The presidential candidates and their running mates are spending the day commemorating the Sept. 11 terrorist attacks, a reminder of a time when a fractured nation came together in a moment of national crisis.
Nineteen years after that tragedy shook the country’s sense of invincibility, Americans find themselves tested by another deadly crisis, though now the enemy is an invisible virus rather than threats from abroad. This week, the death toll from the coronavirus surpassed 190,000 people — nearly 65 times the number who died on Sept. 11.
Joseph R. Biden Jr. and President Trump honored the victims of the attacks at somber rituals that have been altered to accommodate the realities of public gatherings during a pandemic.
Mr. Biden and his wife, Jill Biden, attended the National September 11 Memorial & Museum’s commemoration ceremony at ground zero before traveling to Shanksville, Pa., where Flight 93 was hijacked and crashed into a field after passengers fought back. Before the event, Mr. Biden bumped elbows and chatted briefly with Vice President Mike Pence. The vice president also spoke at another ceremony nearby, in Zuccotti Park, leaving the stage to a brief chant of “four more years.”
Mr. Trump and the first lady, Melania Trump, observed a moment on silence on Air Force One on their way to the morning memorial service in Shanksville, where the president spoke, praising first responders and others who died in the attacks. He also subtly touted his own record, pointing to the killings of Abu Bakr al-Baghdadi, the Islamic State leader, and Maj. Gen. Qassim Suleimani, the powerful Iranian commander, during his time in office.
“Our sacred task, our righteous duty and our solemn pledge is to carry forward the noble legacy of the brave souls who gave their lives for us 19 years ago,” he said. “9/11, we’ll never forget.”
Mr. Biden’s running mate, Senator Kamala Harris, and her husband, Douglas Emhoff, are attending a remembrance ceremony in Fairfax, Va.
At the ceremony in New York, which has become a quadrennial stop for presidential contenders, attendees were required to wear masks and stay socially distant.
Still, Mr. Biden — who on the campaign trail often spent time talking with voters grappling with loss — made a point to do so again Friday, bending to speak with a 90-year-old woman in a wheelchair who held a picture of her son, the pool report said.
Referencing the death of his own son, Beau Biden, Mr. Biden, placing a hand to his chest, said, “It never goes away.”
The solemn rituals mark a far more extensive display of national grief than has been mounted for those killed by the coronavirus. Despite the daily death toll, American political leaders have not engaged in any kind of significant ritual of national mourning. Unlike after Sept. 11, when the country rallied behind President George W. Bush, the party’s divergent approaches to the virus have only exacerbated the nation’s political divides.
Mr. Biden told reporters Friday morning that he didn’t plan to address the pandemic or any other topic beyond the attacks, noting that his campaign has taken down all advertising for the day.
“I’m not going to talk about anything other than 9/11,” he said. “It’s a solemn day. That’s how we’re going to keep it.”
Despite his strong position in the presidential race, support for Joseph R. Biden Jr. appears to be lagging among some key voter groups that broke for the Democrats in the 2018 midterm elections, according to a new study from the Pew Research Center.
Two years ago, a flood of anti-Trump sentiment helped flip the House of Representatives blue, with Democratic candidates winning more votes than Republicans by nearly 10 percentage points nationwide.
Because the 2018 election was largely seen as a referendum on President Trump, Democratic strategists are looking to carry those gains forward. Indeed, national and swing-state polls continue to show Mr. Biden with a steady lead — particularly in the suburban areas where Democrats made some of their biggest gains in the midterms.
But polling also suggests that Mr. Biden may not be able to count on the same level of support that Democratic candidates received in 2018. Some of the groups that swung hardest in Democrats’ direction in 2016 have been slow to warm to Mr. Biden, including Latinos and young voters.
Presidents over the decades thought they could manage Bob Woodward and many, as Karl Rove put it this week, came to regret it. Then came Donald J. Trump, who being Donald J. Trump thought so much of his powers of persuasion that he opened up to Mr. Woodward not once or twice but an astonishing 18 times.
So President Trump may have 18 times as many reasons for regret, as the latest blockbuster from Mr. Woodward reveals a president who privately understood how deadly the coronavirus really was even as he was telling the public the opposite. With an election 53 days away, perhaps no other president who talked with Mr. Woodward did as much to undermine himself.
The question consuming Washington this week: Why did he talk in the first place? Why give so much access to a journalist who made his reputation taking down a president during Watergate?
The answer: because he is Donald Trump. He has infinite faith in his ability to spin his own story. He is forever seeking approval and validation from celebrity and establishment figures like Mr. Woodward. And as much as he likes to excoriate the “fake news,” he is drawn irresistibly to the spotlight.
