Summary

Here’s a quick recap of what happened today:

  • Donald Trump said that Centers for Disease Control and Prevention director Robert Redfield made a “mistake” when he spoke to Congress earlier today. Redfield suggested that face masks may be “more guaranteed to protect me against Covid” than a vaccine and predicted that a vaccine would not be widely available until mid- to late- 2021. In his press conference, Trump reiterated his claims that a vaccine may be available as early as “mid-October”, and said that masks can be ineffective.
  • Health and human services spokesperson Michael Caputo is taking a leave of absence. The department said Caputo would leave his post for 60 days to “focus on his health and the wellbeing of his family”. The announcement came days after reports emerged that Caputo has pressured CDC officials to alter key reports on coronavirus to paint a more upbeat picture about the current crisis. Caputo also suggested (without evidence) that CDC officials had formed a “resistance unit” to undermine Trump.
  • Joe Biden said he did not trust Trump’s comments about the development of a coronavirus vaccine. The Democratic nominee said in a speech, “I trust vaccines. I trust the scientists. But I don’t trust Donald Trump. At this point, the American people can’t either.” Biden called for “total transparency” from the government as the vaccine is developed to give Americans reassurance that the vaccine meets safety standards.
  • Trump urged Republicans to push for a larger coronavirus relief package, seemingly aligning himself with Democrats in the negotiations over the bill. “Go for the much higher numbers, Republicans, it all comes back to the USA anyway (one way or another!),” Trump said in a tweet. Democrats have called for spending $2.2tn on the next relief package, but Republicans have dismissed that top-line cost as a non-starter.

Updated

The Wall Street Journal reported this afternoon on the hardline stance against protestors the US attorney general William Barr is taking, citing a conference call Barr had with federal prosecutors across the country.

Over 200 people across the country have been charged with violent crimes, including counts of arson, assaulting federal officers and gun crimes, after participating in protests that flared up over the summer.

The Wall Street Journal reports:

Attorney General William Barr told the nation’s federal prosecutors to be aggressive when charging violent demonstrators with crimes, including potentially prosecuting them for plotting to overthrow the U.S. government, people familiar with the conversation said.

In a conference call with U.S. attorneys across the country last week, Mr. Barr warned that sometimes violent demonstrations across the U.S. could worsen as the November presidential election approaches. He encouraged the prosecutors to seek a number federal charges, including under a rarely used sedition law, even when state charges could apply, the people said.

The call underscores the priority Mr. Barr has given to prosecuting crimes connected to violence during months of protests against racial injustice, leading to major property damage, as President Trump has made a broader crackdown on the violence and property destruction a key campaign issue. U.S. attorneys have broad discretion in what charges they bring.

The White House took $700m in Congress-appropriated funds from the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) to fund its Operation Warp Speed, according to a new report from Bloomberg News. In addition to its appropriated budget, the CDC received an additional $7.5bn in stimulus funds this year.

Operation Warp Speed is the White House’s initiative to quickly distribute a Covid-19 vaccine, something health experts have said may take months at least. An anonymous administration official told Bloomberg that the funds from the CDC are being used for activities such as preparing to distribute a vaccination.

Earlier today, Trump appointee Michael Caputo, spokesperson for the Department of Health and Human Services, announced a 60-day leave of absence amid reports that he tried to gain control over a scientific weekly published by the CDC and posted rants on social media against CDC scientists, whom he liked to a “resistance” against Trump. Caputo does not have a background in healthcare.

Updated

The Washington Post just published a fact-checking analysis on comments Donald Trump made at a press conference earlier this evening. Trump suggested blue states are to blame for the country’s high Covid-19 death toll, which currently stands at around 193,000 deaths.

“If you take the blue states out, we’re at a level that I don’t think anyone in the world would be at,” Trump said.

Philip Bump from the Washington Post points out that, while deaths in states that voted for Hillary Clinton in the 2016 election indeed made up a large chunk of overall deaths early in the pandemic, the percentage of deaths from blue states has tapered as the pandemic has gone on. The most recent data suggests that about 53% of the country’s deaths were in these blue states, while 47% were in states that voted for Trump.

Bump writes that that means over 90,000 deaths have occurred in red states. Were that the US’s total death toll, the country would still have the second-highest number of deaths, behind Brazil.

Updated

Robert Redfield, director of the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, just tweeted what appears to be an indirect response to a comment Donald Trump made at a press conference earlier this evening that Redfield was “confused” when speaking to a Senate panel today.

“The best defense we currently have against the virus are important mitigation efforts of wearing a mask, washing your hands, social distancing and being careful about crowds,” Redfield wrote on Twitter.

Earlier today, Redfield told a Senate panel that he “might even go so far as to say that this face mask is more guaranteed to protect me against Covid than when I take a Covid vaccine”.

Trump said that Redfield had made a “mistake” when he said that and also when he said that Covid-19 vaccine will likely not be widely available until the “second or third quarter” of 2021, a timeline that contradicts Trump’s repeated promises for a vaccine by the end of the year.

Updated

An appeals court in Michigan today upheld a ruling that said the sending of unsolicited absentee voter applications by mail to registered voters in the state is lawful. Nearly 8 million voters in the state will be receiving applications, along with postcards saying they can register absentee online.

At a press conference earlier this evening, Donald Trump said that issues with mail-in ballots are the “biggest threat to this election”, saying that they were a “much bigger threat than foreign countries”. The Trump campaign has filed multiple lawsuits in efforts to curtail widespread mail-in voting in states like New Jersey and Pennsylvania.

Updated

Before ending the conference, Donald Trump confirmed that a White House staffer has tested positive for Covid-19. The president said that he did not have any personal contact with the staffer.

Earlier today, a White House pool reporter said she was told by the White House that they “had a couple of positives today”, but refused to answer questions on the comment.

When answering a previous question about why his staffers do not wear masks, Trump said that he has confidence that the people around him are safe because they are constantly tested.

“When people come into the Oval Office, it’s like a people deal. No matter who they are, if they’re the heads of countries, they all get tested,” he said. “So I’m in sort of a different position.”

Donald Trump again contradicted Centers for Disease Control and Prevention Robert Redfield once again, saying that Redfield “made a mistake” when he said that masks are “the most important, powerful public health tool we have.”

“I might even go so far as to say that this face mask is more guaranteed to protect me against COVID than when I take a COVID vaccine,” Redfield told a Senate panel Wednesday.

Trump said that a vaccine will be more effective as masks have to be “handled very gently, very carefully”. Trump said that he has seen people at restaurants not being careful with their masks.

“Masks have problems too. ... A lot of people did not like the concept of mask initially, Dr. Fauci didn’t like it initially,” Trump said. He did not mention that Fauci has since clarified that he advised against masks early in the pandemic out of fear that the guidance would create a panic-induced shortage on personal protective equipment for essential workers.

When justifying why he is contradicting Redfield, Trump said the director is out of the loop on vaccine distribution information and was made confused by the questions.

A reporter also asked Donald Trump whether he would retract what he told Bob Woodward in March that a vaccine could take up to 14 months to develop.

“That was a long time ago I said that,” Trump said.

Donald Trump, continuing to contradict what Centers for Disease Control and Prevention director Robert Redfield said earlier today, just said at a press conference that “under no circumstance would [the vaccine] be as late as the doctor said.”

