Latest on 2020 election and SCOTUS battle

By Meg Wagner, Melissa Macaya, Mike Hayes, Veronica Rocha and Fernando Alfonso III, CNN

Updated 8:12 p.m. ET, September 23, 2020
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7:46 p.m. ET, September 23, 2020

Pence on Trump holding large campaign rallies during pandemic: "We're in an election year"

From CNN's Daniella Diaz 

Vice President Mike Pence defended President Trump holding large rallies in an ABC News interview that airs Wednesday, saying it's happening because "we're in an election year."  

"President Trump and I trust the American people. We truly do believe in this freedom-loving nation that the American people know how to look after themselves, look after their families, and look after their neighbors and look out for the future of this country," he said.

Asked by ABC if he's concerned about the optics of such events in the midst of a pandemic, Pence again said he believes that Americans can take care of themselves.

"The American people, really throughout the course of the last eight months, have demonstrated the ability to put the health of their family and their neighbors first," he said.

The coronavirus pandemic has not subsided in the US, which has recorded more than 200,000 deaths from the virus.

On Amy Coney Barrett being a top contender for the SCOTUS job, Pence said, "Judge Barrett is an extraordinary jurist. And she's among a number of women that are currently under consideration."

7:25 p.m. ET, September 23, 2020

Trump won't commit to saying he'll provide a peaceful transition after the election

From CNN's Maegan Vazquez 

President Donald Trump speaks during a news conference in the briefing room of the White House on September 23, in Washington, DC.
President Donald Trump speaks during a news conference in the briefing room of the White House on September 23, in Washington, DC. Joshua Roberts/Getty Images

President Trump would not commit to saying he would provide a peaceful transition of power after Election Day. 

“Well we’re going to have to see what happens. You know that I’ve been complaining very strongly about the ballots and the ballots are a disaster,” Trump said at a press briefing at the White House Wednesday evening. 

“(G)et rid of the ballots and you’ll have a very … there won’t be a transfer, frankly. There’ll be a continuation,” he added. Trump said, “the ballots are out of control,” apparently referring to his unproven allegations that mail in ballots are somehow more vulnerable to fraud. 

Facts First: While some sources estimate there will be around 80 million ballots submitted by mail this year, the President is wrong to suggest that they are all somehow unsolicited. In 41 of 50 states, voters have to request their ballot by mail before being sent one, with only a handful of states automatically sending mail-in ballots to all registered voters.

There is no also factual basis for the claim that the left plans to use "millions of fraudulent ballots" or seeks to "steal this election" from Trump. The President himself has referred this week, also with no basis, to "fake ballots." Trump has made repeated false and misleading claims calling the integrity of the election into question.

 

7:00 p.m. ET, September 23, 2020

Cindy McCain says Trump has done damage to Republicans, but sees a path forward

From CNN's Paul LeBlanc

CNN
CNN

Cindy McCain, the widow of longtime Republican Sen. John McCain of Arizona, said Wednesday that lawmakers “working together civilly” is the only way for the US to move forward. 

“Well, I think that there has been damage done,” McCain told CNN’s Jake Tapper on “The Lead” when asked about President Trump’s effect on the Republican Party. 

“But I believe in the great spirit of the United States of America and I think those things can be mended and healed. What has been missing here is this divisive attitude toward right and wrong on Capitol Hill. In many cases nobody is right or wrong, it is just a matter of opinion. And working together civilly is the only way that we can handle this.”

Her comments come one day after she formally endorsed Democratic presidential nominee Joe Biden for president. 

“I remember John as a young congressman working across the aisle with Tip O'Neill. They didn't agree on much of anything at all but the two of them remained friends because they respected each other and believed that they were doing it for the good of the country.” 

“And that is the same with Joe Biden,” she added. 

4:05 p.m. ET, September 23, 2020

Trump says he thinks the election results could wind up in front of the Supreme Court

From CNN's Jason Hoffman 

President Donald Trump speaks during a meeting about social media companies in the Cabinet Room of the White House on September 23 in Washington, DC.
President Donald Trump speaks during a meeting about social media companies in the Cabinet Room of the White House on September 23 in Washington, DC. Evan Vucci/AP

President Trump said he thinks it’s important to have nine Supreme Court justices prior to the election because the results of the election could wind up before the court. The President is expected to announce his nominee this Saturday.

 “Yes, I think it’s very important. I think this will end up in the Supreme Court and I think it’s very important that we have nine justices,” Trump said on Wednesday.

Trump said there is a lot of time to confirm a new justice to the high court since his term goes until January 20, “but I think it’s better if you go before the election because I think this scam that the Democrats are pulling, it’s a scam, this scam will be before the United States Supreme Court and I think having a four-four situation is not a good situation if you get that.”

Trump was referring to unsolicited ballots being sent to Americans which he mentioned earlier in his remarks.

“I think it should be eight-nothing or nine-nothing, but just in case it would be more political than it should be, I think it’s very important to have a ninth justice,” Trump added. Of note, there were only eight justices at the time of the 2016 election.