“He can’t help himself,” said Timothy L. O’Brien, who witnessed Mr. Trump’s craving at close range while writing his own book on Mr. Trump during his business days. “He’s profoundly addicted to public attention and the media is his vehicle for making sure he gets it. His view is he can live with negative coverage and positive coverage. He can’t live with no coverage. So he constantly puts himself in the cross hairs.”
As calls for racial justice ricochet around the country and more and more voters, especially white ones, awaken to the systemic racism and police brutality Black Americans have long faced, some Black candidates are speaking more openly about their own experiences with racism.
This week, Raphael Warnock, the senior pastor at the storied Ebenezer Baptist Church in Atlanta and a Democratic Senate candidate in Georgia, debuted a deeply personal ad in which he speaks candidly about encountering racism as a child.
When I was 12, I was falsely accused of shoplifting in a grocery store. My experience dealing with structural inequality as a black kid is the same as many, and in the Senate, I will fight to level the playing field for all working Georgians. Watch my new ad now: pic.twitter.com/4PMzmPERxB
— Reverend Raphael Warnock (@ReverendWarnock) September 9, 2020
Mr. Warnock, who presided over the funeral of Representative John Lewis in July, is running for the Senate seat now held by Kelly Loeffler, a Republican, in a once reliably red state that Democrats now believe is within their reach. His message — that he will fight for those for whom “the rules were different” — is designed as much for the Black voters in the state who turned out for Stacey Abrams in her bid for governor in 2018 as white voters for whom racial justice is newly resonant.
The 30-second ad opens with a camera panning across a grocery store and a simple dateline: “Savannah, 1982.”
“1982 — a 12-year-old is accused of stealing and dragged out a store, told he looked suspicious because his hands are in his pockets,” the narrator says. As the voice speaks, white women appear in the frame looking suspiciously at the camera.
The ad then cuts to Mr. Warnock, who is in the store. “I’m Rafael Warnock, and that boy was me,” he says, as the viewer jarringly realizes that the narrator in the beginning was him.
“Back then, I didn’t understand how much the system works against those without power and money, that the rules were different for some of us. Too often, that’s still true today, especially in Washington,” Mr. Warnock says, walking through the store. “I approve this message because it’s time for that to change.”
The ad was created by Magnus Pearson Media, which was also behind another profoundly personal, and buzzy, TV spot earlier this year that featured a Virginia candidate’s recollection of being drugged and raped.
Mr. Warnock, whose website says he grew up in public housing in Savannah, has personal experience with the criminal justice system: His older brother, Keith, served 22 years in federal prison for a nonviolent drug-related offense. On the day of his brother’s release, he said: “I have known this pain personally, and my family has experienced it over the last 22 years of my brother’s incarceration.”
Mr. Warnock has long been an advocate for racial justice and he has referenced his own history with racism in the past, but the ad is more detailed, according to an aide.
Where It’s Running
The ad is airing statewide in Georgia.
The Black Lives Matter movement has given candidates, and especially Black candidates, a platform to talk more frankly than ever about systemic racism, police brutality and racial injustice.
The Russian military intelligence unit that attacked the Democratic National Committee four years ago is back with more stealthy hacks aimed at campaign staff, consultants and think tanks associated with both Democrats and Republicans.
That warning was issued on Thursday by Microsoft in an assessment far more detailed than any made public by American intelligence agencies.
The findings came the day after a government whistle-blower claimed that officials at the White House and the Department of Homeland Security suppressed intelligence concerning Russia’s continuing interference because it “made the president look bad,” and instructed government analysts to focus instead on interference by China and Iran.
Microsoft did find that Chinese and Iranian hackers have been active — but often not in the way that President Trump and his aides have suggested.
Federal officials insisted that the Microsoft report was consistent with their own warnings, which said Russia, China and Iran sought to gather information from the campaigns, and perhaps try to influence the outcome. But the most recent assessment by the director of national intelligence, last month, also said China wanted Joseph R. Biden Jr. to win.
Microsoft’s assessment may have complicated that finding because it found that Chinese hackers focused their attacks on the private email accounts of Mr. Biden’s campaign staff members, along with a range of prominent people in academia and the national security establishment.
Notably, only one Chinese target detected by Microsoft was affiliated with Mr. Trump: a former official whom Microsoft declined to name.
Firms like Microsoft and Google, because they sit atop global networks, have a front-seat view of suspicious activity, and increasing motivation to make it public to warn their customers. The result, inevitably, is a tumble of reports that government intelligence officials are forced to assess alongside their own findings.
“We are a large target, so it is not surprising to see malicious activity directed at the campaign or our staff,” said Thea McDonald, the deputy national press secretary for the Trump campaign. “We work closely with our partners, Microsoft and others, to mitigate these threats.”
