Joseph R. Biden Jr. leaned into his Scranton, Pa., roots on Thursday night and batted back the notion that anyone needed an Ivy League degree to be president, asserting that “guys like me” are just as good as anyone else.
In a heartfelt moment during a CNN town hall-style event that briefly revealed his more human side, Mr. Biden said people like him who grew up in Scranton — where the event is taking place — “were used to guys who look down their nose at us,” and who thought that “if you didn’t have a college degree you must be stupid.”
Mr. Biden, who graduated from the University of Delaware and Syracuse Law School, then angrily denounced those who had sneered at his education.
“I tell you what bothered me, to tell you the truth — maybe it’s my Scranton roots, I don’t know — but when you guys started talking on TV about, ‘Biden, if he wins, would be the first person without an Ivy League degree to be elected president,’ I’m thinking, ‘Who the hell makes you think I have to have an Ivy League degree to be president!’ I really mean it!” he said to cheers.
“We’re as good as anybody else,” he said, before taking a shot at President Trump. “And guys like Trump who inherited everything and squandered what they inherited are the people that I’ve always had a problem with, not the people who are busting their neck.”
Joseph R. Biden Jr. blasted Attorney General William P. Barr for suggesting that local stay-at-home mandates are a threat to individual freedoms, as slavery once was — saying President Trump’s failure to address the crisis has resulted in the need for such “patriotic requirements.”
When Mr. Biden was asked about Mr. Barr’s comments during the drive-in town hall Thursday night in Scranton, Pa., he replied, “Quite frankly, they are sick.”
“Putting a national lockdown, stay at home orders is like house arrest,” Mr. Barr said during an appearance at Hillsdale College in Michigan on Wednesday. “Other than slavery, which was a different kind of restraint, it’s the greatest intrusion on civil liberties in American history.”
Many states have issued stay-at-home orders and mask mandates to slow the spread of the virus. Earlier this week, Robert R. Redfield, director of the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, suggested that masks might be more effective in fighting the pandemic than a vaccine — only to have Mr. Trump call his statement a mistake.
Mr. Biden seemed to relish being asked the question about Mr. Barr, and launched into a long rebuke of the attorney general during the opening moments of the question-and-answer session without being prompted.
“What Bill Barr recently said is outrageous. That it is like slavery. You’re taking away freedom,” he said, his voice rising in anger.
“I will tell you what takes away your freedom,” he added. “What takes away your freedom is not being able to see your kid, not being able to go to the football game or baseball game, not being able to see your mom or dad sick in the hospital, not being able to do the things, that’s what is costing us our freedom. And it’s been the failure of this president to deal, to deal with this virus, and he knew about it.”
Joseph R. Biden Jr. said on Thursday that he could not enforce a national mask mandate everywhere, but asserted that he would have the authority to do so “on federal land.”
The remarks were a break from the position he took on Wednesday, when he said he thought he had the legal authority as president to enforce a national mask mandate. In a brief question-and-answer session after he delivered a speech in Delaware on a potential coronavirus vaccine, he said that his legal team thought he could impose a national mask mandate “based upon the degree to which there’s a crisis in those states, and how bad things are for the country and if we don’t do it, what happens.”
On Thursday, Mr. Biden took a different view. “I cannot mandate people wearing masks,” he said. But he added that he did have the authority to enforce mask-wearing on federal property and could institute a fine if people did not do so.
“I can do that on federal property,” he said, about a mask mandate. “As president, I will do that. On federal land, I would have the authority. If you’re on federal land, you must wear a mask. In a federal building, you must wear a mask. And we could have a fine for them not doing it.”
Mr. Biden first called for a national mask mandate in August, when he said that every American should wear a mask while outside for at least the next three months and that all governors should mandate mask wearing. His remarks were instantly rebuked by President Trump, who suggested that a mask mandate threatened to impinge on individual freedoms of Americans.
The general election began another phase tonight, with Joseph R. Biden Jr. holding a town hall and President Trump following with an outdoor rally — events that reflected the starkly different approach each man has taken to the coronavirus pandemic.
Mr. Biden’s town hall-style event on CNN, his biggest national stage since he accepted the Democratic nomination at the party convention last month, is being billed by CNN as its “first political drive-in town hall” of the election: To adhere to social distancing guidelines, voters will attend the event from their cars, parked in a lot at the minor league baseball stadium where the Scranton/Wilkes-Barre RailRiders play. The event, in Mr. Biden’s hometown, is moderated by Anderson Cooper and features questions from Pennsylvania voters.
Mr. Trump will counterprogram with a rally at 9 p.m. Eastern in central Wisconsin, another crucial swing state where he eked out a victory four years ago. Like many of his pandemic-era rallies, this one will occur at an airport hangar.
After a pause, Mr. Trump has resumed his rallies with a vengeance in recent days, holding indoor and outdoor events in key states including Nevada, Pennsylvania, Arizona and New Hampshire. Most of the rally attendees have been quite willing to flout the guidelines on social distancing and mask-wearing, and he has expressed little concern for the health of those who come to support him.
