2020 Election Live Updates: Biden’s Supreme Court Challenge


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Credit…Kriston Jae Bethel for The New York Times

Up to this point, Joseph R. Biden Jr. has kept a careful distance from Democratic talk of adding seats to the Supreme Court and restructuring the federal judiciary in other ways. In a television interview in Wisconsin this week, Mr. Biden declined to say whether he might try to add seats to the court because he did not want to let President Trump “change the subject.” The focus, Mr. Biden and his allies argue, must remain on Republicans’ effort to ram through a last-minute appointment before the election.

There are good political reasons for Mr. Biden to take this approach. Polls show that most voters are not inclined to support an election-season nomination by Mr. Trump, and that they largely embrace Mr. Biden’s argument that the winner of the presidential race should fill Justice Ruth Bader Ginsburg’s seat. When the main issue at hand is tilting in your favor, why shift the focus to a less predictable debate, like overhauling the courts?

What’s more, if Democrats have any chance of derailing Mr. Trump’s nominee, it will most likely come through overwhelming and persuasive criticism leveled at that person and their record — subjects that could easily be overshadowed by a premature clash over expanding the Supreme Court.

Yet the question remains. And if Mr. Biden is elected president, it may be one of the most important early choices he has to make.

The risks to Mr. Biden in withholding an answer may have more to do with governing than campaigning. Without a clear signal from him between now and the election, his party could develop a consensus on the subject without him. Already, a number of senior Democrats have indicated they are open to adding seats to the court. Mr. Biden could well find himself facing a powerful movement for a court overhaul before he ever expresses a preference of his own. (He may not object to such an outcome, if he is privately in sympathy with that goal.)

But it may also be difficult for Mr. Biden to sustain a decline-to-state position. Next week, the first presidential debate will include questions about the Supreme Court, and if Mr. Trump’s message there mirrors that of other Republicans, then an attack on Mr. Biden for other Democrats’ court-packing ambitions seems likely.

Credit…Michael A. McCoy for The New York Times

One of the main talking points Republicans have used in recent days to explain their striking reversal on filling a Supreme Court vacancy in a presidential election year — which they refused to do under President Barack Obama, but are eager to do now under President Trump — is that with control of the White House and the Senate, they reflect the will of the people.

“Americans re-elected our majority in 2016 and expanded it in 2018 because we pledged to work with President Trump and support his agenda, particularly his outstanding appointments to the federal judiciary,” said Senator Mitch McConnell, the majority leader. Senator Ted Cruz of Texas explained his shift on filling an election-year vacancy by telling ABC News that “the American people voted.”

But thanks to the mechanisms of American democracy, Republicans have been able to hold those levers of power without necessarily reflecting the will of the majority of people.

It is well known that Mr. Trump lost the popular vote to Hillary Clinton in 2016 by nearly three million votes — and more than two percentage points — but was elected president thanks to his Electoral College victory.

Less remarked upon is the way that Republicans were able to keep control of the Senate in 2016 and 2018, despite the fact that more Americans voted for Democratic Senate candidates than Republicans in both elections.

In 2018, the Democrats lost two seats in the Senate even though Democratic candidates received far more votes than Republicans nationwide. All told, Democratic Senate candidates received 46.7 million votes in the general election that year, while Republicans received 39.3 million, according to the Federal Election Commission. And that did not even count the votes that were cast for two independent candidates who caucus with the Democrats, Senators Angus King of Maine and Bernie Sanders of Vermont.

The same was true in 2016, when Republicans maintained control of the Senate even as they lost two seats, and as their candidates received 10 million fewer votes than Democratic candidates.

By design, the Senate gives more political power to small states, since each state gets two senators regardless of its population. (Seats in the House of Representatives, on the other hand, are apportioned to states based on their populations, giving proportional weight to big states.)

Now the Republican success in two arenas that favor the power of small states over the nationwide popular vote — Senate races and the Electoral College — is again poised to allow them to make another lifetime appointment to the Supreme Court, where, if Mr. Trump’s nominee is confirmed, they will hold a 6-to-3 conservative majority.

