Here’s what you need to know:Joe Biden, the Democratic presidential nominee, speaks at a campaign event for Hispanic Heritage Month at Osceola Heritage Park in Kissimmee, Fla.Credit…Erin Schaff/The New York Times
A somewhat awkward moment on the campaign trail Tuesday — when Joseph R. Biden Jr. played a few bars of “Despacito” from his phone after being introduced by its singer, Luis Fonsi — took a turn early Wednesday morning when President Trump shared a manipulated video of the moment with N.W.A.’s anti-police anthem “____ tha Police” dubbed in.
The doctored video, which Mr. Trump shared twice, was in line with his frequent attempts to suggest that Mr. Biden opposes law enforcement, including his false claim that Mr. Biden wants to defund the police — a position the former vice president has repeatedly emphasized that he opposes.
As a senator, in fact, Mr. Biden was the architect of much of the hard-line criminal justice legislation of the 1980s and 1990s, a fact that some progressive groups have criticized.
“What is this all about,” Mr. Trump wrote in a message that accompanied the video. Twitter later added a “Manipulated media” warning to it.
The tweet came on a day of other misleading statements from Mr. Trump’s campaign and his allies.
On Wednesday afternoon, Kayleigh McEnany, the White House press secretary, said that Mr. Trump had “always supported mask wearing” during the coronavirus pandemic, a day after Mr. Trump cast some doubt on the value of wearing masks during a nationally televised town hall event.
The president, who almost never wears a mask in public despite recommendations from federal health officials, has previously questioned their usefulness and often disparaged them.
The doctored video was created by the pro-Trump meme-makers behind the account “The United Spot.” They describe their content as “100% parody/satire,” but their YouTube page offers a wide range of disinformation narratives targeting Democratic politicians, the United States Postal Service and Dr. Anthony S. Fauci, while also amplifying toxic conspiracies like Pizzagate.
The United Spot has built up a social media following across Twitter, Facebook and YouTube and is listed as a content creator on MemeWorld, a loose right-wing media collective with a direct line to the White House. The president has retweeted manipulated content in the past from MemeWorld contributors, including the site’s owner Logan Cook, who goes by the name Carpe Donktum online. Mr. Cook’s Twitter account was suspended in June for repeated copyright violations.
Mr. Biden was appearing at a Hispanic Heritage Month event in Kissimmee, Fla., where he had traveled in a bid to shore up support among Latino voters in the increasingly Democratic central part of the state and to unveil his plan to support Puerto Rico.
After being introduced by Luis Fonsi, Joe Biden pulled out his phone and started playing Despacito ahead of his remarks kicking off Hispanic Heritage Month in Kissimmee, FL. pic.twitter.com/7R6hUZgLW1
— Sarah Mucha (@sarahmucha) September 16, 2020
The event’s participants included the actor Eva Longoria and the singer Ricky Martin, as well as Mr. Fonsi, who urged people to vote.
Another manipulated video that Mr. Trump shared on Wednesday paired footage of Mr. Biden’s speech on climate change and the wildfires with animation that appeared to blame the loose collective of anti-fascist activists known as antifa for starting the fires. There is no evidence linking antifa to the fires.
Mr. Trump’s amplification of the doctored videos followed another retweet that appeared to mark a new low in the campaign. On Tuesday, the president shared a GIF of Mr. Biden touching a woman’s shoulder at an event with the hashtag #PedoBiden, promoting a baseless smear against Mr. Biden and embracing a fringe theory promoted by QAnon, the far-right conspiracy movement.Jamaal Bowman, who ousted the veteran New York congressman Eliot L. Engel, on the night of his Democratic primary in June.Credit…Lucas Jackson/Reuters
And now, 226 days since the bungled Iowa caucuses, America’s 2020 primary season is finally over.
It ended in Delaware, where Senator Chris Coons, a Democrat, easily fended off a progressive challenger, Jessica Scarane. If there was a universal lesson from this year’s intraparty battles — especially for Democrats — it is that for all the restive energy on the party’s left, it is the party’s moderates who in most districts continue to cobble together winning coalitions.
Former Vice President Joseph R. Biden Jr. won the party’s presidential nomination, as the limits of Senator Bernie Sanders’s coalition became clear.
