for not abiding by the rules imposed on those sitting in the debate hall.
Joseph R. Biden Jr. has established a steady lead over President Trump in Arizona, a traditionally Republican but fast-changing state that is tilting increasingly Democratic, a New York Times-Siena College poll found.
Mr. Biden leads Mr. Trump 49 percent to 41 percent there, with just 6 percent of likely voters saying they were undecided, according to the survey, which was taken before and after the president announced that he had tested positive for the coronavirus. The poll has a margin of error of 4.2 percentage points.
The results are essentially unchanged from a Times-Siena poll in mid-September that found Mr. Biden leading by nine points in Arizona.
With Arizona beginning early voting and sending out mail ballots this week, Mr. Trump is running out of time to improve his standing in a state he carried by 3.5 points in 2016 and that last supported a Democrat for president in 1996.
Mr. Biden is being propelled by support from women, younger voters and Hispanic voters, a coalition of the ascendant constituencies reshaping Arizona politics.
Mr. Biden leads among women by 18 points and trails Mr. Trump by only two points among men. Among likely Hispanic voters, who are expected to make up about 20 percent of Arizona’s electorate, Mr. Biden is overwhelming the president, capturing 65 percent to Mr. Trump’s 27 percent.
The G.O.P.’s challenge in Arizona this year runs beyond the presidential race. The retired astronaut Mark Kelly, a Democrat, is leading Senator Martha McSally, a Republican, 50 percent to 39 percent in the Times-Siena poll, a slightly larger advantage than in last month’s survey, where he held an eight-point lead.
The same constituencies lifting Mr. Biden are also propelling Mr. Kelly.
And both Democrats are benefiting from the alienation some more moderate Arizona Republicans feel toward the hard-line version of the party under Mr. Trump.
Mr. Biden and Mr. Kelly are winning far more registered Republicans — 9 percent and 12 percent — than Mr. Trump and Ms. McSally are capturing registered Democrats.
Mark Kelly, the former astronaut trying to unseat the Republican senator Martha McSally in Arizona, is one of the best-funded Democratic challengers in the nation. His latest ad uses an unusual narrator — Ms. McSally’s colleague, the Democratic senator Kyrsten Sinema — to push back on Ms. McSally’s attacks.
There was once something of a code in the United States Senate that senators would not actively campaign against others from the same state. No longer. In the new ad, Ms. Sinema accuses Ms. McSally of being willing to “say anything to get elected.”
But first, the back story.
In 2018, Ms. Sinema narrowly defeated Ms. McSally for an open Senate seat. Soon after, another vacancy opened with the resignation of the interim replacement for the late Senator John McCain, and the Republican governor, Doug Ducey, tapped Ms. McSally even though she had just lost.
The bitterness from 2018 apparently remains.
“Her false attacks against me were desperate and over the top. Now she’s doing the same to Mark Kelly,” Ms Sinema says in the new Kelly ad.
Ms. Sinema goes on to say that “Martha’s worst lies” are about health care and her vote to “eliminate protections for pre-existing health conditions,” a popular talking point for Democrats.
Ms. McSally has stated in her own advertising, “Of course, I will always protect those with pre-existing conditions” but Politifact ruled that claim “false.” Ms. McSally, in the House and Senate, has supported efforts to repeal and replace the Affordable Care Act, which enshrined coverage for pre-existing conditions.
More recently, Ms. McSally has modulated her position, joining other vulnerable Republicans in backing a measure to bar the Justice Department from supporting a lawsuit seeking to repeal the law.
Where It’s Running
The ad began airing over the weekend in Arizona’s two largest media markets, Phoenix and Tucson, with more than $100,000 in airings in the first two days.
Health care — and in particular Republican support for repealing the protections of the Affordable Care Act — has been a central feature of political ads from coast to coast, and in Arizona the message is being delivered by narrator who has a history with the incumbent.
Two senior House Democrats are demanding that the State Department hand over any documents showing that it sought to ensure that speeches by Secretary of State Mike Pompeo in three politically competitive states were legal or otherwise appropriate.
Over the last two weeks, Mr. Pompeo has spoken at a Baptist megachurch in Texas and at the Wisconsin state capitol; on Saturday, he addressed Florida conservatives at a remote live videoconference.
Mr. Pompeo has said he was making the appearances because “I want the American people to know what their State Department is doing for them,” but he also urged the congregation in Plano, Texas, to vote on Nov. 3.
In a letter dated Monday, the Democratic Representatives Eliot L. Engel of New York and Joaquin Castro of Texas noted that past secretaries of state have avoided even appearing to participate in electioneering, and questioned whether Mr. Pompeo’s travel was a legal use of taxpayer-funded official travel.
