September 9, 2019

The metaphors are a little heavy-handed, but the driving is impressive and the timing is impeccable. On the same day CNN reported that the CIA had to withdraw one of its top spies in Russia on fears that President Trump had compromised the spy's identity, former undercover CIA agent Valerie Plame launched her bid for Congress as a Democrat in New Mexico.

If you don't know the story of Plame being outed by then-Vice President Dick Cheney's chief of staff, Scooter Libby — and the coda of Trump pardoning Libby earlier this year — Plame narrates the outline as she speeds backward through the New Mexico desert in an American muscle car (no Aston Martin here, thank you very much).

Is that really Plame driving and peeling out in the dust like a seasoned stuntwoman or, you know, James Bond? She says yes. As in: "Yes, the CIA really does teach us how to drive like this." The slick ad, the sick driving chops, and her call for revenge will probably earn Plame attention in New Mexico (and Washington), but if she wins the Democratic primary to replace Rep. Ben Ray Luján (D-N.M.) — who is running for Senate — the partisan leanings of New Mexico's 3rd Congressional District suggest she'd be headed back to Washington. Peter Weber

11:48 a.m.

The Justice Department's move to defend President Trump in writer E. Jean Carroll's defamation lawsuit has been denied by a federal judge.

Judge Lewis Kaplan on Tuesday rejected the DOJ's attempt to step into the lawsuit filed by Carroll, who has accused Trump of rape, and said he can be personally sued by the writer, CNN and The New York Times report.

Trump has denied Carroll's allegation that he raped her in the 1990s. She filed a defamation lawsuit against him in 2019, but the DOJ last month tried to take over the case in an unusual move. The Justice Department hoped to move the case to federal court and substitute in the United States as the defendant instead of Trump, according the Times. But Kaplan denied this request, saying that Trump's statements denying Carroll's allegation weren't made in his official capacity as president.

"His comments concerned an alleged sexual assault that took place several decades before he took office, and the allegations have no relationship to the official business of the United States," Kaplan said. The judge also said that Trump "is not an 'employee of the government,' as Congress defined that term," and that even if he were, his "allegedly defamatory statements" would "not have been within the scope of his employment." Brendan Morrow

11:44 a.m.

Most analysts aren't surprised that immigration has taken a back seat in the 2020 election. For starters, the coronavirus pandemic and its economic fallout have dominated the discussion for months, while nationwide racial injustice headlines and the Supreme Court have also emerged as major stories in the lead up to Nov. 3. Still, a review from The Wall Street Journal shows how sharply President Trump's messaging on immigration has declined in the last four years.

Immigration was a driving factor for Trump in 2016 — with a particular emphasis on building a Southern border wall — when it was the fourth most mentioned issue in his television campaign ads, but in 2020 it's barely cracked the top 10. (Similarly, terrorism went from being the third-most mentioned issue to falling out of the top 10 entirely.)

A lot of that has to do with the shifting circumstances and priorities in the U.S., but some Republicans think the campaign realized Trump was overzealous in his efforts to curb immigration in 2018, eventually costing the party votes in the mid-term elections that year.

"I don’t think it’s a coincidence that we haven’t heard a whole lot about immigration since Election Day 2018," Alex Conant, a former senior adviser to Sen. Marco Rubio (R-Fla.), told the Journal. "He tried to make the midterms all about immigration and it failed horribly."

Former Rep. Carlos Curbelo (R-Fla.), who lost his re-election bid, also said he thinks Trump's "divisive rhetoric" and "scapegoating" contributed to defeat.

That doesn't mean the Trump campaign is completely ignoring the issue. Per the Journal, the progressive advocacy group Immigration Hub has found that more than 20 percent of Trump's Facebook ads over the past month have focused on immigration, so the strategy has evidently shifted more toward "micro targeting." Read more at The Wall Street Journal. Tim O'Donnell

10:53 a.m.

The Lincoln Project isn't going anywhere.

The PAC of President Trump-opposing Republicans and other moderates has built a social media behemoth based largely on trolling the president with pointed ads. And once it potentially achieves its goal of getting Joe Biden and other Democrats elected, it's looking to capitalize on that and build a whole media empire, Axios reports.

The Lincoln Project's Twitter account boasts a following that even exceeds the Republican party's, and has raked in millions of dollars from its supporters who'd like to see Trump out of the White House. To Ra Kumar, the project's representative at United Talent Agency, it's clear that "they know how to get audiences," he tells Axios.

So in the coming weeks, the Lincoln Project is expected to move beyond podcasts and TV ads and into Hollywood. For starters, the group is working with a documentarian to produce a non-fiction film after the election, Axios reports. Some TV networks are interested in running the project's livestreamed shows, a source says. TV studios are also reportedly reaching out to work with the Lincoln Project "to help develop a House of Cards-like fiction series," Axios reports — a comparison that probably doesn't help the project with allegations of stealing ideas and memes. Kathryn Krawczyk

10:49 a.m.

