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Where Things Stand: Choosing Between Covering A Sitting POTUS And Reporters’ Health Prime Badge
This is your TPM afternoon briefing.

The nation’s top news outlets are no strangers to the task of weighing how to cover this unprecedented president. Over the last few years, they’ve wrestled with how to avoid both-siderism, what to do with his distraction techniques, and whether or not to fact-check the blustering, evidence-free speaker.

But now newsroom leaders are facing a new challenge with President Trump’s COVID-19 diagnosis: How do they justify risking reporters’ lives in order to cover the public health-defying campaign?

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Retrofitting the Presidency Prime Badge

Given the wreckage of the Trump administration and the vulnerabilities in the office of the Presidency it has exposed, is it possible to retrofit the office to prevent or at least limit its vulnerability to Trump-like abuses? Bob Bauer and Jack Goldsmith, two lawyers who served respectively at the highest levels of the Obama and Bush administrations, have written After Trump: Reconstructing the Presidency, a systematic review of how to bring the office of the Presidency up to code after the debacle of Trumpism.

Watch my conversation with Bauer and Goldsmith in this Inside Briefing from earlier this month.

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More Retirements?

I don’t think TPM Reader PT’s prediction here is at all likely. John Roberts is a conservative ideologue and holds the pinnacle position in the world of jurisprudence. Why he’d surrender that plum as a relatively young man isn’t at all clear to me. Still, I found PT’s discussion of the different equities in play quite perceptive and interesting.

I’ve argued before that I think it’s at least plausible that John Roberts will retire during Biden’s first term. My argument is that Roberts appears to be the only one of the Court’s conservatives who cares at all about the legacy and perceived legitimacy of the Supreme Court, both of which were badly damaged by the way that Neil Gorsuch ascended to his seat. Of course, there were cross-pressures for him: he clearly cares about the conservative project of wielding power through an unelected Court that in practice can only rarely be overruled, he presumably likes being on the Court and being Chief Justice, and by Washington DC standards he is fairly young (mid-60’s).

Now, however, I think that the near-certain ascent of Barrett to fill Ginsburg’s seat will change the calculus and makes it more likely that he will retire.

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Efforts To Make Pandemic Voting Easier Run Into A SCOTUS Buzzsaw Prime Badge
This Week in Voting Rights: A weekly roundup of news on Americans' access to the ballot box.
It’s Not ‘Court Packing.’ Don’t Be A Moron and Call It That.
WASHINGTON, DC - SEPTEMBER 29: Seventh U.S. Circuit Court Judge Amy Coney Barrett, President Donald Trump's nominee for the U.S. Supreme Court, listens as Senate Judiciary Committee Chairman Lindsey Graham (R-SC) answers reporters' questions before a meeting in the Mansfield Room at the U.S. Capitol September 29, 2020 in Washington, DC. Barrett is meeting with senators ahead of her confirmation hearing which is scheduled to begin on October 12, less than a month before Election Day. (Photo by Chip Somodevilla/Getty Images)

I wrote this tweet because I thought I would become apoplectic when I saw that some Democrats were referring to expanding the Supreme Court as “court packing” or tacitly accepting the use of the phrase when asked about it by reporters. Any Democrat who uses this phrase should be, metaphorically at least, hit over the head with a stick.

The simple fact is that “court packing” is a pejorative phrase. It is nonsensical to use it as a description of something you’re considering supporting or actively supporting. If you decide to support a certain politician you don’t refer to deciding to ‘carry their water.’ Someone who supports expanding the estate tax doesn’t call it the ‘death tax’. This is obvious. Doing so is an act of comical political negligence. But of course the error is far more than semantic. No one should be using this phrase because it is false and turns the entire reality of the situation on its head.

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Where Things Stand: Trump Uses COVID Diagnosis To Lean Into Every Trumpian Tendency Ever Prime Badge
This is your TPM afternoon briefing.

In one of his most reality TV star-in-chief moves yet, President Trump is going to be examined by a physician on Friday night in a segment that will be broadcast exclusively by Fox News.

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Is President Trump Facing Electoral Collapse? Prime Badge

Is it a collapse? All Trump critics and opponents are traumatized people, scarred by the horror of November 2016. But vigilance shouldn’t mean being afraid of our shadows. The average of national polls shows something approaching a collapse in the President’s standing over the last three weeks and especially over the last week. On September 19th, the FiveThirtyEight composite average gave Joe Biden a 6.6 percentage point lead over President Trump. By October 1st that number had swelled to 8.2 percentage points. Today it is 10.1 percentage points. These may not seem like big numbers. But in a race that has been on in earnest for a year and in an era of fierce and largely stable polarization it is a deep deterioration.

