Election 2020 live updates: Early voting begins in Florida; Trump and Fauci spar; 6 Russian operatives charged in hacking operation

Sean Rossman, USA TODAY
·12 min read

Early in-person voting begins today in Florida, the battleground state where the Trump and Biden campaigns have increasingly dedicated their time and money in the final weeks of the presidential campaign.

The two campaigns have flooded the state with ads as polls show a tight race there. The Sunshine State's 29 electoral votes are crucial to a win for both President Donald Trump and Democrat Joe Biden.

Democratic vice presidential nominee Kamala Harris will be in Orlando and Jacksonville Monday to encourage early voting. The California senator is restarting live campaigning after she canceled several weekend campaign events because members of her staff tested positive for COVID-19.

The two camps also are looking ahead to Thursday, when Biden and Trump will meet in a final debate in Nashville and the Senate Judiciary Committee is expected to vote on the confirmation of Trump's Supreme Court nominee Amy Coney Barrett.

A caravan of supporters for Democratic presidential nominee Joe Biden drive past supporters of President Donald Trump standing on the sidewalk next to the Versailles Restaurant during a Worker Caravan for Biden event on Sunday in Miami.
A caravan of supporters for Democratic presidential nominee Joe Biden drive past supporters of President Donald Trump standing on the sidewalk next to the Versailles Restaurant during a Worker Caravan for Biden event on Sunday in Miami.

☕ The latest:

📊 What the polls are saying: Joe Biden still holds a commanding lead nationally over President Donald Trump, but Trump regained a slight polling average advantage in Ohio and took a chunk out of Biden's gains in Pennsylvania and Minnesota. Meanwhile, Biden made gains in Georgia. Here's what we learned from this week's polls.

📆 15 days until Election Day, three days until the final presidential debate, 93 days until Inauguration Day, 75 days left in 2020.

đŸ—łïž Voting: See USA TODAY's Voter Guide for information on registering to vote, when your state begins voting and what the candidates think about the issues.

We will update this article throughout the day. You can follow all of USA TODAY's politics reporters on Twitter or subscribe to our daily On Politics newsletter.

Trump will take part in final debate despite microphone mute rule

President Donald Trump's campaign said Monday the president will take part in the final debate Thursday after the Commission on Presidential Debates announced it would mute candidates' microphones during portions of their exchanges.

Trump and Democratic nominee Joe Biden will have their microphones suspended while each delivers an opening two-minute answer to questions, a response to a widely panned debate late last month in which Trump repeatedly interrupted his rival.

"President Trump is committed to debating Joe Biden regardless of last minute rule changes," Trump campaign manager Bill Stepien said in a statement, describing the move as the "latest attempt to provide advantage to their favored candidate."

Both campaigns initially agreed to allow the rival candidate to speak and both interrupted each other during the first debate on Sept. 29, though Trump interrupted far more than Biden.

The 90-minute debate, which will take place in Nashville, Tennessee, is divided into six 15-minute segments, with each candidate granted two minutes to deliver uninterrupted remarks before proceeding to open debate. The open discussion will not feature a mute button, but interruptions by either candidate will count against their time.

A Biden campaign spokesman didn't immediately respond to a request for comment.

Trump campaign aides had repeatedly argued that debate rules, which had been negotiated by both campaigns earlier this year, should not be changed. Trump bowed out of a second debate, which had been set for Miami, after the commission changed it to a virtual format following Trump's COVID-19 diagnosis earlier this month.

— John Fritze and Joey Garrison

ExxonMobil tweets at Trump

One of the world’s largest oil companies wants you to know: Its CEO didn’t agree to a quid pro quo with President Donald Trump.

The unusual admission came in the form of a tweet from ExxonMobil on Monday in response to earlier remarks from Trump, who told a rally crowd in Arizona that he didn’t like to raise campaign cash because it involved asking for favors of companies with business before the federal government.