Progressives at first punted on all of the Senate contests and jumped in to help Charles Booker in Kentucky only after he gained traction following the police shooting death of Breonna Taylor in Louisville. Mr. Booker lost after being hugely outspent by Amy McGrath, a former Marine fighter pilot who faces long odds against Senator Mitch McConnell, the majority leader.
Of the three Democratic House incumbents who lost renomination, two — Representatives Eliot L. Engel of New York and William Lacy Clay Jr. of Missouri — showed the path for the left: Find a progressive candidate of color in a big city. The other Democrat to be retired was Representative Dan Lipinski of Illinois, whose anti-abortion views have long been out of step with his party.
Still, Cori Bush and Jamaal Bowman, the progressive upstarts from St. Louis and the Bronx who ousted Mr. Clay and Mr. Engel, have laid the groundwork for a potentially larger class of 2022 progressive challengers.
It is also worth noting that the party’s high-profile progressive incumbents, Representatives Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez of New York, Ilhan Omar of Minnesota and Rashida Tlaib of Michigan, easily fended off primary challenges from their right. Senator Ed Markey of Massachusetts also beat back Representative Joseph P. Kennedy III.
But dozens of veteran House Democrats come from safe districts and are ripe for a challenge from their left — Representative Jim Cooper of Tennessee, whose district includes Nashville, had a surprisingly close race against an underfunded progressive challenger. Besides Mr. Clay, there are many veteran Black members of Congress who haven’t faced a tough primary challenge.
Most of the Republican congressmen who lost primaries didn’t reflect any sort of ideological reckoning in the party. Iowans tired of Steve King’s dabbling in white supremacy. Ross Spano of Florida and Steve Watkins of Kansas were both freshmen with legal problems. Denver Riggleman of Virginia lost a convention vote of 2,400 delegates after officiating a gay wedding. Only Scott Tipton of Colorado lost a primary for being insufficiently conservative — he was felled by a QAnon sympathizer, Lauren Boebert.
What will the next round of primaries bring? It will depend a lot on who is president.
If Mr. Biden wins, the left will be energized and the existential threat of the Trump presidency for Democrats will be gone. The Republican contests are anyone’s guess.
Few Republicans cross President Trump now — he could be more vindictive after winning re-election. Yet if he’s out of office, there is certain to be a party-wide brawl about who inherits his political coalition.The Democratic Senate candidate for South Carolina, Jaime Harrison, is running even with his Republican opponent in a poll of likely voters released Wednesday by Quinnipiac University. Credit…Travis Dove for The New York Times
Jaime Harrison, the Democratic nominee trying to unseat Senator Lindsey Graham in South Carolina, is closing the gap, according to a poll released on Wednesday by Quinnipiac University.
Surveying likely voters in South Carolina, the poll showed that Mr. Harrison and Mr. Graham were tied with 48 percent of the vote each. In the poll, 93 percent of respondents said their minds were made up, while 6 percent said they might change their minds.
Mr. Graham, who is seeking his fourth term in the Senate, has been a vocal supporter of President Trump.
Mr. Harrison was optimistic on Wednesday, writing on Twitter, “You don’t have to believe in miracles to believe we can win this race.”
You don’t have to believe in miracles to believe we can win this race. Once again, we are ALL TIED UP IN SOUTH CAROLINA.
Let’s do this, y’all!!! 💪🏻💪🏽💪🏾 https://t.co/EG2kFpEN1D
— Jaime Harrison (@harrisonjaime) September 16, 2020
Quinnipiac also surveyed voters in key Senate races in Maine and Kentucky. The margin of error for the three polls, conducted Sept. 10-14, was roughly plus or minus three percentage points.
In Maine, the Democratic challenger, Sara Gideon, is ahead, with 54 percent of likely voters saying she was their choice, while Senator Susan Collins, a Republican, received 42 percent support. Ms. Collins is seen as one of the most vulnerable Republican incumbents.
The path for Republicans to retain control of the Senate is looking increasingly shaky, with Republican incumbents imperiled by President Trump’s declining standing with voters.
Republicans currently hold 53 seats. If Joseph R. Biden Jr. defeats Mr. Trump, Democrats would need a net gain of three Senate seats to win the chamber, since the vice president breaks a 50-50 tie. They will need a net gain of four seats if Mr. Trump wins a second term.