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The Violence Will Spike After He Loses Prime Badge

President Trump didn’t create rightist paramilitary violence in this country or the far broader revanchist politics of which it is only a part. His political rise grew out of both. It is a symptom, a result, a flourishing. But he has greatly expanded them, legitimized them, allowed them to imagine – quite rationally seeing the last four years – that they can vie for actual power in United States rather than simply commit acts of exemplary violence on the margins. Michigan has long been a hotbed of militia type activity. But President Trump, the national GOP and particularly the Michigan GOP have encouraged and cheered on balaclava-clad gunmen swarming the state capitol, threatening state lawmakers and perpetuating the idea that Governor Whitmer’s emergency public health measures constituted some existential threat to popular liberties.

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TARRYTOWN, NEW YORK, UNITED STATES - 2020/10/02: View of Corporate and Research and Development Headquarters of Regeneron Pharmaceuticals, Inc. on Old Saw Mill River Road. As President Donald Trump contracted COVID-19 he has been administered a dose of experimental Regeneron treatment, according to a memorandum from the President's physician. According to company press release antibody cocktail REGN-COV2 showing it reduced viral load and the time to alleviate symptoms in non-hospitalized patients with COVID-19. REGN-COV2 is a combination of two monoclonal antibodies (REGN10933 and REGN10987) and was designed specifically to block infectivity of SARS-CoV-2, the virus that causes COVID-19. (Photo by Lev Radin/Pacific Press/LightRocket via Getty Images)
President Plays Pitchman For Another Experimental COVID ‘Cure’ Prime Badge
This Week in the Swamp: A weekly dive into the muck of the Trump administration.
Where Things Stand: Different Standards Are McConnell’s Favorite Cop-Out Prime Badge
This is your TPM afternoon briefing.

The Senate majority leader’s hazy statements distancing himself from the administration’s missteps are a staple of his leadership in the Trump era.

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Where Things Stand: A Real Debate This Time? Prime Badge

There’s already been some spicy commentary from both the Pence and Harris teams about respect for COVID-19 rules in tonight’s debate. And some weak plexiglass concession from the vice president’s side.

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Of Self-Sucker Punches and Bust Outs Prime Badge

As I mentioned last night, I think there’s a decent chance Mitch McConnell suckered President Trump into canceling stimulus bill negotiations. The GOP looks to be shifting into bust out mode. McConnell and other party leaders likely see that Trump is finished and that the Senate majority probably is too. The cynical play is straightforward: pocket the Court seat and leave an incoming Biden administration in as deep a hole as possible. It even cues Republicans up to switch seamlessly back into austerity/fiscal scold mode in 2021, without their fingerprints on any more stimulus spending. Little discussed here is Trump’s assertion that leaving stimulus negotiations until after the election will clear the calendar to focus on confirming Amy Coney Barrett. Of course it will. That seems to be the point.

Normally it would be reasonable to ask whether anyone really thinks that cynically about governance. With Mitch McConnell not only do we know he thinks that cynically he actually acted this cynically under Barack Obama. We have a track record.

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Where Things Stand: Trump’s Grand Recovery Complete With A Grand National Address Prime Badge
This is your TPM afternoon briefing.

We’re hearing reports that President Trump plans to address the nation at some point today — just hours after being released from the nation’s top military hospital after being treated for COVID-19.

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Rage Against the Dying of the Light Prime Badge

President Trump seems to be knocking off iconic (and not in a good way) moments in rapid succession now: the Lafayette Park church stunt in June, the slow speed base runabout in his armored SUV two days ago, and then last night’s Triumph of the Will manque set piece with Trump, bathed in light but also clearly struggling to breathe, triumphantly reentering the White House and confidently tossing off his mask. While the June incident long predated Trump’s personal health crisis, each moment shares a common theme: Trumpian efforts to demonstrate strength and dominance which fail because they claim too much, because Trump is in fact weak. And it shows.

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Prediction: Trump Wasn’t Getting Tested Prime Badge

Listening to all the little clues and nuggets of evidence and the adamant refusal to disclose the date of the President’s last negative COVID test, I think the piece of kryptonite at the center of this clown show is this: the President went into Tuesday night’s debate without getting tested. Perhaps he hadn’t been tested in some time. Many of the gaps and disconnects point toward a scenario in which the White House was relying mostly on testing those who came in contact with the President as a proxy for testing the President himself. Obviously tests and incubation periods are far too fallible for that to make any sense. But I’m pretty sure that at least to some extent that’s what they were doing. Just how much is pretty key right now.

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Voters Face Registration Deadlines In Several States Today Prime Badge
This Week in Voting Rights: A weekly roundup of news on Americans' access to the ballot box
Where Things Stand: The Most Defensive Statement Yet Prime Badge
This is your TPM afternoon briefing.

White House press secretary Kaleigh McEnany announced via Twitter this morning that she has tested positive for COVID-19. But the statement is exceptionally defensive — likely because she spoke to reporters just yesterday without wearing a mask.

