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Wednesday, September 23, 2020
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Tuesday, September 22, 2020 11:07 AM
By BRIAN A. HOWEY, in Indianapolis

1. Trump meets with ACB

Here are your Tuesday power lunch talking points: President Trump met with 7th Circuit Judge Amy Coney Barrett at the White House on Monday. She remains the frontrunner to replace the late Justice Ruth Bader Ginsburg, and has powerful backing in the White House, including fellow Hoosier Vice President Mike Pence, counsel Pat Cipollone and Chief of Staff Mark Meadows.

Trump has promised to unveil the nomination on Friday or Saturday. He's in Miami on Friday, home to Judge Barbara Lagoa. Trump is famous for what Bob Woodward describes as a "soft yes" and changing his mind due to the last person he talks to (as Pence World learned in mid-July 2016). So if the nomination is announced on Friday, look for Lagoa to get the nod. She checks off a critical political box since she would appeal to swing state Florida's influential Cuban community. Trump and Joe Biden are in a dogfight for Florida's Electoral College votes.

If the choice is announced Saturday, and Pence either joins Trump in Florida or is at Joint Base Andrews late Friday night to greet Trump upon his return, then ACB will probably get the nomination.

2. GOP has the votes

U.S. Sen. Mitt Romney joins Sens. Chuck Grassley and Cory Gardner in saying he'll vote for a SCOTUS nominee in 2020. "I intend to follow the Constitution and precedent in considering the President’s nominee," Romney said this morning. "If the nominee reaches the Senate floor, I intend to vote based upon their qualifications," he said. Senate Judiciary Chairman Lindsey Graham told Fox News on Monday night, “We’ve got the votes to confirm Justice Ginsburg’s replacement before the election. We’re going to move forward in the committee; we’re going to report the nomination out of the committee to the floor of the United States Senate so we can vote before the election.”

3. 5th CD town hall at 7 tonight

The sleepy 2020 election cycle gets a jolt tonight with the 5th CD town hall featuring Democrat Christina Hale and Republican Victoria Spartz. It begins at 7 p.m. and will end at 8 p.m. You can watch online at

4. Indiana to borrow $400 million

Dan Carden of the NWI Times  reports: Indiana is projected to borrow up to $400 million from the federal government to pay state unemployment benefits to eligible out-of-work Hoosiers through the end of the year. In the near term, Indiana businesses generally should not be impacted by the borrowing. But if the debt continues to grow into 2021, and remains on the books on Jan. 1, 2022, companies may be required to pay an additional $21 per employee, per year, on top of their regular unemployment premiums, to help reduce the obligation. The state paid out $380 million to 267,000 claimants in August, according to DWD. The jobless rate has fallen form 17.5% in April to 6.5% in August.

5. Trump's A+

President Trump gives himself an A+ for handling the pandemic. “We’ve done a phenomenal job. Not just a good job, a phenomenal job,” Trump said in an interview onFox & Friends on Monday morning. "On public relations, I give myself a D. On the job itself, we take an A-plus.” This assessment comes as the U.S. hit the 200,000 pandemic death and Axios/Ipsos reported that only 39% of Americans will accept the first generation COVID-19 vaccine (43% of Democrats and 33% of Republicans). Trump at an Ohio MAGA rally Monday night: “It affects elderly people, elderly people with heart problems and other problems. If they have other problems, that’s what it really affects, that’s it. Take your hat off to the young, because they have a hell of an immune system. But it affects virtually nobody. It’s an amazing thing. By the way, open your schools.”

