SCOTUS battle reshapes 2020 election

By Melissa Macaya, Meg Wagner and Veronica Rocha, CNN

Updated 8:58 p.m. ET, September 21, 2020
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4:29 p.m. ET, September 21, 2020

GOP senator says Republicans could confirm Trump's nominee even if he loses

From CNN's Manu Raju

Sen. John Cornyn talks with Sen. Chris Coons before a Senate Judiciary Committee hearing on "Oversight of the Crossfire Hurricane Investigation" on Capitol Hill on August 5 in Washington.
Sen. John Cornyn talks with Sen. Chris Coons before a Senate Judiciary Committee hearing on "Oversight of the Crossfire Hurricane Investigation" on Capitol Hill on August 5 in Washington. Carolyn Kaster/Pool/Getty Images

Ahead of a GOP Senate leadership meeting tonight, GOP Sen. John Cornyn was asked if the Senate would confirm a Trump nominee in a lame-duck session if Joe Biden wins the presidency.

His response: “You mean while we're still in our term office, and President Trump is? Of course.”

Cornyn, a member of the leadership team, was asked if the vote could happen before the election. He said that it typically takes more than two months and added that the ones that happened quicker were consensus nominees.

“You know, it's sort of like a vaccine — I’m for doing vaccine when it's safe and effective. But I'm not for accelerating the process just for that," he said,

Asked about taking the opposite position in 2016, Cornyn said, “That’s because President Obama was term limited out.”

A full meeting of Senate Republicans is scheduled for Tuesday. 

4:52 p.m. ET, September 21, 2020

Biden slams Trump's Covid-19 response: "He froze, he failed to act, he panicked"

Source: Pool
Source: Pool

As the US nears 200,000 coronavirus deaths, Democratic presidential nominee Joe Biden is delivering remarks from Manitowoc, Wisconsin, where he called on the country to not "let the numbers become statistics of background noise."

"What worries me now is we've been living with this pandemic for so long, I worry we're risking becoming numb to the toll that it's taken on us and our country and communities like this," Biden said.

"We can't let that happen. We can't lose the ability to feel the sorrow and the loss and the anger for so many lives lost," Biden continued.

Biden used his speech to slam Trump's coronavirus response, saying he "froze, he failed to act, he panicked."

Trump's rival also took a swipe at the President's rallies. 

"Oh, he loves his rallies. And the next time he holds one, look closely. Trump keeps his distance from anyone in the rally. The folks who come are packed in tight as they could be, risking disease, mostly without masks. But not Trump," Biden said.

Watch here:

5:38 p.m. ET, September 21, 2020

McConnell: Trump's SCOTUS nominee "will receive a vote" from Senate

From CNN's Clare Foran, Kaitlan Collins, Ariane de Vogue and Kevin Liptak

Source: Senate TV
Source: Senate TV

Speaking on the Senate floor, Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell said President Trump's nominee to replace Supreme Court Justice Ruth Bader Ginsburg "will receive a vote on the floor of the Senate."

McConnell said the same individuals who "tried every conceivable dirty trick to obstruct Justice Gorsuch and Justice Kavanaugh are lining up, lining up to proclaim the third time will be the charm."

The top Republican senator said the American people are "about to witness an astonishing parade of misrepresentations about the past, misstatements about the present, and more threats against our institutions."

McConnell claimed the Senate "has more than sufficient time to process a nomination" before the election.

“We are already hearing incorrect claims that there is not sufficient time to examine and confirm a nominee. We can debunk this myth in about 30 seconds,” he said, adding, “As of today there are 43 days until November 3 and 104 days until the end of this Congress. The late, iconic Justice John Paul Stevens was confirmed by the Senate 19 days after this body formally received his nomination. Nineteen days from start to finish.”

McConnell sought to rebut criticism over his handling of the Merrick Garland nomination by arguing as he has before that the circumstances are different now. He said that there is “overwhelming precedent behind the fact that this Senate will vote on this nomination this year.”

The GOP leader paid tribute to Ginsburg, calling her a “brilliant generational legal mind who climbed past one obstacle after another to summit the very pinnacle of her profession.” 

Some background: Trump said earlier today that he would unveil his selection to replace Ginsburg by the end of the week after spending the weekend fielding advice and floating potential nominees to a wide orbit of advisers.

The decision on who to nominate to replace the late jurist and women's rights icon — and when to nominate her — amounts to one of the biggest decisions of Trump's presidency.

"I think it'll be on Friday or Saturday and we want to pay respect," Trump said in a Monday morning interview on "Fox and Friends."

"It looks like we will have probably services on Thursday or Friday, as I understand it," he went on. "And I think the respect we should wait for the services to be over for Justice Ginsburg. So we're looking at probably Friday or maybe Saturday."

Read more here.

