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Power Up: A VP debate for the times: Pence and Harris face off as White House coronavirus outbreak expands

All this makes the stakes especially high for Vice President Pence, 61, and Sen. Kamala Harris, 55, who will face off tonight for the first time to defend the policies and records of their candidates. These are some key measures of success for both sides, according to sources close to both campaigns: 

Can Pence spin the White House coronavirus outbreak that infected at least 18 people in contact with Trump? 

Trump’s No. 2 – and head of the White House coronavirus task force – will almost certainly be forced to address the outbreak that’s ensnared the president, along with the administration’s handling of the pandemic that has killed nearly 210,000 people in the United States. “Pence’s challenge is to explain what happened in the last few days and defend it,a Trump campaign source told Power Up.

  • You wonder why [Trump’s] numbers with seniors are hurting? You have to show you care,” the source said. “There’s probably a way to get them back because they probably don’t want to vote for Biden but they want Trump to acknowledge that he gets it.”
  • Still, some questions could be nearly impossible for Pence to answer – namely, the potential exposure of Trump’s supporters: “I can basically defend anything about the White House and coronavirus except for them allowing Trump to go to Bedminster – I’m sorry but there is no good spin on that specific point,” the source added.
  • Trump mingled with more than 200 people at his New Jersey golf club last Thursday, hours before he tested positive – and after knowing he was exposed to the virus.

Will Pence – and the Trump team – take more safety precautions at the debate this time? 

Trump’s family was criticized for taking off their masks at least week’s presidential debate. Now that six of the eight members of Trump’s debate prep team have tested positive so far, including former New Jersey Gov. Chris Christie and campaign manager Bill Stepien, a public show of masks and distancing could go a long way to show the White House takes the virus seriously. 

  • Yet Pence’s team fought hard against the wall of plexiglass that will divide the candidates on the Salt Lake City debate stage – and traveled to the debate yesterday with his spokeswoman Katie Miller whose husband, top White House aide Stephen Miller, tested positive for coronavirus last night.

Making things more complicated: Questions about whether Pence himself is at risk are already taking center stage. Pence’s doctor released a statement that the vice president’s coronavirus PCR test came out negative yesterday afternoon and therefore is “encouraged to go about his normal activities and does not need to quarantine.” 

Pence’s clean up of Trump’s coronavirus messaging could be critical on the campaign trail: Trump’s advisers, staffers, and allies see the president’s response to his own diagnosis “as a missed opportunity,” our colleagues Ashley Parker and Josh Dawsey report. “Some had hoped that he would emerge from his hospital stay slightly humbled, with a newfound display of seriousness and empathy, and would receive a boost of public sympathy.” 

  • “But so far, that has not happened. Internal Republican polling has consistently shown that the coronavirus — and not taking it seriously enough — remains the president’s electoral albatross. They believe it has caused the president to lose support among senior citizens and suburban women, both key voting blocs.”
  • “Whether you believe in coronavirus or not, wearing a mask is not a partisan thing,” a source close to the White House told Power Up. “Just wear a mask. The polling has been consistent – Americans support wearing masks.

Will Pence’s more measured style win over voters skeptical of Trump? 

If there is one source of comfort for Republicans, it’s that Pence is notoriously well prepared – unlike his running mate. Trump campaign sources tell Power Up that they hope Pence’s cooler demeanor will help reel back in Republicans who were turned off by Trump’s performance in the first debate, which one described as that of a “crazed angry person.”

This is critical in the final stretch: “New polling indicated that Biden is extending his lead nationally and in key battleground states, with voters turned off by Trump’s combative debate style, worried that he is not doing enough to combat the pandemic and saying that they prefer Biden’s milder temperament,” our colleagues Matt Viser and Sean Sullivan report. ”The week also brought a dramatic shift in campaign resources, with the Biden campaign injecting $8 million in new ads into key states — with half of that money going into Florida, Arizona and Texas, three states Trump won in 2016.” 

Can Harris toe the line between criticizing the administration – and not fall prey to sexist stereotypes? 

