The day so far

We’re awaiting an announcement from attorney general Merrick Garland about a “significant national security matter” that could involve another country. He’s set to speak alongside FBI director Christopher Wray at a press conference beginning at 1:30 pm eastern time.

Here’s what else has happened today:

  • Polls show tight races for Senate in Ohio and Wisconsin, and a Democrat in the lead in Pennsylvania as the party hopes to maintain its majority in Congress’ upper chamber.

  • Areas represented in Congress by 2020 election deniers tend to have seen their white population decline, and be less well-off and well educated than elsewhere, a New York Times analysis found.

  • Republican senator Lindsey Graham’s subpoena compelling his appearance before a special grand jury investigating the campaign to meddle with Georgia’s election results two years ago is on hold thanks to conservative supreme court justice Clarence Thomas.

Key events

Conservative supreme court justice blocks grand jury subpoena for Lindsey Graham testimony

Rightwing supreme court justice Clarence Thomas has placed a temporary hold on a Georgia grand jury’s subpoena compelling the testimony of Republican senator Lindsey Graham as part of its investigation into efforts by Donald Trump’s allies to meddle in the state’s election results:

BREAKING: Justice Clarence Thomas, acting unilaterally, issues a “shadow docket” ruling for Sen. Lindsey Graham, agreeing to temporarily halt Graham from testifying in probe of pro-Trump election interference in Georgia

— John Kruzel (@johnkruzel) October 24, 2022

Thomas is one of the court’s most conservative justices, but the move is not unusual, according to CNN supreme court analyst Steve Vladeck:

To be clear, Justice Thomas issued an “administrative stay,” which blocks the Eleventh Circuit ruling only temporarily while the full Court decides whether to block it pending appeal.

Such a ruling is *not* predictive of how the full Court (or even Thomas) will vote on the stay. https://t.co/CSrBaDg9JP

— Steve Vladeck (@steve_vladeck) October 24, 2022

Indeed, there are lots of recent examples of the Circuit Justice issuing such a temporary ruling and then the full Court *declining* to make it permanent.

Folks will surely overreact anyway, but this isn’t a big deal — yet.

— Steve Vladeck (@steve_vladeck) October 24, 2022

The Democrats’ two best hopes for stemming their losses in the Senate or even expanding their majority are in Pennsylvania and Wisconsin, and CNN has just released a poll indicating tight races in both.

The states are home to the perhaps two best pick up opportunities for Democrats this year, with Republican senator Ron Johnson defending his seat in Wisconsin, while Pennsylvania’s is vacant after GOP senator Pat Toomey opted to retire.

CNN’s new poll indicates Johnson has a slight edge over Democrat Mandela Barnes in Wisconsin, where 50% of voters back his candidacy against 49% for his challenger.

In Pennsylvania, Democratic lieutenant governor John Fetterman is at 51% support against Republican Mehmet Oz, who was polling at 45%.

The poll otherwise confirmed dynamics that have become well-known this election cycle. The economy is far and away voters’ top issue, with abortion a distant second. President Joe Biden is also unpopular with voters in both states, the survey finds.

Districts whose congressional representatives have embraced conspiracy theories about the 2020 election tend to be poorer, less educated and have experienced declines in their white population, according to an analysis published by The New York Times today.

The report suggests that racial anxiety is a major factor in voters’ willingness to embrace Donald Trump’s baseless claims of fraud in Joe Biden’s election win, in addition to economic stagnation and social maladies like the opioid epidemic. The report is a sprawling look at corners of the country that have grown so alienated they’re willing to support lawmakers who object to the certification of the 2020 election, despite fears the campaign poses a mortal threat to American democracy.

Here’s more from the Times:

When Representative Troy Nehls of Texas voted last year to reject Donald J. Trump’s electoral defeat, many of his constituents back home in Fort Bend County were thrilled.

Like the former president, they have been unhappy with the changes unfolding around them. Crime and sprawl from Houston, the big city next door, have been spilling over into their once bucolic towns. (“Build a wall,” Mr. Nehls likes to say, and make Houston pay.) The county in recent years has become one of the nation’s most diverse, where the former white majority has fallen to just 30 percent of the population.

