2020 Daily Trail Markers: DNC like none other kicks off

The Democratic National Convention kicks off on Monday night with an event that will look almost nothing like national political conventions from years past, according to CBS News campaign reporter Adam Brewster. The event, which was supposed to bring upwards of 50,000 people to Milwaukee, will now largely happen in cyberspace due to the COVID-19 pandemic. Most of the speeches will be much shorter than usual and there will be no thunderous cheers for politicians delivering their remarks. About 400 people are working in operation centers in Milwaukee, New York, Los Angeles and Wilmington, Delaware to pull off the virtual event, which will feature a mix of live and pretaped content. Arguably the most anticipated speaker of the night is former first lady Michelle Obama, who will give the night’s keynote remarks. “I know Joe. He is a profoundly decent man guided by faith. He was a terrific Vice President. He knows what it takes to rescue an economy, beat back a pandemic and lead our country,” Obama said in a clip of her speech released by the Democratic National Convention Committee. Senator Bernie Sanders, who finished second among delegates in the Democratic primaries, is also speaking on Monday night. A senior Sanders aide tells CBS News campaign reporter Cara Korte that Sanders’ speech will focus on beating President Trump and why Sanders supports Joe Biden. In his speech, Sanders will make a direct appeal to people who supported other candidates in the primary and those who voted for Mr. Trump in 2016. “The future of our democracy is at stake. The future of our economy is at stake. The future of our planet is at stake. We must come together, defeat Donald Trump and elect Joe Biden and Kamala Harris as our next president and vice president. My friends, the price of failure is just too great to imagine,” Sanders says, according to prepared remarks released by the DNCC.

Other speakers include Representative Gwen Moore of Milwaukee, Representative Jim Clyburn of South Carolina, New York Governor Andrew Cuomo and Michigan Governor Gretchen Whitmer, who was one of the women Biden considered to be his running mate. The theme for the night is “We the People” and there will be sections dedicated to racial justice and the COVID-19 pandemic. But one part of the night that has drawn a lot of attention is dedicated to putting “country over party.” That section features speakers who don’t normally grace the stage at Democratic conventions: Republicans. Democratic officials had previously announced that former Ohio Governor John Kasich would speak, but the convention planners announced on Monday that a trio of Republican women would speak before him: former New Jersey Governor Christine Todd Whitman, former Representative Susan Molinari of New YOrk and former California Republican gubernatorial candidate Meg Whitman. “We can all see what’s going on in our country today and all the questions that are facing us, and no one person or party has all the answers,” Kasich will say, according to prepared remarks. “But what we do know is that we can do better than what we’ve been seeing today, for sure. And I know that Joe Biden, with his experience and his wisdom and his decency, can bring us together to help us find that better way.” 

While Democrats are not traveling to Milwaukee this week to speak, Republicans are seizing on the opportunity to send their biggest names to the Badger State, including Mr. Trump who made a trip to Oshkosh on Monday. “The voters of Wisconsin are very, very spectacular people,” Mr. Trump said. “We are going to fight for every single aspect that you have going. We are never going to forget you. You didn’t forget me in the last election.” The president’s son, Eric Trump, will be in Milwaukee on Tuesday and Vice President Mike Pence visits southeast Wisconsin on Wednesday. Before the festivities began on Monday, Wisconsin Democrats had a virtual breakfast to kick off the convention week, where they expressed disappointment that the event couldn’t be held in Milwaukee, but agreed it was the correct decision for health and safety. “I do want to note a contrast,” said Senator Tammy Baldwin, referring to the Mr. Trump campaign’s visits. “They’re unsafe because they are holding in-person events. I don’t know if they will be wearing masks, I hope they follow the mask guidelines that we have in our state.”

FROM THE CANDIDATES

JOE BIDEN

After almost 48 years of continuous convention attendance, Joe Biden is scheduled to deliver an in-person and live speech on Thursday night to accept his party’s nomination for president. But viewers should expect to see Biden earlier than Thursday night, CBS News campaign reporter Bo Erickson reports, as his deputy campaign manager promised on Monday the former Vice President will make “surprise” appearances throughout the week. And with the sustained media coverage expected on Biden throughout the week, questions have been raised about his recent press accessibility. His campaign only scheduled two events in the past 48 days that featured several questions from campaign reporters. In the interim, Biden has sat for local and national interviews, but those watching his campaign the closest rarely get to ask him questions. Biden’s most recent and wide-ranging interview was on August 5 when he sat for a panel interview with journalists from the national associations of Black and Hispanic journalists. However, he has not shied away from friendly media appearances. On Monday, Biden received the Cardi B interview treatment as they sat down for an on-camera Zoom interview to essentially promote voting. Biden jokingly noted when his daughter was growing up she called him “Joey B.” The interview started with Biden asking questions to Cardi who repeatedly spoke about the importance of Medicare for All and assisting young Americans to pay for college. Biden sidestepped most of those mentions but promised to pass his already-announced plan for free college for families making less than $125,000.