“So I call some guy -- the head of Exxon. I call the head of Exxon. I don't know. But -- you know -- I'll use a company. ‘Hi, how you doing? How's energy coming? When are you doing the exploration? Oh, you need a couple of permits huh? Okay.' But I call the head of Exxon I say, 'You know, I'd love to send me $25 million for the campaign,'” Trump said of the hypothetical call.

“I would raise a billion dollars in one day if I wanted to. I don't wanna do that,” he said. “I don't wanna do it.”

Trump has been raising the hypothetical scenario for several days to explain his lackluster fundraising compared with Democrat Joe Biden. Monday was the first time Trump named a specific company as he discussed the hypothetical.

“We are aware of the President’s statement regarding a hypothetical call with our CEO,” ExxonMobil tweeted Monday in response. “And just so we’re all clear, it never happened.”

—John Fritze

Senate Democrats pull procedural maneuvers aiming to halt Supreme Court nomination

Senate Democrats attempted to adjourn the Senate until after the election – a failed attempt at halting Amy Coney Barrett’s confirmation to the Supreme Court.

The maneuver used by Senate Minority Leader Chuck Schumer, D-N.Y., aiming to adjourn the chamber until Nov. 9 was blocked by Republicans Monday evening in a 48-42 vote. It was one of several failed tactics Democrats have enlisted in recent days to slow Barrett’s inevitable confirmation to the high court next week by the Senate.

Schumer, in his appeal to adjourn the chamber, noted that Republicans blocked Merrick Garland’s nomination by President Barack Obama eight months before the 2016 election but were moving forward on Barrett “while a presidential election is already underway.”

“This is the most rushed, most partisan, least legitimate Supreme Court nomination process in our nation's history -- in our nation's entire history -- and it should not proceed,” he said.

Schumer on Monday also forced the Senate to vote on moving forward on House-passed resolution that aims to block changes to the Community Reinvestment Act, which Democrats say would harm low-income and minority communities. The maneuver is rarely used, though can be employed by any senator if no other senator on the floor objects. The proposal was blocked from moving forward in a party-line vote of 43-48, failing to secure a majority.

Democrats have employed similar tactics since Barrett’s nomination, including at least one attempt to halt her nomination during hearings last week to vet her nomination. Such strategies are expected to continue by Democrats throughout the week and into next week as Barrett’s confirmation process moves forward.

“Because our Republican colleagues have made such a mockery of the Supreme Court confirmation process, we are not going to have business as usual in the Senate,” Schumer promised. 48-42 table

— Christal Hayes

Senate GOP unveils plans aimed at blocking Dems from court-packing

Senate Republicans are introducing several measures aimed at blocking Democrats from potentially adding additional seats to the Supreme Court should they gain power after the November election.

The proposals backed by six GOP senators and led by Sen. Ted Cruz, R-Texas, offer a response to threats that Democrats could pack the courts after President Donald Trump and Republicans quickly moved to fill the vacancy left by Ruth Bader Ginsburg. Federal appeals judge Amy Coney Barrett has sailed through the confirmation process, with her likely being approved by the full Senate next week and taking her place as the ninth member of the Supreme Court just days before Election Day.

The Washington Post was the first to report the proposals, noting they are mostly symbolic.

The first of the two proposals calls for an amendment to the U.S. Constitution that would require any change in the number of Justices to pass with two-thirds of congressional support then would require three-fourths of states to ratify the changes within seven years.

The second is a bill that would likely make it impossible for Senate Democrats to change the makeup of the court, even if they do take control of the chamber after the election. It would block any proposal altering the number of Justices on the high court from even being considered in the Senate unless there was a supermajority – three-fourths of the chamber – of senators supportive of allowing the legislation from being brought forward.

Cruz, in a statement announcing the two proposals, warned that Democrats expanding the court would be “destroying the foundations of our democratic system.”

“We must take action before election day to safeguard the Supreme Court and the constitutional liberties that hang in the balance,” Cruz added.

— Christal Hayes

6 Russian intelligence operatives charged in global hacking operation; same group linked to 2016 election

Six Russian intelligence officers have been charged in a global computer hacking operation that targeted at least three countries and the 2018 Winter Olympics in South Korea.