Don Demel, a 61-year-old salesman who turned out last month to pick up a signed copy of a book by Mr. Nehls about the supposedly stolen election, said his parents had raised him “colorblind.” But the reason for the discontent was clear: Other white people in Fort Bend “did not like certain people coming here,” he said. “It’s race. They are old-school.”

A shrinking white share of the population is a hallmark of the congressional districts held by the House Republicans who voted to challenge Mr. Trump’s defeat, a New York Times analysis found — a pattern political scientists say shows how white fear of losing status shaped the movement to keep him in power.

The portion of white residents dropped about 35 percent more over the last three decades in those districts than in territory represented by other Republicans, the analysis found, and constituents also lagged behind in income and education. Rates of so-called deaths of despair, such as suicide, drug overdose and alcohol-related liver failure, were notably higher as well.

The January 6 committee is likely finished with its public hearings into the deadly attack on the Capitol, and The Guardian’s Tom Ambrose surveyed readers about whether the committee’s work changed their mind about what happened that day, and Trump’s role in it. Here’s what one had to say:

I think that hearings solidified what most people thought already: that Donald Trump and his allies coordinated to assault the foundations of democracy on January 6 because they were unhappy with the result of the 2020 election. The juxtaposing of previously aired and unaired video clips helped provide clearer and fuller picture of the chaos that unfolded that day.

I believe that anyone who tuned into the hearings with an open mind saw January 6 for what it was: a disgraceful attack on American democracy that amounts to treason. I believe the committee was convincing in their effort to show premeditation by the president and his followers.

I am worried that those who believe January 6 was justified will use this committee as an example as of how “the Democrats/liberals” are out to get the president and his followers. They demonstrate this belief daily as they continue to call for violence against elected officials and refuse to believe the truth that Joe Biden won the 2020 election.

It feels like that their position is: either we won, or we were cheated. I fear that the upcoming elections in November will only be a taste of what kinds of vitriol await during the 2024 election. Patrick, 29, public school teacher from Chicago

Republican senator Ted Cruz was a vociferous objector to the 2020 election, but ended up hiding in a supply closet when insurrectionists stormed the Capitol on January 6, as Ramon Antonio Vargas reports:

As a mob of Donald Trump supporters stormed the US Capitol during the January 6 attack in a desperate attempt to keep him in the Oval Office, Ted Cruz hid in a closet next to a stack of chairs, but he never thought twice about continuing to sow doubt about the former president’s electoral defeat, the Republican senator from Texas has revealed.

Cruz revealed his whereabouts on the day of the deadly Capitol attack – which unsuccessfully aimed to disrupt the certification of Joe Biden’s victory over Trump in the 2020 presidential election – in a new book. The news was first reported by Newsweek.

The book – titled Justice Corrupted – recounts how Cruz was listening to his colleague James Lankford of Oklahoma speak in the Senate chamber when a terrible commotion erupted outside. Capitol police rushed in to escort Trump’s vice-president, Mike Pence, whom the mob wanted to hang, off the dais, and the session was paused.

“In the fog of the confusion, it was difficult to tell exactly what was happening,” Cruz wrote. “We were informed that a riot had broken out and that rioters were attempting to breach the building.

What would Republicans do with a majority in the House? Demand concessions in exchange for raising the debt limit, which will likely be necessary at some point next year, Politico reports.

GOP lawmakers could demand that the tax cuts passed during the Trump administration are made permanent, or that Social Security and Medicare, the two massive federal benefit programs for older Americans that have long been in Republicans’ crosshairs, are overhauled. But the strategy is a risky one, because without an agreement to lift its legal ability to borrow, Washington could default on its debt – with potentially calamitous implications for the global economy. And even if Republicans took both the House and the Senate, expect tortuous negotiations with Biden to find an agreement.

Here’s more from Politico:

Tight Senate margins and a Democratic president would make it impossible for GOP leaders to deliver on the party’s most hardline fiscal wishes, at least with President Joe Biden still in office. The disappointment would surely prompt blowback from right-leaning Republicans already known as the sharpest thorns in the party’s side.