PRESIDENT DONALD TRUMP

A former senior official under Mr. Trump’s Department of Homeland Security endorsed Biden in a scathing video created by “Republicans Voters Against Trump.” “What we saw week in and week out and for me after two and a half years in that administration was terrifying,” former Department of Homeland Security chief of staff Miles Taylor said. “We would go in to try to talk to them about a pressing national security, cyber-attack, terrorism threat. He wasn’t interested in those things to him. They weren’t priorities. The president wanted to exploit the Department of Homeland Security for his own political purposes and to fuel his own agenda.” In response to the video, White House deputy press secretary Judd Deere called Taylor “another creature of the D.C. Swamp who never understood the importance of the President’s agenda or why the American people elected him.”

CBS News campaign reporter Nicole Sganga reports Mr. Trump made stops in political battlegrounds Minnesota and Wisconsin, Monday. While speaking in Oshkosh, Wisconsin — just 90 miles north of the former site of the Democratic National Convention — Mr. Trump asserted without evidence, “the only way we’re going to lose this election is if the election is rigged.” A CBS News Battleground tracker poll released Sunday shows the president 10 points behind Biden among likely voters nationwide.

Mr. Trump continued to sow doubts about the integrity of November’s presidential election as concerns mount over how the U.S. Postal Service will deliver a crush of mail-in ballots. Meanwhile, new postmaster general and major Republican fundraiser Louis DeJoy agreed to testify before the Democratic-led House Oversight and Reform Committee next week amid growing pressure from lawmakers to reverse a series of changes that have led to mail delivery delays. Louis DeJoy, who took the helm of the U.S. Postal Service as postmaster general in June, and Robert Duncan, the chairman of the Postal Service Board of Governors, will voluntarily appear before the Oversight panel on Monday, August 24. In a tweet, Mr. Trump criticized the timing of the hearing, which lands on the first day of the Republican National Convention.

CONVENTIONAL WISDOM

“AMERICA’S RIGHT TO VOTE”

The RNC is planning a fireworks display at the Washington Monument at 11:30 p.m. ET on August 27, according to a National Parks permit application obtained first by CBS News White House producer Sara Cook. If approved, Sganga says the planned festivities would follow Mr. Trump’s convention acceptance speech from White House grounds. The application accounts for 50 personnel and warns the event “may attract First Amendment demonstrators.” The permit application is still being processed.

VOTING ISSUES

BIG FINALE

Amid the coronavirus and protests against racial injustice, CBSN political reporter Caitlin Huey-Burns launched a new series called “America’s Right to Vote,” focused on voting rights, safety and access. The first episode looks at regulations in place that make it more difficult for some people. “Barriers are put in the way and they’re often subtle,” says Michael Waldman, president of the nonpartisan Brennan Center for Justice. “They can look kind of bureaucratic and complex, but in fact they have the same kind of impact, unfair impact, on Black voters and Latino voters of some of the laws from the past. Voter suppression is not just something from long ago newsreels. It happens today. It happens now.” Many key restrictions have been implemented over the past decade, and involve voter ID laws, cutting back on early voting, eliminating same-day registration and redistricting. Many states have expanded the option of mail-in voting during the pandemic. Thirty-four states and the District of Columbia do not require an excuse to vote absentee. Last week, Kentucky announced a bipartisan deal to allow voters concerned about the pandemic to vote absentee. But additional barriers exist. Nine states require voters to produce witness signatures or have their ballot signed by a public notary. Most states require absentee ballots to be returned by Election Day, so threats to Postal Service funding could end up suppressing votes.

COLLECTION BOXES

Photos of U.S. Postal Service flatbed trucks hauling away those iconic blue collection boxes went viral over the weekend. In places like Morristown, New Jersey; Portland, Oregon and Billings, Montana, residents were alarmed by their removal, and Democrats subsequently sounded alarms, warning of a larger Trump-led effort to reduce the number of collection boxes in the country and therefore reducing the number of safe sites for mailed ballots. The USPS, in response, placed a 90-day moratorium on collection box removal. The Postal Service also attempted to cool heads in a statement claiming that box removal is standard operating procedure and done when boxes are not receiving high volumes of mail and their removal would not hurt a community. CBS News campaign reporter Cara Korte spoke to a USPS spokesperson from the Pacific Northwest who reiterated that box removals were “completely routine” and “happen all year.” In Morristown, New Jersey this weekend, Congresswoman Mikie Sherrill saw reports of boxes being carted away and in response said her office would be investigating the matter. A spokesperson from Representative Sherrill’s office told Korte they had received more than 2,000 emails over the weekend from constituents worried about the USPS making it harder for them to vote.