“Senate control hangs in the balance as the G.O.P. confronts a likely nail-biter in South Carolina and a possible knockout in Maine, offset by a presumably solid lead in Kentucky,” Tim Malloy, a Quinnipiac University polling analyst, said in a statement.
In Kentucky, Mitch McConnell, the Senate majority leader who is seeking a seventh term, holds a strong lead over his Democratic challenger, Amy McGrath, the poll found. He was chosen by 50 percent of likely voters surveyed, while Ms. McGrath received 41 percent.Representative Cheri Bustos, the chairwoman of the Democratic Congressional Campaign Committee, said it would invest in initiatives designed to increase voter turnout.Credit…Anna Moneymaker/The New York Times
House Democrats’ campaign arm on Wednesday announced it would pour $9 million into voter education programs designed to encourage turnout during the pandemic, as the party looks to expand its majority in November.
The initiative, using mail, targeted phone banks and text messages to reach voters, is intended to educate voters — particularly voters of color — about the voting options available to them.
“This election cycle is just so unprecedented in so many ways,” Representative Cheri Bustos, Democrat of Illinois and the chairwoman of the Democratic Congressional Campaign Committee, said. “It’s why we’ve got to meet this moment that we’re in right now. We certainly don’t want to get to the middle of November and say that voter confusion was our Achilles heel.”
Buoyed by a backlash to President Trump among affluent, suburban voters and staggering fund-raising sums brought in by their most vulnerable incumbents, House Democrats are on the offensive this election cycle, targeting districts that once were conservative strongholds.
“With fewer than 50 days until the most consequential election of our lifetimes, ballots have already been mailed in multiple states and Democrats are well-positioned to expand our majority in the House of Representatives,” the campaign arm’s top officials wrote in a memo on Wednesday.The future of Big Ten football, which includes the University of Michigan among its swing state schools, has become a fever-pitched topic in this fall’s presidential campaign.Credit…Emily Elconin/Reuters
Touting it as a sign that society and the economy can reopen, President Trump’s campaign applauded the announcement that the Big Ten Conference will start playing football next month, then took a dig at former Vice President Joseph R. Biden Jr.
“We know that Joe Biden would not have pushed for this,” Bill Stepien, Mr. Trump’s campaign manager, said in a statement. “He has looked for every reason to keep our country closed for as long as possible, because he believes it would help him politically.”
Football has always been bathed in politics but never quite like this year, in which the future of football during the coronavirus pandemic has become a fever-pitched topic in the presidential campaign.
But the Big Ten Conference, which initially said it would not hold football games this fall, has been a particular focus, as it has several major programs located in critical swing states including Michigan, Pennsylvania and Wisconsin.
Mr. Biden’s campaign made a play for the support of football fans, releasing internet videos in four battleground states that blamed Mr. Trump for empty college stadiums. (Big Ten games will not have fans in the stadium this fall, though players’ relatives could be allowed to attend.)
Mr. Biden has also enlisted prominent athletes to attack Mr. Trump’s response to the virus, including Calvin Johnson, the former Detroit Lions wide receiver.
While Mr. Biden has urged caution in reopening, Mr. Trump has made restarting football a top priority, even with coronavirus cases still climbing.
“People are working very, very hard to get Big Ten football back and I’m pushing it, and it will be a great thing for our country and players,” Mr. Trump said in Michigan last week.
On Wednesday morning, he cheered the news on Twitter and took credit for helping to make it happen, though it was not immediately clear whether the Big Ten had accepted any of the president’s offers of assistance.
Some college football programs that have returned to play this season have already reported challenges. Louisiana State University announced this week that many of its players had contracted the virus. Texas Tech has announced 75 positive cases since players returned to campus. Both teams are scheduled to play their next games on Sept. 26.Workers preparing absentee ballots for mailing at the Wake County Board of Elections in Raleigh, N.C. this month. A flood of votes is expected to roll in by mail for the Nov. 3 election.Credit…Gerry Broome/Associated Press
WASHINGTON — The feud between the U.S. Postal Service and officials who administer and count the vote is heating up as deadlines loom and worries increase over the possibility of operational and political chaos in November.