Harris is expected to emphasize the “failures of leadership by the Trump-Pence administration but avoid personal attacks against Trump, as Biden has done since the president was hospitalized for the virus, according to a campaign aide who wasn’t authorized to discuss debate planning publicly and spoke on condition of anonymity,” according to the Associated Press’s Steve People’s, Kathleen Ronayne, and Jill Colvin. 

Harris’s team wants the former California attorney general to adjust her debating style given Pence’s calm and collected temperament. 

  • Buzzfeed’s Molly Hensley-Clancy and Ruby Cramer report that as a Black woman, Harris will have a harder time deploying the same strategy that Biden used to deride and take on Trump: “Harris’s team has shaped a strategy in part around the reality that she is likely to be perceived differently than the white male candidate standing opposite her. Aides have reviewed studies — including those by the Barbara Lee Family Foundation — about how women candidates pay a high price for negativity and can be harshly punished by voters over issues of honesty, a Biden aide said.”
  • The upshot: “For that reason, a campaign aide said, Harris likely won’t take on the role of fact-checking Pence, or try to confront him frequently over falsehoods.”
  • Harris and her team are weighing, too, the question of how to deal onstage with stereotypes that paint women, and especially Black women, as angry and overly emotional. They are especially aware of how that dynamic could play out with Pence, who is so even-tempered that, in his first vice presidential debate in 2016, he made the mild Sen. Tim Kaine look aggressive.” 

Can Harris prove she backs Biden and his decades-long record – after litigating it throughout the primary? 

Harris’s primary attacks on Biden’s controversial history on busing for school integration and past work with segregationist senators led to some criticism from Democrats about choosing her as the VP. “It’s important for any VP running mate to back up the top of the ticket,” a Biden surrogate told Power Up. “But because of her history against Joe, she especially needs to show she’s loyal and has his back.”  

  • The concern: There’s a “history of VP candidates insufficiently coming to the defense” of their running mates, the surrogate added, pointing to Joe Lieberman in 2000, John Edwards in 2004, and Sarah Palin in 2008. “It was felt that Palin was more about herself than promoting [the late Sen. John] McCain. So I certainly hope Kamala doesn’t repeat this history.”
  • Could loyalty be an opening for Pence?: “Pence is a lot more experienced at defending Trump than Kamala is at defending Biden’s 47 year record in Washington,” said the source close to the Trump White House.
  • How she’s prepping: Harris “has been particularly focused on mastering Mr. Biden’s policies, which at times have diverged from her own, as well as Mr. Pence’s and Mr. Trump’s to perfect her lines of attack. Her preparations have been overseen by Karen Dunn, a lawyer who helped lead debate prep for Mrs. Clinton and former President Barack Obama,” per the New York Times’s Sydney Ember and Lisa Lerer.  

Can Harris meet the left’s high expectations for her debate performance? 

Harris, a former prosecutor and talented debater, had her primary breakout moment by taking on Biden directly in a debate. While she is expected to use tonight’s debate stage to prosecute the Trump administration’s handling of the coronavirus pandemic, the campaign is already trying to downplay expectations for her performance. 

  • “With so much at stake, aides and former advisers have for weeks tried to lower the bar by noting Ms. Harris’s uneven debate performances during the primaries and talking up Mr. Pence’s discipline as a debater and loyalty to the president,” Ember and Lerer report. 
  • Harris herself has weighed in: “I’m so concerned,” she joked at a fundraiser last month. “I can only disappoint.”

Outside the Beltway

IN THE RED ZONE: Utah has 208 new coronavirus cases per 100,000 people in the last week, per a weekly report from the White House Coronavirus Task Force, our colleagues Michael Scherer and Josh Dawsey report. “That compared to a national average of 90 new cases per 100,000.” 

  • Unlike the previous debate in Ohio, “The Commission on Presidential Debates has promised to expel anyone from the debate hall in Utah who does not follow a mandate to wear a mask indoors. That mandate was disregarded by members of Trump’s family at the first debate.”