Redfield told a Senate panel that a vaccine will be available in November or December at the earliest for first responders, and won’t be made widely available until 2021.

Trump said that the vaccine may be ready by “mid-October”, though he did not outright say whether he believes it would be available to the general public at the time.

Updated

Donald Trump is at the podium in the White House for a press conference repeating talking points he has made in recent weeks amid his presidential campaign.

“Our biggest threat to this election is governors from opposing parties controlling millions of ballots, that’s a much bigger threat than from foreign countries.”

He said it is a “disgrace” that states are allowing ballots without signatures and repeated a false claim that a mail-in vote during New York’s primary was “fraudulent”.

Ballots “could be stolen, who knows where they’re going, who knows where they’re coming from”, Trump said.

Trump says CDC director 'confused' on vaccine timeline

Donald Trump said that Centers for Disease Control and Prevention director Robert Redfield was “confused” when he said that a vaccine will only be available for first responders if it is developed by November or December.

When a reporter asked the president why he said a vaccine would be available by mid-October when Redfield told a Senate panel today that a vaccine would likely be available in the “second or third quarter” of 2021 at the earliest.

“I think he made a mistake with that statement,” Trump said. “When he said it, I believe he was confused. I’m just telling you we’re ready to go.”

Earlier in the press conference, Trump also praised the Big 10 football league for going forward with its season and said that the Pac 12 football, which includes major universities on the west coast, to also move forward with its season.

“There’s no reason the Pac-12 shouldn’t be playing,” Trump said, telling the league to “get going”.

Larry Scott, commissioner of the Pac 12, said today that state and local approval is needed to start the season.

Updated

Trump: Biden spreading ‘anti-vaccine theories’

Donald Trump started off the press conference by doubling down on his assertion that there will be “a hundred million vaccine doses by the end of 2020”. He said that vaccines should be ready by “mid-October”.

Trump criticized Joe Biden for spreading “anti-vaccine theories” by saying that Trump is trying to politicize a vaccine by rushing its development before the election. potentially foregoing safety precautions.

“They’re recklessly endangering lives,” Trump said, saying that if Democrats were in the same position, the would be saying how important vaccines are.

It’s of course important to remember that health experts have reiterated that a vaccine on Trump’s timeline is highly unlikely. Just today, head of the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention Robert Redfield told a Senate panel, while a vaccine may be available for first responders by November or December, it will likely not be available until the “secord of third quarter” of 2021. Dr. Moncef Slaoui, head of Operation Warp Speed, the White House’s vaccination development initiative, said that a vaccine in by early November is “highly unlikely.”

Updated

This is Lauren Aratani taking over for Joan E Greve. Looks like Donald Trump will be starting his press conference any moment now after originally saying the 5 pm press conference would be moved up to 5:45 pm.

Today so far

That’s it from me today. My colleague, Lauren Aratani, will take over the blog for the next few hours.

Here’s where the day stands so far:

  • The director of the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention suggested face masks may be “more guaranteed to protect me against Covid” than a vaccine. Testifying before a Senate subcommittee, Dr Robert Redfield described masks as “the most important, powerful public health tool we have.” His comments came one day after Trump said at an ABC News town hall, “A lot of people don’t want to wear masks. There are a lot of people think that masks are not good.”
  • Redfield also predicted a vaccine would not be widely available to the American public until “late second quarter, third quarter 2021.” The CDC director told senators, “If you’re asking me when is it going to be generally available to the American public so we can begin to take advantage of vaccine to get back to our regular life, I think we’re probably looking at third -- late second quarter, third quarter 2021.” Trump claimed yesterday that a vaccine would be available within “weeks.”
  • HHS spokesperson Michael Caputo is taking a leave of absence. The department said Caputo would leave his post for 60 days to “focus on his health and the well-being of his family.” The announcement came days after reports emerged that Caputo has pressured CDC officials to alter key reports on coronavirus to paint a more upbeat picture about the current crisis. Caputo also suggested (without evidence) that CDC officials had formed a “resistance unit” to undermine Trump.
  • Joe Biden said he did not trust Trump’s comments about the development of a coronavirus vaccine. The Democratic nominee said in a speech, “I trust vaccines. I trust the scientists. But I don’t trust Donald Trump. At this point, the American people can’t either.” Biden called for “total transparency” from the government as the vaccine is developed to give Americans reassurance that the vaccine meets safety standards.
  • Trump urged Republicans to push for a larger coronavirus relief package, seemingly aligning himself with Democrats in the negotiations over the bill. “Go for the much higher numbers, Republicans, it all comes back to the USA anyway (one way or another!),” Trump said in a tweet. Democrats have called for spending $2.2 trillion on the next relief package, but Republicans have dismissed that top-line cost as a non-starter.

Lauren will have more coming up, and Trump’s press conference is scheduled to start in about 45 minutes, so stay tuned.

Programming note: Trump’s press conference, which was scheduled to start at any moment, has been pushed back by 45 minutes.

The Guardian’s Daniel Strauss reports:

The outdoor clothing company Patagonia has sown a message into some of its apparel: “vote the assholes out.”

The line was stitched into its Stand Up Shorts. It’s the latest example of the company’s political activism and liberal leanings. Patagonia’s founder, Yvon Chouinard, is an outspoken liberal. The message is meant to urge voters to vote Donald Trump out of office.

A sign outside a Patagonia store.
A sign outside a Patagonia store. Photograph: Corine Sciboz/ZUMA Wire/REX/Shutterstock

“Yvon Chouinard has been saying ‘vote the assholes out’ for several years and it refers to politicians from any party who deny or disregard the climate crisis and ignore science, not because they aren’t aware of it, but because their pockets are lined with money from oil and gas interests,” spokesperson Tessa Byars said in a statement.

In 2018 Patagonia endorsed two Democrats for Senate, Jacky Rosen in Nevada and Montana senator Jon Tester. Both Democrats won their races that cycle.

The company has been especially invested in environmental causes and has fought with the Trump administration over it. When Trump rolled back protections on national monuments Bear Ears and Grand Staircase-Escalante, the company ran a message on its website saying “The President Stole Your Land.”

The message is just in Patagonia’s 2020 Men’s and Women’s Road to Regenerative Organic Stand Up Shorts. It’s unclear if Patagonia will do something similar again. “As for whether we’ll make them again: We hope we can help elect climate leaders on November 3, 2020, and that we don’t have to make them again next year ... or ever again,” Byars said.

Joe Biden has just wrapped up his event on the development of a coronavirus vaccine, during which he repeatedly criticized Trump’s handling of the pandemic.

Shortly before leaving the podium, Biden was asked how he believed a coronavirus vaccine should be distributed once it is developed.

The Democratic nominee responded, “It has to be done fairly and well. It can’t be based on your tax returns, figuratively speaking. It’s got to be based on who is most vulnerable.”

Joe Biden mocked Trump for suggesting during yesterday’s town hall that Democrats had failed to implement a national mask mandate to limit the spread of coronavirus.

The Democratic nominee said in a stage-whisper, “I’m not the president. He’s the president.”

Biden has previously used this line to push back against Trump’s claims that Democrats would make the country less safe.

Biden and his team have repeatedly sought to remind voters that the current pandemic and resulting financial crisis are happening on Trump’s watch.