With record numbers of Americans expected to vote by mail in this extraordinary pandemic-era election, one secretary of state, Jena Griswold of Colorado, has gone so far as to sue the Postal Service over a postcard sent to voters urging voters to “plan ahead” if they are voting by mail. She contends that the mailer contained misinformation that would disenfranchise voters in her state. Ms. Griswold, in her effort to stop the distribution of the postcard in Colorado, obtained a temporary restraining order blocking further delivery of the cards there.
Other states said they are considering similar legal action to stop the mailers, which are being delivered nationwide. Regulations on absentee voting vary from state to state.
The feud has also become a campaign issue, one fueled by President Trump’s unsubstantiated claims that mail-in voting encourages fraud as well as by Democrats’ countercharges that Trump allies at the Postal Service are working with him to sabotage the election by hobbling the mail vote.
This friction is expected to feature prominently in a private telephone conference on Thursday involving Louis DeJoy, the postmaster general, who is a major Trump campaign donor, and dozens of secretaries of state, several of whom said in interviews with The New York Times that they would use the call to voice concerns about the postcard and about operational and policy changes at the Postal Service that had slowed mail delivery.
The acrimony has already hampered efforts to develop coherent messaging and processes for handling mail ballots, people inside the Postal Service and election administration agencies say. They warn that if the working relationship doesn’t improve quickly, it could increase the likelihood of election-time confusion, including the potential disqualification of as many as one million ballots for missed deadlines.“Sometimes you don’t have time to be totally, as you would say, presidential,” President Trump said during an event with undecided voters in Philadelphia.Credit…Anna Moneymaker for The New York Times
President Trump is so protean, so news-cycle-driven, that any one performance is almost never a reliable indicator of what is to come. But the sprawling, 90-minute ambiguity that was his Tuesday night town hall with uncommitted Pennsylvania voters contained seeds of his homestretch strategy, and ample warnings of the challenges facing him.
Here are three things we learned about how Mr. Trump is approaching the final weeks of the race:
Everything was perfect. Then the pandemic ruined it.
It’s hard for even as unconventional a president as Mr. Trump to escape the are-you-better-off-now-than-you-were-four-years-ago question. The vast majority of Americans think the country is on the wrong track, so he has tried to divert blame to Democrats, going so far Tuesday night as to chide his opponent, Joseph R. Biden Jr., who holds no office, for not enacting a mask mandate.
The president also tried a deflector-shield approach: He suggested that he was well on his way to solving the most vexing and intractable problems that have faced Americans for decades — racial strife, income inequality, environmental threats — and then…
“Before the plague, we were doing very well,” he said in response to a question about income inequality. That is not remotely true, according to many economists.
He is publicly workshopping answers on the virus.
Mr. Trump confused “herd mentality” and “herd immunity,” answered a question about his own lax mask-wearing with a story about how a nose-exposed waiter touched his plate, boasted that a vaccine would be ready in weeks (contradicting his own health officials), and baselessly claimed that he had saved more than two million lives by shuttering the nation’s borders.
By simultaneously denying and emphatically confirming that he downplayed the severity of the virus, the developer-president has built himself a box: If he starts wearing a mask he will have to buck the culture-war movement he stoked. If he keeps it off, he risks losing voters, especially women, who believe in science.
He may have to adjust to two-way conversation after years of self-protection.
For Mr. Trump, critics have been confined to the pages of newspapers, basic cable and the fluttering four-letter words he sees on signs through the tinted glass of his limo. The question now is whether the ABC event was a one-off or if he will repeat it — and try to appeal to a broader range voters — as some campaign advisers are urging him to do.
Outside the pillow-fort protection of Fox News and rallies, pent-up people (not all of them diehard Trump haters) have a lot to say to him after years of what has felt to many Americans like a one-sided conversation.
At times, it seemed like he was doing his version of a Biden impersonation, listening patiently as audience members posed sharp questions or, in one case, as a woman broke down in tears. But it did not appear to come easily.
Ellesia Blaque, an assistant professor from Philadelphia who voted for Hillary Clinton in the 2016 election but remains undecided this year, asked Mr. Trump, “Should pre-existing conditions, which Obamacare brought to fruition, be removed without —”
“No,” Mr. Trump said.
“Please stop and let me finish my question, sir,” she responded.