Credit…Erin Schaff/The New York Times

An election-year investigation by Senate Republicans into corruption allegations against Joseph R. Biden Jr., the Democratic presidential nominee, and his son, Hunter, involving Ukraine found no evidence of improper influence or wrongdoing by the former vice president, bringing to a close a highly politicized inquiry they hoped would tarnish President Trump’s rival.

The report released on Wednesday by the Senate Homeland Security Committee asserted that Hunter Biden traded on his father’s name to close lucrative business deals around the world. It also claimed that his work for a corrupt Ukrainian energy company while his father was directing American policy toward Kyiv gave the appearance of a conflict of interest that sent bad signals to a young democracy from the former Soviet bloc and alarmed some in the State Department.

But the 87-page document contained no evidence that the former vice president improperly manipulated American policy toward Ukraine as a result of his son’s activities.

The panel’s Republican chairman, Senator Ron Johnson of Wisconsin, had made no secret of his political ambitions for his report, boasting for weeks that his findings would demonstrate Mr. Biden’s “unfitness for office.” Instead, the result delivered on Wednesday appeared to be little more than a rehashing of unproven allegations pushed by Mr. Trump and his allies and media reports — which echoed a Russian disinformation campaign — that amplified the accusations against Mr. Biden six weeks before Election Day.

In the days before its release, Mr. Johnson conceded that there would be no “massive smoking guns,” saying in an interview that there was “a misconception on the part of the public that there would be.”

The report concluded that Hunter Biden’s position “hindered the efforts of dedicated career-service individuals who were fighting for anticorruption measures in Ukraine.” It did not clarify the nature of that hindrance beyond saying that the situation was “awkward” for career State Department officials, who “were required to maintain situational awareness of Hunter Biden’s association with Burisma.”

It was also filled with details that suggested the younger Mr. Biden’s involvement with Burisma created an unseemly appearance, given who his father was. Section Eight of the report was entitled “Hunter Biden: A Secret Service Protectee While on Burisma’s Board.”

“What the chairmen discovered during the course of this investigation is that the Obama administration knew that Hunter Biden’s position on Burisma’s board was problematic and did interfere in the efficient execution of policy with respect to Ukraine,” the report said.

In a statement on Wednesday, Andrew Bates, a spokesman for Mr. Biden’s campaign, accused Mr. Johnson of subsidizing “a foreign attack against the sovereignty of our elections with taxpayer dollars” by promulgating “a long-disproven, hardcore rightwing conspiracy theory” about the former vice president.

He also chastised the chairman of the Senate’s leading investigative panel for consuming committee resources when his committee should have been conducting oversight “of the catastrophically botched federal response to the pandemic.”

Credit…Branden Camp/Atlanta Journal-Constitution, via Associated Press

President Trump and Joseph R. Biden Jr. remain locked in a tight race in Georgia, according to a Monmouth University poll released Wednesday morning.

The poll found that Mr. Trump had the support of 47 percent of registered voters to Mr. Biden’s 46 percent, a difference well within the poll’s margin of error of plus or minus 4.9 percentage points. The poll results echo numbers released Tuesday by The Atlanta Journal-Constitution, which showed the two in a 47-47 tie.

The poll numbers reveal how Democrats have made inroads in the fast-growing and increasingly diverse state, which Mr. Trump won by five points in 2016.

Georgia’s two Senate races also remain close, but the poll found that the Rev. Dr. Raphael Warnock, a Democrat, has gained support, turning the special election in the seat formerly held by Johnny Isakson into a three-way contest.

Senator Kelly Loeffler, who was appointed to the seat and took office in January, garnered 23 percent, Representative Doug Collins, her fellow Republican, was at 22 percent, and Dr. Warnock had 21 percent, a gain of 12 points since the summer. Two other Democrats, Matt Lieberman and Ed Tarver, had 11 percent and 4 percent, respectively.