The Biden campaign said it was “aware of reports from Microsoft that a foreign actor has made unsuccessful attempts to access the noncampaign email accounts of individuals affiliated with the campaign,” and was preparing for the onslaught of attacks in the coming weeks.
VOTING RIGHTS UPDATE
A Texas circuit court on Thursday rejected a challenge brought by the state Democratic Party to expand access to voting by mail, allowing the state to maintain strict eligibility requirements.
Despite health risks posed by the coronavirus, a three-judge panel of the Fifth Circuit Court of Appeals sided with the Republican leaders in the state, including Gov. Greg Abbott, to keep voting by mail largely limited to older voters
In Texas, any voter 65 or older automatically qualifies for a mail-in ballot. Younger voters are eligible only if they demonstrate that they will be out of the state during the election period, have a disability or illness that makes voting a risk to their health or are serving a prison sentence.
The state Democratic Party argued that such restrictions violated voter protections guaranteed in the 26th Amendment. The judges did not find that argument persuasive, overturning a lower-court ruling requiring no-excuse mail-in voting in Texas. The circuit court judges held that to be unconstitutional, a law would have to create a new barrier to voting.
“Conferring a privilege on one category of voters does not alone violate the 26th Amendment,” the panel wrote.
The case is on track to head to the Supreme Court, though it remains unclear if it will be decided before Oct. 23 — the state deadline for requesting a mail-in ballot.
President Trump is running out the clock on his own re-election campaign.
With less than eight weeks left until the election, and with early voting beginning in some states this month, the number of days Mr. Trump can afford to burn is dwindling. He is trailing Joseph R. Biden Jr. in most national and battleground-state polls, and is facing a potential cash crunch, leaving him with less to invest in television ads after aggressive spending over the last three years.
Nevertheless, Mr. Trump has spent the last week playing defense, first in the wake of a report that he had referred to Americans who died in combat as “suckers” and “losers,” and then doing damage control after the release on Wednesday of excerpts from the journalist Bob Woodward’s new book, “Rage.”
On Thursday, Mr. Trump announced a surprise news conference where he had nothing to announce. He entered the briefing room simply to reiterate false statements about the administration’s coronavirus response and defend himself, again, against revelations in Mr. Woodward’s book.
Mr. Trump often feels compelled to defend himself, but that almost always merely keeps a story alive.
“Even though the calendar says 54 days, it’s really more like 40 days,” Mike Murphy, a veteran Republican strategist and former adviser to Jeb Bush, said Thursday, with a nod to the early voting. “And so every day, Trump is burning the one thing he can’t create more of, which is time — which is a disaster for him.”
The race is not over, strategists in both parties warn: Mr. Biden is prone to verbal slips his own supporters have winced at, external events can still affect the campaign, and it’s difficult to predict what voter turnout will look like amid the coronavirus pandemic.
Still, the polling has shown that Mr. Biden’s lead is durable. And while the president craves his campaign rallies, and his travel schedule has been more intense than Mr. Biden’s, he generally does not like leaving the White House, multiple advisers said, making it harder to come up with events that can dominate the news.
Mr. Trump, Mr. Murphy said, cannot resist treating the campaign “like the tabloid news cycle in New York City and create a news story about himself every day.” As a result, he said, “Trump is giving Biden the greatest gift a candidate who is behind can give a candidate who is ahead, which is wasted days.”
The Trump administration imposed sanctions on a Ukrainian lawmaker Thursday for waging “a covert influence campaign” to undermine the presidential election after he disseminated information intended to hurt Joseph R. Biden Jr.
The Treasury Department accused Andriy Derkach, a member of the Ukrainian Parliament, of being “an active Russian agent for over a decade” and accused him of releasing “edited audiotapes” and “unsubstantiated allegations against U.S. and international political figures.”
While the announcement of the sanctions does not name Mr. Biden, the Democratic presidential nominee, it appears to describe recordings Mr. Derkach released of Mr. Biden talking to Petro O. Poroshenko, the former president of Ukraine, that Mr. Derkach claimed revealed corruption.
Mr. Derkach and other Russian agents “employ manipulation and deceit to attempt to influence elections in the United States and elsewhere around the world,” Steven Mnuchin, the Treasury secretary, said in a statement accompanying the sanctions. “The United States will continue to use all the tools at its disposal to counter these Russian disinformation campaigns and uphold the integrity of our election system.”
The Treasury Department also announced sanctions against three employees of the Internet Research Agency, a troll farm based in Russia that spread disinformation on social media as part of the Kremlin’s election interference campaign in 2016.
While Mr. Mnuchin has been steadfast in his loyalty to President Trump, the sanctions in some ways put them at odds on an issue of great significance to the president.