Joe Biden is taking questions from reporters, who pressed the Democratic nominee on his comment that Trump’s comments about a coronavirus vaccine cannot be trusted.

Biden emphasized the scientists should be trusted, and he called for “total transparency” in the development of a vaccine to give Americans reassurance that the vaccine meets safety standards.

Asked whether he trusted officials at the CDC and FDA, Biden said he distrusted certain officials’ efforts to muzzle scientists at those agencies.

Biden specifically referenced HHS spokesperson Michael Caputo, who announced today he was taking a leave of absence after making controversial comments about CDC officials.

Biden: 'I trust vaccines. I trust the scientists. But I don’t trust Donald Trump'

Joe Biden argued the president’s comments on the development of a coronavirus vaccine could not be trusted.

“I trust vaccines. I trust the scientists. But I don’t trust Donald Trump,” Biden said. “At this point the American people can’t either.”

Trump has suggested a vaccine could be developed within “weeks,” but CDC Director Robert Redfield said today that a vaccine likely wouldn’t be widely available until “late second quarter, third quarter 2021.”

Updated

Echoing CDC Director Robert Redfield’s comments earlier today, Joe Biden noted that a coronavirus vaccine would likely not be widely available until well into 2021.

Trump has suggested a vaccine could be available within weeks, shortly before the presidential election in November. But Biden said scientific breakthroughs “certainly don’t adhere to election cycles.”

Biden also warned, “We’re heading into a very dangerous autumn.” He once again urged Americans to wear masks to limit their risk of contracting coronavirus.

Biden criticizes Trump's response to the pandemic

About 80 minutes after the scheduled start time, Joe Biden took the podium in Wilmington, Delaware, to deliver a speech on the development of a coronavirus vaccine.

Addressing Trump’s comments at his ABC News town hall last night, Biden criticized the president’s “lack of seriousness” when it comes to responding to the pandemic.

“President Trump has refused once again to take responsibility or to take action,” Biden said.

The Democratic nominee argued Trump had once again offered Americans “weak and feckless inaction” as well as “lies and empty promises” in his town hall comments.

Joe Biden is running an hour behind in Wilmington, Delaware, where he was scheduled to deliver remarks on the development of a coronavirus vaccine.

The Democratic nominee was supposed to start his speech at 2:30 pm ET, but he has not yet appeared at the podium set up in Wilmington’s Queen theater.

Biden received a briefing from public health experts on how to safely and equitably distribute a vaccine earlier today.

Regarding the timeline of distributing a vaccine, CDC Director Robert Redfield told senators today, “If you’re asking me when is it going to be generally available to the American public so we can begin to take advantage of vaccine to get back to our regular life, I think we’re probably looking at third -- late second quarter, third quarter 2021.”

Here’s some fun news: Saturday Night Live announced that comedian Jim Carrey will play Joe Biden in its next season.

SNL creator Lorne Michaels told Vulture in an interview published today, “There was some interest on [Carrey’s] part. And then we responded, obviously, positively. But it came down to discussions about what the take was. He and Colin Jost had a bunch of talks. He and I as well. He will give the part energy and strength, and ... hopefully it’s funny.”

SNL is set to premiere on October 3 with a limited in-person audience, in line with New York’s recommendations on mitigating the spread of coronavirus.

Updated

Trump to hold a press conference today

The White House has just announced that Trump will hold a press conference at 5 pm ET today.

The president will likely be pressed on his comments yesterday downplaying the importance of face masks.

Trump said during his ABC News town hall last night, “A lot of people don’t want to wear masks. There are a lot of people think that masks are not good.”

But CDC Director Robert Redfield told senators today that face masks may be “more guaranteed to protect me against Covid” than a vaccine.

A new set of Senate polls shows Democrats pulling ahead in Maine and running neck and neck in the Republican-leaning state of South Carolina.

According to the new polls from Quinnipiac University, Democratic candidate Sara Gideon is 12 points ahead of Republican Senator Susan Collins in Maine, 54%-42%. Collins is seeking her fifth term in the Senate, but she is considered one of the most vulnerable senators up for reelection this year.

Another poll of South Carolina shows Democratic candidate Jaime Harrison tied with Republican Senator Lindsey Graham, 48%-48%.

A third poll of Kentucky provided some good news for Senate majority leader Mitch McConnell, who is 12 points ahead of Democrat Amy McGrath, 53%-41%.

If Joe Biden wins the presidential race, Democrats need to flip three seats in the Senate to take control of the chamber. If Biden doesn’t win the White House, Democrats will need to flip four seats to seize the Senate.

Election experts have said control of the Senate is definitely up for grabs, and Senate Republicans’ campaign arm warned in a recent memo that the chamber is “at risk” of falling into Democrats’ hands.

Updated

The Guardian’s Daniel Strauss reports:

A memo by Senate Republicans’ campaign arm has admitted that control of the upper chamber is “at risk” and that Democrats could win the Senate in November’s elections.

The September 2020 political update from the National Republican Senatorial Committee summarizes the state of the race of 10 states with Senate races around the country and how the outcome of each could factor into whether Republicans or Democrats control the chamber in January.

The memo, obtained by the Guardian, has been circulating among political operatives, donors and interested parties. It comes just shy of 50 days before the November 2020 elections.

“The next few weeks will define the future of our country for generations to come,” the NRSC memo reads.

Memos like these are often shaped like dispassionate updates but in actuality they are often used to convince interested parties that races slipping out of reach are still in play. They are also often used to juice donations to lagging candidates and counter trending narratives.

Democrats need to pick up three or four seats to take control of the Senate. The fact that the NRSC memo categorizes seven Senate races as ones that simply can’t be lost or deserve serious attention suggests that it’s possible, but not certain that Democrats can take control of the Senate.

White House press secretary Kayleigh McEnany has concluded her briefing with reporters.

Shortly before leaving the podium, McEnany was asked about the announcement that HHS spokesperson Michael Caputo will be taking a leave of absence, following reports that he pressured CDC officials to alter key reports on coronavirus.

McEnany did not address Caputo’s departure and instead pivoted to discussing the normalization agreements signed by Israel, the United Arab Emirates and Bahrain at the White House yesterday.

White House press secretary Kayleigh McEnany deflected a question about Trump retweeting a baseless accusation that Joe Biden is a pedophile.

When asked for evidence of that extraordinary allegation, McEnany said, “I’m not here to talk about Joe Biden.”

It should be noted that McEnany has repeatedly attacked Biden by name from the podium of the White House briefing room.

White House press secretary Kayleigh McEnany refused to answer questions about Trump’s health care plan, which the president has been promising to release for more than a year.

A reporter noted that three senior health officials testified today they were not involved in the formulation of such a plan.

When asked who was working on the proposal, McEnany gave a vague answer, saying “multiple stakeholders” in the White House were involved.

After a reporter pressed for a more specific answer, McEnany said, “I’m not going to give you a readout of what our health care plan looks like and who’s working on it. If you want to know, come work here at the White House.”

Press secretary Kayleigh McEnany dodged a question about whether any White House staffers had recently tested positive for coronavirus.

“I don’t share people’s personal medical information,” McEnany said.

A member of the White House press pool was told earlier today that a couple staffers tested positive this morning, delaying the distribution of tests to reporters.