The details of the Oct. 15 debate between Biden and Trump are currently being hashed out. Last night, Biden told reporters in Pennsylvania that if Trump still has coronavirus, “we shouldn’t have a debate.” 

  • “I think we’re going to have to follow very strict guidelines. Too many people have been infected,” Biden added. “It’s a very serious problem, so I will be guided by the guidelines of the Cleveland Clinic and what the docs say is the right thing to do.”
  • The president made clear yesterday that he plans on participating in the debate next week:

The policies

TRUMP WALKS FROM RELIEF TALKS: “Economic relief talks screeched to a halt as  Trump ordered Treasury Secretary Steven Mnuchin to stop negotiating with House Speaker Nancy Pelosi until after the election,” Erica Werner and Jeff Stein report.

  • What happened: “Trump’s declaration appeared to kill any near-term chance of new aid for millions of Americans who remain out work and at risk of eviction. Pelosi and Mnuchin spoke shortly after Trump’s tweets, and Mnuchin informed Pelosi that the negotiations were indeed over, according to Pelosi’s spokesman.”

The reaction: “Trump’s tweets sent the stock market lower, as many businesses, households and investors had been hoping for a jolt of fiscal stimulus amid signs the economy had lost momentum,” our colleagues write. “The Dow Jones industrial average ended down 376 points, or 1.3 percent. The Nasdaq and S&P 500 also fell.” 

Stocks dropped even further initially:

  • Pelosi later speculated that the president’s behavior is connected to the steroids he’s taking: “Believe me, there are people who thought, who think that steroids have an impact on your thinking,” she told Democratic lawmakers on a conference call. “Clearly, the White House is in complete disarray,” Pelosi said in a statement shortly afterward.

Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell told Trump a deal wasn’t happening:

Paging Jerome H. Powell: “The Federal Reserve chair warned of ongoing risks to the economy and the consequences of insufficient support from policymakers, offering a sharp reminder that the economic recovery remains fragile,” Rachel Siegel reports. 

  • Key quote: “Too little support would lead to a weak recovery, creating unnecessary hardship for households and businesses,” Powell said, a strikingly blunt statement for him. Just hours later, Trump sent his tweets.

Where this leaves the economy: Many unemployed say they no longer have enough money to pay rent, car payments or utility bills, or even buy food. The average unemployment payment fell from $900 a week to just over $300 at the end of July, a sharp reduction that makes it hard for many families to financially survive. As these people stop paying renting and car payments, it hurts landlords, firms and banks waiting for the money,” Heather Long writes.

Trump’s 2 a.m. tweet suggests maybe the discussions are not over after all?:

At the White House

THE CLUSTER GROWS: Several more White House officials were reported to test positive for the coronavirus yesterday, including Stephen Miller. According to multiple reports, a military aide who carries the so-called “nuclear football,” the material needed to launch the nation’s nuclear arsenal, tested positive after traveling with the president to Bedminster. And most members of the Joint Chiefs of Staff are also quarantining now after Adm. Charles W. Ray, the vice commandant of the Coast Guard, tested positive. 

At least 18 people who have been in proximity to Trump have tested positive for covid-19, according to our colleagues. (ABC News’s count is as high as 24). By contrast, Taiwan — the self-ruled island home to 23 million people — reported just eight new cases in the past week.

WHAT’S HAPPENING INSIDE: “The White House offered an informal nod to coronavirus best practices with mask-wearing prevalent after months of flouting public health recommendations and new internal guidelines for interacting with Trump, who tested positive for the virus late last week,” Ashley Parker and Josh Dawsey report.

  • But there’s still a problem: “The biggest source of resistance appeared to be Trump himself, who, despite having just come home from a three-night hospitalization, was defiant — lobbying to return immediately to work in the Oval Office, discussing an address to the nation as early as Tuesday evening and clamoring to get back on the campaign trail in the coming days.”

