The latest on the 2020 election and SCOTUS battle

By Melissa Macaya, Mike Hayes and Veronica Rocha, CNN

Updated 8:05 p.m. ET, September 28, 2020
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8:04 p.m. ET, September 28, 2020

Trump and Biden will debate tomorrow. Here's what we know about the event.

From CNN's Kate Sullivan and Arlette Saenz

Audio technician Dan McNeil participates in a sound check during a rehearsal for the first presidential debate in Cleveland, Ohio,
Audio technician Dan McNeil participates in a sound check during a rehearsal for the first presidential debate in Cleveland, Ohio, Win McNamee/Getty Images

Democratic nominee Joe Biden and President Trump are set to square off for the first time on stage tomorrow.

All debates are scheduled to take place from 9 p.m. to 10:30 p.m. ET on their respective dates without commercial breaks.

Here's what we know about the first debate:

  • Who is moderating: Fox News' Chris Wallace
  • Where it's happening: Case Western Reserve University and Cleveland Clinic in Cleveland, Ohio.
  • Key topics: Wallace selected the following topics for the first debate: "The Trump and Biden Records," "The Supreme Court," "Covid-19," "The Economy," "Race and Violence in our Cities" and "The Integrity of the Election."
  • The format: Each segment will last about 15 minutes, and the candidates will have two minutes to respond after the moderator opens each segment with a question. Wallace will then use the rest of the time in the segment to facilitate further discussion on the topic, according to the commission.
  • Coronavirus measures: The size of the audience will be limited compared to previous debates, and everyone attending the debate at Case Western Reserve University will undergo testing for Covid-19 and follow other health safety protocols. The candidates will forego giving each other a handshake. Peter Eyre, a senior adviser for the Commission on Presidential Debates, said the candidates also won't exchange handshakes with the moderator. Once on stage in Cleveland, Ohio, the three men will not wear masks.
8:04 p.m. ET, September 28, 2020

White House press secretary: "The President has done enough preparation" for Tuesday's debate

From CNN's Ali Zaslav and Rashard Rose

White House press secretary Kayleigh McEnany said "the President has done enough preparation” ahead of the first presidential debate Tuesday night, in her third television appearance on Monday.

McEnany said in an interview with Fox News that Trump is “ready to go,” pointing to a “few sessions” with personal attorney and former New York City mayor Rudy Giuliani and former New Jersey Gov. Chris Christie, as well as his experience daily taking “the most hostile of questions” from White House reporters.

"As he noted yesterday it was with Gov. Chris Christie, Mayor Rudy Giuliani and others so he has had some sessions to prep but really and we lean very hard on this, you can't have better preparation than taking the most hostile of questions from the White House press corps each and every day, multiple cases, and oftentimes on the way to the plane, the back from the plane in the press briefing room, but he has done some additional prep and he is ready to go for tomorrow," McEnany said.

Asked to react to Democratic party candidate Joe Biden saying he anticipates the debate to be a “straight attack” and that Trump “doesn’t know how to debate the facts because he’s not that smart,” McEnany called it a “ridiculous statement.”

She said tomorrow’s debate will be a “comparison.”

“It is a contrast — this President has three and a half years of the results to stand on that now includes Middle East peace, and he will be making that case,” she argued.
7:39 p.m. ET, September 28, 2020

White House is "not at all" concerned about NYT report on Trump's taxes, spokesperson says

From CNN's Ali Zaslav

 Ken Cedeno/Sipa/Bloomberg/Getty Images
 Ken Cedeno/Sipa/Bloomberg/Getty Images

Ahead of the first presidential debate Tuesday night, White House communications director Alyssa Farah told Fox Business that President Trump is “excited” and reiterated that “every day is prep for him.”

Farah said Monday the White House is “not at all” concerned that the New York Times report on Trump’s tax returns will sway voters.

She also touted how Trump donates his “full salary back to the American taxpayer,” he is “working as the President for free, which is incredible – and not something that his opponent can say." 

She slammed the report as fake and a “partisan hit job.”

Pressed on how specifically the Times report is not accurate, she claimed it “paints a snapshot” and only points to a “handful of properties.”

“But the point being this: he has followed the law,” she argued. 

On Trump asking Democratic presidential nominee Joe Biden to take a drug test ahead of their first debate, Farah said Trump is “absolutely willing” to take a drug test and “the President has been very transparent about his health records.”

6:49 p.m. ET, September 28, 2020

Trump campaign to GOP members: Do not underestimate Biden

From CNN's Betsy Klein

On the eve of Tuesday’s presidential debate, the Trump campaign is warning Republican members of Congress not to underestimate Joe Biden’s debate performance.

