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On the roster: Trump’s advantage: Fast but not furious - Wither the Senate? - A brief(ish) history of election year appointments - In a major reversal, Biden dominates in fundraising - Fish bombers of Colorado
TRUMP’S ADVANTAGE: FAST BUT NOT FURIOUS
There’s little doubt what the best political course for President Trump is when it comes to filling the seat left vacant by the passing of Justice Ruth Bader Ginsberg.
A speedy appointment and confirmation of a justice broadly popular among center-right voters like his previous picks would do double duty.
First, it would be another plum to reward and entice traditional Republicans to stick with Trump despite their concerns about him as a leader. With the next presidential term bringing perhaps two or more openings on the court, delivering a on a key campaign promise now would be a boon to his saggy standing for re-election.
Second, it denies Democrats the same advantage that Senate Republicans afforded Trump four years ago by holding open the seat left vacant by the death of conservative icon Antonin Scalia.
An open seat, especially one long held by the most revered liberal justice, would be a significant boost for challenger Joe Biden. With the heightened stakes of an open seat, Biden would have no trouble continuing to keep his party in line and would get help in ramping up voter intensity on the left.
In fact, Trump filling the seat poses potential challenges on the question of both unity and enthusiasm for Democrats.
As Democrats plot their revenge for Trump’s aggressive election-year move (more on that later), we again hear talk about Democrats wanting to pack the court. As Biden preaches calm and a return to precedent, some in his party say the time has come to change the rules in the Senate so the size of the court could be expanded for the first time since 1869 with a simple majority vote.
It’s doubtful that the threat of a nuclearized court-packing gambit would affect many, if any, Republican votes on confirmation. Part of the problem is how unlikely such an effort would be, even in a Democratic-controlled Senate. But that doesn’t mean it won’t still sound scary in GOP ads.
And the other danger for Democrats is that if Republicans get it done before the election, it will actually reduce Democratic enthusiasm. Suffering a legislative defeat of that kind right before an election doesn’t exactly telegraph strength.
But you already kind of knew all of that because you are a Halftime Report reader….
WHITHER THE SENATE?
It’s on the Senate side of things that it gets more complicated for the Red Team.
The danger for Trump is that he makes a pick who doesn’t get confirmed. It seems like either of his frontrunners, federal judges Barbara Lagoa and Amy Coney Barrett, should be broadly pleasing to Republican senators. But the timing itself may be the problem.
Trump has already lost Sens. Susan Collins and Lisa Murkowski, both of whom have said that they won’t consider voting for a nominee before the election. The White House can afford one more defection on the GOP side and still have Vice President Mike Pence ram through the pick in the event of a 50-50 tie.
But if two more Republicans dig in their heels, the GOP will have to wait. Sens. Mitt Romney and Cory Gardner will get lots of attention, as will Chuck Grassley, who was otherwise disposed over the weekend. If Trump chooses a nominee of Gorsuchian smoothness and ease it will increase the odds he gets what he wants. If he takes any chances or the nominee falters, it will decrease them.
And as we wait to see who says what, Republicans have other practical considerations. The fastest possible conformation would be something like 45 days – the duration of Ginsberg’s own speedy process in the summer of 1993. Maybe if the nominee is cleaner than Caesar’s wife and recently confirmed to a very senior posting, they could be closer to one month, like John Robert’s 2005 rocket ride.
And that’s all happening against the backdrop of competitive Senate races.
If Judiciary Committee Chairman Lindsey Graham really is in a competitive re-election contest against former state Democratic chairman Jamie Harrison, this will sure rev up the RPMs.
In the only worthwhile recent poll of the race, Quinnipiac University found Graham and Harrison tied 48-48 and Graham underperforming both President Trump (by 3 points) and the generic voter preference for a Republican-controlled Senate (by 4 points). Confirmation hearings sound like a big win for him since his deficiencies are with the GOP core. Republicans would reward him for delivering another confirmation and Democrats look like they’re already maxed out.
Judiciary Committee members Joni Ernst and Thom Tillis are also among the most vulnerable incumbents and both would get lots of TV time. It’s easiest for Ernst because she’s running ahead of Trump in Iowa and will get a great corona-era platform out of the hearings to shut her opponent, Theresa Greenfield, out of the news for weeks.
Montana Sen. Steve Daines, who is not on the committee but in a toss-up race, probably stands to benefit from similar dynamics in his own red state.
