Joseph R. Biden Jr. has strategically ceded center stage to President Trump — until recently adopting a shelter-in-place strategy that minimized mistakes but maximized angst among Democrats who questioned his capacity to generate enthusiasm.
Mr. Biden, appearing at a mask-mandatory CNN town hall before Mr. Trump’s flashier outdoor rally in Wisconsin later that evening, seemed relieved to be out of lockdown, and delivered a sturdy, if not especially electrifying, 90-minute performance that is likely to neither undermine nor boost his standing in the polls.
It was one of Mr. Biden’s first opportunities so far as the Democratic nominee to take questions directly from voters and to press his candidacy to a broad audience.
Here are three takeaways:
He seemed on point.
Mr. Trump and his backers have spent months suggesting, without proof, that Mr. Biden is in cognitive decline. Mr. Trump has baselessly insinuated that Mr. Biden is taking performance-enhancing drugs — and his campaign even put together a mocking worst-of video of Mr. Biden’s verbal stumbles.
Making fun of a fellow septuagenarian seems to delight Mr. Trump, who has also faced questions about his mental fitness. But Republican officials outside of Mr. Trump’s inner circle fret that the attacks set the bar laughably low for Mr. Biden at the upcoming debates.
Despite a few miscues on Thursday night, Mr. Biden was lucid, sprightly, relaxed and conversant with granular details on energy policy, international relations, the economy and agricultural policy.
At one point, he had to stop himself from going on a tangent about “fertilizer and water tables.”
It was a very friendly crowd.
Mr. Trump’s town hall on ABC earlier in the week had the feel of a confrontation between a chef and a restaurant full of angry patrons who hated what they were served. One of the first questions he faced was why he had thrown America “under the bus” during the pandemic. It did not get much better from there.
CNN scheduled Mr. Biden’s event near Scranton, Pa., his hometown, and Mr. Biden took fullest home-field advantage — defusing potentially uncomfortable moments with folksy banter. When a former local police chief started to ask him a question about his stance on law-and-order, Mr. Biden interrupted with, “Didn’t I meet you when you were chief?”
“We did, sir,” the man responded.
There were a lot of questions like this one, from Susan Connors, who runs a small business in Scranton: “I look out over my Biden sign in my front yard and I see a sea of Trump flags and yard signs and my question is, what is your plan to build a bridge with voters from the opposing party to lead us forward toward a common future?”
Mr. Biden, who has long cited his history of working across the aisle, answered by noting that while he was “running as a Democrat” he would be “America’s president” if elected.
Birth of a bumper sticker: Scranton vs. Park Avenue.
A problem that vexed Hillary Clinton’s team for much of 2016 was this: How could a Manhattan billionaire developer, born into wealth, out-populist Democrats (like her) with actual working-class roots?
Mr. Biden has made millions since leaving office, but his entire political career has been based on his “Amtrak Joe” persona, and he wore it easily on Thursday.
Mr. Trump tends to aggrandize his intellectual and collegiate credentials, referring to his business degree from Wharton as “super genius stuff.” On Thursday, Mr. Biden, who went to the University of Delaware and Syracuse Law School, took it in the other direction.
“Who the hell makes you think I need an Ivy League degree to be president?” he asked. “I really do view this campaign as a campaign between Scranton and Park Avenue.”
President Trump sought on Thursday night to keep Wisconsin from slipping away from him in the fall election as he held a nighttime airport rally and contended that former Vice President Joseph R. Biden Jr. was neglecting the key battleground state just as Hillary Clinton had four years ago.
Mr. Biden visited Wisconsin two weeks ago following the police shooting of Jacob Blake in Kenosha, as did Mr. Trump.
“The family is all over the place, all over the country,” Mr. Trump told supporters gathered in Mosinee, referring to his children who were out campaigning for him. “Unlike Joe, who lets you down when he never came back to Milwaukee to apologize or pay respects. I came to Wisconsin and I have been here a lot since we started.”
Mr. Trump was trying to capitalize on Mr. Biden’s decision to cancel the full-scale Democratic National Convention that was initially set to be held in Milwaukee and hold it online instead. But if Mr. Biden should apologize to Wisconsin for canceling his convention there, Mr. Trump did not explain why he should not apologize to Florida for canceling his own convention in that state.
Mr. Trump won Wisconsin with less than one percentage point of the vote in 2016 but now trails Mr. Biden by six points in the latest Washington Post-ABC News poll.
Mr. Trump’s speech was the usual mélange of rambling riffing on China, the coronavirus, law and order, the border wall, Mrs. Clinton, Mr. Biden, Barack Obama and other favorites. At one point, even he suggested his tirades were getting repetitive. “We have enough politics,” he said. “We have politics all over. Sometimes I have to turn it off. I can’t do it anymore. I can’t watch me! I can’t watch!”