“Yes, Biden’s alertness may be suspect but do not underestimate his abilities in a debate. This may be where he shines,” the campaign said in an email sent to GOP staff, obtained by CNN, Monday afternoon.

The directive is another example of the Trump campaign seeking to set expectations for Biden’s performance.

The campaign cites Biden’s “47 years of practice,” including this year’s primary debates, his vice presidential debates, his three runs for president, and his 43 years in the Senate. The email also said that Biden is “very well rested and prepared,” again calling attention to his light schedule over the past several days.

“As your members preview and/or react to the debate, please consider incorporating these points,” the email encouraged staffers.

The email was first reported by The Hill.

5:06 p.m. ET, September 28, 2020

Harris frames SCOTUS fight about the future of health care

From CNN's Jasmine Wright

Democratic vice presidential nominee Kamala Harris arrives at Shaw University in Raleigh, North Carolina, on Monday.
Democratic vice presidential nominee Kamala Harris arrives at Shaw University in Raleigh, North Carolina, on Monday. Logan Cyrus/AFP/Getty Images

Democratic vice presidential nominee Kamala Harris framed the looming fight to replace the late Justice Ruth Bader Ginsburg as a nomination whose implications will reverberate far beyond this election in remarks on the court in Raleigh, North Carolina.

She also broke down the threat Amy Coney Barrett’s confirmation poses on the Affordable Care Act with an emphasis on women’s choice, voting rights and the ability for families to make a living wage. 

Harris said President Trump and Republicans in ignoring Ginsburg’s dying wish for the next elected president to choose her replacement, are not listening to her or the will of American voters. The senator made sure to tie the President’s party in with his decision nearly every mention.

“We're not even debating whether the Senate should hold hearings on a nominee and an election year. We're in the middle of an election. An ongoing election. Almost a million Americans have already voted, and more will vote this week and next week. And in just a few weeks, all Americans will have voted. But President Trump and his party don't care. They just want to jam this nomination through as fast as they can. It's called raw power,��� she said, calling on Americans to make it “very clear” how they feel about being cut out of the nomination process at the ballot box.

Using her name directly, Harris said Barrett’s confirmation would be undoing Ginsburg’s life’s work—both on ACA and Roe v. Wade, an effort to mobilize women voters. But she did not say whether or not she would meet with the judge.

“But now President Trump has nominated judge Amy Coney Barrett, and we know where Judge Barrett stands on the on the Affordable Care Act,” she said.

“If nothing else, the voters should be very clear about one thing— President Trump and his party and Judge Barrett will overturn the Affordable Care Act, and they won't stop there. They have made clear that they want to overturn Roe vs. Wade and restrict reproductive rights and freedoms. Judge Barrett has a long record of opposing abortion and reproductive rights. There is no other issue that's so disrespects and dishonors the work of Justice Ginsburg's life, then undoing the seminal decision in the courts history that made it clear, a woman has a right to make decisions about her own body.” 

Harris said Trump’s desire to overturn ACA is out of rage towards former President Barack Obama.  

The California senator urged viewers to vote like their life and right to vote depends on it, because she said it does. And she again called Trump weak and accused him of trying to suppress votes. 

“We will not let the infection that President Trump has injected into the presidency and into Congress, that has paralyzed our politics and pitted Americans against each other, spread to the United States Supreme Court,” she said.

Watch more:

3:07 p.m. ET, September 28, 2020

Pennsylvania Republicans go to Supreme Court over absentee ballots

From CNN's Ariane de Vogue

Pennsylvania Republicans filed an emergency petition with the Supreme Court Monday, asking the justices to block a lower court opinion that allowed the counting of absentee ballots up to three days after the election, amid the pandemic.

In court papers, the lawyers argued that the decision by the Supreme Court of Pennsylvania “forces officials to count ballots received up to three days after Election Day, even if they lack a legible postmark or any postmark at all.”

They said the ruling is an “open invitation” to voters to cast their ballots after Election Day, which would inject “chaos and the potential for gamesmanship into what was an orderly and secure schedule of clear, bright-line deadlines.”

Read more about the case here.

3:02 p.m. ET, September 28, 2020

Small-dollar donors gave more than $300 million after Ruth Bader Ginsburg's death

From CNN's Fredreka Schouten

Andrew Oros takes photos of notes left at a mural for Justice Ruth Bader Ginsburg in downtown Washington, DC
Andrew Oros takes photos of notes left at a mural for Justice Ruth Bader Ginsburg in downtown Washington, DC Andrew Caballero-Reynolds/AFP/Getty Images

The Democratic money just keeps flowing.