Watch here:

3:24 p.m. ET, September 21, 2020

Biden campaign expands television and digital advertising footprint to Georgia and Iowa

From CNN's Sarah Mucha

In this February 2, 2020 photo, Democratic presidential nominee Joe Biden speaks during a campaign event at Hiatt Middle School in Des Moines, Iowa.
In this February 2, 2020 photo, Democratic presidential nominee Joe Biden speaks during a campaign event at Hiatt Middle School in Des Moines, Iowa. Joshua Lott/Getty Images

The Biden campaign announced Monday that it is expanding its advertising footprint in battleground states, going up on the air in Georgia and Iowa. 

Additionally, the campaign is releasing new ads on TV and digital targeting Black voters in Georgia featuring its “Shop Talk” series. 

“Shop Talk: Criminal Justice Reform” features a group of African American men discussing criminal justice issues facing their communities, families, and selves, and why America needs Joe Biden’s plan for strengthening America’s commitment to justice, according to the campaign.

“Shop Talk: Yes She Can” features a conversation "about the historic nature of Kamala Harris’ candidacy as the first African American woman on the ticket." The previously released ads “We Are Listening” and “He Knew” will also be airing in Georgia markets.

The campaign's ads in Iowa will seek to draw a contrast between the Democratic presidential nominee and President Trump, focusing on the economy, Biden's ability to unify the country, Covid-19 and the President's response to the pandemic.

The campaign says it is up on the air now in a total of 12 battleground states: Arizona, Florida, Georgia, Iowa, North Carolina, Pennsylvania, Wisconsin, Michigan, Nevada, Ohio, Nebraska, and Minnesota.

3:21 p.m. ET, September 21, 2020

Youth organizers are sending a message to Republican Sen. Chuck Grassley – via pigeon

From CNN's Rachel Janfaza

Organizers with NextGen America will send a message to Sen. Chuck Grassley by pigeon mail, they told CNN Monday.

NextGen has hired a carrier pigeon service called “PigeonGram” to deliver the message, which will urge Grassley to delay a vote on a Supreme Court nominee.

The Iowa Republican has yet to comment on whether or not he believes a vote on a nominee should happen this year following the death of Justice Ruth Bader Ginsburg last week.

The plans from NextGen, the progressive youth voter engagement organization founded by businessman Tom Steyer, come after Grassley tweeted about a dead pigeon Friday.  

Grassley, who is known to run his own Twitter account, found a dead pigeon on his lawn and tweeted, “If u lost ur pet pidgin /it’s dead in front yard my Iowa farm JUST DISCOVERED here r identifiers Right leg Blue 2020/3089/AU2020/SHE ///LEFT LEG GREEN BAND NO PRINTED INFO. Sorry for bad news.”

 

“We saw that there was a lot of attention around the pigeon, and we wanted to draw more attention to the issue that we’ve been talking to young people about, which is honoring RBG’s dying wish,” Murphy Burke, an organizer with NextGen in Iowa, told CNN. 

NextGen plans to have the message delivered to Grassley at the US Capitol after President Trump announces his Supreme Court pick later this week. 

The US Postal Service will help with most of the delivery.

Burke noted that while the message will be in-part delivered by pigeon, the act is mostly symbolic. The message Grassley receives will come in an envelope from PigeonGram, indicating that it was carried in part by a homing pigeon.

“A pigeon cannot really deliver mail in this day and age,” Burke told CNN. “But we like the fact that the envelope will say the message was carried by a homing pigeon.”

In addition to its plans to contact Grassley by pigeon mail, NextGen is urging young people across the country to send messages to their senators to refuse to hold a vote on a Supreme Court nominee until after the November election. 

Following Ginsburg's death, NextGen released new Senate ads in Maine, North Carolina, Iowa and Arizona Saturday highlighting the importance of electing Democrats to the Senate, which could allow them to reclaim the majority. 

NextGen’s efforts come as a number of youth led groups work to convince senators to hold off on a Supreme Court nomination vote.

Sunrise Movement, the youth-led climate organization, demonstrated outside the homes of Republican Sens. Lindsey Graham of South Carolina and Thom Tillis of North Carolina on Monday.

The group plans to target other Republican senators — Pat Toomey of Pennsylvania, Cory Gardner of Colorado and Ron Johnson of Wisconsin — as well as potential Supreme Court nominee Barbara Lagoa of Florida later this week.

“We only need four Republicans to do the right thing and stick to the McConnell precedent,” Aracely Jimenez, deputy communications director for Sunrise, said in a statement Monday. “We must do everything in our power to hold vulnerable Republicans and also Senate Democrats accountable in order to prevent an appointment to the bench before Biden is sworn in.” 

In the coming days, March For Our Lives, the gun violence prevention organization, plans to demonstrate outside the offices of Republican Sens. Marco Rubio of Florida, David Perdue of Georgia, Mitt Romney of Utah and Martha McSally of Arizona. 

March For Our Lives is also encouraging participants to get involved virtually by emailing senators using a pre-filled form, text banking, and faxing senator letters, asking them to hold off on a vote.

