Election Updates: Fires and Coronavirus Shadow Trump on Campaign Trail

President Trump at a Latinos for Trump Coalition Roundtable in Las Vegas on Sunday. After holding a large indoor rally in Nevada, Mr. Trump will head to California to be briefed on the wildfires raging across the West.
Credit…Doug Mills/The New York Times

President Trump is sprinting into the fall campaign with vigor and vehemence — but the grinding, buck-stops-here obligations of the presidency are forcing him to address, day after day, the cascading crises that are darkening his watch.

In 2016, Mr. Trump won by portraying Hillary Clinton as the tired embodiment of the ineffective Washington establishment. But he is the incumbent now — and despite his attempts to deflect blame or change the subject, the mounting death toll of the coronavirus pandemic, and the wildfires ravaging the West, are inescapable.

On Monday, Mr. Trump heads to Sacramento, where he will be briefed on the devastation caused by the fires raging through California, Oregon and Washington State. Gov. Gavin Newsom of California, a Democrat and frequent Trump critic, is also expected to attend.

The visit comes as the president, making his pitch to voters in the coal country of Pennsylvania and Ohio, campaigns on continuing to scale back environmental regulations. He is expected to use his visit to address the shooting of two Los Angeles County deputies in an ambush, a party official, speaking on condition of anonymity, said over the weekend.

As in Nevada, local officials in California see his visit, by and large, as an irritant: Mr. Trump has suggested that climate change is a hoax and has blamed the fires on poor management of forests — which Senator Jeff Merkley, Democrat of Oregon, called a “devastating lie.”

At a rally in a Las Vegas suburb Sunday night, where Mr. Trump delivered his counterfactual stump speech, the images contradicted his recent claim, in the wake of his Bob Woodward interviews, that he is deadly serious about fighting the pandemic. He flouted a Nevada rule banning mass indoor gatherings despite the fact that a substantial percentage of the electorate thinks he is not taking the crisis seriously enough.

Mr. Trump values visuals over words, and by the standards of his critics, the optics have not been good for him lately: He will appear Monday in a West that is in flames, after strolling through rubble in Kenosha, after egging on thousands of mask-less supporters in Henderson, Nev., over the weekend.

But he does not see it that way.

He wants voters to visualize the election as a referendum on Mr. Biden — whom he has accused of cowering in the basement — and has been willing to appear against discordant, even ugly backdrops, to prove he is physically willing to enter a fray his opponent is too scared to confront. (Mr. Biden, in fact, visited Kenosha as well, and has become increasingly active on the campaign trail in recent weeks.)

Above all, Mr. Trump is staking everything on the belief that he can convince Americans that what they are seeing is not his fault — and that Mr. Biden and the Democrats are responsible.

It is a message that his surrogates are adopting too.

“Joe Biden can’t run from his disastrous record responding to the coronavirus,” the Republican National Committee chairwoman, Ronna McDaniel. wrote in a Tweet on Sunday, about Mr. Biden, who has not held office for four years.

President Trump has used his time in the nation’s highest office to aggressively promote the burning of fossil fuels, chiefly by rolling back or weakening every major federal policy intended to combat dangerous emissions.
Credit…Doug Mills/The New York Times

When President Trump flies to California on Monday to assess the state’s raging forest fires, he will come face to face with the grim consequences of a reality he has stubbornly refused to accept: the devastating effects of a warming planet.

To the global scientific community, the acres of scorched earth and ash-filled skies across the American West are the tragic, but predictable, result of accelerating climate change. Nearly two years ago, federal government scientists concluded that greenhouse gas emissions from burning fossil fuels could triple the frequency of severe fires across the Western states.

But the president has used his time in the nation’s highest office to aggressively promote the burning of fossil fuels, chiefly by rolling back or weakening every major federal policy intended to combat dangerous emissions. At the same time, Mr. Trump and his senior environmental officials have regularly mocked, denied or minimized the established science of human-caused climate change.

Now, as he battles for a second term in the White House, Mr. Trump has doubled down on his anti-climate agenda as a way of appealing to his core supporters. At a rally in Pennsylvania last month, he blamed California’s failure to “clean your floors” of leaves, threatening to “make them pay for it because they don’t listen to us.”

The lethal fires spreading across the West — like the coronavirus that has ravaged the country for months — are a warning for the president that many voters may hold him and his administration accountable for brushing aside scientific experts and failing to effectively mobilize the government to minimize natural disasters that have claimed lives, damaged property and threatened economic prosperity.

