President Trump claimed Thursday that presumptive Democratic presidential nominee Joe Biden — a practicing Catholic — is “against God” in a series of false attacks made during a rally-style address to supporters gathered on Cleveland’s airport tarmac. “Take away your guns, take away your Second Amendment. No religion, no anything,” Mr. Trump stated from behind the presidential podium. “Hurt the Bible. Hurt God. He’s against God. He’s against guns. He’s against energy.”
In its pitch to evangelical voters, the Trump campaign has consistently painted the former vice president as disconnected from faith communities and conservative values, CBS News campaign reporter Nicole Sganga reports. But on the campaign trail, Biden references his faith frequently, citing it as a source of strength through personal tragedy, including the loss of his late son, Beau Biden. In June, Biden publicly criticized the president for deploying tear gas to disperse peaceful protesters near the White House, clearing the way for a photo op outside the St. John’s Episcopal Church. “Joe Biden’s faith is at the core of who he is,” Andrew Bates, a spokesman for the Biden campaign, said in a statement. “He’s lived it with dignity his entire life, and it’s been a source of strength and comfort in times of extreme hardship.”
FROM THE CANDIDATES
In his interview with the national associations of Black and Hispanic journalists, Joe Biden wouldn’t say who is on his short list of finalists to be his running mate but said his pick was ahead of schedule compared to past years, CBS News campaign reporter Bo Erickson writes. But pressed further by CBS News national correspondent Errol Barnett about comments from one of his vice presidential vetters, former Sen. Chris Dodd, critical of Sen. Kamala Harris, regarding their primary debate squabble over race, Biden said Harris is “very much in contention.” He explained, “I don’t hold grudges, and I’ve made it really clear that I don’t hold grudges. I think it was a debate. It’s as simple as that. And she’s very much in contention.“
Biden veered away from former President Obama’s call last week to eliminate the Senate filibuster if it impairs progress on voting rights. He defended the filibuster, explaining “the filibuster has also saved a lot of bad things from happening” and said he didn’t think Senate Democrats would need to undo it because he believes Democrats will take back Senate control. Biden also said if he is elected “you’re going to see a lot of Republicans, at least a half a dozen of them, beginning to vote their conscience because they no longer have the fear of Trump being there.”
CBS NEWS COVID CHRONICLES
NEW MEXICO OIL
CBS News is chronicling what has changed for the lives of Americans in 2020 amid the coronavirus pandemic. Before oil prices collapsed earlier this year to record lows, crushed by an unprecedented and unexpected evaporation in demand, CBS News campaign reporter Alex Tin says workers were flooding into southeastern New Mexico to man the state’s booming oilfields. Over three months later, residents are hoping life will return soon to the oil-rich region’s ghost towns.
New Mexico reported producing nearly 33 million barrels of crude oil in January. Nationwide, only North Dakota and neighboring Texas, with which New Mexico straddles the vast shale oil reserves of the Permian Basin, reported more production. But by May, production in New Mexico had tumbled to less than 28 million barrels. In Artesia, where one in five workers were directly employed by oil and gas companies, Mayor Raye Miller sounds optimistic hoping that the industry had turned a corner from its most dire moments in the spring. “Most of our folks, a lot of small independent entrepreneurs who are in the businesses supplying to the oil companies services, they’ve been through these times before. And so, as a result, they try to get out of debt as much as they can in the good times and survive through the bad times,” said Miller.
THE HORSE RACE
A new poll of registered voters from Qunnipiac released Thursday in Senate races show competitive races in Maine, Kentucky, and South Carolina, reports CBS News political unit associate producer Eleanor Watson. In Maine, the race between Republican Senator Susan Collins and Maine’s Speaker of the House Sara Gideon is too close to call. Gideon has 47% and Collins has 43%. The Maine race is rated as a toss-up by the Cook Political Report.
In South Carolina, GOP incumbent Senator Lindsey Graham is tied with Democrat Jaime Harrison at 44%.
In Kentucky, Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell holds a slight lead over Democrat Amy McGrath at 49% to 44%. The Cook Political Report rates both Kentucky and South Carolina as likely Republican.
The poll also asked registered voters about how their senators are handling their jobs. Forty-six percent of voters in Kentucky approve of the way McConnell is doing his job in the Senate, while 48% disapprove. For Graham, 43% approve and 47% disapprove. In Maine, voters 52% disapprove, and just 43% approve of the way Collins is handling her job in the Senate.