He did.A ventilator helps a Covid-19 patient breathe inside the coronavirus unit in a Houston hospital in July.Credit…David J. Phillip/Associated Press
President Trump on Tuesday night falsely claimed that “we were short on ventilators because the cupboards were bare when we took it over.” The Strategic National Stockpile, the government’s repository of medicines and medicinal products, contained more than $7 billion worth of supplies when Mr. Trump took office, including more than 16,000 ventilators.
Speaking at an ABC News town hall event in Philadelphia, he repeated his characterization of restrictions placed on travel from China and Europe as “bans” that saved “thousands of lives.” The restrictions only applied to foreign citizens and included exceptions, ultimately allowing 40,000 people to travel from China to the United States from the end of January to April. Similar restrictions were placed on travel from Europe, after the virus was already widespread in New York City.
The president also misleadingly claimed that “I was so far ahead with my closing,” which he said occurred in January. In fact, states began in March to issue stay-at-home and social-distancing orders, and Mr. Trump resisted those efforts. One model showed that 36,000 fewer people would have died had those measures been in place one week earlier. Even after the federal government recommended social distancing on March 16, Mr. Trump continued to urge reopening.
He wrongly claimed that “crime is up 100 percent, 150 percent” in New York. Over all, crime has actually decreased 2 percent in New York compared with the same period last year, though murders have increased. And he misleadingly said that “the top 10 most unsafe cities are run by Democrats.” There is no evidence that crime is correlated with partisanship. Crime is generally higher in major metropolitan areas than rural areas, and more than three-quarters of major cities have Democratic mayors.
He claimed undue credit for calling in the National Guard to Minneapolis. It was the governor of Minnesota, not him, who activated the state’s National Guard.
The president falsely claimed “we’re not going to hurt pre-existing conditions” while Democrats “will get rid of pre-existing conditions.” His administration has asked the Supreme Court to strike down the health care law that includes protections for patients with pre-existing conditions, and in 2017 unsuccessfully tried to repeal it. Democrats and their nominee, Joseph R. Biden Jr., have consistently aimed to uphold that law.
Finally, he claimed that the coronavirus “goes away” even without a vaccine because “you’ll develop like a herd mentality.” Mr. Trump was most likely referring to “herd immunity,” which occurs when the virus can no longer spread widely. Public health officials have warned that this could require 70 percent of the population to develop antibodies. Without a vaccine, this could mean an enormous death toll.
This is around the time when convention bounces start to diminish. It’s still too soon to say whether President Trump’s bounce will fade or endure, but Tuesday was arguably Joe Biden’s best day of state polls since the Republican National Convention. Here’s a closer look at polls of Florida and Wisconsin.
The best news for Biden in a while in Florida. A poll from Monmouth University showed Mr. Biden up four percentage points among likely voters on average, his best result from a nonpartisan, live interview pollster there in several weeks. He held a wide lead in Florida over the summer, but it has gradually slipped — in part because of a somewhat surprising weakness among Latino voters. The Monmouth poll shows no signs of that weakness, with Mr. Biden leading by 26 points among Hispanic voters, comparable to Hillary Clinton’s performance four years ago. If Mr. Biden can match Mrs. Clinton among Hispanic voters, he’ll be in a strong position: Polls consistently show Mr. Biden running ahead of Mrs. Clinton among white voters.
Now, gauging the support of Hispanic voters in Florida is not easy. About a third of the state’s Hispanic voters are Cuban, and they are overwhelmingly concentrated in the Miami area — the toughest area of the state to reach in a survey. As a group, those voters lean Republican. But the other two-thirds are heavily Democratic and live across the state. On top of that, Hispanic voters are harder to reach in general. They’re younger and concentrated in urban areas, and many speak Spanish as a first language, which adds further difficulties — and costs — for pollsters.
All that to say: In Florida a lot will hinge on how pollsters can measure a relatively small group of hard-to-reach voters. So interpret any single result among Latino voters with caution, especially in Florida.
Another poll showing Trump trailing badly in Wisconsin. One place where the polls have offered consistently bad news for the president is Wisconsin, where Mr. Biden has held a steady lead. A CNN/SSRS poll added to the consensus by showing Mr. Biden up by 10 points, one of his largest leads there this cycle. The firm also gave Mr. Biden a three-point lead in North Carolina, another result consistent with a clear national advantage for the former vice president. One note of caution: CNN/SSRS polls have tended to tilt to the left compared with the average of polls so far this cycle, as well as in 2018.