“Talk to a firefighter if you think that climate change isn’t real,” Mayor Eric M. Garcetti of Los Angeles, a supporter of former Vice President Joseph R. Biden Jr., Mr. Trump’s Democratic opponent, said on CNN’s “State of the Union” on Sunday. “It seems like this administration are the last vestiges of the Flat Earth Society of this generation.”

President Trump during a campaign rally in Henderson, Nev., on Sunday. He held the rally indoors and ignored state rules limiting gatherings to 50 people because of the coronavirus.
Credit…Doug Mills/The New York Times

At a rally in a Las Vegas suburb Sunday night, President Trump delivered his counterfactual stump speech, making wildly inaccurate claims about the trend lines of the coronavirus and about his Democratic rival, Joseph R. Biden, Jr., whom he said was waging a “dangerous war on the police” and was also “too weak to be president.”

The president kept the fact-checkers busy, but didn’t provide much newfor the headline writers — outside of his choice of an indoor venue for a campaign rally attended by thousands of supporters in a state that has limited gatherings to under 50 people.

Before the rally, Tim Murtaugh, a Trump campaign spokesman, defended the decision to brazenly ignore rules set by state officials.

“If you can join tens of thousands of people protesting in the streets, gamble in a casino, or burn down small businesses in riots, you can gather peacefully under the First Amendment to hear from the president of the United States,” he said.

An administration official familiar with the planning said the campaign had vetted five outdoor venues, all of which were blocked by the governor, and settled on a manufacturing plant in Henderson, just south of Las Vegas, as a last resort.

Inside, the vast majority of Trump supporters did not wear masks or socially distance. Outside, they sported T-shirts with messages like “Media is the virus.”

As for Mr. Trump, he barely acknowledged the dangers of the show he was staging, his first indoor rally since one in June in Tulsa, Okla., that health officials there linked to a surge in virus cases. He also made no mention of the pandemic’s death toll, even as it has killed more than 193,000 people in the United States and hundreds more each day.

“What do we have,” Mr. Trump said, telling everyone to settle in and get comfortable for the evening. “Football’s boring as hell.”

Gov. Steve Sisolak, a Democrat, blamed the president for creating a potential super-spreader event.

“Tonight, President Donald Trump is taking reckless and selfish actions that are putting countless lives in danger here in Nevada,” Mr. Sisolak wrote on Twitter. “This is an insult to every Nevadan who has followed the directives, made sacrifices and put their neighbors before themselves. It’s also a direct threat to all of the recent progress we’ve made, and could potentially set us back.”

On stage, Mr. Trump called Mr. Sisolak a “hack” and told his supporters, “If the governor comes after you, which he shouldn’t be doing, I’ll be with you all the way.”

During his remarks, Mr. Trump made a passing reference to the wildfires ravaging Oregon, Washington and California, where he is set to visit on Monday to meet with fire and emergency officials.

“We want forest management,” he said, once again appearing to blame California for badly maintaining its forests, rather than acknowledging the effects of climate change, which scientists say is a main cause of the rising severity of fires.

Joseph R. Biden Jr.’s advisers say they are trying to strike a delicate balance, responding to President Trump’s baseless theories about voter fraud and election rigging without spreading them further.
Credit…Amr Alfiky/The New York Times

Joseph R. Biden Jr.’s campaign is establishing a major new legal operation, bringing in two former solicitor generals and hundreds of lawyers in what the campaign billed as the largest election protection program in presidential campaign history.

Legal battles are already raging over how people will vote — and how ballots will be counted — this fall during the pandemic, and senior Biden officials described the ramp-up as necessary to guard the integrity of a fall election already clouded by President Trump’s baseless accusations of widespread fraud.

The new operation will be overseen by Dana Remus, who has served as Mr. Biden’s general counsel on the 2020 campaign, and Bob Bauer, a former White House counsel during the Obama administration who joined the Biden campaign full-time over the summer as a senior adviser.

Inside the campaign, they are creating a “special litigation” unit, which will be led by Donald B. Verrilli Jr. and Walter Dellinger, two former solicitors general, who are joining the campaign. Hundreds of lawyers will be involved, including a team at the Democratic law firm Perkins Coie, led by Marc Elias, which will focus on the state-by-state fight over vote casting and counting rules. And Eric H. Holder Jr., the former attorney general in the Obama administration, will serve as something of a liaison between the campaign and the many independent groups involved in the legal fight over the election, which is already raging in the courts.

“We can and will hold a free and fair election this fall and be able to trust the results,” Ms. Remus said in an interview.