Trump said he’s confident that the Senate can confirm a new justice before November 3, noting that many of his potential nominees “just went through the process recently” for other judicial appointments.

“I think the process is going to go very quickly. The hearing, I think Lindsey is going to call the date of the hearing… You can’t call it until you have the candidate and once you have the nominee, I will wait to hear what the date is, but from that point I would think we’d be fairly quick,” he said.

Trump said most of the Republican senators have already made their intentions known on voting for a Supreme Court nominee.

Sen. Josh Hawley of Missouri also said there should be a vote on a new Supreme Court nominee before the election.

3:48 p.m. ET, September 23, 2020

"A prom-poll-sal:" Organizers launch prom-themed voting initiative

From CNN's Rachel Janfaza

Upset by the fact that they didn’t have prom as a result of the Covid-19 pandemic and eager to mobilize around the 2020 election, a group of young organizers decided to link prom and voting.

Youth organizers launched “Prom at the Polls” Tuesday, a nonpartisan initiative to energize young voters and inspire them to turnout on or ahead of November 3. The initiative encourages young people to make a “prom-poll-sal,” which organizers describe as “the action of asking someone to go to prom at the polls with you” and posting it to social media. 

After making their “prom-poll-sal,” participants are encouraged to dress up as if they are going to prom when they cast their ballot – either by mail or in person – and document it on social media.

Prom at the Polls, which launched on National Voter Registration Day, will host a livestream event on November 1, inviting voters and their dates to attend a pseudo-prom party. 

The founding organizers of Prom at the Polls include a group of young activists who advocate for a number of issues voting rights, climate justice, immigration reform, and gun violence prevention. 

The initiative’s organizers are Jerome Foster II, Randi Garcia, Santiago Mayer, Sophia Shapiro and Matthew Weinstein, who are all between the ages of 18 and 25. They were introduced by actress Alyssa Milano on September 8, organizers said, and immediately started to brainstorm ways to get out the youth vote. That led to Prom at the Polls.

Milano, a leading activist in the #MeToo movement, is an advocate on a number of social issues. 

“Voting is how we protect each other. I am so proud of this younger generation. They understand the importance of civic engagement and they are using their voices to inspire other young people to find their voices too,” Milano said in a statement Tuesday.

Organizers bonded over the fact that they didn’t have prom this year, Jerome Foster, 18 and a freshman at Pace University, told CNN. 

“We wanted to create an event that brings hope and joy to voting,” Foster said. 

While there was high youth voter turnout in the 2018 midterms , Foster noted that not all registered voters hit the polls. He hopes Prom at the Polls will help maintain excitement between National Voter Registration Day and Election Day, ensuring that registered voters turn out in the 2020 election.

Prom at the Polls is in talks to team up with Instagram, Facebook, Twitter and TikTok, as well as a number of celebrities and influencers who will help promote the initiative, Weinstein, 20, told CNN. 

Vote.org will track the number of participants who register to vote as a result of the initiative.

"The youth vote comprises a significant portion of this year's electorate, and it is essential that these voices are heard," Vote.org CEO Andrea Hailey said.

3:31 p.m. ET, September 23, 2020

Biden holds Black economic summit in Charlotte and hits Trump on handling of pandemic

From CNN's Sarah Mucha

Democratic Presidential Candidate Joe Biden speaks during a Black Economic Summit at Camp North End in Charlotte, North Carolina, on September 23.
Democratic Presidential Candidate Joe Biden speaks during a Black Economic Summit at Camp North End in Charlotte, North Carolina, on September 23. Jim Watson/AFP/Getty Images

Democratic presidential nominee Joe Biden made his first trip to North Carolina as the Democratic presidential nominee Wednesday afternoon, holding an "economic summit" in Charlotte with Black small business owners, educators, and working people.

Wearing Ray-Bans as he kicked off remarks and carrying a white notecard he occasionally referenced, Biden introduced himself, joking “I’m Joe Biden, and I’m trying to get a job with Chris,” referring to NBA star Chris Paul, who introduced the former vice president. 

Biden took issue with President Trump’s remarks that the virus affects “virtually nobody,” asking the audience to consider, “So you go home and your mom's gone, your dad's gone. He's a virtual nobody?”

Biden said that while the virus wasn’t Trump’s fault, his handling of it has “been close to criminal.”

He addressed the systemic racism that has caused racial inequities, saying that “we have to break the cycle.” 

“What I want to talk to you about today is that you know we have to break a cycle. The cycle that exists is that the African American community by and large finds itself at the bottom of the economic heap when businesses and others, when things are good. When things get bad, they're the first ones in the hole. When things get better, they're the last ones out,” he said.

He said the American people have finally seen the injustice as a result of the pandemic. “But the American people have all of a sudden, average people gone, "My Lord, Holy-mackerel, I didn't know it was this bad." A lot of them didn't know. A lot did. But a lot did know it was this bad,” he said.

Biden implored people to get out and vote. “The point is I believe we have a gigantic opportunity, a gigantic opportunity to fundamentally change the systemic racism and systemic problems that exist in our system. And I think we have to do it. But only one way to do it. We've got to show up and vote,” he said.