Tomorrow, we expect another poll of Wisconsin from ABC News/Washington Post. If it joins the club of high-quality pollsters showing at least a five- or six-point lead for Mr. Biden, that would yield about as clear of a picture as you’re going to get in a battleground state so far from an election.
A stable day nationwide. There weren’t many national polls, but the handful we did get were largely consistent with their prior results and with a fairly stable race.
Odds and ends Morning Consult had a relatively weak result for Mr. Biden in Minnesota, though there’s plenty of other recent polling there showing Mr. Biden with a wider lead. Florida Atlantic University showed a tied race in Florida, though the firm doesn’t have much of a track record and its methodology is a mixed bag. Virginia Commonwealth University gave Mr. Biden a double-digit lead in Virginia.
For years, Republicans had familiar bogeymen they could reliably link to Democratic opponents in advertisements — Barack Obama, Hillary Clinton and Speaker Nancy Pelosi.
Now the most prominent doomsday figures in G.O.P. ads aimed at riling up the conservative base tend to be high-profile House Democrats from “the Squad,” the quartet of progressive women of color who were first elected in 2018 and are all on track to retain their seats this year.
The Republican David Young, a former Iowa congressman who lost his seat in 2018, takes things a step further in a TV ad he began airing on Wednesday in Des Moines. The ad aims to tie Representative Cindy Axne, the Democrat who ousted him, to, of all people, Representative Jamie Raskin of Maryland — who is not a Squad member but is among the more progressive House Democrats.
Mr. Young’s ad says Ms. Axne “skips work and lets this far-left, East Coast congressman vote in her place.” It says Mr. Raskin is “pals with Pelosi, wants to raise taxes and even spoke at a defund the police rally.” It also shows Mr. Raskin in two photos with Representative Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez of New York and at his swearing-in with Ms. Pelosi.
It is a double bank-shot ad, trying to tether Ms. Axne to Ms. Pelosi and Ms. Ocasio-Cortez through Mr. Raskin, a relatively low-profile figure who lives 1,000 miles from Des Moines. The argument is that because Ms. Axne supported allowing remote voting by proxy during the coronavirus pandemic, she is “outsourcing” Iowa’s representation to someone who doesn’t understand the state’s values, rather than showing up for work.
House Democrats voted back in May to allow remote voting in an attempt to keep members and their staff safe. Ms. Axne has voted by proxy three times via Mr. Raskin, whose home in Takoma Park, Md., is seven miles from the Capitol.
Ms. Axne’s voting record shows no sign that Mr. Raskin has co-opted her vote. Since the pandemic began, they’ve been on opposite sides of 11 votes, most of them amendments offered by progressive members like Ms. Ocasio-Cortez or Representative Ilhan Omar of Minnesota, according to the congressional vote tracker maintained by ProPublica.
Where It’s Running
So far the ad has aired during local news on the three major broadcast networks in Des Moines.
Tying one’s opponent to a disliked figure in their party is a tactic as old as the republic. But it usually helps if voters have a passing familiarity with the person in question. Mr. Raskin is hardly a household name in Washington, let alone to Iowa voters. It might have been more efficient to just tie Ms. Axne to Ms. Pelosi and Ms. Ocasio-Cortez directly.
But that too may not have worked. In 2018 Republican incumbents flooded the airwaves with ads warning electing Democrats would return Ms. Pelosi to power. Democrats picked up 40 seats and made Ms. Pelosi the speaker again.
Here are the daily schedules of the presidential and vice-presidential candidates for Wednesday, September 16. All times are Eastern time.
12:30 p.m.: Participates in a High Holy Days call with Jewish leaders from the Oval Office.
7 p.m.: Speaks at a National Republican Congressional Committee Battleground Dinner in Washington.
Former Vice President Joseph R. Biden Jr.
2:30 p.m.: Speaks in Wilmington, Del., on efforts to develop a safe and effective coronavirus vaccine.
Vice President Pence
5:30 p.m.: Participates in a “Workers for Trump” event in Zanesville, Ohio.
Senator Kamala Harris
No public events scheduled.Michael R. Caputo, right, is a long-time Trump loyalist and began his role at the Department of Health and Human Services last April.Credit…Kevin Lamarque/Reuters
Michael R. Caputo, the embattled top spokesman of the cabinet department overseeing the coronavirus response, will take a leave of absence “to focus on his health and the well-being of his family,” the Department of Health and Human Services announced Wednesday.