The White House still hasn’t changed its mask guidance: “It is still following Centers for Disease Control and Prevention guidelines that recommend, but do not require, wearing a mask,” our colleagues write. “Several administration officials said nearly everyone in the White House has been wearing a mask in recent days, including Trump’s son-in-law and senior adviser Jared Kushner, who usually does not sport one.”

  • For now, the place is a ghost town: “The West Wing was mostly empty, cleared of advisers who were out sick with the coronavirus themselves or told to work from home rather than in the capital’s most famous virus hot spot. Staff members in the White House residence were in full personal protective equipment, including yellow gowns, surgical masks and disposable protective eye covers,” the New York Times’s Maggie Haberman and Annie Karni report.

Power Up yesterday focused on the residence staff who cannot work from home as the White House hosts two active coronavirus patients. On Tuesday, First Lady Melania Trump’s office announced that they would provide personal protective equipment to help minimize the spread.

In the agencies

DOJ OFFICIALS PUSHED FOR FAMILY SEPARATIONS: “’We need to take away children,’ then-Attorney General Jeff Sessions told prosecutors representing states along the border in May 2018, according to participants’ notes. One added in shorthand: ‘If care about kids, don’t bring them in. Won’t give amnesty to people with kids,’” the New York Times’s Michael D. Shear, Katie Benner and Michael S. Schmidt report in a detailed story about the controversial policy that was a feature not a bug of the Trump administration’s “zero tolerance” immigration stance. 

These quotes are part of a draft watchdog report into the Justice Department’s actions: “The Department’s top officials were ‘a driving force’ behind the policy that spurred the separation of thousands of families, many of them fleeing violence in Central America and seeking asylum in the United States, before Trump abandoned it amid global outrage, according to a draft report of the results of the investigation by Michael E. Horowitz, the department’s inspector general,” the Times reports.

  • Then-Deputy Attorney General Rod J. Rosenstein went even further: Rosenstein “went even further in a second call about a week later, telling the five prosecutors that it did not matter how young the children were. He said that government lawyers should not have refused to prosecute two cases simply because the children were barely more than infants.” The prosecutors, including three Trump appointees, had recoiled at the administration’s policy and expressed concerns to no avail.

On the Hill

HOUSE PROBE FAULTS TECH COMPANIES: “Amazon, Apple, Facebook and Google engaged in anti-competitive, monopoly-style tactics to evolve into four of the world’s most powerful corporate behemoths, according to congressional investigators who called in a wide-ranging report for sweeping changes to federal laws so that government regulators can bring Silicon Valley back in check,” Tony Romm, Cat Zakrzewski and Rachel Lerman report.

  • More details: “The approximately 450-page document, capping a roughly 16-month investigation by the House’s top antitrust panel, found that the four tech giants relied on dubious, harmful means to solidify their dominance in Web search, smartphones, social networking and shopping — and in the process evaded the very federal regulators whose primary task is to ensure that companies do not grow into such unmatched corporate titans.” 

In the media

WHAT ELSE YOU NEED TO KNOW:

White House cleared FDA vaccine guidelines it tried to derail: “The White House, after weeks of delay, approved tough new standards for coronavirus vaccines — but only after the Food and Drug Administration unilaterally published the guidelines on its website as part of briefing materials for outside vaccine advisers,” Laurie McGinley, Yasmeen Abutaleb and Carolyn Y. Johnson report.

Remembering Eddie Van Halen: “Van Halen, a guitar virtuoso whose pyrotechnic riffs and solos expanded the vocabulary of hard rock, inspired legions of headbanging imitators and propelled his band Van Halen to four turbulent decades of stadium-rock stardom, died Oct. 6. He was 65,” Harrison Smith writes in The Post’s obit.

Duck, Duck, Shoot?: There’s some unusual inclusions in this year’s entries of wildlife art for the federal duck stamp needed to hunt waterfowl: shotgun shells. “This unusual abundance of hunting paraphernalia is the result of the Trump administration’s recent rewrite of the rules, Audubon Magazine’s Andy McGlashen writes of a mandate that required artists include hunting related elements.

  • Artists found some creative ways to meet the mandate: 

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