STATE-BY-STATE

ARIZONA

Senate candidate Mark Kelly denounced “delays and political attacks on the Postal Service” in a statement on Monday, joining a chorus of Arizona Democrats decrying controversial USPS changes ahead of the November election. Even before the coronavirus pandemic, CBS News campaign reporter Alex Tin says nearly 8 in 10 Arizonans cast their ballots by mail in the 2018 election. Now Arizona’s Secretary of State Katie Hobbs, a Democrat, is calling on the state attorney general’s Election Integrity Unit to investigate the USPS moves, fearing “a larger, coordinated scheme to interfere” with mail voting by President Trump and his allies. “We review every complaint, regardless of merit. Confidence in elections is the cornerstone of our democracy. I will continue to protect the integrity of our elections, even when other state officials won’t,” Arizona Attorney General Mark Brnovich, a Republican, said in a statement. Hobbs’ letter comes ahead of a key bench trial tomorrow with attorneys from both officials, as well as national Democrats and Republicans, over the upcoming election. Democrats have asked a federal court to grant mail voters in the state an opportunity after the election to “cure” ballots that are missing signatures, arguing current rules violate Arizonans’ rights.

FLORIDA

A day ahead of the Florida state primary election, data from the Division of Elections shows that the number of ballots received via mail has nearly doubled the number of mail-in votes that were counted in the 2016 state primary contest. CBS News campaign reporter LaCrai Mitchell notes that in some of the state’s larger Central and Southern counties, hundreds of thousands of voters have already voted by mail. Half a million Florida voters have voted early, comparable to the number of early votes received in 2016. As more voters cast early ballots and vote by mail, volunteers and supporters for Joe Biden and President Trump held events throughout the state. In Sarasota, the Trump Victory Florida team hosted Vice President Mike Pence’s nephew, John Pence, for an in-person MAGA meet-up. An hour north, thousands of pro-Trump boaters reportedly gathered in Clearwater, Florida, for one of the largest boat parades on record. And in the Naples area, Biden volunteers and supporters also assembled “Ridin’ for Biden” caravans to support the former vice president and discuss the importance of voting, according to CBS Fort Myers affiliate WINK.

NEVADA

In an interview with Fox News on Monday, Mr. Trump again warned of “disaster” in Nevada citing recent changes to the state’s election laws over the coronavirus pandemic. CBS News campaign reporter Alex Tin says the president also repeated a false claim that the state would not verify signatures on mail ballots. While a bill passed by the state’s Democratic-led legislature revised procedures around signature matching on mail ballots, election officials in the state will indeed continue to match signatures on mail ballots come November. In fact, attorneys for President Trump’s campaign acknowledged the requirement in their own lawsuit against Nevada’s Republican secretary of state, only going so far as to claim the law opened a potential “loophole” over unsigned ballots that are delivered folded together.

OHIO

Ohio Congressional Democrats sent a letter to the state’s Secretary of State Frank LaRose urging him to walk back his position of limiting county board of elections to one ballot drop box. In the letter, Democrats cited the state’s mail-in primary in April and wrote that the state should build off the lessons learned before it is too late. The lawmakers argued that limiting county boards of elections to one ballot drop box is suppressing the vote. “If you proceed to restrict the availability of secure drop boxes, this policy will undermine the ability of many Ohioans to vote,” the lawmakers wrote. “We urge you to reconsider your decision, and use your authority to permit local boards of elections to locate additional secure boxes in their communities.” Ohio Attorney General Dave Yost called on the president to postpone his reforms to the postal service until after the November election, according to a letter obtained by CBS News campaign reporter Jack Turman. In the letter, dated August 16, Yost urged the president to delay the operational changes to the institution. “Making the radical changes only weeks before early voting begins – however fiscally well founded – would place the solvency of the Post Office above the legitimacy of the Government itself,” Yost wrote. Yost expressed confidence in Ohio’s election officials to safely and securely administer an election. He wrote that whatever reforms the president is looking to implement “cannot come at the expense of our faith in the 2020 election.” In a virtual press conference Monday morning ahead of the Democratic National Convention this week, Senator Sherrod Brown of Ohio blasted the president’s attack on the U.S. Postal Service, adding that people rely on the Postal Service to receive medications and to pay bills, in addition to casting their ballot. Brown also said that U.S. postmaster general Louis DeJoy is a “political hack” who “knows nothing about the Postal Service.” Brown said, “It’s amazing the president of the United States thinks it’s okay to scare people, thinks it’s okay to begin the dismantling of this great institution that has a very productive workforce.” Brown also recalled an anecdote about Senator Kamala Harris of California handing him “All Labor Has Dignity,” a collection of Dr. Martin Luther King Jr.’s speeches on economic justice. Brown said that book provides insight into the “dignity of work,” a common phrase used by Brown, and into Harris’ values. “She understands that to bring this country back, it’s the workers,” Brown said. “It’s through essential workers who know they’re essential but feel they’re expendable. It’s about the dignity of work. It’s about all labor has dignity.” Ohio GOP chairwoman Jane Timken and Congressmen Bob Gibbs held a press call Monday afternoon criticizing Biden and Harris on their economic policies. In her opening remarks, Timken said Ohio Governor John Kasich, a Republican who is speaking at the Democratic National Convention, “has jumped onto the bandwagon.”