The seven-count indictment unsealed Monday outlined what federal authorities described as the most "disruptive and destructive" effort attributed to a single operation, said Assistant Attorney General John Demers, chief of the Justice Department's National Security Division.

Federal authorities said the Russian operatives were associated with the same group, known as the "Sandworm" team of military unit 74455, that was linked to Russia's campaign to interfere with the 2016 U.S. election.

The action Monday does not include charges of election interference in the current United States election, but it does allege that the group sought to disrupt 2017 elections in France and destablize the governments of Ukraine and Georgia while attempting to sabotage computer networks supporting the 2018 Winter Olympic Games.

– Kevin Johnson

6 charged: Six Russian intelligence operatives charged in global hacking operation; same group linked to 2016 election

Trump denies aides think he will lose election, says Fauci is a disaster

Facing polls that give Joe Biden double-digit leads – and news reports that some of his aides believe he will lose the election – President Donald Trump sought Monday to boost the morale of his staff with a pep talk.

"These are suppression stories and suppression polls," Trump said during a 25-minute conference call.

Trump claimed "internal polls" show him ahead in key states – though he did not share details – and attacked reporters for promoting "fake news" about doubts within his campaign team.

The incumbent repeated deeply personal attacks on Biden, calling him "corrupt" and saying "he should be in jail," despite a lack of any evidence of wrongdoing by the Democratic nominee.

Fauci and Trump: After Fauci said he's not surprised Trump got COVID-19, president calls top disease experts a 'disaster'

The president also criticized members of his own administration, singling out Dr. Anthony Fauci and saying that firing the infectious diseases expert would be more trouble than it's worth.

Trump claimed Fauci drops a "bomb" every time he goes on television, but "there's a bigger bomb if you fire him. This guy's a disaster."

Voters in numerous polls have questioned Trump's handling of the COVID-19 outbreak, but Trump said people don't want to hear about the pandemic and are saying "just leave us alone."

"People are tired of hearing Fauci and all these idiots," Trump said.

Published polls paint a different picture than the one Trump gave his staff.

An analysis of various polls from FiveThirtyEight gives Biden 52.5% of the national vote, compared to 41.8% for Trump, a difference of 10.7 percentage points.

The FiveThirtyEight analysis also gives Biden leads of more than 6.5 percentage points in the pivotal states of Pennsylvania, Michigan and Wisconsin.

– David Jackson

Fauci says he's 'absolutely not' surprised Trump got COVID-19

Anthony Fauci, the government's top infectious disease expert, said that it came as no shock to him when President Donald Trump announced he had tested positive for COVID-19 because the president regularly eschewed the use of masks "as a statement of strength" and put himself in "precarious" situations.

Fauci, who has served as the director of the National Institute of Allergy and Infectious Diseases since 1984, was asked in a CBS News "60 Minutes" interview that aired Sunday if he was surprised the president contracted the coronavirus.

"Absolutely not," Fauci replied.

Fauci said he believes Trump – who rarely wears a mask in public, particularly before he became infected – avoids masks because he sees it as "a statement of strength, like, 'We're strong, we don't need a mask,' that kind of thing."

– William Cummings

Anthony Fauci: Fauci says president avoids masks as 'statement of strength'

COVID stimulus updates: Pelosi says there's a 48-hour deadline to get deal done

House Speaker Nancy Pelosi, D-Calif., said Sunday the White House has 48 hours to reach a deal on COVID-19 relief before the Nov. 3 election.

"I’m optimistic," Pelosi told ABC News "This Week" host George Stephanopoulos. "Because again, we’ve been back and forth on all of this."

When pressed on whether Americans would see a COVID relief package passed before the Nov. 3 election, Pelosi said “that depends on the administration."

“With all due respect to some of the people in the president’s administration, they are not legislators,” Pelosi said. The speaker then said “we now have agreement in the language,” though talks remained ongoing.

– Matthew Brown

This article originally appeared on USA TODAY: Election 2020 updates: Trump will take part in presidential debate