A day after President Trump argued that the death toll from the coronavirus was not so bad “if you take the blue states out” — presenting himself once again as the president of Red America and not America as a whole — Joseph R. Biden Jr. vowed to be “everybody’s president,” casting himself as a unifier who would work with Republicans should he be elected to the White House.
“I’m running as a Democrat but I’m going to be everyone’s president,” he said on Thursday night at a CNN town hall-style event. “I’m not going to be a Democratic president. I’m going to be America’s president.”
He then asserted that his career had been “based upon bringing people together and bringing the parties together.”
“I’ve been relatively good at doing that,” he added.
Mr. Biden has long boasted of his ability to find common ground with people he does not agree with ideologically, and to this day, he still speaks fondly of his Republican colleagues from his time as a senator.
Yet his more moderate instincts have also driven away some progressives, who bristle at his willingness to compromise and view his respect for Republicans as wholly in keeping with a Washington establishment they despise.
During the town hall, Mr. Biden also asserted that there would be “between six and eight Republicans who are ready to get things done,” including on health care and infrastructure, suggesting he was anticipating there would be more cooperation with Republicans to come.
But if his remarks were sure to irritate some in his party’s left wing, he also ended the night with a hopeful note: “I think we’re going to win back the Democratic Senate.”
President Trump’s searing commentary about the violence that occasionally erupted at protests against police brutality in recent months has concerned Biden advisers, who see the issue as a potentially powerful wedge that could alienate suburban moderates.
On Thursday, during his CNN town hall, Mr. Biden tried to reassure voters in his home state that he defended law and order while expressing his support for the Black Lives Matter movement.
“Very few white parents have to turn and say to their kid, once they get their license, ‘Make sure if you are pulled over, put both hands on top of the wheel, don’t reach for the glove box, make sure you do whatever the police officer says,’” Mr. Biden said, in a reference to the talk many Black families have with their children to try to ensure their safety when they encounter law enforcement.
He quickly added, “The vast majority of police are decent, honorable people. One of the things I’ve found is, the only people who don’t like bad cops more than we don’t like them are police officers.”
In a later exchange, a Wilkes-Barre council member, Bill Barrett, a former police chief, asked Mr. Biden if he thought increasing anger at local police departments was a problem.
Mr. Barrett asked, “I am very concerned about the violence taking place in our cities across this country, and especially concerned about the lack of respect shown towards law enforcement officers and the military. Can you tell us what your plan is for addressing this situation and bringing our nation back together, sir?”
“First of all, protesting is one thing, the right to speak is one thing,” replied Mr. Biden. “Violence of any kind, no matter who it is coming from, is wrong, and people should be held accountable. Burning down automobile lots, smashing windows, setting buildings on fire. But here’s the deal, I’ve condemned every form of violence, no matter what the source is.”
Mr. Biden — speaking on a day when the F.B.I. director, Christopher Wray, identified right-wing extremism as a domestic terror threat — tried to turn the law-and-order issue back on Mr. Trump by calling for the president to rebuke his own supporters for perpetrating acts of violence.
“The president has yet to condemn, as you’ve probably noticed, the far right and the white supremacists, and those guys walking around with the AK-47s,” Mr. Biden said. Mr. Trump, he added, is “not doing a damn thing about them.”
Joseph R. Biden Jr. said on Thursday that there was “no rationale” for eliminating hydraulic fracturing at the present time, weighing in on a contentious environmental issue that is also a source of jobs in shale-rich states like Pennsylvania.
“Fracking has to continue because we need a transition,” Mr. Biden said at a CNN town hall event near Scranton, Pa. “We’re going to get to net-zero emissions by 2050, and we’ll get to net-zero power emissions by 2035. But there’s no rationale to eliminate, right now, fracking.”
In the Democratic primary race, Mr. Biden did not go as far as some of his rivals who called for a full ban on hydraulic fracturing, the oil and gas extraction technique known as fracking. Instead, he would not allow new leases on federal lands. President Trump has nonetheless attacked him over the issue.
Asked by CNN’s Anderson Cooper if he supported the Green New Deal or if it was “too much,” Mr. Biden responded, “I don’t think it’s too much.” But then he pointed to his own climate plan, declaring, “I have my own deal.”
Mr. Biden has moved leftward on the issue of climate change over the course of his presidential campaign. In July, he laid out a $2 trillion plan that aims to eliminate carbon pollution from the power sector by 2035, among other steps.
And in a speech on Monday, Mr. Biden spoke about the devastating wildfires on the West Coast and assailed Mr. Trump for denying climate change, calling him a “climate arsonist.”
