Daily briefing

10 things you need to know today: October 16, 2020

Trump and Biden show contrasting styles in dueling town halls, Harris suspends travel after campaign coronavirus exposure, and more


Trump, Biden hold separate town halls after debate scrapped

President Trump and Democratic presidential nominee Joe Biden held dueling nationally televised town halls on Thursday, a night scheduled for their second debate until Trump backed out when organizers said it would be virtual. The candidates' contrasting styles were on display, with Trump sparring with the moderator and Biden offering soothing policy proposals unlikely to endanger his polling lead. Biden used a question about the coronavirus to criticize Trump's handling of the pandemic. "It's a presidential responsibility to lead and he didn't do that," Biden said. Trump faced a question about when he first tested positive for the virus, and whether he tested negative ahead of the last debate. "Possibly I did, possibly I didn't," Trump said. The candidates have a final debate scheduled before the November election.


Harris suspends travel after campaign coronavirus exposure

Democratic vice-presidential nominee Kamala Harris is suspending travel through Sunday after her campaign director and a "non-staff flight crew member" tested positive for the coronavirus, the campaign said Thursday. The campaign of Democratic presidential nominee Joe Biden said both people were on a flight with Harris on Oct. 8 but were never within six feet of her for more than 15 minutes. Harris has tested negative since then, most recently on Thursday. An aviation staffer who tested positive also flew on a flight Biden was on. Biden had no contact with the person, so he won't have to isolate. The news came following a widespread outbreak that hospitalized President Trump and infected first lady Melania Trump, their son Barron, and numerous campaign and White House associates.


Senate panel schedules Oct. 22 vote on Barrett confirmation

Senate Judiciary Committee Republicans on Thursday scheduled an Oct. 22 vote on recommending Supreme Court nominee Amy Coney Barrett's confirmation. Democrats protested the rush to confirm Barrett three weeks before the presidential election, and after millions of early ballots have been cast. But Republicans said Democrats would not be able to block the conservative Barrett's confirmation to fill the seat of the late liberal Justice Ruth Bader Ginsburg. "We have the votes," Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell (R-Ky.) said. Witnesses called by Democrats on Thursday told the committee that Barrett, who would give conservatives a 6-3 majority on the high court, could cast deciding votes to dismantle the Affordable Care Act and limit access to abortion and voting rights. Barrett testified that she had no political agenda as a judge.


Jobless claims hit 898,000 last week, most since late August

The number of Americans filing new claims for unemployment benefits rose to 898,000 last week, the most since late August, the Labor Department reported Thursday. The number was higher than economists expected, and marked an increase of 50,000 over the previous week. Fresh layoffs and other signs that the economic recovery is faltering as coronavirus infections rise have kept weekly jobless claims stubbornly above the pre-pandemic record of 695,000. The number of people collecting ongoing unemployment benefits through regular state programs fell by 1.2 million to about 10 million. "The jobless claims continued to reflect very difficult labor market conditions," said Kathy Bostjancic, economist at Oxford Economics. "It's representative of still uncertain and challenging economic conditions at large."


Republicans on Senate panel push to subpoena Twitter CEO

Senate Judiciary Committee Republicans plan to vote next week to subpoena Twitter CEO Jack Dorsey to testify about restricting tweets of a New York Post article alleging that an abandoned laptop linked then-Vice President Joe Biden to his son Hunter's business dealings. Sen. Ted Cruz (R-Texas) said committee members will ask Twitter why it is trying "to cover up allegations of corruption." The Biden campaign has said an alleged meeting between Joe Biden and a Ukrainian energy company consultant described in a message on the laptop's hard drive never happened. The Post got the hard drive's contents from a lawyer for President Trump's personal attorney Rudy Giuliani, who got it from the owner of the Delaware computer shop where the laptop was allegedly left for repairs.


Pentagon study finds minimal risk of coronavirus exposure on planes

A Defense Department study released recently concluded that passengers faced little risk of catching the coronavirus on a packed commercial flight. Researchers concluded that a passenger wearing a surgical mask continuously would have to sit next to an infectious passenger for 54 hours to get a dangerous level of exposure through the air. The threat of infection is greatly reduced because of the way air is circulated and filtered on airliners. The study used a mannequin expelling simulated virus particles, and researchers conceded that this method of measuring the threat of aerosol exposure had its limitations. Still, Vice Admiral Dee Mewbourne said, "the results showed an overall low exposure risk from aerosolized pathogens like COVID-19 on these aircraft."


Report: White House warned that Russia fed Giuliani disinformation

The White House was warned by U.S. intelligence agencies last year that Rudy Giuliani, President Trump's personal lawyer, was the target of a Russian intelligence operation, The Washington Post reported Thursday, citing four former officials familiar with the matter. The goal of the operation reportedly was to feed disinformation to Trump, and National Security Adviser Robert O'Brien told Trump privately that any particulars Giuliani brought back from his trip to Ukraine should be considered contaminated by Russia. Giuliani went to Ukraine searching for information he hoped would discredit Democratic presidential nominee Joe Biden and his son, Hunter Biden. He was not the target of U.S. surveillance, but Giuliani did meet with suspected Russia assets, which is how intelligence agencies intercepted his communications and were able to warn the White House.


New coronavirus infections top 60,000 for 1st time in 2 months

The number of newly confirmed coronavirus cases in the United States exceeded 60,000 on Thursday for the first time since early August. The news came as the U.S. experiences a long-feared autumn increase in COVID-19 cases and hospitalizations as the weather cools and people spend more time inside. Forty-four states and the District of Columbia have seen caseloads increase since mid-September. Wisconsin, Illinois, Ohio, Indiana, New Mexico, North Dakota, Montana, and Colorado set new highs as the crisis spread in the heartland, far from the coastal cities hit hardest in the first wave. "We know that this is going to get worse before it gets better," Wisconsin Department of Health Services secretary-designee Andrea Palm said.


Christie says he was 'wrong' not to wear mask at White House

Former New Jersey Gov. Chris Christie (R) was hospitalized with the coronavirus earlier this month, and on Thursday, he encouraged Americans to take the virus "very seriously. The ramifications are wildly random and potentially deadly." Christie was one of several people who tested positive after they attended a Rose Garden ceremony in late September honoring President Trump's Supreme Court nominee, Judge Amy Coney Barrett. Christie told The New York Times he mistakenly believed the White House was "a safe zone, due to the testing that I and many others underwent every day. I was wrong. I was wrong not to wear a mask at the Amy Coney Barrett announcement and I was wrong not to wear a mask at my multiple debate prep sessions with the president and the rest of the team."


Sasse tells supporters Trump fueling 'blue tsunami'

Sen. Ben Sasse, a Nebraska Republican, harshly criticized President Trump in a telephone town hall with constituents, warning that Trump had so disgusted voters that there could be a "Republican blood bath" in the Senate, according to audio obtained by The Washington Examiner and authenticated by The New York Times on Thursday. Sasse accused Trump of botching the coronavirus response by treating it like a news-cycle "P.R. crisis" instead of a national emergency. He also said Trump had coddled dictators and white supremacists, mistreated women, and alienated allies, setting the stage for a "blue tsunami" on Election Day. "The debate is not going to be, 'Ben Sasse, why were you so mean to Donald Trump?'" said Sasse, who is up for re-election. "It's going to be, 'What the heck were any of us thinking, that selling a TV-obsessed, narcissistic individual to the American people was a good idea?'"


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