White House press secretary Kayleigh McEnany insisted the president supported mask usage to limit the spread of coronavirus, despite Trump’s comments at his town hall last night.

“The president has always supported mask-wearing,” McEnany said.

But here’s what Trump said yesterday: “A lot of people don’t want to wear masks. There are a lot of people think that masks are not good. ... The concept of a mask is good, but it also does ... you’re constantly touching it.”

McEnany claimed Trump was trying to highlight the potential “unintended consequences” if masks are not worn properly.

White House press secretary holds a briefing

White House press secretary Kayleigh McEnany is now holding a briefing with reporters.

McEnany opened the briefing by praising the Big Ten’s announcement that the conference would play a shortened season of college football, after initially saying the season was canceled.

Trump previously took credit for helping the conference make its decision, but a Big Ten president told NBC News that Trump “had nothing to do with our decision and did not impact the deliberations.”

HHS spokesperson taking leave of absence amid controversy

Michael Caputo, the assistant secretary for public affairs for the department of health and human services, is taking a leave of absence amid a controversy over his efforts to pressure CDC officials to alter key reports on the coronavirus pandemic.

HHS said in a statement, “Today, the Department of Health and Human Services is announcing that HHS Assistant Secretary for Public Affairs Michael Caputo has decided to take a leave of absence to focus on his health and the well-being of his family. Mr. Caputo will be on leave for the next 60 days.”

The department also announced that one of Caputo’s deputies, Dr Paul Alexander, would be permanently leaving HHS.

The announcement comes days after reports emerged that Caputo had urged the CDC to alter reports on coronavirus because they “would undermine the president’s optimistic messages about the outbreak.”

Caputo also received criticism for suggesting (without evidence) that CDC officials were forming a “resistance unit” to undermine Trump.

The HHS spokesperson said in a Facebook live video, “There are scientists who work for this government who do not want America to get well, not until after Joe Biden is president.”

Today so far

Here’s where the day stands so far:

  • The director of the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention suggested face masks may be “more guaranteed to protect me against Covid” than a vaccine. Testifying before a Senate subcommittee, Dr Robert Redfield described masks as “the most important, powerful public health tool we have.” His comments came one day after Trump said at an ABC News town hall, “A lot of people don’t want to wear masks. There are a lot of people think that masks are not good.”
  • Redfield predicted a vaccine would not be widely available to the American public until “late second quarter, third quarter 2021.” The CDC director told senators, “If you’re asking me when is it going to be generally available to the American public so we can begin to take advantage of vaccine to get back to our regular life, I think we’re probably looking at third -- late second quarter, third quarter 2021.” Trump claimed yesterday that a vaccine would be available within “weeks.”
  • Trump urged Republicans to push for a larger coronavirus relief package, aligning himself with Democrats in the negotiations over the bill. “Go for the much higher numbers, Republicans, it all comes back to the USA anyway (one way or another!),” Trump said in a tweet. Democrats have called for spending $2.2 trillion on the next relief package, but Republicans have dismissed that top-line cost as a non-starter.

The blog will have more coming up, so stay tuned.

New York Mayor Bill de Blasio is expected to furlough staff at City Hall, including himself, in response to a budgetary shortfall due to the coronavirus pandemic.

The New York Times reports:

The policy would affect 495 mayoral staff members, who would have to take an unpaid, weeklong furlough at some point between October and March 2021. The furloughs would apply to everyone from administrative assistants to Mr. de Blasio and the office of his wife, Chirlane McCray.

The mayor intends to work during his furlough without pay, his spokesman said.

Facing a $9 billion, two-year revenue shortfall because of the coronavirus’s impact on the economy, Mr. de Blasio this year closed the city’s budget with $1 billion in unspecified labor savings.

De Blasio has previously warned that he would have to lay off 22,000 city employees if New York did not receive federal aid or permission from the state to extend its debt limit. So far, neither has come through.

Updated

Senior health officials appear to be offering conflicting timelines on when a coronavirus vaccine will be widely available to the American public.

CDC director Robert Redfield just told senators that the vaccine would not be widely available until “late second quarter, third quarter 2021.”

But Paul Mango, the deputy chief of staff for policy at the department of health and human services, offered a much more ambitious timeline earlier today.

Mango said during a press call, “We are under contract to get enough doses, and we have line of sight right now into the clinical trials such that we believe” the FDA will approve a vaccine by the end of the year.

Mango added, “The combination of those two will permit us to vaccinate every American before the end of first quarter 2021.”

It should be noted Redfield was on the same press call and did not correct Mango, even though the CDC director offered a very different timeline just an hour later.

CDC director predicts vaccine will not be widely available until 'late second quarter, third quarter 2021'

CDC Director Robert Redfield also told senators that he did not expect a coronavirus vaccine to be widely available to the American public until “late second quarter, third quarter 2021.”

Redfield said he remained confident a vaccine would be developed in November or December of this year, but he noted there would initially be a “very limited supply” of the vaccine.

“If you’re asking me when is it going to be generally available to the American public so we can begin to take advantage of vaccine to get back to our regular life, I think we’re probably looking at third -- late second quarter, third quarter 2021,” Redfield said.

Again, the CDC director’s comments are striking in comparison to what Trump said at his ABC News town hall with voters last night.

The president said of a coronavirus vaccine, “We’re within weeks of getting it. You know, could be three weeks, four weeks, but we think we have it.”

Updated

CDC director: Masks are 'more guaranteed to protect me against Covid' than vaccine

The director of the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, Dr Robert Redfield, suggested face masks may be even more effective than a coronavirus vaccine in limiting the spread of the virus.

While testifying before a Senate subcommittee, Redfield said, “These facemasks are the most important, powerful public health tool we have.”

The CDC director reiterated that the country could get the virus under control in a matter of weeks if Americans consistently wore face masks.

Redfield added, “I might even go so far as to say that this face mask is more guaranteed to protect me against Covid than when I take a Covid vaccine.”

Redfield explained that some Americans may not get an immune response from the coronavirus vaccine, while face masks have been shown to help limit the risk of contracting the virus for everyone.

The CDC director’s comments were even more extraordinary when compared to what the president said about face masks last night, during his ABC News town hall with voters.

“A lot of people don’t want to wear masks. There are a lot of people think that masks are not good,” Trump said. “The concept of a mask is good, but it also does ... you’re constantly touching it.”

Updated

The reporters participating in the White House press pool today were called 30 minutes late to receive their routine coronavirus tests.

When one member of the press pool asked why they were late, she was told the White House was delayed because a couple staffers had tested positive for the virus this morning.

The reporter later asked White House chief of staff Mark Meadows about the test results, but he dodged the question.

“I don’t comment on any health-related issues as it relates to the White House ever,” Meadows said.

HHS and CDC officials testify before Senate subcommittee

Senior health officials, including CDC Director Robert Redfield, are currently testifying before the Senate Appropriations subcommittee on coronavirus response.

Admiral Brett Giroir, an assistant secretary of health at HHS who has coordinated the country’s coronavirus testing, celebrated the declining rates of community spread in recent weeks.

But Giroir added, “These gains could be fleeting, or even reversed, if we do not continue to follow the national plan and exercise personal responsibility, especially wearing masks and avoiding crowds.”