President Trump will not make an in-person appearance at the United Nations General Assembly, which opens next week in New York City, his chief of staff, Mark Meadows, said on Thursday, in an apparent change in the White House’s plan.
The annual event, which typically brings dozens of world leaders together in midtown Manhattan, will be held virtually this year, with leaders delivering speeches remotely by video. As recently as July 30, Mr. Trump’s ambassador to the United Nations, Kelly Craft, said that Mr. Trump would be “the only world leader to be speaking in person.”
But Mr. Meadows told reporters traveling with the president on Air Force One to a campaign rally in Mosinee, Wis., that Mr. Trump would not physically visit United Nations headquarters for the General Assembly.
Joseph R. Biden Jr. leaned into his Scranton, Pa., roots on Thursday night and batted back the notion that anyone needed an Ivy League degree to be president, asserting that “guys like me” are just as good as anyone else.
In a heartfelt moment during a CNN town hall-style event, Mr. Biden said people like him who grew up in Scranton — near where the event is taking place — “were used to guys who look down their nose at us,” and who thought that “if you didn’t have a college degree you must be stupid.”
Mr. Biden, who graduated from the University of Delaware and Syracuse Law School, then angrily denounced those who had sneered at his education.
“I tell you what bothered me, to tell you the truth — maybe it’s my Scranton roots, I don’t know — but when you guys started talking on TV about, ‘Biden, if he wins, would be the first person without an Ivy League degree to be elected president,’ I’m thinking, ‘Who the hell makes you think I have to have an Ivy League degree to be president!’ I really mean it!” he said to cheers.
“We’re as good as anybody else,” he said, before taking a shot at President Trump. “And guys like Trump who inherited everything and squandered what they inherited are the people that I’ve always had a problem with, not the people who are busting their neck.”
Joseph R. Biden Jr. blasted Attorney General William P. Barr for suggesting that local stay-at-home mandates are a threat to individual freedoms, as slavery once was — saying President Trump’s failure to address the crisis has resulted in the need for such “patriotic requirements.”
When Mr. Biden was asked about Mr. Barr’s comments during the drive-in town hall Thursday night near Scranton, Pa., he replied, “Quite frankly, they are sick.”
“Putting a national lockdown, stay at home orders is like house arrest,” Mr. Barr said during an appearance at Hillsdale College in Michigan on Wednesday. “Other than slavery, which was a different kind of restraint, it’s the greatest intrusion on civil liberties in American history.”
Many states have issued stay-at-home orders and mask mandates to slow the spread of the virus. Earlier this week, Robert R. Redfield, director of the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, suggested that masks might be more effective in fighting the pandemic than a vaccine — only to have Mr. Trump call his statement a mistake.
Mr. Biden seemed to relish being asked the question about Mr. Barr, and launched into a long rebuke of the attorney general during the opening moments of the question-and-answer session without being prompted.
“What Bill Barr recently said is outrageous. That it is like slavery. You’re taking away freedom,” he said, his voice rising in anger.
“I will tell you what takes away your freedom,” he added. “What takes away your freedom is not being able to see your kid, not being able to go to the football game or baseball game, not being able to see your mom or dad sick in the hospital, not being able to do the things, that’s what is costing us our freedom. And it’s been the failure of this president to deal, to deal with this virus, and he knew about it.”
Joseph R. Biden Jr. said on Thursday that he could not enforce a national mask mandate everywhere, but asserted that he would have the authority to do so “on federal land.”
The remarks were a break from the position he took on Wednesday, when he said he thought he had the legal authority as president to enforce a national mask mandate. In a brief question-and-answer session after he delivered a speech in Delaware on a potential coronavirus vaccine, he said that his legal team thought he could impose a national mask mandate “based upon the degree to which there’s a crisis in those states, and how bad things are for the country and if we don’t do it, what happens.”
On Thursday, Mr. Biden took a different view. “I cannot mandate people wearing masks,” he said. But he added that he did have the authority to enforce mask-wearing on federal property and could institute a fine if people did not do so.
“I can do that on federal property,” he said, about a mask mandate. “As president, I will do that. On federal land, I would have the authority. If you’re on federal land, you must wear a mask. In a federal building, you must wear a mask. And we could have a fine for them not doing it.”
Mr. Biden first called for a national mask mandate in August, when he said that every American should wear a mask while outside for at least the next three months and that all governors should mandate mask wearing. His remarks were instantly rebuked by President Trump, who suggested that a mask mandate threatened to impinge on individual freedoms of Americans.