“Spare me if you’re a Republican who puts on your frigging campaign website, ‘Trust me, I will vote for a balanced budget amendment, and I believe we should balance the budget like every family in America.’ No shit,” Rep. Chip Roy (R-Texas), a member of the pro-Trump Freedom Caucus, said in an interview.

“You have two simple leverage points: when government funding comes up and when the debt ceiling is debated,” Roy reminded his fellow Republicans. “And the only question that matters is, will leadership use that leverage?”

There was also new polling today for Ohio, which seems to align with broader national trends for the 8 November midterms.

Once considered a swing state, Ohio has become more solidly Republican in recent elections. But that doesn’t mean JD Vance, the GOP candidate for Senate, is running away with the race. Today’s Spectrum News / Siena poll shows him tied with Democrat Tim Ryan, underscoring that for all the momentum Republicans seem to have, retaking the Senate is not a sure bet.

However, notice the strong bias among Ohio voters towards Republicans on the generic congressional ballot. That matches recent nationwide polling suggesting the GOP has overtaken Democrats as the party preferred to control Congress – an outcome that may well come to pass when the midterm dust settles.

There was some dire news for Democrats this morning from The Cook Political Report, which is known for its comprehensive rankings of congressional races across the country.

The subject was congressman Sean Patrick Maloney, who is chair of the Democratic Congressional Campaign Committee tasked with winning elections in the House of Representatives. Cook changed their rating for his suburban New York City district to toss-up from lean Democrat:

Polls indicate that Democrats are likely to lose their majority in the House in the 8 November midterms, and a loss by Maloney would make an embarrassment of their efforts to stem what appears to be a rising tide of Republican sentiment among voters.

We’re 15 days away from the 8 November midterms, but early voting data from across the country indicates a surge in voter enthusiasm, Adam Gabbatt reports – though it’s not yet clear which party is set to benefit:

Early voting in the midterm elections is on track to match records set in 2018, according to researchers, as voters take advantage of both in-person and mail-in voting in states across the country.

More than 5.8 million people had already cast their vote by Friday evening, CNN reported, a similar total to this stage in the 2018 elections, which had the highest turnout of any midterm vote in a generation.

States with closely watched elections, including Georgia, Florida and Ohio, are among those seeing high volumes, with Democrats so far casting early votes in greater numbers.

Republicans, including Donald Trump, have encouraged their supporters to vote in person, citing a mishmash of debunked conspiracy theories about election security.

The New York Times reported that in-person turnout is up 70% in Georgia, where the incumbent Republican governor is facing a tough challenge from Democrat Stacey Abrams and Raphael Warnock, the Democratic US senator, is competing with Herschel Walker. As of Friday about 520,000 people had already cast their ballots during in-person early voting, according to Fox5 Atlanta.

Justice department to hold press conference on ‘significant national security matter’

Attorney general Merrick Garland will this afternoon hold a press conference on a “significant national security matter,” the justice department has announced.

The 1:30pm eastern time speech will “discuss significant national security cases addressing malign influence schemes and alleged criminal activity by a nation-state actor in the United States,” and feature Garland along with FBI director Christopher Wray, along with other top justice department officials.

The Guardian will cover the press conference on this blog as it happens.

From Las Vegas, The Guardian’s Edwin Rios reports on the cost-of-living concerns that are influencing voters in the swing state crucial to the upcoming midterm elections:

Claudia Lopez, 39, is worried for her children.

As her curly haired seven-year-old daughter bounced around a play area inside El Mercado, a shopping center within the Boulevard Mall in Las Vegas where the smell of arepas and tacos hovers over the shops, Lopez soaked in her day off from knocking on doors and talking to residents about the upcoming election.

For much of her life, Lopez, whose parents emigrated from Mexico to California, where she was born, didn’t care for politics. This year, that changed: since Lopez moved to Las Vegas seven years ago, rents have rocketed. In the first quarter of 2022, the Nevada State Apartment Association found that rent had soared, on average, more than 20% compared to the same period last year. That growth has since slowed, but the self-employed house cleaner worries about her children’s future: their safety, their schools, their shelter.

