Trump, Bi­den fight to de­fine cam­paign’s most press­ing is­sues

Malta Independent - - Feature - STEVE PEO­PLES, ZEKE MILLER and ALEXAN­DRA JAFFE

Pres­i­dent Don­ald Trump was in­ter­rupted twice dur­ing an Ohio rally this week by sign-wav­ing sup­port­ers chant­ing, “Fill that seat!”

“I will fill that seat,” Trump re­sponded be­fore launch­ing into an ex­tended riff on his plans to quickly nom­i­nate a suc­ces­sor to Supreme Court Jus­tice Ruth Bader Gins­burg. “They say it’s the most im­por­tant thing a pres­i­dent can do.”

Dur­ing a swing through Wis­con­sin a few hours ear­lier, there were no big crowds for Demo­crat Joe Bi­den, whose cam­paign is strictly fol­low­ing pro­to­cols to com­bat the coro­n­avirus. The bat­tle over the fu­ture of the Supreme Court was largely miss­ing, too, with Bi­den far more ea­ger to talk about the pan­demic, health care and the econ­omy.

Since Gins­burg’s death on Fri­day sparked a bat­tle over the fu­ture of the Supreme Court, Trump and Bi­den have fought to de­fine the lens through which vot­ers view the 2020 con­test. Bi­den wants the elec­tion to be a ref­er­en­dum on Trump and his fail­ure to con­trol a pan­demic that has killed 200,000 Amer­i­cans or ad­dress the na­tion’s larger health care is­sues. Trump wants to fo­cus on the court fight to unite the party and en­er­gize the GOP’s base.

Bi­den openly ac­knowl­edged his re­luc­tance to fo­cus on the Supreme Court dur­ing an in­ter­view with WBAY, a lo­cal Green Bay, Wis­con­sin, news sta­tion, when asked whether he’d sup­port lib­eral pro­pos­als to add seats to the high court.

“It’s a le­git­i­mate ques­tion, but let me tell you why I’m not go­ing to an­swer that ques­tion — be­cause it will shift the fo­cus. That’s what he wants. He never wants to talk about the is­sue at hand, and he al­ways tries to change the sub­ject,” Bi­den said of Trump.

He in­sisted dis­cus­sion should be about why Trump “is mov­ing in a di­rec­tion that’s to­tally in­con­sis­tent with what (the) founders wanted.”

Each can­di­date’s strat­egy car­ries risk.

Bi­den’s mea­sured ap­proach risks alien­at­ing his party’s left wing, which des­per­ately wants to stop Trump from giv­ing con­ser­va­tives a larger ma­jor­ity on the na­tion’s high court. Not only has Bi­den been re­luc­tant to em­brace the topic, he also broke from his more lib­eral pri­mary ri­vals ear­lier in the year by op­pos­ing calls to add seats to “pack” the Supreme Court.

Bi­den, who ran a rel­a­tively cen­trist pri­mary cam­paign and spent 36 years in the Se­nate, is con­cerned that such a move would worsen di­vi­sions dur­ing a par­tic­u­larly po­lar­ized mo­ment in Amer­i­can his­tory.

And Trump, by lean­ing into the is­sue, risks alien­at­ing swing vot­ers in key states who don’t see the court de­bate any­where near as im­por­tant as is­sues re­lated to the im­me­di­ate threat of the pan­demic and the slug­gish eco­nomic re­cov­ery.

There is lit­tle polling data so soon af­ter Gins­burg’s death, but Repub­li­can and Demo­cratic poll­sters be­lieve that the Supreme Court is not an an­i­mat­ing is­sue for per­suad­able vot­ers. Those close to the Trump cam­paign pri­vately ac­knowl­edge it’s help­ful mostly be­cause it shifts the con­ver­sa­tion away from Trump’s di­vi­sive lead­er­ship. And Democrats be­lieve the court sim­ply isn’t a top-of-mind is­sue for the work­ing-class vot­ers they’re try­ing to reach.

“I don’t know that swing vot­ers are mo­ti­vated by it,” said Ron Har­ris, who chairs the Demo­cratic Na­tional Com­mit­tee’s Mid­west­ern Cau­cus. “It’s a mo­ti­vat­ing is­sue for the base.”

Har­ris noted that Bi­den is not com­pletely ig­nor­ing the court fight, but “he’s try­ing to get back on the turf we’ve been win­ning: the econ­omy, health care, the pan­demic.”

Still, the tim­ing of the Supreme Court con­fir­ma­tion process will en­sure it’s a sig­nif­i­cant part of the con­ver­sa­tion dur­ing the clos­ing weeks of the elec­tion. Trump said he would an­nounce his nom­i­nee

Satur­day, and Se­nate Repub­li­cans ap­pear to be giv­ing him enough sup­port to move for­ward with the nom­i­na­tion, which will re­quire a com­mit­tee hear­ing and sub­se­quent vote by the full Se­nate be­fore it’s fi­nal­ized.

There is grow­ing in­ter­nal pres­sure on Trump and Se­nate Repub­li­cans to fin­ish the con­fir­ma­tion process be­fore the Nov. 3 elec­tion.

Bi­den’s mes­sen­ger on the is­sue could be­come his run­ning mate, Cal­i­for­nia Sen. Ka­mala Har­ris. She won’t be able to avoid ques­tions on the sub­ject as a mem­ber of the Se­nate Ju­di­ciary Com­mit­tee, where she’ll be one of the Democrats ques­tion­ing Trump’s nom­i­nee.

Har­ris el­e­vated her na­tional pro­file in 2018 with an ag­gres­sive role in Brett Ka­vanaugh’s con­tentious Supreme Court con­fir­ma­tion hear­ing, and she faces the prospect of an even bigger spot­light as Bi­den’s coun­ter­part on Capitol Hill mov­ing for­ward.

Bi­den’s team wouldn’t pre­dict whether the Demo­crat’s clos­ing mes­sage might change. One aide speak­ing on con­di­tion of anonymity to dis­cuss in­ter­nal con­ver­sa­tions said the cam­paign hasn’t ruled out run­ning ads around the Supreme Court va­cancy, though a fi­nal de­ci­sion has yet to be made. The aide said Bi­den him­self would like to pay his re­spects at Gins­burg’s ser­vices this week, but even those plans haven’t yet been set in stone.

Trump, mean­while, is rel­ish­ing the de­bate, at least for now. His next Supreme Court nom­i­na­tion would be his third.

“A lot of pres­i­dents get none; we’ve had three,” Trump told his cheer­ing sup­port­ers. “It’s blow­ing their minds, it’s blow­ing their minds, but for the peo­ple of Ohio, this is what you want.”

Newspapers in English

Newspapers from Malta

© PressReader. All rights reserved.