Flu shots are already considered an important factor in combating the coronavirus pandemic, since widespread inoculations will hopefully help prevent medical facilities from becoming overwhelmed by dual diseases. But new research suggests flu shots may also play some role in preventing COVID-19 infections in the first place, The Scientific American reports.

A study, which has not yet been peer-reviewed, found that workers at Radboud University Medical Center in the Netherlands who received a flu shot during the 2019-20 season were 39 percent less likely than their colleagues to test positive for the coronavirus as of June 1, 2020. Non-vaccinated employees contracted the virus at a 2.23 percent rate, compared to only 1.33 percent of those who were vaccinated.

The preliminary research would certainly require further clinical trials — though the author of the study noted it would be unethical to compel a control group of subjects to be denied a flu shot — and there could be several reasons why the vaccinated group staved off infection more easily, including the possibility that they are generally more health conscious and took more COVID-19 precautions.

Still, there have been other studies that hint at a possible link between flu shots (and other vaccines, for that matter) and lower COVID-19 risk. Additionally, the Radboud research team conducted a laboratory experiment in which they took blood cells from healthy individuals, purified them, and exposed some of them to a flu vaccine. After allowing the cells to grow for a few days, the researchers exposed them to the coronavirus. A day later they found that the vaccinated cells produced more of several kinds of immune molecules that fight off pathogens than those that were initially left alone. Read more at The Scientific American. Tim O'Donnell

10:16 a.m.

Former New York City Mayor Michael Bloomberg is reportedly funding last-minute ad campaigns in two states where Democrats see "opportunities to expand the map," including Texas.

Through his Super PAC, Bloomberg is funding television ad campaigns in Texas and Ohio expected to cost about $15 million, The New York Times reports. Aide Howard Wolfson explained to the Times that the former mayor conducted polling to find President Trump's potential vulnerabilities and decided on Texas and Ohio for this last-minute push. Bloomberg has already said he will spend $100 million to support Democratic presidential nominee Joe Biden in Florida.

"We believe that Florida will go down to the wire, and we were looking for additional opportunities to expand the map,” Wolfson told the Times. "Texas and Ohio present the best opportunities to do that, in our view."

The Times notes that a poll it published this week showed Trump with a lead of only four percentage points over Biden in Texas, and Wolfson told the Times that Bloomberg's polling suggests the race is even closer.

Meanwhile, NBC News on Tuesday morning released its latest battleground map, and Texas has been moved from "Lean Republican" to "Toss Up." Ohio is also still in the "Toss Up" category.

The NBC map shows Biden with 279 electoral votes, and NBC News' Mark Murray writes that while that math is "not impossible" for Trump, it is "daunting." Brendan Morrow

9:46 a.m.

It turns out Sen. Ted Cruz (R-Texas) agrees with the Democratic presidential nominee, former Vice President Joe Biden, on at least one thing.

"One of Biden's best points," he said during an interview with Jonathan Swan that aired Monday night on Axios on HBO, "was when he said all of these attacks back-and-forth about [Biden's] family and [Trump's] family, they don't matter, what matters is your family. That may have been Biden's best moment, actually."

Cruz then told Swan he doesn't think the Trump campaign's last-minute push to focus on allegations of corruption against Biden's son, Hunter, "moves a single a voter." View more clips of Cruz's interview at Axios. Tim O'Donnell

8:51 a.m.

With the presidential election a week away, Democrat Joe Biden is the clear favorite. Yet "all of us — Republicans and Democrats, journalists and party operatives, political junkies and casual observers — are held hostage by memories of four Novembers ago," when President Trump scored his huge upset, Tim Alberta writes at Politico. "The bad news for Trump supporters: 2020 is nothing like 2016."

"We know what those polls suggest," Peggy Noonan observed in The Wall Street Journal. "But there is little air of defeat among Trump supporters and no triumphalism among Democrats. Trump supporters believe he will win because of his special magic, Trump foes fear he will win because of his dark magic. Pollsters and pundits stare at the data and wonder how to quantify his unfathomable magic."

Real Time's Bill Maher is nervous about the election, too, "but it's not election night, it's Nov. 4 to Jan. 20, and then after," he told Jimmy Kimmel on Monday's Kimmel Live. "It's impossible to imagine, I think, Trump losing and then and then saying, 'Well, we fought the good fight but the best man won, and I'm telling my staff to graciously allow Biden to take over.' No, he's never going to do that. He's going to lose — my prediction. Now, last time I didn't even say Hillary was going to win, when most people did. This time I do think Biden's gonna win by large numbers, popular vote and even the Electoral vote, and then Trump is gonna go apes--t."

Trump "doesn't do losing — other than three marriages, three casinos, four magazines, an airline, a football league, a charity, and a university, he's never lost anything," Maher deadpanned. "So he's not going to go gently into the night. That's what I worry about. And he's a master of 'It isn't written down, so I can do it.'" Watch Maher's explanation of how that might work with the Electoral College below. Peter Weber

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