Tillis, though, has his own problems. His race is close, but he’s been consistently behind. He’s doing markedly worse in North Carolina than both Trump and the generic preference for a Republican Senate. Being part of delivering another conservative justice certainly would help Tillis with Trump voters. But he needs more than to win. Tillis is hurting with moderate Republicans and independents, too. Being part of such a partisan push will do him no favors there. He’ll need to tread carefully to avoid having this blow up on him.
This question looks like it may well doom Collins whatever she does. Her decision to buck Trump will no doubt anger the many right-wing populists in the interior of her state who strongly back the president. But it’s hard to imagine it will be enough to placate center-left voters on the coast who will no doubt be incensed over Trump’s decision.
The other two at-risk Republicans, Gardner and Arizona Sen. Martha McSally, have lots of leeway on their choices – in large part because it may not matter what they choose. Both have trailed badly throughout the cycle, especially McSally.
Gardner is similarly situated to Collins in his blue state fortunes. Choosing to support or oppose a quick confirmation can’t probably help him either way. If he backs Trump, he’ll bleed support from the centrist suburbanites on whom he depends. If he bucks Trump, the state’s mega-MAGA rural voters will punish him. That leaves Gardner free to do as he likes.
McSally, on the other hand, has no real choice but to comply. She has little moderate support and state Republican activists abandon her. And by vehemently voting with Trump she deepens her chances of a cabinet pick or similar should the incumbent pull off another upset and win a second term.
The math looks something like this: The vacancy should provide help to Graham, Daines and Ernst. For the other four Republicans, particularly Collins, this comes as bad news. If Democrats can leverage this controversy to beat her and Tillis in addition to expected wins in Arizona and Colorado, they will be well positioned to retake the Senate.
A BRIEF(ISH) HISTORY OF ELECTION YEAR APPOINTMENTS
There have been 114 justices of the Supreme Court. Ten of them were appointed and confirmed in the final year of a presidential term before the November elections.
Three of those 10 happened before the move to the uniform election of presidents by the popular vote of states after the Jacksonian Revolution – Andrew Jackson pushed through two on the same day, including one of the worst ever, Roger Taney.
Another three took place before the direct election of senators. That was during the wild time between 1888 and 1892 as Grover Cleveland and Benjamin Harrison wrestled over the presidency, resulting in the only non-consecutive presidential terms. That included another lulu, proud former Confederate officer, Lucius Quintus Cincinnatus Lamar – a sop to Cleveland’s restive Southern Democratic supporters.
In the modern era of presidential and senatorial elections, we have had four justices picked and confirmed under the circumstances by which President Trump is proceeding.
In 1916, Woodrow Wilson had the ultimate election-year political pick. Justice Charles Evans Hughes stepped down to accept the Republican nomination to run against Wilson. Wilson replaced him with a reliably progressive pick in John Hessin Clarke, dutifully confirmed in 10 days by the Democratic Senate.
Wilson had already made a far more controversial pick at the beginning of the year with progressive favorite and the first true adherent to the doctrine of social justice on the court, Louis Brandeis. Brandeis was the subject of the first-ever hearings on an appointment and the object of dire warnings from conservatives about the changing role of the judiciary.
But with Americans anxious about worsening war in Europe and a revolution in Mexico, Wilson was in little danger of defeat. Americans rewarded him for keeping the country out of the war with a second term, which he almost immediately used to enter the European fight.
Herbert Hoover in 1932 followed in the footsteps of Harrison and Cleveland by trying to use a court pick for political leverage in a difficult election. Hoover picked the iconic progressive state justice from New York, Benjamin Cardozo who would expand further on the progressive, activist tenure of his predecessor, Oliver Wendell Holmes. While Harrison and Cleveland rewarded their political bases, Hoover was trying to appeal to moderates and even liberals. He fared just as well as the other two, getting the boot that fall.
The last one was pretty rank politically, too. Franklin Roosevelt tapped his attorney general, Frank Murphy, a loyal New Deal machine politician from Michigan to replace Roosevelt’s longtime foe and conservative favorite, Pierce Butler. It took just 12 days. And, as Wilson had done before, Roosevelt rode war fears into another term with ease.
There are some asterisks worth noting.