2:07 p.m. ET, September 23, 2020

Biden and Trump focus on battleground states in race to 270

From CNN's John King

It takes 270 electoral votes to win the 2020 presidential election. Democratic presidential nominee Joe Biden is campaigning today in the battleground state of North Carolina as Election Day quickly approaches.

CNN's John King breaks down the latest polls and where the candidates stand in their race to 270:

12:48 p.m. ET, September 23, 2020

In call, Pence asks governors to build confidence in Covid-19 vaccine as election nears

From CNN's Kevin Liptak

Vice President Mike Pence speaks during the White House Conference on American History at the National Archives in Washington, DC, September 17.
Vice President Mike Pence speaks during the White House Conference on American History at the National Archives in Washington, DC, September 17. Saul Loeb/AFP/Getty Images

Vice President Mike Pence and other federal health officials sought to impress upon governors Monday the importance of boosting confidence in an eventual coronavirus vaccine as President Trump continues to suggest one will be available before the election.

Speaking on a weekly conference call, Pence acknowledged the fraught political climate but said the vaccine conversation should be viewed separately — though Trump himself has publicly floated the possibility a vaccine is available before Election Day. 

"I know we’re in an election season. Just as I have over the last seven or eight months, I’m leaving the politics outside," Pence said on the call.

"We are working around the clock to get a safe and effective vaccine available for the American people but what we need is two things: number one, we need you to be ready to distribute it. Number two, we need you to do your part to build public confidence that it will be a safe and effective vaccine. What we don’t want is people undermining confidence in the process," he went on.

Polls have shown the number of Americans willing to take a vaccine once it is available declining. A survey from the Kaiser Family Foundation in September found a majority of Americans, 62%, believe political pressure from the Trump administration will cause the US Food and Drug Administration to rush approval of a coronavirus vaccine before Election Day.

Pence sought to dispel those concerns with governors — "No corners are going to be cut, ever," he said — and asked Dr. Anthony Fauci, the top infectious disease specialist, to lay out the vaccine approval process.

Some background: Fauci said multiple advisory panels would be consulted before a vaccine is approved, either for emergency use or a broader approval, and said all the scientific data would be made available for independent review.

"When we say that we feel confident that the process that has been put in place traditionally for making decisions as to the safety and efficacy of a vaccine are in place — and that’s the reason why I have said publicly that I feel confident," Fauci said.

Dr. Robert Redfield, the director of the US Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, reiterated the appeal to governors to use their platforms to boost confidence in a vaccine.

"I don’t believe that access to the vaccine after the first of the year and into the beginning of the second quarter would be an issue," he said, "but I am concerned, as the vice president stressed, about building public confidence."

"Our biggest challenge, and what I would ask the leadership of each of you have, is to build that culture of confidence in vaccination," he said. "Once doubt sets in, it’s going to be very hard for us to reverse that in different populations."

12:10 p.m. ET, September 23, 2020

Republican voters sue over Minnesota's extended absentee ballot deadline

From CNN's Caroline Kenny

Two Republicans in Minnesota, with the support of the Honest Elections Project, are suing the state for extending the deadline for absentee ballots to be received amid the coronavirus pandemic. 

In August, a judge in Minnesota approved changes eliminating the state’s requirement that voters get a notary or witness to sign their ballot envelope, and allows for absentee ballots to be counted if they are postmarked on or before Election Day and received by 8 p.m. within one week of Election Day. The previous rule was that ballots had to be received by 8 p.m. on Election Day.

Honest Elections Project said in a news release that this change “puts the credibility of the election in jeopardy, and violates the law,” and the group calls out other swing states that have already taken this action as well.

“Liberal groups are looking to repeat this strategy in other battleground states. Already, courts have rewritten ballot receipt laws in Georgia, Michigan, North Carolina, Pennsylvania, and Wisconsin,” the release said.

Jason Snead, the executive director of the Honest Elections Project, called this change in Minnesota “a senseless recipe for disaster.”

The suit, filed Tuesday in Minnesota Federal Court, asks for injunctions that would prevent ballots received after Election Day from being counted.

“This plan will cast doubt on the legitimacy of the election’s results, and force litigation that could drag on for weeks. If Minnesota cannot certify its election results by December, it may be excluded from the Electoral College—disenfranchising the entire state. In other words, this is a senseless recipe for disaster,” Snead said. The two plaintiffs in the case are nominees to be Republican Party electors for Minnesota.

Some background: CNN previously reported that the Honest Elections Project is a nonprofit group tied to influential conservatives who worked closely with PresidentTrump to elevate two Supreme Court justices.

It is pushing key states to “clean up” their voting rolls — a practice voting-rights groups and Democrats argue seeks to "purge" legitimate voters. The group is supporting a lawsuit against Michigan — where Trump won in 2016 by fewer than 11,000 votes -- that claims the state has an "impossibly high" high voter registration rate.

 Understanding mail-in voting in the US