Olivia Troye, a former top homeland security aide to Vice President Mike Pence, endorsed former Vice President Joseph R. Biden Jr. on Thursday and accused President Trump of weak leadership and of drastically mismanaging the response to the coronavirus crisis.
In an ad released online, Ms. Troye recounts hearing the president — who has spoken about his germophobia — say in a meeting that he was glad that the virus had arrived in the United States because it meant he would no longer have to shake hands with people he said he considered “disgusting.” She said she was voting for Mr. Biden because she believed the nation was in a “constitutional crisis” and that “at this point it’s country over party.”
Speaking to reporters on Thursday in the Roosevelt Room at the White House, Mr. Pence dismissed Ms. Troye’s comments during a meeting of the Coronavirus Commission for Safety and Quality in Nursing Homes.
“I haven’t read her comments in any detail,” Mr. Pence said. “But it reads to me like one more disgruntled employee that has decided to play politics during election year. My staff has indicated and she made no comments like that when she was serving under our team here at the White House.”
“I couldn’t be more proud of the work we’ve done,” the vice president added.
Lt. Gen. Keith Kellogg, the national security adviser to Mr. Pence, said Ms. Troye never expressed “any concern regarding the administration’s response to the coronavirus to anyone in her chain of command.”
Ms. Troye, who played a central role in running the White House’s coronavirus task force until leaving the government last month, is one of two top Trump administration officials who announced their opposition to Mr. Trump on Thursday and joined more than two dozen other Republican officials as part of a new group calling for “leadership change in the White House.”
Josh Venable, who served as chief of staff for Betsy DeVos, the secretary of education, will also join the group, known as REPAIR (Republican Political Alliance for Integrity and Reform), according to a statement. John Mitnick, a former top lawyer at Mr. Trump’s Department of Homeland Security, is an adviser to the group.
Ms. Troye, a lifelong Republican who also worked in the George W. Bush administration, said in the statement that she would serve as a founder of the group, with the goal of restoring integrity to the Republican Party.
“We will listen to Americans, including those who’ve been harmed by the policies and rhetoric of the current administration, with the goal of restoring civil discourse and advocating for policies which recognize the dignity and worth of all people,” she said.
The effort is being spearheaded by Miles Taylor, who served as the chief of staff to Kirstjen Nielsen, the former secretary of homeland security. Last month, Mr. Taylor endorsed Mr. Biden and wrote in The Washington Post that Mr. Trump was “dangerous” and had governed the country “by whim, political calculation and self-interest.”
REPAIR joins other groups of Republicans who oppose Mr. Trump’s bid for a second term, including Republican Voters Against Trump and The Lincoln Project, a political action committee formed by current and former Republicans.
In its statement on Thursday, REPAIR said the members of the group would work to return the Republican Party to what it called “principled leadership.”
“Weak leaders, nationwide discord and a confluence of crises are threatening our country’s greatness,” said Sarah Longwell, the executive director of Defending Democracy Together, a separate group that is backing the efforts by REPAIR. “Now is the time to speak up. REPAIR will promote authoritative voices and shape the debate about America’s direction.”
It has been clear for months that it is unlikely a winner in the presidential election will be declared on election night this year, as many battleground states expect unprecedented surges in mail-in ballots, which take much longer to process, certify and tabulate than traditional in-person voting.
But two tweets from President Trump Thursday morning erroneously sought to blame states that are automatically mailing out ballots to registered voters for the likely delays and baselessly stated that the results “may NEVER BE ACCURATELY DETERMINED,” an assertion dismissed by elections experts.
There is absolutely no evidence that states that automatically send out mail-in ballots to all voters have had issues with accuracy, and some such as Colorado, Washington and Oregon have been conducting their elections mostly by mail for years. Mail-in voting is considered especially secure and accurate because it has a clear paper trail, which makes recounts easier.
However, mail-in ballots are likely rejected at higher rates than attempts to vote in person. In 24 primary elections this year, more than 500,000 mail-in ballots were rejected, or 2 percent of those returned by voters, according to an analysis by Michael McDonald, a voter turnout expert at the University of Florida. In some states, like Kentucky, the rejection rate was more than 4 percent.
There is also little likelihood that the states that are automatically sending out ballots will have much of an impact on the Electoral College, and therefore contribute to any prolonged wait for a winner in the presidential election. Nine states and Washington, D.C., automatically mail out ballots; of those, only Nevada is a true battleground state. The rest are either reliably blue or red, and will likely be called within minutes of polls closing for either Mr. Trump or Joseph R. Biden Jr., the Democratic nominee.
The states that will likely need more time to count ballots are ones that are no-excuse absentee ballot states, where anyone who wants to vote by mail can do so but must proactively request their ballot.