Small-dollar contributors have given more than $300 million to Democratic candidates and causes since Supreme Court Justice Ruth Bader Ginsburg’s death, an ActBlue spokesperson said Monday. 

Liberal donors already had broken ActBlue records for dollars raised in a single day in the immediate aftermath of Ginsburg’s death. And Democratic strategists say the money that keeps coming is fueling campaigns up and down the ballot.

Catherine Vaughan, co-executive director of Swing Left, a Democratic group focused on flipping control of the US Senate to Democrats and shaping state legislative contests, said donations typically rise closer to Election Day. But Ginsburg’s death “caused everyone to jolt to attention and really get involved,” Vaughan told CNN.

In the six days immediately following Ginsburg’s passing, Swing Left directed $2 million in new donations to US Senate races and more than $1 million to state legislative contests, much of it to flip seats in Arizona, North Carolina, Pennsylvania, Georgia, Texas and Iowa. 

In addition to focusing on key US Senate battlegrounds, Swing Left also is helping send money to Democratic challengers in traditionally red states — South Carolina, Kansas and Alaska — that it now views as “expansion targets.” 

In South Carolina — a state President Trump won by 14 percentage points in 2016 — Democrat Jaime Harrison has consistently outraised Republican Sen. Lindsey Graham – prompting Graham to make urgent appeals for donations on Fox News in recent days. (On Monday, the main super PAC supporting the election of Democrats to the Senate announced that it would spend $6.5 million in South Carolina — another sign that Democrats view the seat as winnable.)

Another liberal fundraising effort, GiveGreen, said it has collected more than $37 million to support its favored candidates as of Monday morning — more than four times the $8 million it raised during the 2016 election, official say.

A little more than $18 million of GiveGreen���s haul to date will aid Democratic nominee Joe Biden’s campaign for the White House. More than $12 million is going to US House and Senate campaigns.

Voters concerned about climate issues “are increasingly energized and motivated,” said Tiernan Sittenfeld, senior vice president of government affairs at the League of Conservation Voters. 

GiveGreen is a project of the LCV’s Victory Fund, a political action committee linked to the National Resource Defense Council and NextGen America, a group created by Democratic billionaire and former presidential candidate Tom Steyer.

1:30 p.m. ET, September 28, 2020

Trump campaign pushes back on Ivanka Trump 2016 VP report and NYT tax story

From CNN's Kate Bennett

Ivanka Trump speaks from the White House South Lawn during the Republican National Convention on August 27.
Ivanka Trump speaks from the White House South Lawn during the Republican National Convention on August 27. Al Drago/Bloomberg/Getty Images

The Washington Post’s piece previewing Rick Gates’ upcoming book includes reporting that says President Trump wanted his own daughter, Ivanka Trump, to be on his 2016 ticket as Vice President. Gates indicates Trump was so insistent on Ivanka as his running mate, “his team polled the idea twice,” writes the Post. 

Asked for comment, the White House referred CNN to the Trump campaign. “This is not true and there was never any such poll,” Trump 2020 communications director Tim Murtaugh tells CNN.

CNN also asked the White House about the many references to Ivanka Trump in the New York Times report regarding Trump’s taxes. The White House also referred CNN to Murtaugh on this matter.

Murtaugh called the story "bogus," and said Trump has paid "tens of millions of dollars in taxes," speculated about the legality of providing the documents to the Times and attacked the media and the Bidens.

More on the report: According to the New York Times, Trump owes hundreds of millions of dollars in debt for which he is personally responsible in the next four years.

The Times report also said that Trump paid only $750 dollars in federal income taxes in 2016 and 2017, that he paid no federal income taxes in 10 of the last 15 years before he became President, and that he's embroiled in a years-battle with the IRS over the legitimacy of a roughly $73 million tax refund he claimed.

The Times also specifically notes all of the information its reporters obtained was "provided by sources with legal access to it."

1:01 p.m. ET, September 28, 2020

Cindy McCain joins Biden transition team following endorsement

From CNN’s Sarah Mucha

Cindy McCain, the widow of the late Republican Sen. John McCain, is joining the Biden transition team as a member of its advisory board following her endorsement of Joe Biden, a source familiar confirms to CNN. 

“This transition is like no other, preparing amid the backdrop of a global health crisis and struggling economy, which makes Mrs. McCain’s experience as a business woman, philanthropist, and longtime advocate for issues impacting women and children all the more valuable," Ted Kaufman, co-chair of the Biden transition team, said in a statement.

McCain endorsed Biden in a tweet last week after Biden told donors that she was endorsing him.

The Wall Street Journal was first to report this development.