In Georgia’s other Senate race, the Republican incumbent David Perdue holds a 48 to 42 percent lead over his Democratic challenger, Jon Ossoff.

The Monmouth poll of 402 registered voters, conducted from Sept. 17 to 21, found that while the numbers in the presidential race remained similar to a poll conducted during the summer, Mr. Trump has consolidated his support among voters ages 65 and older, while Mr. Biden has gained support among those under 65.

Only four percent of voters said they were undecided in their choice for president, while 2 percent said they would support the Libertarian candidate, Jo Jorgensen.

THE UPSHOT

We often focus on the battleground states that decided the last election and seem likeliest to decide the next one. But on Tuesday, we got high-quality polls from two states that Donald J. Trump won handily in 2016, and they’re an important reminder of the wide range of possibilities in this election.

The polls, in Iowa, which Mr. Trump won by nine points in 2016, and in Georgia, which he won by five points, both found ties.




State polls
National polls


But what’s behind these shifts is quite different.

In Iowa, where the Des Moines Register poll was conducted by Ann Selzer, one of the most respected pollsters in the country, Joe Biden seems to be securing large, broad gains among white voters. He’s benefiting from a similar shift across the Northern and mostly white battleground states — think Minnesota, Wisconsin, Michigan and Maine.

In Georgia, where the University of Georgia conducted a poll for The Atlanta Journal-Consitutition, there’s a shift among college-educated white voters, particularly in suburbs of Atlanta. But the state’s white working-class population remains staunchly Republican. Unlike in Iowa, demographic changes are also on Mr. Biden’s side. Georgia is growing fast, and it’s increasingly diverse.

Georgia and Iowa might be competitive, but for Mr. Biden, victories there would probably merely be icing on the cake: If he wins them, he’s almost certainly already won other battleground states like Florida and Pennsylvania.

That’s a genuine possibility. Pennsylvania and Florida are close enough that Mr. Trump remains competitive. But states like Texas, Georgia, Ohio and Iowa are also very competitive. In fact, they’re closer than Florida or Pennsylvania — so close that a Biden landslide is just as real a possibility as a Trump victory.

If Mr. Biden outperformed today’s polls by just two points, he would be declared the winner early on election night and have a good shot at the largest electoral vote landslide since 1988.

But if Mr. Trump outperformed the polls by the same margin, suddenly we’d have an extraordinarily close race, with potential waits of days or weeks while mail-in votes were counted in Pennsylvania, Michigan and Wisconsin.

Credit…Doug Mills/The New York Times

Shortly after 9:30 a.m., Justice Ruth Bader Ginsburg, who died on Friday at 87, made a final trip to the Supreme Court, starting three days of extraordinary honors for a transformative figure in American law. Her coffin was carried up the court’s grand marble steps by the Supreme Court police, flanked by lines of the justice’s former law clerks — spread out for social distance — who served as honorary pallbearers.

A ceremony in the court’s majestic Great Hall followed, attended by the other justices, family members and close friends. Justice Ginsburg’s coffin rested on a catafalque, on loan from Congress, that once held President Abraham Lincoln’s remains.

Justice Ginsburg is now lying in repose outside the courthouse, under the portico at the top of the front steps, and the public is invited to pay its respects from 11 a.m. to 10 p.m. Eastern on Wednesday and again from 9 a.m. to 10 p.m. on Thursday. The court requires masks and social distancing.

President Trump is expected to pay his respects on Thursday at the court.

On Friday, Justice Ginsburg will lie in state at the Capitol, a rare honor. She is expected to be buried next week at Arlington National Cemetery in a private ceremony.

Credit…Kenny Holston for The New York Times

Five battleground states in the presidential election have no laws prohibiting people from carrying guns into or near polling places, according to a study released Wednesday by two gun control organizations.

The study by the Coalition to Stop Gun Violence, one of the country’s oldest gun control organizations, and Guns Down America, a group on the fringe of the gun-control movement that advocates reducing the number of guns in circulation, examined polling place laws in Michigan, North Carolina, Pennsylvania, Virginia and Wisconsin.