Mr. Trump and his wife, Melania, have both voted this way in the past, and the president, while not always very clearly, has said he supports absentee ballots.
“Solicited Ballots (absentee) are OK,” he wrote in a tweet on Thursday.
Battleground states like Pennsylvania, Ohio, Michigan, Wisconsin, Georgia, Florida and North Carolina are no-excuse absentee states.
Election officials in many of those states have indicated that they will need more time to process the expected torrent of mail-in ballots, as they experienced in the primaries. Election officials in Philadelphia, for example, needed a week to fully tabulate votes after the June primary.
Mr. Trump’s tweets are the latest in a series of inaccurate posts he has published for months on social media about the efficacy of mail-in ballots. It is part of what has been a longtime conundrum for social media companies that have debated how to handle posts by Mr. Trump, a world leader whose posts are typically considered newsworthy.
Twitter, for its part, began adding labels to some of Mr. Trump’s tweets in May marking them as misleading, and it added one such label on Thursday. The service has been stricter with other leaders. In March, tweets from the Brazilian president, Jair Bolsonaro, and the Venezuelan president, Nicolás Maduro, that promoted unproven cures for the coronavirus were removed.
A woman on Thursday added her voice to the chorus of those who have accused President Trump of sexual assault or misconduct over the past 40 years, coming forward in an interview with The Guardian to say that he kissed and groped her against her will at the United States Open tennis tournament in 1997.
The woman, Amy Dorris, a former model, said she was invited, along with her boyfriend at the time, to Mr. Trump’s private box to watch the tennis match. Ms. Dorris was 24.
“He just shoved his tongue down my throat and I was pushing him off,” Ms. Dorris said, explaining she met Mr. Trump through the boyfriend, Jason Binn. “And then that’s when his grip became tighter and his hands were very gropey and all over my butt, my breasts, my back, everything.”
She added: “I was in his grip, and I couldn’t get out of it. I don’t know what you call that when you’re sticking your tongue just down someone’s throat. But I pushed it out with my teeth. I was pushing it. And I think I might have hurt his tongue.”
In a statement, the Trump campaign denied Ms. Dorris’s account. “The allegations are totally false,” Jenna Ellis, a legal adviser to the Trump campaign, said in a statement. “We will consider every legal means available to hold The Guardian accountable for its malicious publication of this unsubstantiated story. This is just another pathetic attempt to attack President Trump right before the election.”
Mr. Trump has consistently denied the accusations from more than two dozen women who have come forward with stories of unwanted groping, kissing and assault, dating back to the 1970s. In the case of Natasha Stoynoff — a journalist who claimed Mr. Trump assaulted her when she was conducting an interview with his wife, Melania Trump — the president made her claim a punchline at a rally.
“Look at her. … I don’t think so,” he said.
Mr. Trump is currently the subject of a defamation lawsuit from the author E. Jean Carroll, who has accused him of raping her in a Manhattan department store in the 1990s. In an unusual move last week, the Justice Department moved to replace the private legal team defending the president with government lawyers. Ms. Carroll sued Mr. Trump last November, claiming that he lied by publicly denying he had ever met her.
In her interview with The Guardian, Ms. Dorris explained that the reason she had waited so long to come forward with her story was because she felt protective of her twin daughters. But they had also inspired her to speak out, she said.
“Now I feel like my girls are about to turn 13 years old and I want them to know that you don’t let anybody do anything to you that you don’t want,” she said. “And I’d rather be a role model. I want them to see that I didn’t stay quiet, that I stood up to somebody who did something that was unacceptable.”
Christopher Wray, the director of the Federal Bureau of Investigation, said during a House Homeland Security committee hearing on Thursday that Joseph R. Biden Jr. was the primary target of Russia’s ongoing online disinformation campaigns.
Mr. Wray said that while Russia has not successfully hacked any election systems, the influence campaign on social media has sought to raise skepticism of the Democratic candidate.
“We certainly have seen very active, very active efforts by the Russians to influence our election in 2020,” Mr. Wray said on Thursday. “An effort to both sow divisiveness and discord, and I think the intelligence community has assessed this publicly, to primarily to denigrate Vice President Biden in what the Russians see as a kind of an anti-Russian establishment.”
Mr. Wray’s comments echoed a statement made by last month by William R. Evanina, the director of the National Counterintelligence and Security Center, who said Russia has used a range of techniques to target Mr. Biden. China has also sought to influence American politics, intelligence officials have said, although Russia presents a much more immediate threat.
While Mr. Wray and Mr. Evanina issued blunt warnings of the Russian disinformation campaign, Attorney General William P. Barr has been less forceful. Asked on CNN earlier this month if he accepted that Russia was attempting to interfere in the election, Mr. Barr said, “I accept that there is some preliminary activity that suggests that they might try again.”