It's The Atomic.
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    INDIANAPOLIS – Having adjourned with just days to spare before a national emergency was declared in March, Indiana’s General Assembly avoided a prolonged pandemic hibernation. But now their luck has run out. As if the guys and gals who make Indiana’s laws don’t have enough on their plate with the once-in-a-decade combination of writing a biennial budget and redrawing legislative and congressional districts, they now have to contend with a once-in-a-century pandemic that is already shifting where session takes place, could shift when it takes place and will certainly have a considerable impact on what takes place. To address the changes to daily life that came after last session, House Speaker Todd Huston and Senate President Rodric Bray in May announced the formation of a bipartisan Legislative Continuity Committee tasked with preparing legislators for the inevitability of social distancing while also laying the groundwork for adjusting to potential future emergency situations. But what they have yet to consider is the most obvious solution to all their problems: Taking a page from the playbook of sports.
    INDIANAPOLIS – Big Ten football made a stunning comeback on Wednesday. It announced it would revive its postponed season on Oct. 23-24. But the crowds won’t go crazy. The pandemic will keep stadiums mostly empty. This coincides with the University of Washington’s Health Metrics projected spike in COVID infections in Indiana beginning in late October. If Gov. Eric Holcomb’s mask mandates are discontinued or widely ignored (and there is ample evidence of this around the state), the projections are for increased deaths and hospital resource use that will surpass those of late April and early May during what was thought to be the first wave of the pandemic. If there is a clear winner in this beyond the highly ranked Ohio State Buckeyes, it is President Trump, who called Big Ten Commissioner Kevin Warren two weeks ago, urging him to reconsider the decision to postpone the season until the winter or spring of 2021. Through the prism of Trump’s shaky reelection bid, anything resembling a return to normal is to his advantage.
    SOUTH BEND — We don’t know what will happen on the night of Nov. 3 as TV networks color states red or blue, declaring winners one by one in the Electoral College, where the presidency is decided. Or on Nov. 4? Or Nov. 5? Or in weeks or even months thereafter? Well, we can be pretty sure of some things. Indiana, as often in the past, is likely to be the first state declared and colored red, Republican. That’s because Indiana polls close early, and the first substantial returns could show it is again clearly in the Republican column. Not as decisively as the nearly 20% margin for President Trump in 2016, but still for Trump. Michigan is likely in early returns to look red as well. But the networks won’t quickly declare a winner there. That’s because of the massive number of absentee votes still being tabulated. Mail-ins are likely to be more Democratic than the votes cast in person at polling places. Trumpsters and anti-Trumpsters agree on that. When all the tabulating is done, Michigan is likely to be colored blue. 
    ANDERSON – A lot of people will vote to give Donald J. Trump another term as president. It won’t matter what some anonymous sources might claim he said about our nation’s veterans or about the men and women who gave their lives for our country. Heck, it wouldn’t matter even if the president’s supporters could hear the words come out of his own mouth. It didn’t matter when they heard him say what he said about John McCain. It didn’t matter when they heard him bragging about sexual assault in that infamous “Access Hollywood” tape or when they saw him with their own eyes poking fun at a handicapped reporter. It won’t even matter now that they can hear him, on tape, confirming that he knew what he was telling us about COVID-19 was a lie, that he knew this virus was five times more dangerous than the common flu even as he assured the American people they had nothing to worry about.
    MUNCIE  — The economic statistics that aid us in understanding the current state of the economy are in the midst of an unusual, if not unprecedented, upheaval. Combined with the equally unparalleled oscillations of the economy through the early months of COVID, economy watchers are naturally confused. Add to this the tendency towards dissembling that accompanies elections, and we are poised for a couple of months of economic confusion. This column is aimed at relieving some of that confusion. The staff of the U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics, Bureau of Economic Analysis and Census survey teams are responsible for compiling and reporting data on employment, GDP and other economic data. They are, by far, the best economic statistical services ever devised. Governments have been at this for more than a millennium, and the work done today is first rate and thus far immune from political shenanigans. Americans should be pleased with the economists, statisticians and data scientists doing this work. They are not perfect. 
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  • Atomic! 'ACB" poised to replace 'RBG'; Trump, McConnell seek to nominate, confirm
    By BRIAN A. HOWEY, in Crawfordsville