“It is concerning that the secretary is suddenly crisscrossing the country at taxpayers’ expense to speak with state legislators and private groups and that these events appear to be increasing in frequency as the Nov. 3 election approaches,” wrote Mr. Engel, chairman of the House Foreign Affairs Committee, and Mr. Castro, who heads the House oversight and investigations panel.
Beyond documents showing that the department had sought legal guidance about the speeches, the two Democrats also asked for any records between the State Department and the White House showing that Mr. Pompeo was helping President Trump’s re-election campaign. The documents are due Oct. 12.
Mr. Engel and Mr. Castro are already investigating whether Mr. Pompeo violated federal laws prohibiting government employees from politicking while on the job when he addressed the Republican National Convention while on an official diplomatic visit to Jerusalem.
The State Department said Monday that it was considering how to respond to the lawmakers’ request.
“The department takes all congressional oversight seriously, though the unilateral characterization of official travel as ‘political trips’ seems to reveal a less than serious tone to this oversight request,” the statement said.
Election officials opened 21 satellite voting sites on Monday in Detroit, where election headquarters and city hall have been open for absentee voting for the past 10 days. The new sites, set up across the city, allow voters to pick up or drop off absentee ballots.
A handful of communities around the state have opened additional satellite offices for absentee voting, but Detroit’s effort, which also includes 30 ballot drop boxes around the city, is the largest effort in Michigan.
The number of people who have requested absentee ballots — more than 2.7 million, according to Michigan’s secretary of state, Jocelyn Benson — has far exceeded the 1.1 million people who voted absentee in 2016. More than 380,000 people have already returned their absentee ballots.
On Monday, Michelle and Robert Horton arrived and said it was their first time voting absentee.
“We don’t like the way things have been going and we think that somebody new on the ballot can bring peace,” Ms. Horton, 56, said outside the Northwest Activities Center in Detroit, where more than 100 people used the drop box outside the center to turn in their ballots that morning.
Mr. Horton, 62, said the coronavirus was the most important issue for him, “and we have a president who is just not serious about it.”
Local clerks, who opened their offices for absentee voting on Sept. 24, are on track to send out 3 million absentee ballots to Michigan voters this year, Ms. Benson said. It is the first presidential election cycle that any Michigan voter can choose that option.
In 2016, a total of 4.8 million votes were cast in the state. This year, most election experts are expecting that number to exceed 5 million.
Betty Rice, 78, of Detroit, a retired autoworker, said she had noticed that her mail delivery has sometimes been slowed by as much as a couple of weeks this year. So she did not trust the United States Postal Service to deliver her ballot.
“I want to make sure my vote is counted and it’s safer to drop it off here,” she said after leaving her ballot with the city’s election workers. “A change has got to come. It can’t stay the way it is.”
Many voting rules have changed this year because of the pandemic, making it harder than usual to figure out how to cast your ballot. So we did the work for you, in hopes of helping make sure your vote is counted.
Senator Patrick J. Toomey, a Pennsylvania Republican, will not seek re-election in 2022, vacating a battleground-state race more than two years before he leaves office.
At a news conference on Monday in Bethlehem, Pa., Mr. Toomey, 58, said that he had always favored term limits and that he would return to the private sector after completing his second term in the Senate.
Mr. Toomey, who had been expected to be a top target of Democrats, also ruled out a run for governor in 2022.
“Representing the people of Pennsylvania, this big, beautiful, complicated, diverse state, has been an extraordinary, amazing honor,” Mr. Toomey said. “It still is. It’s been, by far, the highlight of my professional life.”
Joined by his wife and three children, he said that his decision to leave the Senate was for personal reasons, not because of the political climate. He also reaffirmed his support for President Trump, whose political fortunes have been intertwined with the state of Pennsylvania.
“I hope to be serving these last two years with President Donald Trump having been re-elected,” Mr. Toomey said.
The Philadelphia Inquirer first reported the news of Mr. Toomey’s decision on Sunday.
Mr. Toomey’s decision to not seek re-election complicates what was already shaping up to be a tough 2022 election map for Republicans. Along with the now-open seat in Pennsylvania, the party will be defending potentially competitive seats in Florida, Iowa, North Carolina, Ohio and Wisconsin — all battlegrounds in the current presidential campaign.
Democrats will be defending far fewer likely competitive seats — in Colorado, New Hampshire and Nevada. The winner of Arizona’s 2020 Senate race to complete the remainder of the late Senator John McCain’s term, between Senator Martha McSally, a Republican, and Mark Kelly, a Democrat, also will be up for re-election to a full six-year term in 2022.