ISSUES THAT MATTER
Weekly jobless claims fell below 2 million last week for the first time since March, but it still marked the twentieth consecutive week where unemployment claims topped the highest weekly totals during the Great Recession, according to CBS News campaign reporter Adam Brewster. Nearly 1.2 million workers filed traditional jobless claims for the week ending August 1, a drop of about 250,000 from the previous week, the Labor Department reported on Thursday. Another 655,000 people filed for Pandemic Unemployment Assistance, a program for self-employed and gig workers. As of July 18, more than 30 million people were claiming some form of unemployment benefits. The White House and Congress have been in intense negotiations about a new coronavirus relief package but have yet to reach a deal. The $600 in federal unemployment benefits expired last week. The monthly jobs report for July will be released Friday morning.
On the 55th anniversary of the Voting Rights Act of 1965 being signed into law, Democratic leaders weighed in on the continued fight to ensure voter protections less than three months out from the presidential election, CBS News campaign reporter LaCrai Mitchell reports. “Today is the 55th anniversary of the Voting Rights Act – -one of the crowning achievements of our democracy. But once the Supreme Court weakened it, some state legislatures unleashed a flood of laws designed specifically to make voting harder, especially in communities of color,” President Obama said in a tweet. “We can do this by making sure every American is automatically registered to vote, including formerly incarcerated people. Let’s also make sure to add more polling places, expand early voting, and make Election Day a national holiday.”
The Voting Rights Act was signed into law by President Lyndon Johnson in 1965 to enforce the 15th Amendment — which granted Black men the right to vote — 95 years after the amendment was ratified. But discriminatory practices like poll taxes, literacy tests, harassment and intimidation tactics made it difficult for Black voters to vote in the decades following the ratification of the amendment. Congressional leaders from key battleground states said the fight for voting rights continues.
“Fifty-five years ago today, the Voting Rights Act was signed into law, but we know that the fight against racial discrimination at the ballot box is far from over as Donald Trump and Republicans in Washington and here in my state of Florida continue to suppress the vote. Heroes like Congressman John Lewis shed blood so that every single American could vote and it is our duty to carry on his fight,” said Congresswoman Val Demings of Florida in a statement. “Democrats in the House have passed legislation to restore this important law, but Donald Trump and his Republican allies in Congress are once again putting their own interests ahead of the American people by refusing to pass the John Lewis Voting Rights Advancement Act.”
Representative Alma Adams of North Carolina wrote an op-ed saying, “In the 55 years since the passage of the Voting Rights Act of 1965, the expansion and protection of voting rights afforded by this landmark bill has never been fully realized in our state. As the nation continues to grapple with the COVID-19 pandemic, our right to vote has never been more important — or more endangered.” Adams added, “From voter ID laws to gerrymandering, voting in North Carolina has never been treated as it should be: a fundamental right bestowed upon all citizens of this country.”
CBS News Campaign Reporter Tim Perry notes that Georgia Democratic Party Chairwoman Nikema Williams digitally launched her campaign for Georgia’s Fifth District Thursday, after being selected by the party to run after the death of Civil Rights Icon Representative John Lewis. On the anniversary of the Voting Rights Act,Williams vowed to make voting rights a central issue if elected to Lewis’ seat in November.
“Georgia Democrats know, like Mr. Lewis taught us, that our vote is the most powerful tool we have in a democratic society — that’s why Donald Trump and Republicans up and down the ballot are spreading lies about this election and making it harder for people to vote,” said Williams during a press conference with Georgia Congressman Hank Johnson. “I’m going to continue that fight when I get to Congress, joining my future colleague, Congressman Hank Johnson. If they don’t get the John Lewis Voting Rights Act passed before I get there, you can rest assured that I’m not going to stay quiet until we get it done when I get there in January.”
PRESIDENT GEORGE W. BUSH
Former President George W Bush has a new project coming. The 43rd president has mostly shied away from the spotlight since leaving office in 2008, but CBS News political unit associate producer Sarah Ewall-Wice says next spring, he will be publishing a new collection of stories and oil paintings highlighting the journey of immigrants and their contributions to the U.S. The book is titled “OUT OF MANY, ONE Portraits of America’s Immigrants.” It will be released on March 2, 2021 and will coincide with a new exhibit featuring the former president’s portraits at the George W. Bush Presidential Center in Texas.
“While I recognize that immigration can be an emotional issue, I reject the premise that it is a partisan issue. It is perhaps the most American of issues, and it should be one that unites us,” writes Bush in the intro to his upcoming book. “My hope is that this book will help focus our collective attention on the positive impacts that immigrants are making on our country.”
UP FOR DEBATE
The Commission on Presidential Debates has rejected a request by President Trump’s re-election campaign seeking a fourth debate in early September, reports CBS News political unit associate producer Sarah Ewall-Wice. In a letter on behalf of the campaign, Rudy Giuliani argued there should be a debate before the first ballots are mailed out, but the commission pushed back.
“You state that such a debate is necessary because some states begin sending out mail-in ballots before the first scheduled debate. There is a difference between ballots having been issued by a state and those ballots having been cast by voters, who are under no compulsion to return their ballots before the debates,” it stated in response.