That comment was noteworthy, given the president was raising doubts about the effectiveness of masks last night, during his ABC News town hall with voters.

Redfield similarly urged Americans to wear masks, maintain social distancing and regularly wash their hands.

The CDC director also noted the country must embrace one of its most powerful tools against coronavirus: the flu vaccine.

“These simple actions combined could help this nation avert a very difficult fall, lessening the burden on our health care system and saving lives,” Redfield said.

Trump urges Republicans to 'go for the much higher numbers' in relief bill negotiations

Trump urged Republicans to push for a larger coronavirus relief package, after Senate majority leader Mitch McConnell’s “skinny” relief bill was voted down last week.

“Democrats are ‘heartless’. They don’t want to give STIMULUS PAYMENTS to people who desperately need the money, and whose fault it was NOT that the plague came in from China,” Trump said in a new tweet. “Go for the much higher numbers, Republicans, it all comes back to the USA anyway (one way or another!).”

House speaker Nancy Pelosi will likely be thrilled with the president’s comments. The Democratic speaker and Senate minority leader Chuck Schumer have called for a $2.2 trillion relief package, but Republicans have dismissed that top-line cost as a non-starter.

Democrats may have momentum now that Trump has similarly endorsed a more sweeping bill. It’s also worth noting that the “skinny” bill backed by Republicans did not include the direct payments Trump referenced in his tweet.

A Republican senator took issue with Trump’s comments on masks last night, during his ABC News town hall with voters.

During the town hall, the president said, “A lot of people don’t want to wear masks. There are a lot of people think that masks are not good. ... The concept of a mask is good, but it also does...you’re constantly touching it.”

As a reminder, health experts have strenuously urged Americans to wear face masks to limit the spread of coronavirus.

Asked about the president’s comments this morning, Republican senator John Barrasso told CNN, “I think masks do help reduce the spread.”

Barrasso, who is also a physician, then showed off his own mask, which he had briefly taken off for the CNN interview.

“We know how important it is. We need to do all that we know that we can do to lower the risk of spread,” Barrasso said.

A new Washington Post-ABC News poll shows Joe Biden with a narrow advantage in the key swing state of Wisconsin.

According to the poll, Biden is leading Trump by 6 points among Wisconsin’s likely voters, 52%-46%. Among all registered voters, Biden’s lead narrows further to four points, 50%-46%, which is a virtual tie given the poll’s 4.5-point margin of error.

Trump won Wisconsin by less than 1 point in 2016, and the state could be the tipping point in November’s presidential election.

The new poll also surveyed voters in Minnesota, a state that Trump narrowly lost in 2016 and is hoping to flip in November.

But the Post-ABC poll doesn’t provide Trump much hope on that front. The survey found Biden has a 16-point lead among Minnesota’s likely voters, 57%-41%.

The Big Ten has reversed course and decided to play a (shortened) season of college football this year.

The AP reports:

Less than five weeks after pushing football and other fall sports to spring in the name of player safety during the pandemic, the conference changed course Wednesday and said it plans to begin its season the weekend of Oct. 24. Each team will have an eight-game schedule.

The Big Ten said its Council of Presidents and Chancellors voted unanimously Tuesday to restart sports. The emergence of daily rapid-response COVID-19 testing, not available when university presidents and chancellors decided to pull the plug on the season, helped trigger a re-vote.

The Pac-12 recently announced a partnership with a diagnostic lab that will give the conference’s schools the capacity to test athletes daily. The Big Ten believes it can do the same and that it is a game-changer.

Trump, who has urged the council to reconsider its decision, immediately celebrated the news and oddly took credit for having helped the conference reverse course.

It is unclear what role, if any, Trump played in the decision process -- besides using the bully pulpit of Twitter to pressure leaders of the conference.

The Big 10 includes universities in key swing states like Wisconsin, Michigan and Pennsylvania, and the president seems to believe the conference canceling games would hurt his reelection bid.

This is Joan Greve in Washington, taking over for Martin Belam.

Trump is receiving criticism for the “fire hose of lying” he unleashed during his ABC News town hall with voters last night.

At one point, Trump seemed to blame Democratic nominee Joe Biden for not implementing a nationwide mask mandate, even though Biden is not currently the president, as he himself pointed out in a tweet last night.

Biden’s campaign said in a statement that the president’s comments underscored his failure to responsibly address the coronavirus pandemic, as the country’s death toll nears 200,000.

“The American people are crying out for real leadership on this pandemic,” said Biden’s deputy campaign manager, Kate Bedingfield.

“But Trump just confirmed tonight, yet again, that even after 8 months of letting the worst public health crisis in 100 years spiral out of control that not only does he not have a plan -- he doesn’t have a clue.”

Biden is scheduled to deliver remarks later today on the development of a coronavirus vaccine, during which he may address Trump’s town hall. The Democrat also has his own town hall with CNN set for tomorrow night.

With the way that the system is set-up, while in theory everybody gets to vote to choose the president, in practice it is going to be the results in a handful of key swing states that make the difference between Donald Trump or Joe Biden racking up enough electoral college votes to hand them the White House.

It is no coincidence that the ad spend from both campaigns in concentrated in those battlegrounds – as is our freshly launched poll tracker. Based on rolling 14-day averages, at the moment we have six key states (Florida, Pennsylvania, Michigan, North Carolina, Arizona and Wisconsin) falling for Biden, and two (Iowa and Ohio) sticking with Trump. We’ve picked those because:

In order to track how the race is developing in the areas that could decide the election, six of the eight states we focused on were those that flipped to Trump in 2016 after backing Barack Obama in 2012. Arizona and North Carolina were also added due to what they might tell us about a shifting electoral landscape – they could emerge as vital new swing states this year.

But there is a caveat, as my colleagues write:

We must caution that the polls – particularly some swing state polls – severely undercounted Trump supporters in 2016. We are not certain, despite assurances, that they they have corrected this.

You can check it out here: US election poll tracker: who is leading in the swing states?

And that is me signing off for the day, Joan Greve will be here shortly, and I will see you tomorrow…

Federal government outlines plan to make Covid-19 vaccines available free to all Americans

Associated Press are reporting that the federal government is outlining a sweeping plan to make vaccines for Covid-19 available for free to all Americans. Ricardo Alonso-Zaldivar writes:

In a report to Congress and an accompanying “playbook” for states and localities, federal health agencies and the Defense Department sketched out complex plans for a vaccination campaign to begin gradually in January or possibly later this year, eventually ramping up to reach any American who wants a shot. The Pentagon is involved with the distribution of vaccines, but civilian health workers will be the ones giving shots. The campaign is “much larger in scope and complexity than seasonal influenza or other previous outbreak-related vaccination responses,” said the playbook.

AP identified the following key points:

  • For most vaccines, people will need two doses, 21 to 28 days apart.
  • Vaccination of the US population won’t be a sprint but a marathon. Initially there may be a limited supply of vaccines available, and the focus will be on protecting health workers, other essential employees, and people in vulnerable groups.
  • The vaccine itself will be free of charge, and patients won’t be charged out of pocket for the administration of shots, which will be funded by the taxpayer.
  • States and local communities will need to devise precise plans for receiving and locally distributing vaccines. States and cities have a month to submit plans.