    1. Judge Barrett front runner to replace RBG: With the death of Supreme Court Justice Ruth Bader Ginsburg Friday, we present a special Saturday Atomic! For the second consecutive election cycle, the death of a Supreme Court justice has thrown a wicked curve ball to the American political scene, this time 45 days before the election. U.S. Sen. Joe Donnelly told Howey Politics Indiana the 2018 SCOTUS opening and his vote against Justice Brett Kavanaugh played a huge role in his loss to Mike Braun. Expect 7th Circuit Judge Amy Coney Barrett ("ACB") to emerge as the frontrunner for the nomination, with Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell saying, "President Trump's nominee will receive a vote on the floor of the United States Senate."  President Trump tweeted late Saturday morning: "We were put in this position of power and importance to make decisions for the people who so proudly elected us, the most important of which has long been considered to be the selection of United States Supreme Court Justices. We have this obligation, without delay!" Joe Biden:"The voters should pick a President, and that President should select a successor to Justice Ginsburg. This was the position that the Republican Senate took in 2016, when there were nearly nine months before the election. That is the position the United States Senate must take now, when the election is less than two months away. We are talking about the Constitution and the Supreme Court. That institution should not be subject to politics." If "ACB" is nominated and confirmed, she would become the second current SCOTUS justice with Indiana roots. She is a former Notre Dame Law prof and lives in South Bend. Chief Justice John Roberts is a Long Beach native.

  • Atomic! A Pence defection; Troye, Stern on Trump's disgust; Twisted Sister sounds off; Lucas parts with Holcomb
    By BRIAN A. HOWEY, in Indianapolis

    1. A Pence defection: Here are your final power lunch talking points for the week: Olivia Troye is a Republican, who got her first job working for the Republican National Committee and ended up as Vice President Mike Pence's lead staffer on the White House Coronavirus Task Force. She's not only voting for Joe Biden, she becomes the first COVID task force member to break ranks with President Trump, cutting a TV ad for Republican Voters Against Trump. “It was shocking to see the President saying that the virus was a hoax, saying that everything was OK when it was not,” Troye says in a video released Thursday. "What I’m really concerned about is if they rush this vaccine and pressure people and get something out because they want to save the election. At some points I would come home at night, I would look myself in the mirror and say, 'Are you really making a difference?' Because no matter how hard you work or what you do, the president is going to do something detrimental to keeping Americans safe.” The most damaging thing Troye says came when she described a task force meeting when the president expressed disdain for his own supporters, saying, “Maybe this COVID thing’s a good thing. I don’t like shaking hands with people. I don’t have to shake hands with these disgusting people.” Where have we heard this before? President Trump's buddy, shock jock Howard Stern, said in May, “The oddity in all of this is the people Trump despises most, love him the most. The people who are voting for Trump, for the most part … He wouldn’t even let them in a f*cking hotel. He’d be disgusted by them. Go to Mar-a-Lago, see if there’s any people who look like you. I’m talking to you in the audience.”

  • HPI Interview: Secretary Lawson sees 'no evidence' of fraud or 'rigged' election


    INDIANAPOLIS – An edgy America has been warned by its president that the coming election will be “rigged” and “fraudulent.” U.S. intelligence and congressional sources say that nefarious foreign sources are seeking a redux of the 2016 interference. And there has been widespread media speculation that a winner in the presidential race may not be known for days, or even weeks after the Nov. 3 election. Indiana Secretary of State Connie Lawson tells Howey Politics Indiana  that she has confidence in the process, both in Indiana and nationally. She said in response to written questions from HPI that foreign actors have “scanned” the state’s election systems but likened it to a “burglar rattling doorknobs.” Lawson says there is “no evidence” of any widespread voting fraud and says that the state’s long-time absentee voting system remains “safe and secure.”

  • Horse Race: AG race eclipses INGov in funds

    INDIANAPOLIS – Unlike every cycle in modern Indiana election history, the attorney general race is generating more late money flow than the race for governor. Since Democrat Jonathan Weinzapfel and Republican Todd Rokita secured their party attorney general nominations, about a half million dollars has been spilling into this race, with Rokita holding about a 4-to-1 advantage. Democrats and unions appear to be investing in Weinzapfel as opposed to gubernatorial nominee Woody Myers. His campaign has not reported any supplemental donations since mid-July. While the campaign told Howey Politics Indiana it was spending on its digital campaign, the Indianapolis Business Journal reported that the Myers campaign has spent $750 on Facebook. Rokita received $405,000 from the Republican Attorney General Action Fund between July 13 and Aug. 27, when $250,000 was reported.
  • Atomic! Democracy goes Caputo; COVID updates; Braun rejects state relief
    By BRIAN A. HOWEY, in Indianapolis