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Was the President the Superspreader? Prime Badge

A variety of circumstantial evidence now raises the real possibility that the President was himself the super-spreader at the center of the White House COVID cluster. To know with any confidence we will need a thoroughgoing contact tracing investigation. It’s quite possible the vector is a little-known White House aide who mingled through the crowd last Saturday in the Rose Garden. For the moment we only have information about the high profile infectees.

But two bits of circumstantial evidence stand out. Read More

That’s the Question Prime Badge

I think TPM Reader DC has this right. The real question isn’t when Trump tested positive. It’s the last time he had a negative test result. That seems likely to be the issue with the muddled timeline …

The most important question for timeline is when the last negative test was, and exactly when and what testing platform were positive results obtained.

I am supposing he tested negative Wednesday AM using the daily Abbott rapid test. 50% false negative rate.

In retrospect reports that he was dragging Wednesday Night might explain why Conley indicated he had been sick for 72 hours.

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Like a Novel and Not a Good One Prime Badge

It’s like a novel and not a terribly good one. It now seems quite probable, if not certain, that the death of Ruth Bader Ginsburg on September 18th triggered a chain of events that led directly to the President’s diagnosis and subsequent hospitalization for COVID-19. As you may have heard, a growing body of circumstantial evidences points strongly to the conclusion that the announcement event for Amy Coney Barrett as the President’s nominee to replace Ginsburg was the spreader event that has led to the current outbreak at the White House and in the upper echelons of the GOP.

To date, Trump, Melania Trump, Sens. Lee and Tillis, the President of Notre Dame University, Kellyanne Conway, campaign manager Bill Stepien, Hope Hicks have all tested positive in the last 48 hours. RNC Chair Ronna McDaniel and Sen. Ron Johnson have also tested positive, though their connection to the Rose Garden event is less direct or at least unclear.

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Where Things Stand: Come For The Trump COVID News, Stay For The Congressional Probe Prime Badge
This is your TPM afternoon briefing.
NYTIMPEACH Rep. Raja Krishnamoorthi (D-IL) questions Gordon Sondland, US Ambassador to the European Union, during a House Intelligence Committee impeachment inquiry hearing on Capitol Hill in Washington, DC on November 20, 2019. (Pool Photo by Samuel Corum for The New York Times)

This is one of a handful of times in TPM’s history that our reporting sparked a congressional probe.

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It Looks Like a Cover Up Prime Badge

The timeline of events leading up to the disclosure of President Trump’s diagnosis point overwhelmingly to some mix of a coverup and gross negligence and likely both.

Let’s review some key facts, as far as we presently know them.

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Processing the News and the Spread Prime Badge

Under any circumstances, the President contracting a potentially fatal disease – and one that moves quickly – constitutes a grave national security crisis. We cannot and should not shy away from the fact that the President’s affliction – and likely those of others around him – is a direct result of his own reckless behavior. Overnight reports suggest his top aides seldom wear masks in his presence “in deference to the president’s disdain for them.” At Tuesday night’s debate his family and entourage pointedly refused to wear masks, even refusing a Cleveland Clinic doctor’s appeals to do so, which the debate rules mandated. Given these facts it is all but certain that a significant number of other top officials at the White House also have COVID.

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Feds Delivering The Goods For Trump Campaign Just In Time For Election Day Prime Badge
This Week in the Swamp: A weekly dive into the muck of the Trump administration.
Where Things Stand: Check Out Melania’s Latest Side Project Prime Badge

If you watched the debate on Tuesday or have paid attention to the Trump family’s public appearances in the last 48 hours, you don’t need me to point out the irony here.

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If Winning is Your Ideology, Being a Loser is Fatal

A friend asked me to read and give my reaction to this debate reaction piece by Tim Alberta in Politico. Of late I haven’t been on the same page on many things Alberta has written. There are various assumptions and claims in this one I don’t agree with. But on the big point I think Alberta really nails a key element of what happened Tuesday night. I mentioned yesterday that there’s a certain roguish fun and entertainment Trump can bring which we shortchange ourselves not to understand and credit no matter how much we might loathe him or despise what he represents.

This was one of Trump’s campaign superpowers in 2016. Whatever else you could say it was really, really clear that Trump was enjoying himself. And why wouldn’t he be? He was breaking the rules and getting away with it. On his maiden political campaign he was felling the men who were supposed to be the futures of the Republican Party one after another. He was being himself and it was working. He would provoke, crack a joke, offend and while his competitors were prepping tut-tutting press releases he was on Fox or on Twitter moving on to his next stunt.

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Where Things Stand: Does Tim Scott Get Tired? Prime Badge
This is your TPM afternoon briefing.

He’s been one of the most confusing senators to me for some time.

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