“I don’t care about Democrats or Republicans,” Lopez says. “I care about change. I just want change for the better. Everything’s getting worse. You see little kids like, ‘Are they going to live to my age?’”

In Nevada, the political stakes of this election are high. Latino voters are projected to account for one for every five potential voters in November, turning the state into a microcosm of the national influence voters of color will have on the election. While Nevada voted Democrat in the last election, its contests were won by slim margins. And as a voting bloc, Latinos are not monolithic: what they care about ranges from immigration to the economy and depends on where throughout the country they live.

Trump isn’t alone in presenting a danger to democracy. As Adam Gabbatt reports, Doug Mastriano is copying many of the former president’s tactics in his campaign for governor of Pennsylvania, from his perpetual lying to his belief in conspiracy theories about the 2020 election:

As Pennsylvanians prepare to vote for their next governor, it is no exaggeration to say the future of American democracy is at stake.

Doug Mastriano, a retired army colonel who has enthusiastically indulged Donald Trump’s fantasy that the 2020 presidential election was stolen, is the Republican candidate. If he wins, he plans to deregister every single one of Pennsylvania’s 8.7 million voters. In future elections, Mastriano would choose who certifies – or doesn’t – the state’s election results.

With Pennsylvania one of the few swing states in presidential elections, Mastriano could effectively have the power to decide the next president. But in a midterm election season defined by Republicans who seem to oppose democracy, there is some evidence that Mastriano, a retired army colonel, could be too fringe even for the Republican party.

Mastriano is, by most measures, an extremist.

Bob Woodward’s recorded excerpts of his conversations with Donald Trump take listeners back to 2020, and make clear just how much of the White House’s fumbling response to Covid-19 came from the president himself.

“I feel good. I think we’re doing a great job. I think we’ll never get credit from the fake news media no matter how good a job we do. No matter how good a job I do, I will never get credit from the media, and I’ll never get credit from Democrats who want to beat me desperately in seven months,” Trump told Woodward in an early April interview, days after the economy had shut down to unsuccessfully stop the spread of a virus that would kill hundreds of thousands of Americans that year alone.

Trump’s denialism continued into July: “It’s flaring up all over the world, Bob. By the way, all over the world. That was one thing I noticed last week. You know they talk about this country. All over the world, it’s flaring up. But we have it under control.”

Later that month, he insisted that he would soon release a plan to fight the virus, but appeared to tie its timing to how it would affect his election chances. “I’ve got 106 days. That’s a long time. You know, if I put out a plan now, people won’t even remember it in a hundred — I won the last election in the last week.”

While Woodward agrees with many other observers of the former president that his attempts to overturn the 2020 election make him a danger to democracy, he also makes the case to listeners that Trump didn’t even fully understand how to do his job – and the nation paid the price.

“Trump reminds how easy it is to break things you do not understand — democracy and the presidency,” Woodward concludes.

‘Trump is an unparalleled danger’ reporter warns after hours of interviews with ex-president

Good morning, US politics blog readers. Washington Post reporter Bob Woodward has released more excerpts from his interviews with Donald Trump in 2020, and closes with this warning: “Trump is an unparalleled danger.” Describing him as “overwhelmed by the job” while in office as Covid-19 spread across the United States, Woodward warns that Trump continues to pursue “a seditious conspiracy” to overturn the 2020 election – and end democracy itself. While Woodward is far from the first person to say that, the journalist’s opinion is uniquely informed, given that the two men spoke 20 times during the last year of his presidency.

Here’s a look at what’s happening today:

  • Florida’s Republican governor Ron DeSantis will face his Democratic challenger Charlie Crist for the only debate of the election at 7pm ET.

  • Joe Biden will hold a rally today at the headquarters of the Democratic National Committee at 1pm.

  • Poll tracker FiveThirtyEight downgraded Democrats’ chances of keeping control of the Senate over the weekend, lowering it to 55% amid a wave of polls that signal several of its candidates may be in trouble.

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