CONGRESSIONAL COVERAGE

IN THE HOUSE

Massachusetts

Congressman Richard Neal and Mayor Alex Morse are set to have their first Democratic primary debate in Massachusetts’ 1st district Monday night, according to CBS News political unit broadcast associate Aaron Navarro. The hour-long debate is a checkpoint in what has been a roller coaster primary for Morse in recent weeks. On August 7, the College Democrats of Massachusetts sent a letter to Morse, rejecting his campaign and alleging Morse, a part-time lecturer, had inappropriate relationships with students. The Massachusetts Daily Collegian reported that the group found issue with Morse using college Democrat events to meet and add students on social media, as well as with matching with several of them on dating apps. Morse has admitted to the relationships, telling the Daily Collegian that they were all consensual. But an August 12 story by The Intercept alleged the letter was politically motivated and planned. The story details how one college strategist was a “Neal stan” and discussed Morse’s use of dating apps to hurt his campaign. The Neal campaign has denied any collaboration with the college Democrats group. The state Democratic party said they would be independently reviewing the situation, but a story alleged coordination between the college and state Democratic party. In a Friday email, Morse’s campaign characterized the narrative as a “coordinated political smear.” On Twitter, Morse said he was confident his name would be cleared through an investigation but also apologized for having made some students “uncomfortable.” Morse was promptly backed up by progressives like Jamaal Bowman of New York, the Sunrise Movement and the Justice Democrats group, which began a $150,000 ad buy hitting Neal on his ties to special interests. Justice Democrats see Morse as another formidable progressive candidate, hoping to continue the streak of successful incumbent upsets set by Bowman, Cori Bush of Missouri and Marie Newman of Illinois. Neal, who has been in Congress since 1989, drastically leads the money race with about $4.2 million on hand. An internal Morse poll showed him down to Neal by 5 points.

Mail

Following the DNC, Speaker Nancy Pelosi wrote to the caucus that they will be coming back Saturday for a vote related to the USPS. The House was originally slated to be on summer recess until mid-September. House Republicans immediately criticized Pelosi for ending the recess short over the USPS, but not ending it to work on another coronavirus relief package. Their most recent package, the HEROES Act, was passed overwhelmingly by House Democrats in May. When asked on Fox News if the return from recess was a “clear political stunt,” Republican House campaign arm Chair Tom Emmer said “clearly so.” He said Pelosi has “refused to negotiate in good faith” regarding coronavirus legislation, and that the return to Congress was Pelosi “putting their partisan politics ahead of the American people.” The House will be voting around 11 a.m. Saturday on Congresswoman Carolyn Maloney’s “Delivering for America Act,” which would prevent any changes to USPS operations that were already in place on January 1, 2020. Suraj Patel, Maloney’s former primary opponent, criticized Maloney, claiming post office errors were a reason 13,000 votes were thrown out. “The Rep. KNEW there would be USPS problems two months ago – we lived them! Why has it taken her so long to act? What good will this do now?” he tweeted.

Numbers

Like many groups during the pandemic, the Democratic Congressional Campaign Committee has prioritized digital outreach and other socially distant forms of campaigning. In numbers first shared with Navarro, the committee says House Democrats have doubled their number of virtual events since June, adding 2,000 volunteers and reaching out to over 840,000 voters. Thirty-two House Democrat campaigns, either incumbents or challengers, have released television ads or other paid media.