Justice Anthony Kennedy was confirmed in 1988, but had been nominated the year before after Senate Democrats – notably including Joe Biden – submarined Robert Bork’s nomination. Rather than back-to-back hearings, the Senate opted to cool down and take up Kennedy’s nomination after the New Year.
Presidents Abraham Lincoln, Ulysses Grant and Dwight Eisenhower picked nominees for vacancies prior to their elections but waited until they and their party was affirmed before moving to confirmation. Eisenhower even opted for a recess appointment of William Brennan when an ailing Justice Sherman Minton stepped down in mid-October.
Barack Obama tried in 2016 to join Wilson, Hoover and Roosevelt as the only modern presidents to get a justice confirmed before an election. Trump now gets his chance to join them in the history books.
THE RULEBOOK: ALL THE WAY DOWN
“Civil power, properly organized and exerted, is capable of diffusing its force to a very great extent; and can, in a manner, reproduce itself in every part of a great empire by a judicious arrangement of subordinate institutions.” – Alexander Hamilton, discussing the powers of a union, Federalist No. 13
TIME OUT: WATCH YOUR STEP
NatGeo: “Small oval depressions—376 in all—are scattered across a patch of dry ground nestled between the dunes of northern Saudi Arabia. At a glance, these pockmarks don't seem particularly impressive, so much so that a team of scientists surveying the region almost passed them by in 2017. But upon further examination, the team realized that the depressions were left by an array of ancient animals, and among them were traces of our own species, Homo sapiens. The discovery of human footprints, if confirmed, would mark the oldest trace of our species yet found in the Arabian Peninsula, which sits at the gateway to early humans’ spread around the world. As described in a new study published in Science Advances, the frozen footfalls preserve a striking snapshot of time some 115,000 years ago, as animals and humans congregated near a shallow lake, perhaps with a shared purpose of slaking thirst and [satiating] hunger.”
Flag on the play? - Email us at HALFTIMEREPORT@FOXNEWS.COM with your tips, comments or questions.
NATIONAL HEAD-TO-HEAD AVERAGE
Trump: 43 percent
Biden: 49.2 percent
Size of lead: Biden by 6.2 points
Change from one week ago: Biden ↓ 1.4 points, Trump ↓ 0.6 points
[Average includes: NBC News/WSJ: Trump 43% - Biden 51%; NPR/PBS News/Marist: Trump 43% - Biden 52%; AP/NORC: Trump 40% - Biden 44%; Fox News: Trump 46% - Biden 51%; Kaiser Family Foundation: Trump 43% - Biden 48%.]
BATTLEGROUND POWER RANKINGS
(270 electoral votes needed to win)
Toss-up: (109 electoral votes): Wisconsin (10), Ohio (18), Florida (29), Arizona (11), Pennsylvania (20), North Carolina (15), Iowa (6)
Lean R/Likely R: (180 electoral votes)
Lean D/Likely D: (249 electoral votes)
TRUMP JOB PERFORMANCE
Average approval: 44.2 percent
Average disapproval: 53.8 percent
Net Score: -9.6 points
Change from one week ago: ↓ 0.2 points
[Average includes: NBC/WSJ: 45% approve - 53% disapprove; NPR/PBS News/Marist: 43% approve - 53% disapprove; AP/NORC: 43% approve - 56% disapprove; Gallup: 42% approve - 56% disapprove; Fox News: 48% approve - 51% disapprove.]
GOT A WILD PITCH? READY TO THROW A FASTBALL?
We’ve brought “From the Bleachers” to video on demand thanks to Fox Nation. Each Wednesday and Friday, Producer Brianna McClelland will put Politics Editor Chris Stirewalt to the test with your questions on everything about politics, government and American history – plus whatever else is on your mind. Sign up for the Fox Nation streaming service here and send your best questions to HALFTIMEREPORT@FOXNEWS.COM.
IN A MAJOR REVERSAL, BIDEN DOMINATES IN FUNDRAISING
NYT: “Joseph R. Biden Jr.’s campaign said on Sunday that it entered September with $466 million in the bank together with the Democratic Party, providing Mr. Biden a vast financial advantage of about $141 million over President Trump heading into the intense final stretch of the campaign. The money edge is a complete reversal from this spring, when Mr. Biden emerged as the Democratic nominee and was $187 million behind Mr. Trump, who began raising money for his re-election shortly after he was inaugurated in 2017. But the combination of slower spending by Mr. Biden’s campaign in the spring, his record-setting fund-raising over the summer — especially after he named Senator Kamala Harris of California as his running mate — and heavy early spending by Mr. Trump has erased the president’s once-formidable financial lead. Mr. Trump and his joint operations with the Republican National Committee entered September with $325 million, according to Mr. Trump’s communications director, Tim Murtaugh.”