Mr. Caputo’s science adviser, Dr. Paul Alexander, will be leaving the department.
The announcement came after a bizarre and inflammatory Facebook outburst on Sept. 13 and disclosures that he and his team had tried to water down official reports of the Centers of Disease Control and Prevention about the pandemic.
Mr. Caputo, a long-time Trump loyalist and the Department of Health and Human Services’s assistant secretary of public affairs, had apologized for his Facebook presentation to his staff and to Alex M. Azar II, the department’s leader, after his comments became public.
Since he was installed at the department last April by the White House, Mr. Caputo, a media-savvy former Trump campaign aide, had worked aggressively to develop a media strategy for dealing with the coronavirus pandemic. But critics, including some within the administration, complained that he was promoting the president’s political interests over public health.
His Facebook talk, which was shared with The New York Times, included accusations that government scientists were engaging in “sedition” in their handling of the pandemic and that left-wing hit squads were preparing for armed insurrection after the election.
He also stated in the talk that his “mental health has definitely failed” and that he did not like being alone in Washington where there were “shadows on the ceiling in my apartment, there alone, shadows are so long.”Attorney General William P. Barr has emerged as one of President Trump’s strongest defenders.Credit…Anna Moneymaker for The New York Times
Attorney General William P. Barr said in a recent interview that the United States would be “irrevocably committed to the socialist path” if President Trump was not re-elected, and he accused government workers of working to thwart the administration. The statements cast Mr. Trump’s opponents, and possibly Mr. Barr’s own employees at the Justice Department, as essentially un-American.
“There’s now a clear fork in the road for our country,” Mr. Barr said in a wide-ranging interview with Chicago journalists, an audio recording of which drew wider attention on Tuesday after it was published on Monday.
Mr. Barr has emerged as one of Mr. Trump’s strongest defenders ahead of what could be a bitterly contested presidential election, one that Mr. Barr described as the most significant in a lifetime.
During the interview, he acknowledged that as attorney general, he is “not supposed to get into politics,” a norm that his predecessors have followed to preserve the appearance that in the United States, justice is meted out fairly, regardless of political affiliation.
But Mr. Barr narrowly defined “getting into politics” as making appearances on the campaign trail, and then offered Mr. Trump one of his strongest endorsements yet.
“I think we were getting into position where we were going to find ourselves irrevocably committed to the socialist path,” Mr. Barr said. “I think if Trump loses this election that that will be the case.”
Mr. Barr’s comments will again fuel criticisms that he has politicized the Justice Department. Under his tenure, the department has recommended a more lenient sentence for the president’s longtime friend and associate Roger J. Stone Jr. as well as sought to drop the prosecution against Mr. Trump’s former national security adviser Michael T. Flynn.
Since becoming attorney general in February 2019, Mr. Barr has accused former Justice Department officials and career bureaucrats of working to attack the president, accusations that he repeated in the interview.
“There undoubtedly are many people in the government who surreptitiously work to thwart the administration,” he said.
In his telling, those government employees are working with Mr. Trump’s opponents to undermine democracy and a duly elected president, simply because they do not like him. From the day that Mr. Trump delivered his 2016 victory speech, “they started talking about impeachment,” Mr. Barr said.
He also cast the government’s Russia investigation as part of a partisan plot to remove Mr. Trump. “He’s not a legitimate president with the Russia stuff. He was a pawn of Russia, all this stuff from Day 1,” Mr. Barr said. In past public statements, he has said that he does not believe that the Russia investigation should have been opened.
The Justice Department’s inspector general has determined that law enforcement officials had sufficient cause to open the Russia investigation. A report released last month by the Republican-controlled Senate Intelligence Committee found that the Russian government did interfere in the 2016 election to help Mr. Trump win, and that some Trump campaign advisers welcomed Russia’s help. Those conclusions support the findings on Russian election interference from the special counsel, Robert S. Mueller III.
Mr. Barr said that the Democrats were becoming the party that supported violent protest. “Increasingly, the message of the Democrats appears to be Biden or no peace,” Mr. Barr said. “That is rule by the mob. And we’re approaching that.”