The Department of Homeland Security was also scrutinized earlier this month after it emerged that the agency declined to publish a July 9 intelligence document warning of Russian attempts to denigrate Mr. Biden’s mental health. That bulletin also warned of China and Iran’s efforts to target Mr. Trump. At the time, the acting secretary of Homeland Security, Chad F. Wolf, said he questioned the quality of the report and sent it back for revision.
An updated version of the bulletin dated Sept. 4 obtained by The Times still includes warnings of Russia’s efforts to target Mr. Biden with additional details on how the nation’s tactics compare to China and Iran.
“Iranian and Chinese overt influence actors have promoted unsubstantiated narratives that question the mental health of President Trump,” analysts said in the bulletin. “These efforts probably fall short of Russia’s more sustained, coordinated malign influence operations across multiple overt and covert platforms to undermine other U.S. politicians.”
Senator Ron Johnson of Wisconsin, a Republican who was set to appear with President Trump at a campaign rally in the state Thursday night, said he would skip the trip and self-isolate for two weeks after coming into contact with someone with the virus.
A statement from his Senate office said that Mr. Johnson had tested negative for the coronavirus Wednesday evening and was not experiencing symptoms. But out of caution and because little time had passed since the exposure, he canceled plans to travel to Wisconsin aboard Air Force One with Mr. Trump and appear at the rally in Mosinee.
Ben Voelkel, his spokesman, said Mr. Johnson planned to isolate until Sept. 29, meaning he would likely miss crucial votes as the Senate considers a temporary catchall government funding bill and potentially additional coronavirus relief legislation.
His plan to quarantine was not expected to delay the release of a much-anticipated report that he drafted with the Senate Homeland Security Committee he leads and that he has boasted would wound Joseph R. Biden Jr., the Democratic presidential nominee. Mr. Johnson had said the results of his investigation would become public in the next few days.
The report, which is said to focus on work that Mr. Biden’s son, Hunter, performed for a corrupt Ukrainian energy firm while his father was vice president, has become mired in controversy. Democrats have accused Mr. Johnson of using Senate powers to engage in political smears of Mr. Biden with baseless claims and innuendo, a claim that Mr. Johnson has denied. They have also warned that in doing so, Mr. Johnson is amplifying a known Russian misinformation campaign meant to sow doubt about Mr. Biden’s integrity.
Though there have been no major outbreaks of the virus in Congress, it has been a constant presence in the Capitol since the spring, with dozens of lawmakers either testing positive or proactively quarantining themselves after coming into contact with someone who had.
Former Vice President Joseph R. Biden Jr. spoke with Democratic senators on Thursday, discussing in broad strokes what his agenda would be as president and stressing that he was running a campaign intended in part to bolster Democratic candidates down the ballot.
It was Mr. Biden’s first time speaking with the Senate Democratic conference since formally becoming the party’s presidential nominee, and multiple senators said he emphasized that he would not become complacent despite his advantage in the polls. Mr. Biden discussed his campaign strategy and the response his team was seeing in individual states, and described how his administration would address the pandemic and the country’s economic recovery.
“He must have said this three times: ‘I take nothing for granted. I know the polls look OK right now but I’m working tirelessly,’” said Senator Chris Coons of Delaware, a staunch ally of Mr. Biden. “Some of it was the mechanics, polling, travel, schedule. Some of it was the core themes and message, why I’m running, what all this is about. And a lot of it was, we need to work together.”
Senator Ben Cardin of Maryland said Mr. Biden was “not overconfident” about his chances.
“He knows the attacks are coming and the unpredictables are coming,” Mr. Cardin said. “We have to be prepared for everything.”
Senator Debbie Stabenow of Michigan noted that there were “a lot of shout outs for Jill Biden,” and the amount of campaigning she has done on behalf of her husband, as well as a conversation about Senate races, including in Alabama and Michigan, where Democrats are defending seats.
There was no discussion, multiple senators said, of ending the 60-vote filibuster.
“It was very upbeat, but the vice president is taking nothing for granted,” said Senator Chris Van Hollen of Maryland. “He talked about the dignity of work. Lunchbox Joe was very present.”
Mr. Van Hollen said Mr. Biden did not engage in a detailed policy conversation but emphasized the importance of not losing jobs to China and creating “homegrown jobs here in America.” The message was “work hard until the polls close in November,” Mr. Van Hollen said.
In an event with Black female leaders in Philadelphia on Thursday, Senator Kamala Harris discussed what she said would be a key priority if she is elected vice president: addressing racial disparities in health and education.
