October 16, 2020

When the history of the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention is written, "2020 will emerge as perhaps the darkest chapter in its 74 years," ProPublica reports in a long, detailed look at how "an agency that eradicated smallpox globally and wiped out polio in the United States" became "a target of anger, scorn, and even pity."

Amid a once-in-a-century pandemic, the CDC was largely neutered through unprecedented and injurious political interference from a White House determined to prioritize President Trump's message over public health, ProPublica and The Associated Press document. CDC Director Robert Redfield was browbeaten into submission, and world-renowned CDC disease warriors who needed a street fighter got instead "the nicest grandfather you can imagine," a senior health official told ProPublica.

In March, Trump's hardline immigration czar Stephen Miller urged the CDC to use its quarantine powers to shut the U.S.-Mexico border to all migrants, then had a Health and Human Services Department lawyer send a draft proposal to Dr. Martin Cetron, the CDC's veteran director of global migration and quarantine. "Cetron refused to sign off on the order," ProPublica reports, furiously telling a colleague "it's just morally wrong to use a public authority that has never, ever, ever been used this way." When Cetron refused, ProPublica notes, "Redfield signed the order."

Even before COVID-19, the Trump administration broke longstanding norms, naming a political appointee CDC chief of staff. But that appointee, Kyle McGowan, "went native" and "became increasingly protective of the CDC's senior scientists," ProPublica reports. "McGowan reached his breaking point when Redfield asked him to stop the deportation of a dog," Socrates, brought home by a Peace Corps volunteer without a verified rabies shot. The volunteer's social media campaign caught the White House's attention.

As the pandemic raged, "McGowan spent an hour and a half on the phone with the HHS general counsel and other senior officials to figure out how to make an exception for a dog," ProPublica reports. "All the while, he told colleagues, his mind kept returning to the fact that the same administration was using the CDC's quarantine power to deport thousands of children at the border with Mexico." McGowan resigned in August.

The White House replaced him, AP reports, with two political operatives whose main task is "keeping an eye on Dr. Robert Redfield."

Read more about the degradation of the CDC at The Associated Press, The Wall Street Journal, and ProPublica. Peter Weber

10:13 p.m.

Democratic presidential nominee Joe Biden called President Trump's attacks against his family during Thursday night's debate "malarkey," adding, "there's a reason for it. He doesn't want to talk about substantive issues."

When asked by moderator Kristen Welker about election security, Trump instead pivoted to talking about Biden and his family, repeating an allegation from a GOP report claiming they received more than $3 million from Russia. Trump mentioned these allegations — which Biden denied — multiple times, and Biden moved to shut him down after being asked a question about China.

Biden said the debate isn't "about his family and my family. It's about your family, and your family is hurting badly. If you're a middle class family, you're getting hurt badly now. You're sitting at the kitchen table this morning deciding, well, we can't get new tires, they're bald, because we have to wait another month or so, or are we going to be able to pay the mortgage, or whose going to tell her she can't go back to community college. Those are the decisions you're making."

Trump scoffed at Biden, calling his remarks "a typical political statement ... the family around the table, just the typical politician. I'm not a typical politician and that's why I got elected." Catherine Garcia

10:05 p.m.

President Trump has a miracle scenario brewing in the back of his mind.

During Thursday night's presidential debate, Democratic nominee Joe Biden outlined his plan to expand the Affordable Care Act under a proposal he's coining as "BidenCare." But Trump would "like to terminate ObamaCare" and "come up with a brand new beautiful plan," which he thinks will happen because the Democrats would be under "tremendous pressure." "We might even have the House by that time," Trump said, repeating that "I think we're going to win the House."

Trump later revealed a bit more about his overly hopeful House victory plan: He's counting on House Speaker Nancy Pelosi's (D-Calif.) failure to pass a coronavirus relief plan to flip a few Democratic seats, ignoring the fact that the House already passed its plan months ago.

This ObamaCare-bashing dream also neglects the fact that Republicans held the House, Senate, and presidency at the beginning of Trump's term, and that he still hasn't come up with a health care plan since then. Kathryn Krawczyk

10:00 p.m.

President Trump and Democratic candidate Joe Biden went toe-to-toe at the final presidential debate on Thursday over their respective tax returns. "I have not taken a penny from any foreign source ever in my life," Biden stressed. "We learned that this president paid 50 times the tax in China," he added, evidently citing a report in The New York Times this week that Trump International Hotels Management L.L.C. paid nearly $200,000 in taxes in China between 2013 and 2015.

Biden went on to say, "I have released all of my tax returns. Twenty-two years. Go look at them. Twenty-two years of my tax returns. You have not released a single, solitary year of your tax returns. What are you hiding? Why are you unwilling? … Release your tax returns, or stop talking about corruption."