You can read more here: US outlines sweeping plan to provide free COVID-19 vaccines

Another video doing the rounds on social media this morning is CNN journalist Daniel Dale’s attempt to cram in as much fact-checking as possible of Donald Trump’s TV appearance into the two minute slot allocated to him.

Dale described the appearance as “a fire hose of lying from the president.”

If you fancy fact-checking it yourself, or even just having a read through to remind yourself of all the things that Donald Trump asserted last night in Philadelphia, they’ve published a full transcript.

Kenya Evelyn has been in Milwaukee for us, where she found leaders and activists warning Democrats not to take the Black vote for granted in November. She writes:

Just like the national party, local Democratic leaders aren’t on the same page about the path forward. Milwaukee’s progressive youth activists often face roadblocks from their moderate elders. For Democratic state representative David Bowen, an unprecedented pandemic and uprising is “a wake up call” to Democrats to “tap into the energy” of a youth-led movement for justice.

“This is righteous anger that young people are engaging in all over the country,” he said. “It’s this amazing synergy that says ‘if you don’t tap into this, you’re going to lose us.’ So they have to do it”.

Bowen’s the only state lawmaker to show up for The People’s Revolution at nearly every night of protests. We can’t piecemeal our way out of the problems that have accumulated over decades. There is an opportunity for the vice-president and senator to be champions on the issues that are driving people to not give up every day.”

“People are fighting for change. That opportunity is incumbent upon Democrats rising to the occasion.”

Read it here: ‘Don’t take Black voters for granted’: Milwaukee leaders and activists warn Democrats

Pompeo criticises Iran over execution of Navid Afkari, continued detention of Siamak Namazi

Secretary of state Mike Pompeo has this morning been tweeting about Iran’s treatment of US citizen Siamak Namazi, and the execution at the weekend of Navid Afkari.

Namazi was taken into custody by Iranian security forces in October 2015.

The House committee on transport and infrastructure has issued a damning report this morning on the failures of Boeing and the Federal Aviation Administration (FAA) over the development of the company’s 737 Max aircraft. The manufacturer was forced to ground its bestselling plane after two fatal crashes. My colleague Jasper Jolly reports:

The committee said there had been “repeated and serious failures” by Boeing and its regulator, the FAA, in allowing the faulty aircraft to carry passengers.

The committee’s chair, the Democratic representative Peter DeFazio, said Boeing and the regulator “gambled with public safety in the critical time period between the two crashes”.

DeFazio said the committee found a “broken safety culture at Boeing” and “gaps in the regulatory system at the FAA that allowed this fatally flawed plane into service”.

Read it here: Boeing ‘gambled with public safety’ in run-up to two deadly crashes

Trump shares manipulated video of Joe Biden to imply he played NWA anti-police protest song at campaign event

Overnight Donald Trump has shared a manipulated video of Joe Biden which makes it appear that Biden was playing NWA’s Fuck tha Police at a campaign event. Posting the clip Trump asked “What is this all about?”

The original and correct video footage is from Biden’s appearance yesterday in Florida, where he started by stating “I have just one thing to say … hang on here” and then played Luis Fonsi’s international Latino smash hit Despacito from his cellphone.

Biden’s actions had already prompted social media users to make many memes and jokes about it.

It is unclear from Trump’s tweet whether he was aware that the video had been manipulated. However, the Trump campaign have repeatedly attempted to link Joe Biden with calls to defund the police, a policy which he has stated he does not support. NWA’s protest song about police brutality first appeared on their 1988 album Straight Outta Compton.

Twitter has subsequently labelled the video as ‘Manipulated media’. The social media network has had to labeled videos shared by Trump and his campaign as “manipulated” on several occasions, and sometimes removed content after the president has retweeted it.

Yesterday the president retweeted a message that labelled his opponent in November’s election as #PedoBiden.

Updated

US to announce charges and arrests related to Chinese government 'computer intrusion campaigns'

A quick snap from Reuters here that US authorities are set to announce charges and arrests on Wednesday “related to computer intrusion campaigns tied to the Chinese government”.

The Department of Justice said in a statement that deputy attorney general Jeffrey Rosen, along with FBI officials and others, will announce the legal action at a news conference at 11am ET.

Republican associated with QAnon wins primary race in Delaware

There were primaries in Delaware yesterday, and Lauren Witzke has chalked up another Republican victory for the new wave of younger activists sweeping into the party.

Randall Chase for Associated Press reports that she has tried to distance herself from accusations that she supports the far-right anti-semitic QAnon conspiracy theory. She beat the party’s endorsed candidate James DeMartino. Witzke’s policy centerpiece is a 10-year moratorium on all immigration.

Witzke told the Associated Press in January that she had stopped promoting QAnon months earlier, dismissing it as mainstream psy-ops to get people to trust the plan and not do anything. QAnon followers often encourage each other to trust the plan. “I certainly think its more hype than substance”, she said.

But Witzke has been photographed wearing a QAnon t-shirt, and as recently as August was using the QAnon associated #SaveTheChildren hashtag in her Twitter postings.

Her former campaign manager, Michael Sisco, was fired last year from his job as a field director for a Republican congressional candidate in Iowa after inviting far-right activist Nicholas Fuentes to speak at an immigration forum. Fuentes has been accused of being a white nationalist and anti-Semite.

Witzke joins the ranks of other recent QAnon-associated insurgents into the party. Colorado restaurant owner and gun rights advocate Lauren Boebert, who upset a five-term congressman in her primary is a heavy favorite against her Democratic opponent in November. In Georgia, businesswoman Marjorie Taylor Greene, who has expressed support for QAnon in the past, is virtually guaranteed a US House seat after she won the Republican primary and her Democratic opponent dropped out of the race for personal reasons.

In November, Witzke will challenge incumbent Sen. Chris Coons, who, despite a push from progressive candidate Jessica Scarane, won the Democratic primary.

Hurricane Sally has made landfall as a Category 2 storm

Hurricane Sally has finally made landfall this morning near Gulf Shores, Alabama, as a Category 2 storm, pushing a surge of ocean water onto the coast and dumping torrential rain that forecasters said would cause dangerous flooding from the Florida Panhandle to Mississippi and well inland in the days ahead.

The parking lot adjacent to the Jones Park Lighthouse in Gulfport, Miss., floods from the waters from the Gulf of Mexico cresting before Hurricane Sally reaches land.
The parking lot adjacent to the Jones Park Lighthouse in Gulfport, Miss., floods from the waters from the Gulf of Mexico cresting before Hurricane Sally reaches land. Photograph: Hunter Dawkins/AP

The storm has been moving at an agonizingly slow 3 mph, report the Associated Press, and finally came ashore at 4:45 a.m. local time, with top winds of 105 mph (165 kmh).

Sally’s northern eyewall had raked the Gulf Coast with hurricane-force winds and rain from Pensacola Beach, Florida, westward to Dauphin Island, Alabama, for hours before its center finally hit land.

Nearly 400,000 homes and businesses are without power, according to the utility tracker poweroutage.us, as the winds and rain down power lines and flood streets and homes.