Speaking in the Mount Airy neighborhood, Ms. Harris, Joseph R. Biden Jr.’s vice-presidential running mate, cited as one goal bringing down the maternal mortality rate for Black women, which exceeds the rate for white women.
“When a Black woman walks into a doctor’s office or a clinic or a hospital, she is not taken seriously, or as seriously as other people,” Ms. Harris said, noting data that Black women were three to four times more likely to die in connection with childbirth. “Part of the agenda is about what we need to do to track racial disparities in health care, but also to deal with racial biases within the health care system.”
About 15 people sat in a backyard in chairs that were spaced out at the event, which was hosted by She Can Win, a group that invests in women interested in civil engagement and leadership.
Ms. Harris said another high-priority area she and Mr. Biden were pursuing was providing a path for small businesses to have access to capital through low-interest government loans. She also pledged to provide government funding of $70 billion for historically Black public and private colleges and universities.
At the event, she called for the establishment of a national database to track police officers who break the law and to prevent officers who have been fired or been disciplined for violence elsewhere from moving to other jurisdictions.
Earlier in the day, Ms. Harris met with U.S. Representative Dwight Evans for a tour of local businesses, including a florist shop and a Black-owned restaurant, in the West Oak Lane neighborhood of Philadelphia.
“Is the win defined by defeating Donald Trump?” Ms. Harris said to the group. “Or is the win defined by winning? And I say that because if you use that first definition, then the job is over the day we’re inaugurated. If you go by that second definition, which is what I am compelled to do this for, then the job begins that day.”
As Donald J. Trump ran for the White House, he promised to “come up with a great health plan” that would replace the Affordable Care Act with something better that maintained its biggest selling point: protecting people with pre-existing medical conditions.
Once elected, he swore he had a “wonderful plan” and would be “putting it in fairly soon.”
On Tuesday night, President Trump returned to the theme during a town-hall-style meeting broadcast on ABC, where he was taken to task by Ellesia Blaque, an assistant professor at Kutztown University in Pennsylvania. She told him she had a congenital illness, demanded to know what he would do to keep “people like me who work hard” insured.
“We’re going to be doing a health care plan very strongly, and protect people with pre-existing conditions,” Mr. Trump told her, adding, “I have it all ready, and it’s a much better plan for you, and it’s a much better plan.”
But after four years, the unkept promise may be catching up to Mr. Trump. There still does not seem to be any plan, because other than abolishing the Affordable Care Act — which requires insurers to cover pre-existing conditions and which the White House is asking the Supreme Court to overturn — the Republican Party cannot agree on one.
And with tens of thousands of Americans losing their coverage to a coronavirus-induced economic turndown, fears of inadequate or nonexistent health insurance have never been greater.
“What the public wants to know is, ‘Where am I going to get health insurance and how much is it going to cost me,’ and that plan didn’t really provide any kind of direction for getting answers to that,” said James C. Capretta, a resident fellow at the American Enterprise Institute who advised President George W. Bush on health policy.
Attorney General William P. Barr has ratcheted up his involvement in partisan politics in recent days, floating federal sedition charges against violent protesters and the prosecution of a Democratic mayor; asserting his right to intervene in Justice Department investigations; warning of dire consequences for the nation if President Trump is not re-elected; and comparing coronavirus restrictions to slavery.
Mr. Barr’s comments came in remarks on Wednesday at a college event, an interview with Chicago journalists and a call with federal prosecutors last week.
Sedition comments: Mr. Barr told prosecutors in the call to consider charging rioters and others who had committed violent crimes at protests in recent months with sedition, according to two people familiar with the call. The highly unusual suggestion to charge people with insurrection against lawful authority alarmed some on the call, which included U.S. attorneys around the country, said the people, who spoke only anonymously because they feared retribution. The remarks were first reported by The Wall Street Journal.
Weighing charges against Seattle’s mayor: The attorney general has also asked prosecutors in the Justice Department’s civil rights division to explore criminally charging Mayor Jenny Durkan of Seattle for allowing a police-free protest zone near the city’s downtown for weeks this summer, according to two people briefed on those discussions. The directives are in keeping with Mr. Barr’s approach to prosecute aggressively in cities where protests have turned violent. But in suggesting prosecuting Ms. Durkan, a Democrat, Mr. Barr also took aim at an elected official whom President Trump has repeatedly attacked.
Presidential contest: Mr. Barr told a Chicago Tribune columnist in an interview published Monday that the nation could find itself “irrevocably committed to the socialist path” if Mr. Trump lost the election and that the country faced “a clear fork in the road.”