In his response, Trump repeated the falsehood that he cannot release his tax returns because he is under audit. But "much more importantly than that," Trump went on, "people were saying $750. I asked [my accountants] a week ago, 'What did I pay?' They said, 'Sir, you prepaid tens of millions of dollars.' I prepaid my tax."

The Wall Street Journal's Richard Rubin offered some clarification of the comment: "Though it's not clear exactly what [Trump] meant, it's common for people to make estimated income tax payments in advance and then use those balances to settle their tax liability, just like salaried people have income taxes withheld from their paychecks and settle up on their tax returns," he wrote.

The New York Times' Peter Baker added, however, that "when [Trump] says he paid millions of taxes, that does not mean he paid federal income taxes. According to the tax records our colleagues obtained, he paid just $750 in 2016 in federal income taxes and $750 in 2017 and zero in 11 of 18 years examined." Watch the back-and-forth below. Jeva Lange

Jeva Lange

9:32 p.m.

Democratic presidential nominee Joe Biden had a powerful response to President Trump's insistence that America should learn to live with COVID-19.

As he has throughout the pandemic, Trump downplayed the severity of the coronavirus during Thursday's final presidential debate. He talked about how he went to the hospital after his COVID-19 diagnosis but recovered quickly, implying that Americans can easily defeat the virus. "We're learning to live with it," Trump insisted.

Biden relayed a different reality. He spoke directly to Americans who didn't have a family member at their kitchen table this morning, and then spun Trump's words into a message about all the people the U.S. has lost. "Learning to live with it?" Biden questioned. "People are learning to die with it."

More than 220,000 Americans have died of COVID-19, and millions have contracted it. Case counts and hospitalizations have started to spike again in recent weeks as businesses and schools reopened. Kathryn Krawczyk

9:28 p.m.

President Trump and Democratic presidential candidate Joe Biden offered dueling approaches to tackling the coronavirus crisis during their opening comments at the final presidential debate on Thursday.

Trump opened the night by touting his response to the pandemic, claiming that 2.2 million people had initially been "expected to die," quoting a worst-case scenario projection if the government had done nothing to stop the spread of the virus. Trump also downplayed spikes around the country, claiming "it will go away. We're rounding the turn. We're rounding the corner. It's going away."

Biden painted a different picture, describing a "dark winter" ahead for America if more robust action isn't taken to stop the spread of the disease. "Over 200,000 Americans are dead," Biden said. "If we just wore these masks, the president's own advisers told us, we could save 100,000 lives. And we're in a circumstance where the president still has no comprehensive plan."

Biden appeared to be once again citing the University of Washington's Institute for Health Metrics and Evaluation forecast, which said as of September that "224,000 more people in the U.S. could die from the coronavirus by January, but with near-universal mask use the number of projected additional fatalities could decrease by more than half, or at least 100,000," CNN reports.

“I will take care of this. I will end this," Biden concluded. "I will make sure we have a plan." Jeva Lange

Jeva Lange

9:06 p.m.

Gap Inc. announced on Thursday it plans on closing 30 percent of its Gap and Banana Republic stores in North America over the next three years in order to focus on outlet stores and e-commerce.

This will affect 220 Gap and 130 Banana Republic stores. The Gap has been a mall mainstay, but that's no longer working, the company said, and after the closures 80 percent of the remaining stores will be outside of traditional malls. "We've been overly reliant on low-productivity, high-rent stores," Gap CEO Mark Breitbard said. "We've used the past six months to address the real estate issues and accelerate our shift to a true omni-model."

Two other Gap Inc. brands, Old Navy and Athleta, are doing well, and there are plans for both to grow over the next three years. Old Navy has 1,200 stores, and last year brought in $8 billion in sales; that number is expected to increase to $10 billion annually by early 2024. Athleta now has 200 U.S. locations, and the goal is to have about 300 by 2024. Catherine Garcia

8:29 p.m.

About 47.5 million ballots have already been cast in the U.S. presidential election, data compiled by the U.S. Elections Project shows.

This is about eight times the number of early votes cast at this same time in 2016, Reuters reports. That year, more than 47.2 million early votes were eventually cast.

Because of the coronavirus pandemic and safety concerns, more people are using mail-in ballots or taking advantage of early in-person voting. University of Florida Prof. Michael McDonald administers the U.S. Elections Project, and he predicts there will be a record turnout of 150 million — the highest rate since 1908. This would represent 65 percent of all eligible voters.

FiveThirtyEight is projecting something similar — forecasting that the total election turnout will be 154 million, with an 80th percentile range between 144 million and 165 million. In 2016, turnout was 137 million. "The primary ingredient in our turnout estimate is polls that ask people whether they're more or less enthusiastic about voting than usual, and those polls are showing record levels of enthusiasm," editor-in-chief Nate Silver tweeted. Catherine Garcia

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