Trump congratulates new Japanese prime minister Yoshihide Suga

The president’s press secretary has just issued a statement congratulating and welcoming Japan’s new prime minister Yoshihide Suga. The statement says:

The United States congratulates Prime Minister Yoshihide Suga on securing an overwhelming majority in the presidential election of his Liberal Democratic Party and his subsequent election as Prime Minister by the Japanese Diet. President Donald J. Trump is ready to continue pursuing the vision of a free and open Indo-Pacific that he and former Prime Minister Shinzo Abe forged, including by further strengthening the United States-Japan Alliance and advancing our shared goals. The relationship between the United States and Japan has never been stronger, and President Trump looks forward to working with Prime Minister Suga to make it even stronger.

One of the president’s overnight retweets was the slightly cantankerous claim that “Trump had a historic event for world peace today, and the only thing the media reported on was who was wearing masks.”

It’s patently untrue. The New York Times ran with “Israel, UAE and Bahrain sign accords, with an eager Trump playing host”, the Washington Post went with “Israel signs deal establishing formal ties with two Arab states at the White House”. CNN this morning have “Two Gulf nations recognized Israel at the White House. Here’s what’s in it for all sides” and also had a separate piece and interview with Jared Kushner which opened the interviewer offering him congratulations on helping to broker the deal.

Our own Julian Borger has written his analysis too, and I’ve just checked with CTRL+F and it doesn’t mention masks once.

The agreements signed in Washington on Tuesday were titled the Abraham Accords, implying a epochal reconciliation between Judaism, Islam and Christianity, three faiths with shared Middle East ancestry.

Benjamin Netanyahu had brought the rhetoric to match, with lines for the occasion seemingly borrowed from a biblical blockbuster.

“This day is a pivot of history. It heralds a new dawn of peace,” the Israeli prime minister declared.

Read it here: Historical bluster glosses over realities of Trump’s Middle East diplomacy show

As well as CDC officials appearing about the administration’s coronavirus responses, top aides to secretary of state Mike Pompeo will also testify to members of Congress today. In this case the hearing will be about the firing of the former State Department inspector general, months after Democratic-led committees launched an investigation into his dismissal.

President Donald Trump abruptly fired Steve Linick from his position as the State watchdog in May, as he investigated the administration’s decision to pursue billions of dollars in military sales to Saudi Arabia despite congressional opposition.

His firing was one of a series of Trump’s dismissals of officials responsible for preventing fraud and abuse at government agencies, Reuters report. The firings prompted concern among members of Congress, including some of Trump’s fellow Republicans, over whether Trump was interfering with legitimate oversight.

Linick was also investigating allegations that Pompeo and his wife Susan had misused government resources by having department staff handle personal matters.

Today three top Pompeo aides - Brian Bulatao, under secretary for management, acting legal adviser Marik String and Clarke Cooper, assistant secretary for political-military affairs - will appear before the House of Representatives Foreign Affairs and Oversight committees.

Underscoring tensions between Congress and the administration over Linick’s firing amid the investigations, Bulatao and String agreed to testify only after the panels announced subpoenas.

“All the facts that we know suggest that there is an aversion to accountability,” a committee aide said.

Congress had requested an investigation into the Trump administration’s May 2019 decision to push ahead with $8 billion in military sales to Saudi Arabia and neighboring countries by declaring a “national emergency” over tensions with Iran, in order to sidestep congressional objections to the sales.

Lawmakers had been blocking many of the sales for months out of concern the equipment might contribute to the human catastrophe in Yemen, where bombings by a Saudi-led coalition have caused heavy civilian casualties.

A report issued by the State Inspector General’s office in August found that State did not fully evaluate the risks to civilians in Yemen when it pushed through the huge precision-guided munitions sale, although it did not violate the law.

My colleague Catherine Shoard on our film desk in London reports on a novel way to try and drive up voter registrations for this November’s election. Register, and Samuel L Jackson will personally teach you to swear in 15 languages.

If 2,500 people take action via his HeadCount website to register for the forthcoming US elections, Jackson has promised to teach them to swear in 15 languages. Visitors to the site can click a button that allows them to register online to vote, check their voting status and find out how and where to vote in the US. The voting action is a partnership with campaigning site Global Citizen. Whether Jackson’s free masterclass in swearing will be accessible to only to the first 2,500 who participate is unclear.

Read it here: Samuel L Jackson will teach you to swear in 15 languages if you vote

We have a first-person piece today from Portland’s Erica Barry, on how in fire-stricken Oregon, her old way of life is already gone.

Early last week, my smoke alarms began going off a few times a day. I began to move around my basement apartment in Portland, Oregon, with a scowl, noise-canceling headphones swinging around my neck. On the one hand, because there were no fires nearby, the alarms were not doing their job. The system was too sensitive, the boy was crying on wolf. On the other hand, the alarms were working just fine: there was smoke. It was everywhere.

The color of the midday sky as it streamed across the bathroom floor was tangerine, and the air quality outside my window ranked worse than any other city in the world. Meanwhile, the wildfires that had already burned a million acres in Oregon and devoured hundreds of homes were now moving in an ugly rash toward my home town.

Read it here: Erica Barry – Here in fire-stricken Oregon, an old way of life is gone

On the other coast it is the ongoing wildfires that are the climate crisis. James Anderson and Matthew Brown have been talking to some of the firefighters involved in the battle for the Associated Press, and have found them absolutely exhausted.

Justin Silvera, a 43-year-old battalion chief with Cal Fire, California’s state firefighting agency, said he’s lost track of the blazes he’s fought this year. He and his crew have sometimes been on duty for 64 hours at a stretch, their only rest coming in 20-minute catnaps.

“I’ve been at this 23 years, and by far this is the worst I’ve seen,” Silvera said before bunking down at a motel for 24 hours. After working in Santa Cruz County, his next assignment was to head north to attack wildfires near the Oregon border.

Signs displayed outside the Ben Lomond Volunteer Fire Department in Santa Cruz County, California.
Signs displayed outside the Ben Lomond Volunteer Fire Department in Santa Cruz County, California. Photograph: Chris Tuite/ImageSPACE/REX/Shutterstock

“There’s never enough resources,” said Silvera, one of nearly 17,000 firefighters in California. “Typically with Cal Fire we’re able to attack air tankers, choppers, dozers. We’re good at doing that. But these conditions in the field, the drought, the wind, this stuff is just taking off. We can’t contain one before another erupts.”

Washington State Forester George Geissler says there are hundreds of unfulfilled requests for help throughout the West. Agencies are constantly seeking firefighters, aircraft, engines and support personnel.

Fire crews have been summoned from at least nine states and other countries, including Canada and Israel. Hundreds of agreements for agencies to offer mutual assistance have been maxed out at the federal, state and local levels, he said.

People watch as the Bobcat Fire burns on hillsides behind homes in Monrovia, California on September 15, 2020.
People watch as the Bobcat Fire burns on hillsides behind homes in Monrovia, California on September 15, 2020. Photograph: Ringo Chiu/AFP/Getty Images

Tim Edwards, president of the union for Cal Fire, the nation’s second largest firefighting agency said “We’re battle-hardened, but it seems year after year, it gets tougher, and at some point in time we won’t be able to cope. We’ll reach a breaking point.”

The immediate dangers of the fires are compounded by worries about Covid in camp and at home. Firefighters “see all this destruction and the fatigue, and then they’re getting those calls from home, where their families are dealing with school and child care because of COVID. It’s stressing them out, and we have to keep their heads in the game,” the 25-year veteran said.