Protesters outside the U.S. Capitol in Washington in June. Since the killing of George Floyd, racial justice groups have seen an influx of donations large and small.
Credit…Jacquelyn Martin/Associated Press

Susan Sandler, a liberal philanthropist, has announced a $200 million investment in racial justice organizations, targeting areas across the South and the Southwest that are experiencing rapid demographic transformation.

Ms. Sandler, who learned she had a rare form of brain cancer four years ago, unveiled the effort in a lengthy post on Medium published on Monday morning. In the post, which was shared with The New York Times before publication, Ms. Sandler said her investments would be made through a new organization, the Susan Sandler Fund, aimed at combating systemic racism and building civic power. Ms. Sandler characterized the effort as a shift in her political priorities and giving philosophy.

“I have come to believe that, rather than trying to use persuasive papers and reports to attempt to change the minds of those who are making decisions, the more effective way to transform societal priorities and public policies is to change the climate and environment in which decisions are made,” Ms. Sandler writes. “When our government, corporate, and other societal institutions are responsive to — and, frankly, fearful of — the people who most bear the brunt of inequality and injustice, then better priorities, practices, and policies follow.”

Ms. Sandler’s announcement comes amid skyrocketing investment in racial justice organizations, fueled by the national reckoning on systemic inequities and injustice that swept the country this summer.

Small-dollar donations to bail funds after the killing of George Floyd, a Black man who died in Minneapolis after a police officer knelt on his neck, reached over $90 million. In July, the foundation started by George Soros pledged $220 million to groups focused on racial equity, an eye-popping total that gave long-term sustainability to several organizations. Ms. Sandler’s fund will provide several groups with a similar assurance.

Taken together, the donations have reshaped the landscape of Black political and civil rights organizations, and made clear that race and identity will remain at the center of American politics. It also signals a commitment by liberal donors to invest in long-term efforts to change the political landscape, not simply one-off efforts to win an election or invest in a particular candidate.

Initial recipients of grants from Ms. Sandler’s fund include several progressive organizations working in battleground states to register new voters from underrepresented groups. The organizations include the Texas Organizing Project, New Virginia Majority, New Florida Majority and the Arizona Center for Empowerment.

Election workers processing absentee ballots in Milwaukee last month. Wisconsin elections officials are trying to make mail-in voting smoother in November. 
Credit…Will Cioci/Wisconsin Watch, via Associated Press

With just days to go before the start of mail voting in Wisconsin, an array of voting rights activists and political officials are bracing for a State Supreme Court decision, possibly as early as Monday, that could upend the elections process by forcing the reprinting of thousands of ballots and creating havoc in elections offices throughout the state.

Months after Wisconsin’s chaotic April primary election was plagued by partisan rancor, the newest election confusion was prompted by the court’s decision on Thursday to delay the distribution of hundreds of thousands of the ballots.

The court said it needed time to decide whether ballots should be reprinted to include Howie Hawkins, the Green Party presidential candidate, who had made a bid to appear on the ballot.

Both Mr. Hawkins and another third-party candidate who had sought to be placed on the Wisconsin ballot, the rapper Kanye West, appeared to be receiving help from Republicans, who view both men as potentially able to siphon votes away from former Vice President Joseph R. Biden Jr. in November.

The Wisconsin Elections Commission had ruled in August that neither Mr. Hawkins nor Mr. West had qualified for the ballot, citing deficiencies in their applications. A Wisconsin Circuit court upheld the Elections Commission’s decision to keep Mr. West off the ballot late on Friday. Mr. West’s campaign could also still file an appeal to the Wisconsin Supreme Court.

Among voters and Democratic Party officials, the latest dispute provoked worries that November’s election in Wisconsin is shaping up to be a reprise of April’s primary, which was marked by last-minute legal wrangling as Gov. Tony Evers, a Democrat, sought to delay voting to prevent the coronavirus from spreading.

The governor’s plan was defeated by a 4-3 Wisconsin Supreme Court decision, which ordered the election to go forward despite the objections of public health officials.

Noting the narrow partisan split on the Wisconsin Supreme Court, Democrats were girding on Sunday for another decision that might benefit third-party candidates and, effectively, President Trump’s re-election effort.

Vice President Mike Pence had planned to attend a fund-raiser hosted by Republican donors who have helped spread the QAnon conspiracy theory.
Credit…Amr Alfiky/The New York Times

Vice President Mike Pence has called off plans to attend a fund-raiser in Bozeman, Mont., on Monday evening hosted by a couple who have shown support for QAnon, the convoluted conspiracy theory built around the notion of a deep-state cabal of Satan-worshiping pedophiles and their powerful Democratic backers.