The timing of Mr. Toomey’s announcement, one month before the 2020 general election that has consumed political attention in Pennsylvania, came as a surprise.
“It takes away our best candidate,” Rob Gleason, a former chairman of the Pennsylvania Republican Party, said of Mr. Toomey’s decision. “It throws it pretty wide open for sure.”
A short-handed Supreme Court — driven from its courtroom by the pandemic, grieving over the loss of a colleague and awaiting the outcome of a divisive confirmation battle — returns to the virtual bench today to start a term that presents Chief Justice John G. Roberts Jr. with a daunting test.
“The chief’s leadership of the court, which just a few weeks ago appeared to be at its zenith, is now in peril,” said Richard J. Lazarus, a law professor at Harvard who has taught courses on the Supreme Court with Chief Justice Roberts. “An addition of yet another very conservative justice could quickly eliminate the chief’s ability to steer the court toward moderation.”
The court will again hear arguments by telephone, starting with a timely case on the role of partisanship in judging, a subject that will also figure in Senate hearings on the Supreme Court nomination of Judge Amy Coney Barrett, which are scheduled to start a week from Monday. President Trump and Senate Republicans have been working hard to speed her path to the seat left vacant by the death of Justice Ruth Bader Ginsburg.
A court that includes Judge Barrett would thrust Chief Justice Roberts from his spot at the court’s ideological center and empower Mr. Trump’s three appointees — Judge Barrett, and Justices Neil M. Gorsuch and Brett M. Kavanaugh, said Lee Epstein, a law professor and political scientist at Washington University in St. Louis.
If Judge Barrett is confirmed before Election Day, she is expected to participate in the two biggest arguments on the docket so far: the latest challenge to the Affordable Care Act and a clash between claims of religious freedom and gay rights in the context of foster care.
Justice Ginsburg would almost certainly have voted to uphold the health care law and government programs that prohibit discrimination against gay couples. Judge Barrett’s votes in those cases could provide a telling early sense of how her appointment could shift the direction of the court.
The term that ended in July included a few liberal surprises in cases on abortion, immigration and L.G.B.T. rights. It also included the rejection of Mr. Trump’s categorical claims that he could defy subpoenas for his financial returns, and a string of victories for religious groups. Chief Justice Roberts was in the majority in all of those cases, and he dissented only twice in argued cases in the entire term.
DALTON, Ga. — Kelly Loeffler is not just a U.S. senator and a successful businesswoman. She is also one of the social doyennes of Buckhead, the Atlanta neighborhood of the wealthy and aspiring rich, where she has often thrown open the gates of her $10.5 million European-style manse, known as Descante, for charity fund-raisers.
The role requires maintaining a certain unruffled poise. So it was impossible to know what Ms. Loeffler was thinking as she rolled up to a brewpub in Dalton, Ga., in late August for a campaign event and was greeted by Marjorie Taylor Greene, a fellow Republican who had just won a House primary after promoting the QAnon conspiracy theory and making offensive remarks about Black people, Jews and Muslims.
Ms. Loeffler and Ms. Greene exchanged pleasant chitchat near the front door. Later, Ms. Loeffler, who was appointed to her seat in December and must win an upcoming special election to keep it, grabbed a microphone and talked about finishing the wall on the Mexican border, the “fake news” that would never intimidate her and the “dangerous Marxist movement called the Black Lives Matter political organization.”
A reporter asked Ms. Loeffler whether she supported Ms. Greene, and whether she denounced QAnon.
“Marjorie is fighting to defeat socialism; that’s what I’m focused on,” Ms. Loeffler said, adding, “I just thank her for coming out.”
It is a long way from hosting soirees at Descante to joining forces with a right-wing conspiracy theorist at a beer hall. But it is a journey that Ms. Loeffler has undertaken in earnest as she seeks to conform to the tastes of Donald Trump’s Republican Party — just one of the many establishment Republicans who have embraced Trumpism in recent years.
For Ms. Loeffler, a political newcomer, the journey has meant breaking with old allies, picking new fights and struggling to explain away a life before politics when she occasionally gave money to Democrats, like former Senator Tom Harkin of Iowa, and rubbed elbows with Stacey Abrams, the Democrat who ran for Georgia governor in 2018.
Her harsh criticism of the Black Lives Matter movement has run afoul of a longstanding convention in her adopted hometown, sometimes referred to as the Atlanta Way, in which the white corporate class has cultivated a level of solidarity with the city’s African-American leaders and civil rights movement.
In and around Buckhead, a version of the same question has been discreetly raised among some members of the senator’s social circle: What happened to Kelly Loeffler?