Ginsburg’s death fuels Dem donations - Bloomberg: “Early reaction to [Justice Ruth Bader Ginsburg’s] death on Friday suggests Biden stands to gain more politically from the sudden vacancy, as it underscores the stakes of the contest for liberal voters who had been reluctant to endorse his centrist candidacy. A flood of Democratic fundraising since Friday signals that fear of a generation-long conservative hold on the Supreme Court has rallied support behind the former vice president, and gives Biden a new chance to extend his advantage with younger and female voters who viewed Ginsburg as an icon. In the 48 hours after Ginsburg’s death, donors poured more than $120 million into the ActBlue platform, which processes grassroots donations for Democratic Party candidates and causes. That included $71 million on Saturday alone, shattering the party’s previous one-day record of $42 million.”
Trying to expand map, Biden launches ad blitz in Georgia, Iowa - Fox News: “Joe Biden isn’t sitting on his cash. Hours after the Democratic presidential nominee’s campaign announced it had a large campaign cash advantage over President Trump’s reelection team at the beginning of September, Biden officials said Monday morning they were going up with a new ad blitz in Georgia and Iowa as they try to expand the general election battleground state map. The launching of ads in Georgia and Iowa brings to a dozen the number of states where the campaign is pouring in resources to create a ‘broad and diverse map that paves multiple paths for Joe Biden to reach 270 electoral votes.’ … Former President Barack Obama carried Iowa by six points in the 2012 election, but Trump flipped the state from blue to red four years ago… Georgia – long a red state – tightened in the 2016 election, when Trump captured the state’s 16 electoral votes by just five points. An average of the last public opinion surveys in Georgia compiled by Real Clear Politics indicates the president with a 1.3-point edge over Biden.”
Biden’s lead with Latinos similar to Clinton’s in 2016 - NBC News: “Joe Biden leads President Donald Trump by 62 percent to 26 percent among Latino registered voters nationally, but his lead trails Hillary Clinton's advantage with this voting bloc at the same stage in 2016, according to a new NBC News/Wall Street Journal/Telemundo poll released Sunday. The poll's respondents see Biden as better at addressing concerns of the Latino community, at 59 percent to 18 percent, and the candidates are nearly even on who is better at dealing with the economy, with 41 percent saying Biden and 39 percent choosing Trump. Biden's 36-point lead in the presidential contest shows that Democrats still have strong backing in the community, which could help Biden in some states where the race is tight. … But it's clear that Biden has work to do with the Hispanic electorate. In a September 2016 NBC News/Wall Street Journal/Telemundo poll, Clinton led Trump by 63 percent to 16 percent among registered Hispanic voters.”
DEMS PUT FORWARD BILL TO AVERT FISCAL CLIFF
Axios: “House Democrats on Monday released their proposal for short-term legislation to fund the government through December 11. This is Congress' chief legislative focus before the election. They must pass a continuing resolution (CR) before midnight on Oct. 1 to avoid a government shutdown — something both Hill leaders and the White House have claimed is off the table. The release of the 104-page bill comes after days of negotiations between congressional Republicans and Democrats over when the CR should expire and what exceptions should be included. Both sides agreed that the legislation should be a ‘clean’ CR — meaning only barebones changes to existing funding levels in order to pass it quickly, reserving more time for lengthier debates over broader FY2021 appropriations. What isn't in it: $30 billion in farmer bailout money that the White House has been pushing for. Lingering issues over the demand ultimately delayed lawmakers' self-imposed deadline to roll out the proposal on Friday.”
Deal on drug prices collapses after WH demands drug company payments to seniors before election day - NYT
Pergram: Fight over Trump’s Supreme Court nominee will hinge on timing, math - Fox News
Ruth Bader Ginsburg to lie in repose at the Supreme Court this week - Fox News
AUDIBLE: THE BEST OF COLLEAGUES, THE BEST OF FRIENDS
“A healthy republic requires citizens to debate those issues forcefully and peacefully; a healthy society needs citizens to remember that political disagreement need not turn friends into enemies. My father and Justice Ginsburg mastered this balance. We’ll all need to do the same in the difficult months before us.” – Christopher Scalia, son of the late Justice Antonin Scalia, writing about his father’s close friendship with Justice Ruth Bader Ginsburg despite their different views.