Dismissed as the wild rantings of internet trolls after it emerged in late 2017, QAnon has slowly crept toward the Republican mainstream, pushed at times by Mr. Trump and his allies. More than a dozen Republicans running for Congress this year have expressed some degree of belief in QAnon, as have a number of candidates in state races, though the conspiracy theory has been labeled a potential domestic terror threat by the F.B.I.

Mr. Pence’s plan to attend the fund-raiser on Monday was set to become the latest example of how QAnon beliefs are becoming normalized on the American right. The hosts, Caryn and Michael Borland, are wealthy Republican donors who have retweeted QAnon posts on social media and shared memes about the conspiracy theory.

But the Trump campaign quietly shelved Mr. Pence’s plans to attend the fund-raiser after The Associated Press reported last week that the couple had shared QAnon posts. The campaign said over the weekend that the decision to skip the fund-raiser was due to a scheduling change, and did not address the outcry over the host’s QAnon ties.

A tropical storm didn’t stop the weekly get-together of Cubans for Biden supporters near Tropical Park in Miami on Saturday.
Credit…Maria Alejandra Cardona for The New York Times

LONGBOAT KEY, Fla. — Four years after President Trump won Florida by just over a percentage point, polls show that the state is, true to form, sitting on a knife’s edge — and looming again as a potential tipping point.

On Tuesday, Joseph R. Biden Jr. will make his first trip to the state since claiming the nomination last spring. Mr. Trump, guarding a state that no Republican president has lost since Calvin Coolidge, has made a number of visits to the state, including last week.

In an era of polarization, where swing voters are scarce, elections in Florida are won by driving up turnout among the faithful and running up margins in favorable terrain while losing more closely in hostile precincts. In a state so evenly divided that races are often decided by a few thousand votes — or, more memorably, a few hundred — mobilizing the converted outweighs preaching to the undecided few.

“The secret to Florida now is that it’s a margins game,” said Gwen Graham, a former congresswoman who worked for decades in the campaigns of her father, the governor-turned-senator Bob Graham.

If Mr. Biden is able to make inroads across the state’s Republican-rich retirement communities, it would greatly complicate the G.O.P.’s arithmetic. And should the president perform better with Hispanics than he did four years ago, and cut deeply into Mr. Biden’s advantage in urban areas like Miami, it would all but block any Democratic path to victory in Florida.

Jon Stewart, who has been a vocal advocate for emergency responders in the Sept. 11 attacks for almost two decades, is turning his attention to trying to pass a bill in Congress to help veterans who were exposed to toxic burn pits in the wars that followed the terrorist strikes.

Mr. Stewart, the former host of “The Daily Show,” hopes to use his sway to help the tens of thousands of military service members who were exposed to more than 250 pits used in Iraq and Afghanistan to dispose of trash. Like veterans of the Vietnam War whose illnesses were linked to Agent Orange, these service members have fought with the federal government over benefits.

Mr. Stewart is helping to push new legislation sponsored by Senator Kirsten Gillibrand, Democrat of New York, and Representative Raul Ruiz, Democrat of California, that would streamline the process for veterans seeking benefits for illnesses caused by toxic exposures. The group will introduce the legislation on Tuesday.

“The ironic thing is that the first responders suffered health effects due to a terror attack,” Mr. Stewart said in a phone interview. “Now these veterans are suffering health effects due to the negligence of our own country.”

The issue, which has been percolating on Capitol Hill for years, has drawn the attention of Joseph R. Biden Jr., who has long speculated that toxic substances from burn pits contributed to the brain cancer of his son Beau, who served in Iraq and died in 2015. “I have mentioned it to him already,” Ms. Gillibrand said of Mr. Biden. “He expressed support. I think he will be an ally.”

Tens of thousands of those who served in Iraq and Afghanistan were exposed to burn pits, which were regularly used to dispose of tons of refuse in giant dumps, with the materials ignited by jet fuel. Many veterans with lung diseases, cancers and respiratory illnesses believe those ailments stem from such exposure; the Department of Veterans Affairs has said their claims are not supported by evidence. “Unfortunately we place our veterans in almost the position of defendant, like at a trial over their own health,” Mr. Stewart said.

Ms. Gillibrand said there were many parallels between her efforts on burn pits with those that she and Mr. Stewart waged for firefighters and other workers who responded to the Sept. 11 attacks — including a lack of a Republican partner early on, and a protracted legislative fight — as well as those for groups of Vietnam veterans who were exposed at sea to Agent Orange. “It took me a long time,” she said. “These things aren’t easy.”

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