The question of safety at polling places took on new urgency on Saturday, when a group of President Trump’s supporters disrupted a line outside an early voting center in Fairfax, Va., creating a situation in which some voters and poll workers felt intimidated.

The new study found that some of the states have laws or municipal ordinances forbidding guns in the types of facilities that often serve as polling places — schools, churches and sports arenas. But as was the case last weekend in Virginia, large numbers of voters waiting outside voting sites render laws governing actions within a certain distance of the entrance of a polling place useless if the lines stretch far from the front doors.

Just six states — Arizona, California, Florida, Georgia, Louisiana and Texas — have laws prohibiting guns at polling places, the gun-control groups found.

The study found that local governments in North Carolina and Virginia have broad powers to enact prohibitions on bringing guns to polling places, while Pennsylvania and Wisconsin have state laws that pre-empt such local laws governing firearms.

Credit…Ross D. Franklin/Associated Press

Cindy McCain, the widow of Senator John McCain of Arizona, formally endorsed Joseph R. Biden Jr. for president on Tuesday, praising the “character and integrity” of her late husband’s longtime friend and colleague while voicing her unease with President Trump.

Ms. McCain, who spoke in a video at the Democratic convention last month, said in a telephone interview that she had been uncertain about how public a role she would play in this year’s campaign. But after reading reports this month that described Mr. Trump denigrating members of the military, she said, she became “more and more frustrated” with the president.

“The most important thing that moved me a great deal was talking about troops’ being ‘losers,’” Ms. McCain said, referring to an article in The Atlantic. “You know we have children in the military, as did the Bidens.”

She added, “I want my president to have my back, and I don’t believe that’s the case right now.”

Mr. Trump responded Wednesday morning with digs at both Mr. Biden and Mr. McCain. “Joe Biden was John McCain’s lapdog,” he wrote on Twitter. “So many BAD decisions on Endless Wars & the V.A., which I brought from a horror show to HIGH APPROVAL.”

The McCains’ two sons, Jack and James, both served in the armed forces, and Mr. Biden’s son Beau served in the National Guard, including a tour of duty in Iraq. Beau Biden died of brain cancer in 2015.

Ms. McCain said she was planning to actively help Mr. Biden and would participate in virtual campaign events and join him when he appears in Arizona, which is seen as a swing state this year.

Credit…Nathaniel Brooks for The New York Times

Four years ago, the Green Party candidate played a significant role in several crucial battleground states, drawing a vote total in three of them — Wisconsin, Michigan and Pennsylvania — that exceeded the margin between Donald J. Trump and Hillary Clinton.

This year, the Republican Party has been trying to use the Green Party to its advantage again, if not always successfully.

In Wisconsin, a G.O.P. elections commissioner and lawyers with ties to Republicans tried to aid attempts by Howie Hawkins, the Green Party’s presidential candidate, to get on the ballot there, which were ultimately unsuccessful. In Montana, state regulators found that the Republican Party had violated campaign finance laws as part of an effort to help the Greens in five down-ballot races, including for senator and governor.

And in Western Pennsylvania, petitioners from Florida and California were brought in to gather signatures for Mr. Hawkins by an outside firm whose actions Mr. Hawkins and the party said they could not account for. Mr. Hawkins also did not make the ballot there.

With Mr. Trump trailing Joseph R. Biden Jr. in most national and swing-state polls, Republicans are again trying to help third parties that may appeal to Democratic voters and siphon off votes from Mr. Biden. This is taking place alongside a broader pattern of disinformation and skepticism by the president and his allies that has sown confusion and undermined confidence in the election.

Supporters of the president have also been trying to advance the candidacy of Kanye West, the billionaire hip-hop artist, confident that he can cut into Mr. Biden’s vote total. Democrats have portrayed the effort as a “dirty trick” and exploitative of Mr. West, who has bipolar disorder.

Credit…Lauren Justice for The New York Times

CEDARBURG, Wis. — As many suburban Americans reject President Trump, threatening his re-election like no other bloc of voters, the suburbs outside Milwaukee, among the most racially segregated in the country, remain a bulwark of support.