FROM THE BLEACHERS
“The only Senate Republican pickup opportunities the media pays attention to is Michigan and Alabama while hyping up races in other states, some in very red areas with powerful incumbents, as competitive. This while ignoring the senate races in Minnesota, (Trump loss by 1%), New Hampshire, (Trump loss by 1%, last senate race decided by a few thousand votes), and New Mexico, (Definitely more competitive than places like Kansas, Kentucky, and South Carolina). Is this because Republicans just aren't fielding popular candidates in those areas? Or is the media pulling more tricks to convince you that Dems are taking the senate?” – Akiva Neuhaus, Miami
[Ed. note: No trickery here! New Hampshire is the most interesting of those you listed. Republicans finally have a nominee, Corky Messner, and he seems to have enough money to at least stay afloat in his bid to unseat Jeanne Shaheen. The Supreme Court fight seems likely to improve his chances there given the large number of pro-life voters there. Minnesota looks like a no-go zone for the GOP right now, especially since the Republicans nominated a Trumpian populist in a state that seems to be moving sharply the other direction. And as far as New Mexico, if it ends up being anywhere close, you can say you told us so.]
“Your 9/18 story noted the correction to the bombastic Biden claim that Biden, if he wins he’d be the first person without an Ivy League degree to be elected president. Not only does this slight Ronald Reagan but it also ignores Dick Nixon and Harry Truman. I'm sure if you went back before FDR you would find yet more exceptions. I'm sure you are the only media outlet to point out this discrepancy.” – Jeff Wieler, Athens, Ga.
[Ed. note: Not only did many not go to an Ivy League school, a dozen (including our two best) never graduated from college at all!]
“I enjoy reading the Halftime Report and read pretty much everything in each report. One thing I skim over though are the reports on TV ad buys and how much money is dumped by each campaign in specific markets. Back when I watched more live TV, I found the ads more annoying rather than informative and I've just learned to scroll by those ads in Facebook without even looking at them. While this type of marketing is no doubt effective to a degree, does saturation of the air waves with political ads gain that much?” – Greg Francis, Spokane, Wash.
[Ed. note: Well, the consultants are sore never going to stop spending and find out. As I often say, there’s only two kinds of campaign cash: enough and not enough. Both campaigns will have “enough.” What a cash advantage tells us, though, is something about the intensity of voters, especially given the predominance of small-dollar contributions these days. There are some advantages that a big war chest can bring, especially when it comes to being able to flood airwaves with multiple messages aimed at different kinds of voters.]
Share your color commentary: Email us at HALFTIMEREPORT@FOXNEWS.COM and please make sure to include your name and hometown.
FISH BOMBERS OF COLORADO
KDVR: “Fish falling from the sky? That’s Colorado Parks and Wildlife (CPW) pilots stocking mountain lakes with thousands of trout by dropping them from an airplane. About 380,000 trout have been stocked by airplane into 330 lakes in Boulder, Grand, Jackson and Larimer counties. ‘It’s efficient,’ Fish Culturist Doug Sebring said. ‘We can get a large quantity of fish into high mountain lakes that are basically only accessible by foot or horseback.’ CPW wildlife pilots Larry Gepfert and Denise Corcoran fly the 1¼-inch trout to the destination lake and ‘they just float on down once deployed from the airplane at about 100-150 feet above the lake,’ said CPW officials. ‘They are so small and they don’t have a lot of mass to them, so their acceleration rate is pretty low,’ Gepfert said. ‘Their heads are the heaviest parts, so they tend to go head first and drop straight into the water.’”
AND NOW, A WORD FROM CHARLES…
“But only on these rarest of occasions should [pardoning] supplant the workings of ordinary justice. Free countries have another mechanism for dealing with that. It is called law.” – Charles Krauthammer (1950-2018) writing about his stance on the power of pardoning in the Washington Post on Jan. 9, 1987.
Chris Stirewalt is the politics editor for Fox News. Brianna McClelland contributed to this report. Want FOX News Halftime Report in your inbox every day? Sign up here.