    1. Caputo & democracy: Here are your Tuesday power lunch talking points: The next 48 hours will be a crucial sequence in the 2020 election cycle, if not in American democracy. Last April, the White House installed Michael Caputo as assistant secretary of Health & Human Services for public affairs. Talk around DC was that Caputo, who authored the book"The Ukraine Hoax," was sent in as a Trump loyalist to the sprawling HHS to keep a tight leash on HHS Sec. Alex Azar. On Sunday, Caputo posted a Facebook video (since removed) in which he accused CDC scientists of "sedition" while elements of that agency have become a "resistance unit" against President Trump. "You understand that they’re going to have to kill me, and unfortunately, I think that’s where this is going,” Caputo said in the video in which he describes long shadows growing on his ceiling. “And when Donald Trump refuses to stand down at the inauguration, the shooting will begin. The drills that you’ve seen are nothing. If you carry guns, buy ammunition, ladies and gentlemen, because it’s going to be hard to get.”  To put this in context: If the head of Indiana's FSSA under Gov. Mitch Daniels had posted such a video, I can guarantee you that a deputy chief of staff named Eric Holcomb would have been at his/her door seeking a resignation by EOB. HHS put out this statement on Monday: “Mr. Caputo is a critical, integral part of the president’s coronavirus response, leading on public messaging as Americans need public health information to defeat the Covid-19 pandemic.” If Caputo is still employed at HHS on Wednesday, all bets are off on the 2020 election and the revered peaceful transition of power.
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  • Sen. Young to back Trump's SCOTUS nominee
    “When this Republican President was elected in 2016, and when the American people expanded the Republican majority in the Senate elections of 2018, the expectation of the American people was that should a Supreme Court vacancy arise that that vacancy should be filled. We will act because the American people want us to act. The people of Indiana, in particular, want me to act on this forthcoming nomination. Historical precedent supports action in a case like this, clearly. The President has put forward a list of incredibly talented potential nominees, including Indiana’s own Judge Amy Coney Barrett, but I think any of the judges that the President has been discussing in recent days would be an excellent choice. It is my intention to dutifully evaluate the records of whoever the President ultimately nominates and to ensure bold action following his nomination. I have high confidence that the American people are going to be favorably impressed by a faithful constitutionalist nominee, and they’ll be proud of the person who becomes the next Associate Justice on the Supreme Court of the United States.” - U.S. Sen. Todd Young, R-Ind., saying he will support President Trump's Supreme Court nominee, expected to be announced on Saturday. U.S. Sen. Mitt Romney also announced he would back the nominee for the seat vacated by the late Justice Ruth Bader Ginsburg.
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  • Woodward on why Coats didn't speak out on Trump
    Bob Woodward, the author of the new book “Rage” discussed the way in which President Trump diminished former Defense Secretary Jim Mattis and former DNI Dan Coats and why he thinks Mattis and Coats have not publicly spoken about the president. “It’s almost a book in itself,” Woodward said on MSNBC’s Morning Joe on Wednesday. “This was a man who was a senator from Indiana. He was retiring and he was offered this job from Mike Pence, and felt he could not say no. He went in with these Republican values and was stunned, shocked and, in a way, just ground down from Trump’s refusal to accept reality.” Woodward said that at one point Mattis and Coats talked after a National Security Council meeting. “Mattis says that Trump has no moral compass. And Coats says, ‘Donald Trump,’ their leader, ‘does not know the difference between a lie and the truth.’ They were in the latter phase of their lives. (Trump) pulled all of these stunts in a way that led them to the point where, in Coats’s case, his wife Marsha said to him, ‘Look, Dan, God put you in this job. You’re not just failing the country, yourself and your family, but God and you need to get organized.’ Trump expelled him when it did not serve Trump’s purposes.”  - Brian A. Howey, publisher
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