An aerial view shows properties destroyed by the Almeda Fire in Talent, Oregon, September 15, 2020.
An aerial view shows properties destroyed by the Almeda Fire in Talent, Oregon, September 15, 2020. Photograph: Robyn Beck/AFP/Getty Images

Aside from the human toll, the fires also have economic implications. California alone has spent $529 million since July 1 on wildfires, said Daniel Berlant, assistant deputy director of Cal Fire. By comparison, the state spent $691 million the entire fiscal year that ended June 30. The US government will reimburse most state costs for the biggest disasters.

Forecast of “catastrophic and life threatening” rainfall as Hurricane Sally continues to batter Gulf coast

Here’s the latest on Hurricane Sally which is battering the Gulf coast this morning. Stacy Stewart, a senior specialist with the National Hurricane Center says the storm could strengthen further before the entire eyewall moves inland and the center of the hurricane crosses the Gulf coast between 6 and 7am EST.

He says the hurricane will bring “catastrophic and life threatening” rainfall over portions of the Gulf Coast, Florida panhandle and southeastern Alabama through Wednesday night.

The hazards associated with the hurricane are going to continue after it makes landfall, with the storm producing heavy rainfall Wednesday night and Thursday over portions of central and southern Georgia, Stewart said.

A pavilion is flooded in New Orleans, Louisiana.
A pavilion is flooded in New Orleans, Louisiana. Photograph: Xinhua/REX/Shutterstock

The Associated Press report that Hurricane Sally has been pummelling the Florida Panhandle and south Alabama with sideways rain, beach-covering storm surges, strong winds and power outages early Wednesday, moving toward shore at an agonizingly slow pace that promised a drawn out drenching and possible record floods.

This RAMMB/NOAA satellite image shows Hurricane Sally off the US Gulf Coast on September 15, 2020, at 12:00 UTC.
This RAMMB/NOAA satellite image shows Hurricane Sally off the US Gulf Coast on September 15, 2020, at 12:00 UTC. Photograph: RAMMB/NOAA/NESDIS/AFP/Getty Images

Some 150,000 homes and businesses had lost electricity by early Wednesday, according to the poweroutage.us site. A curfew was called in the coastal Alabama city of Gulf Shores due to life-threatening conditions. In the Panhandle’s Escambia County, Chief Sheriff’s Deputy Chip Simmons vowed to keep deputies out with residents as long as physically possible. The county includes Pensacola, one of the largest cities on the Gulf Coast.

People play in a flooded parking lot Pensacola Beach, Florida.
People play in a flooded parking lot Pensacola Beach, Florida. Photograph: Gerald Herbert/AP

“The sheriff’s office will be there until we can no longer safely be out there, and then and only then will we pull our deputies in,” Simmons said at a storm briefing late last night.

This for a storm that, during the weekend, appeared to be headed for New Orleans. “Obviously this shows what we’ve known for a long time with storms - they are unpredictable,” Pensacola Mayor Grover Robinson IV said.

In more evidence of the administration not taking the coronavirus threat seriously, The Hill are touting an exclusive this morning saying they have obtained behind-the-scenes documents showing how concerned health officials were in Oklahoma as Trump planned to stage his Tulsa rally there in June. “How strongly do I speak out?” asked one epidemiologist working for the state in an email.

“I am concerned that the mass indoor gathering in Tulsa of 19,000 people will directly lead to deaths in Oklahoma,” Aaron Wendelboe stated in the email, which has not previously been reported. “As the state epidemiologist, I feel I have a responsibility to speak out and warn of the estimated risk.”

In an internal risk analysis, Wendelboe, who left the department after his contract expired this summer, estimated that the event would likely lead to “at least 2 deaths and probably closer to 10.”

Five days before the event, in a separate email to Tulsa Health Department Director Bruce Dart, Wendelboe wrote: “I’m not sure of any instance where we would hold a public event and say, ‘...and by the way, there is a chance that attending this could lead to a minimum of two deaths.’”

Wendelboe referred questions about his warnings to the Oklahoma State Department of Health.

In the event the Tulsa rally saw a much lower attendance than organisers had been boasting of in advance, leading to the president making changes at the top of his campaign team.

Read it here: The Hill – Internal documents show officials waved red flags before Trump’s Tulsa rally

Trump and Biden clash over national Covid mask mandate

Donald Trump appeared at an ABC town hall event last night, a rare non-Fox News TV appearance for the president. He was asked by a member of the audience “Why don’t you support a mandate from national mask wearing and why don’t you wear a mask more often?”

To this, Trump replied:

Well, I do wear them when I have to, and when I’m in hospitals and other locations. But I will say this, they said at the Democratic Convention, they’re going to do a national mandate. They never did it. Because they’ve checked out and they didn’t do it. And a good question is you ask like Joe Biden, they said, we’re going to do a national mandate on masks. He didn’t do. I mean, he never did it.

Overnight Joe Biden has retorted to the assertion, pointing out that he, unlike Trump, is not currently the president.

Yesterday, prestigious US journal Scientific American broke with tradition to back Biden in its first ever presidiential endorsement, saying Trump has damaged the US ‘because he rejects evidence and science’.

Good morning, and here is Wednesday’s live coverage of US politics for you. Here’s a catch-up on what happened yesterday, and a little of what we can look forward to today, as the country continues to wrestle with coronavirus, wildfires on the west coast and the impact of Hurricane Sally on the east coast.

  • Firefighters made progress against west coast blazes as smoke spread across the US. Smoke clouds have grown so large that they are “obscuring the sun” and cooling temperatures as far away as the east coast.
  • Hurricane Sally is forecast to continue battering the Gulf coast and then move inland this morning.
  • There were 1,287 new coronavirus deaths and 39,223 new cases of Covid-19 reported yesterday. That’s around 10% fewer cases than we were seeing a fortnight ago, but some individual states including North Dakota, Missouri, Wisconsin and Oklahoma are seeing an up-tick.
  • The total for the nation, according to the Johns Hopkins university, now stands at 6,606,293 cases and 195,937 deaths. Trump claimed yesterday that a coronavirus vaccine would be available “within weeks”, contradicting experts. He then later contradicted his own previous admission that he downplayed the Covid pandemic.
  • The Senate Appropriations subcommittee on coronavirus response meets this morning and will hear testimony from CDC officials.
  • Overnight Joe Biden and Donald Trump have exchanged tweets after Trump, who is president, said that Joe Biden, who is not, had failed to implement a national mask mandate.
  • Louisville, Kentucky, has reached a $12m settlement with the family of Breonna Taylor after her fatal shooting by police inside her apartment.
  • The US Department of Justice has launched a criminal investigation into whether John Bolton mishandled classified information when he published his book.
  • Israel, the United Arab Emirates and Bahrain signed historic agreements to establish formal relations at the White House.
  • Trump will take part today in a High Holy Days Call with Jewish leaders, have lunch with vice president Mike Pence, and later on is talking at a fund-raising dinner in DC.
  • Joe Biden is getting a coronavirus vaccine briefing in the morning, and will make remarks about it.

I’m Martin Belam and I’ll be with you for the next couple of hours, you can give me a shout here: [email protected]

Updated