Comparing virus restrictions to slavery: Speaking at an event hosted by Hillsdale College on Wednesday, Mr. Barr said that some state governors had overreached in enacting stay-at-home orders and closing businesses. “Other than slavery, which is a different kind of restraint, this is the greatest intrusion on civil liberties in American history,” he said.
Intervening in D.O.J. investigations: Mr. Barr said in his speech at the event that as the nation’s top law enforcement official, he had the right to intervene in investigations and to overrule career lawyers, castigating his own department and attacking what he described as politically motivated inquiries.
His remarks scanned as a rebuke of career Justice Department lawyers who have questioned his level of involvement — a management style in which he has cast himself as the ultimate authority on almost every issue that the department faces, including antitrust settlements, criminal prosecutions and civil litigation.
“Because I am ultimately accountable for every decision the department makes, I have an obligation to ensure we make the correct ones,” he said.
Pennsylvania’s Supreme Court delivered a pair of significant victories to Democrats on Thursday, blocking a third-party presidential candidate from the ballot this fall and extending the state’s deadline for receiving mail-in votes.
Early in the day, the court ruled that the Green Party and its candidate, Howie Hawkins, failed to follow electoral procedures and cannot appear on the ballot this fall — a significant win for Democrats seeking to recapture a battleground state that narrowly swung to President Trump in 2016.
The high court, by a 5-to-2 margin, partially reversed a lower court decision that had permitted Mr. Hawkins, an environmental activist from New York, to appear on the ballot, while kicking off his running mate.
The decision removed a final hurdle for county boards of elections, who can now mail ballots to registered voters who have applied for them.
The case has been a focal point for both major-party campaigns, which have been focusing intensely on a state that had been reliably Democratic since Harry Truman’s election in 1948. In 2016, the Green Party’s nominee, Jill Stein, drew nearly 50,000 votes — more than Mr. Trump’s 44,000-vote margin of victory.
Later, the court extended the state’s mail ballot deadlines, a move opposed by Republicans and the Trump campaign. The decision is likely to increase voter participation and could delay the release of final results from a state that could determine the outcome of the national election.
State law requires mail-in ballots to be received by 8 p.m. on Election Day, but this year because of the pandemic they will be counted if received by 5 p.m. the Friday after the election.
The high court also greenlighted the use of drop boxes for ballots and denied attempts by the Trump campaign to post poll watchers outside of their home counties.
Dan Coats, President Trump’s former director of national intelligence, called on Congress on Thursday to create a nonpartisan panel to reassure Americans that the results of the election are legitimate.
In a New York Times Op-Ed, Mr. Coats wrote that the panel was needed to “save our democracy.”
The proposed commission would monitor systems that were already in place to count, evaluate and certify election results, Mr. Coats wrote. In doing so, it could confirm that election laws and regulations had been “scrupulously and expeditiously followed — or that violations have been exposed and dealt with — without political prejudice and without regard to political interests of either party.”
The goal, he added, was to “firmly, unambiguously reassure all Americans that their vote will be counted.”
Hours after Mr. Coats’s proposal was published, Mr. Trump, his former boss, once again sought to cast doubt on the legitimacy of the upcoming election.
“Because of the new and unprecedented massive amount of unsolicited ballots which will be sent to ‘voters,’ or wherever, this year, the Nov 3rd Election result may NEVER BE ACCURATELY DETERMINED, which is what some want,” Mr. Trump tweeted Thursday morning. “Stop Ballot Madness!”
Mr. Coats’s proposal represents a striking departure from the approach taken by his successor, John Ratcliffe, who has tried to limit congressional briefings on foreign election interference.
Mr. Coats, a former Republican senator from Indiana who was national intelligence director from early 2017 until mid-2019, angered the president by providing unwelcome assessments of Russia and its efforts to undermine the 2020 elections. He left office in frustration, according to former senior administration officials.
Mr. Ratcliffe, a former Republican congressman from Texas who fiercely defended the president during the Russia investigation, has downplayed such threats, an approach the president prefers.
In his Op-Ed, Mr. Coats did not refer to Mr. Trump or his supporters directly. But he made his case in the starkest possible terms.
Our democracy’s enemies, foreign and domestic, want us to concede in advance that our voting systems are faulty or fraudulent; that sinister conspiracies have distorted the political will of the people; that our public discourse has been perverted by the news media and social networks riddled with prejudice, lies and ill will; that judicial institutions, law enforcement and even national security have been twisted, misused and misdirected to create anxiety and conflict, not justice and social peace.
If those are the results of this tumultuous election year, we are lost, no matter which candidate wins. No American, and certainly no American leader, should want such an outcome. Total destruction and sowing salt in the earth of American democracy is a catastrophe well beyond simple defeat and a poison for generations.
Requests for comment from the White House and congressional leaders were not immediately returned.