The commission went on to say the 2016 schedule was similar and that while more people are likely to vote by mail in 2020, the debate schedule has been highly publicized. “Any voter who wishes to watch one or more debates before voting will be well aware of that opportunity,” the commission wrote. The commission said it would continue its longstanding procedure of selecting debate moderators after Giuliani’s letter included a suggested list of names for consideration. Currently, there are three presidential debates and one vice presidential debate scheduled starting with a debate in Cleveland on September 29.
Michigan Secretary of State Jocelyn Benson is touting a successful primary election on Tuesday with record turnout, but is once again calling on Michigan’s Legislature to allow clerks to begin processing absentee ballots earlier, CBS News campaign reporter Adam Brewster reports.
More than 2.5 million Michiganders voted in Tuesday’s primary, topping the all-time high of 2.2 million total votes during the August 2018 primary. Thirty-two percent of registered voters participated in Tuesday’s primary, a higher rate than any August primary dating back to 1978, even though there was no competitive statewide race this year. More than 1.6 million people voted absentee in the election, which was also a record, after Benson’s office mailed absentee ballot forms to all registered voters back in May. Still, it took longer than usual for Michigan’s clerks to finish counting their ballots. The final numbers came in late on Wednesday.
In a press conference Thursday, Benson urged lawmakers in Lansing to pass a bill to let clerks begin processing ballots earlier to prevent an even longer counting process in November when she expects 3 million people or more could vote absentee. “What the data shows is if we don’t make that change, it’s not only going to be several extra days before we get the results of our closest races in November, it’s also going to put an enormous amount of stress on our election workers who will have to be, for the most part, sequestered and in many cases working through the night to get all those ballots tabulated,” Benson said. Currently, Clerks have to wait until 7 a.m. on Election Day to begin processing ballots, but Benson wants them to be able to open envelopes, flatten ballots and get them sorted at least a day in advance. Michigan is one of 16 states, plus Washington, D.C., where clerks can’t begin processing ballots before Election Day, according to the National Conference of State Legislators.
Ohio Governor Mike DeWine has tested positive for COVID-19, according to a press release from the governor’s office. CBS News campaign reporter Jack Turman says DeWine took the test before he was scheduled to greet President Trump at an airport in Cleveland.
The president was in Ohio to tour a Whirlpool plant and to fundraise. DeWine is asymptomatic and his office noted that he would be returning to Columbus to be tested and would quarantine for the next 14 days. Mr. Trump said, “We want to wish him the best. He’ll be fine. I guess he is going for a secondary test.” In a statement, Ohio Democratic Party chairman David Pepper said the party is “saddened” to hear DeWine tested positive and commended his work to keep Ohioans safe during the pandemic. “This is just one more reminder that this virus can impact everyone,” Pepper said. “As fellow Ohioans, we stand with and support our governor and his family at this time.”
IN THE SENATE
Tennessee is holding U.S. Senate primaries Thursday, and President Trump’s favored candidate, former ambassador Bill Hagerty, is facing a challenge in the GOP primary from Dr. Manny Sethi, reports CBS News political unit associate producer Eleanor Watson. Sethi has drawn the support of Senators Rand Paul and Ted Cruz, with Cruz campaigning in Tennessee on Sethi’s behalf in recent weeks. Mr. Trump endorsed Hagerty before he formally entered the race, and Donald Trump Jr. hosted Hagerty on the Trump campaign livestream “Triggered” last week. During the livestream, Hagerty argued that Tennessee needs a senator who understands the threat of China. On the Democratic side, there are five candidates on the ballot. Attorney James Mackler has raised the most money. The winners on Thursday will compete in November for Sen. Lamar Alexander’s open seat, which Cook Political Report rates as solidly Republican.
IN THE HOUSE
An internal GOP poll in California’s 25th District shows GOP Congressman Mike Garcia ahead of Democrat state assemblywoman Christy Smith by 7 points. Garcia won this Los Angeles area seat in a May special election and became the first Republican to flip a Democrat-held seat in California since 1998, reports CBS News political unit broadcast associate Aaron Navarro. In 2016, Hillary Clinton won this district by 7 points and former Congresswoman Katie Hill won it by 9 points in her 2018 race.
In Texas’ 24th District, an internal Democratic poll had Democrat Candace Valenzuela leading Republican Beth Van Duyne by 7 points. The poll also showed Biden leading Mr. Trump by 4 points in this suburban Dallas district.
Meanwhile, former presidential candidate and U.S. Senator Rick Santorum has waded into the GOP runoff in Oklahoma’s 5th District. Santorum, who won the state during the 2012 primaries, endorsed state senator Stephanie Bice. Bice is facing businesswoman Terry Neese in a runoff on August 25th. The winner will face Democrat Kendra Horn in one of the most targeted districts for House Republicans in the country.