The well-educated, affluent counties north and west of the city have for decades delivered Republican landslides, defying a Democratic shift in suburbia in other Northern states.

And voters in these neighborhoods seem to be cleaving to the president even more tightly as he has stoked fears of “anarchists” and “looters” imperiling the suburbs, including after the unrest in nearby Kenosha. Their enduring support is one reason Wisconsin offers Mr. Trump a still-open path to re-election, even as his opportunities in other battlegrounds have dwindled.

For at least two decades, demographic changes in most American suburbs — an influx of nonwhite, well-educated and younger voters moving out of cities or immigrating from abroad — have pushed former Republican strongholds to become Democratic-trending regions.

In Pennsylvania, the president is trailing Joseph R. Biden Jr. by double digits in the vote-rich suburbs of Philadelphia. In Michigan, the decisive swing to Democrats by suburbanites in Oakland County, outside Detroit, gives Mr. Biden a statewide edge. In Arizona, the Phoenix suburbs helped Democrats win a Senate seat in 2018 and are the knife edge on which the state is balanced.

But in the region outside Milwaukee, including both inner suburbs and exurbs, Mr. Trump led Mr. Biden by 48 percent to 38 percent in a recent Marquette Law School Poll.

“The WOW counties are key,” said Scott Walker, the former Republican governor of Wisconsin, using the nickname for the three Milwaukee suburban counties of Waukesha, Ozaukee and Washington.

Here are the daily schedules of the presidential candidates for Wednesday, Sept. 23. All times are Eastern time.

President Donald J. Trump

Morning: Speaks at National Catholic Prayer Breakfast, which starts at 11 a.m.

1 p.m.: Delivers remarks in honor of Bay of Pigs veterans at the White House.

Former Vice President Joseph R. Biden Jr.

12:45 p.m.: Attends a Biden for President Black economic summit at Camp North End, Charlotte, N.C.

Pyer Moss, a Black-owned fashion label, released a limited-edition run of “Vote or Die … For Real This Time” T-shirts on Tuesday, a re-imagination of the original shirts that debuted in 2004 by Sean Combs’s brand Sean John.

The new shirts, which feature the “classic” logo with an updated design on the back, are part of an initiative by the brand’s founder, Kerby Jean-Raymond, called “Exist to Resist.” Proceeds from sales are being donated to Rock the Vote, a progressive nonprofit group focused on encouraging voter registration, especially among young Americans.

The Times spoke with Malaika Temba, assistant art director at Pyer Moss, about the shirts’ cultural symbolism and the potential power of using a fashion object to mobilize voters. This interview has been edited and condensed.

Did you draw any inspiration from the 2004 design of the shirts? Or, what about this design felt like a departure from that version for you?

When designing it, I was thinking about how there’s this claim in America that everyone has a right to vote in a free and fair election, and how in practice this is completely abstracted, like this has never been true for 100 percent of American citizens — but it is promised. That’s why the text “The Promise of America” is there with these kinds of ballot bubbles that are abstracted.

What do you think the power of symbolism is, particularly as it relates to our political landscape this year?

Having something that is visually powerful — but conceptually doesn’t explain it all at first glance — I think is extremely important because it complicates the issue and makes people actually spend time with it.

With Rock the Vote, with Sean John, and from us ourselves, we’re all really interested in engaging people, especially young voters. And so having a cultural symbol creates something for people to kind of gather around.

We’re living in this time of so much oversaturation of media, information, and symbols; with so much happening online and also in the fashion marketplace, how important is it to you to stand out visually and create a striking garment or image? And as an art director, how does that inform your approach to creating a fashion object like this T-shirt?

With this work, it’s less about the fashion world and less about trying to stand out as a fashion company and more about having our voices heard and amplifying the voices of other people. Also, I think that Pyer Moss has a platform that has a direct line to communities that we need to empower to register to vote and to get out to the polls. So, I think we’re just happy to use this platform for something positive.


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