3:00 p.m. ET, September 21, 2020

Ask us your questions about voting in the 2020 election

The pandemic has reshaped the American election process this year. Do you have questions about registering or voting, whether in person or by mail? Are you confused about how to request or return your mail-in ballot? What do you want to know about how votes will be counted and secured?

Ask us your questions below. We may follow up on some responses for upcoming stories.

More information on voting by mail here. Or tell us your story about voting here.

3:18 p.m. ET, September 21, 2020

Trump is yet to release health care plan six weeks to election. White House says it is coming "soon." 

From CNN's Nikki Carvajal and Jason Hoffman

Pressed multiple times on when President Trump's health care plan was coming, White House deputy press secretary Brian Morgenstern would only say “soon.” Asked if it would be before the election, Morgenstern answered it would be “very soon.”

“The American people will never have to guess where President Trump stands on a very important issue,” he told CNN’s Brianna Keilar.

Asked further about the timing and substance of the alleged plan, Morgenstern eventually quipped, “I don't know if you expected me to bring it with me here to this interview, but the President will release it on his timeline very soon.”

 “There is a plan,” he claimed. “He will describe it clearly to the American people.”

Some background: Trump has long promised to release a health care plan that could replace Obamacare, but he is yet to do so. In an Aug. 3 news conference, Trump said his health care plan would most likely be released before the end of the month. But August came and went and the President never released a plan. It marks the latest instance of Trump promising an Obamacare solution that never came.

In a town hall with ABC last week, journalist George Stephanopoulos also pressed Trump on his plan. The President told him he has it "all ready." Morgenstern told CNN today Trump will roll out his plan "when he is ready to do so."

Watch the interview:

2:47 p.m. ET, September 21, 2020

White House claims Supreme Court battle is "fundamentally different" than 2016 

From CNN's Nikki Carvajal 

The White House is trying to justify the Republican double standard for appointing and confirming Supreme Court justices in an election year, claiming, as Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell has, that filling a seat on the court is appropriate now because “the Republican majority… was expanded in 2018 running on confirming constitutionalist judges.”

In a contentious interview with CNN’s Brianna Keilar, White House deputy press secretary Brian Morgenstern said the situation with Ruth Bader Ginsburg’s seat on the Supreme Court was “fundamentally different” than in 2016 when President Barack Obama nominated Merrick Garland.

“This President and the senators were elected on a platform of confirming constitutionalist judges, it was a different political makeup at the time and now the Republican majority that was elected in part for the part of confirming justices and judges is in charge of the senate and President Trump was elected on the same principle and he is in the White House,” Morgenstern told CNN.

Faced with Republican senators’ own words from 2016, including Sen. Lindsey Graham’s seemingly unequivocal assertion that “if a vacancy occurs in the last year of the first term, you can say Lindsey Graham said let’s let the next president, whoever it might be, make that nomination,” Morgenstern called the 2016 election a referendum on the Supreme Court.

“It was a referendum on the U.S. Supreme Court in that President Trump released his list of well-qualified, constitutionalist judges, the Republican senators ran on confirming such judges and justices. So this is about fundamental rights, it’s about our right to free speech, to practice our religion, it’s about the right to bear arms, it’s about really the bill of rights and preserving the God-given rights especially at a time now, Briana where in our country we have a radical left that seems bent on destroying our institutions,” he said, talking around the question of hypocrisy.

Watch the interview:

1:38 p.m. ET, September 21, 2020

Kamala Harris says whoever is elected should decide who sits on US Supreme Court

From CNN’s Jasmine Wright

Democratic U.S. Vice Presidential nominee Sen. Kamala Harris speaks to the press before participating in a Latino roundtable event on September 17, in Philadelphia. 
Democratic U.S. Vice Presidential nominee Sen. Kamala Harris speaks to the press before participating in a Latino roundtable event on September 17, in Philadelphia.  Mark Makela/Getty Images

Democratic Sen. Kamala Harris reiterated her running mate Joe Biden’s call to allow the next elected President choose the late Justice Ruth Bader Ginsburg’s replacement while on Instagram Live with journalist April Ryan.

Harris said that Ginsburg is “among the shoulders I stand on."

"Joe Biden said it in as plain speak as it possibly should be said, which is the American people will elect the President of the United States in 43 days, and whoever is elected should make a decision about who sits on the United States Supreme Court. Period,” the California senator said.

“People are voting right now. People have been voting. So the election has actually started,” she said. Harris put specific emphasis on casting the SCOTUS debate in terms of Obamacare and the health care apparatus at large. 

But Harris reaffirmed Biden would nominate a Black woman to the Supreme Court if elected, saying “Joe’s gonna keep his word,” but when asked if Biden would expand the court past nine judges who she would recommend, Harris didn’t answer. “April, I am focused on the next 43 day,” she said and encouraged everyone to early vote.  

On debate prep, Harris said she and Biden are doing it separately and then when asked what advice she is giving Biden because Trump fights dirty, the California senator called her running mate a fighter.

Harris said she was not concerned about polling showing the race tightening because “it's part of the nature of the process. The numbers always now the closer you get to an election,” she said.