For Mr. Biden, the visuals of the CNN event will be yet another opportunity for him to draw a contrast with Mr. Trump. But it will also be one of the first opportunities in the general election for the former vice president to answer questions from discerning voters and to make an affirmative case for his candidacy to a wide audience.
For much of the summer, Mr. Biden rarely strayed far from his home in Delaware or spoke to voters directly, content to let Mr. Trump commit what Biden allies regard as self-sabotage. Only recently has he begun to hold more in-person — albeit socially distanced — campaign events, and even they have lacked the kind of face-to-face interaction that has been one of his greatest political strengths.
Olivia Troye, a former top homeland security aide to Vice President Mike Pence, endorsed former Vice President Joseph R. Biden Jr. on Thursday and accused President Trump of weak leadership and of drastically mismanaging the response to the coronavirus crisis.
In an ad released online, Ms. Troye recounts hearing the president — who has spoken about his germophobia — say in a meeting that he was glad that the virus had arrived in the United States because it meant he would no longer have to shake hands with people he said he considered “disgusting.” She said she was voting for Mr. Biden because she believed the nation was in a “constitutional crisis” and that “at this point it’s country over party.”
Speaking to reporters on Thursday in the Roosevelt Room at the White House, Mr. Pence dismissed Ms. Troye’s comments during a meeting of the Coronavirus Commission for Safety and Quality in Nursing Homes.
“I haven’t read her comments in any detail,” Mr. Pence said. “But it reads to me like one more disgruntled employee that has decided to play politics during election year. My staff has indicated and she made no comments like that when she was serving under our team here at the White House.”
“I couldn’t be more proud of the work we’ve done,” the vice president added.
Lt. Gen. Keith Kellogg, the national security adviser to Mr. Pence, said Ms. Troye never expressed “any concern regarding the administration’s response to the coronavirus to anyone in her chain of command.”
Ms. Troye, who played a central role in running the White House’s coronavirus task force until leaving the government last month, is one of two top Trump administration officials who announced their opposition to Mr. Trump on Thursday and joined more than two dozen other Republican officials as part of a new group calling for “leadership change in the White House.”
Josh Venable, who served as chief of staff for Betsy DeVos, the secretary of education, will also join the group, known as REPAIR (Republican Political Alliance for Integrity and Reform), according to a statement. John Mitnick, a former top lawyer at Mr. Trump’s Department of Homeland Security, is an adviser to the group.
Ms. Troye, a lifelong Republican who also worked in the George W. Bush administration, said in the statement that she would serve as a founder of the group, with the goal of restoring integrity to the Republican Party.
“We will listen to Americans, including those who’ve been harmed by the policies and rhetoric of the current administration, with the goal of restoring civil discourse and advocating for policies which recognize the dignity and worth of all people,” she said.
The effort is being spearheaded by Miles Taylor, who served as the chief of staff to Kirstjen Nielsen, the former secretary of homeland security. Last month, Mr. Taylor endorsed Mr. Biden and wrote in The Washington Post that Mr. Trump was “dangerous” and had governed the country “by whim, political calculation and self-interest.”
REPAIR joins other groups of Republicans who oppose Mr. Trump’s bid for a second term, including Republican Voters Against Trump and The Lincoln Project, a political action committee formed by current and former Republicans.
In its statement on Thursday, REPAIR said the members of the group would work to return the Republican Party to what it called “principled leadership.”
“Weak leaders, nationwide discord and a confluence of crises are threatening our country’s greatness,” said Sarah Longwell, the executive director of Defending Democracy Together, a separate group that is backing the efforts by REPAIR. “Now is the time to speak up. REPAIR will promote authoritative voices and shape the debate about America’s direction.”
It has been clear for months that it is unlikely a winner in the presidential election will be declared on election night this year, as many battleground states expect unprecedented surges in mail-in ballots, which take much longer to process, certify and tabulate than traditional in-person voting.
But two tweets from President Trump Thursday morning erroneously sought to blame states that are automatically mailing out ballots to registered voters for the likely delays and baselessly stated that the results “may NEVER BE ACCURATELY DETERMINED,” an assertion dismissed by elections experts.
There is absolutely no evidence that states that automatically send out mail-in ballots to all voters have had issues with accuracy, and some such as Colorado, Washington and Oregon have been conducting their elections mostly by mail for years. Mail-in voting is considered especially secure and accurate because it has a clear paper trail, which makes recounts easier.
However, mail-in ballots are likely rejected at higher rates than attempts to vote in person. In 24 primary elections this year, more than 500,000 mail-in ballots were rejected, or 2 percent of those returned by voters, according to an analysis by Michael McDonald, a voter turnout expert at the University of Florida. In some states, like Kentucky, the rejection rate was more than 4 percent.
There is also little likelihood that the states that are automatically sending out ballots will have much of an impact on the Electoral College, and therefore contribute to any prolonged wait for a winner in the presidential election. Nine states and Washington, D.C., automatically mail out ballots; of those, only Nevada is a true battleground state. The rest are either reliably blue or red, and will likely be called within minutes of polls closing for either Mr. Trump or Joseph R. Biden Jr., the Democratic nominee.
The states that will likely need more time to count ballots are ones that are no-excuse absentee ballot states, where anyone who wants to vote by mail can do so but must proactively request their ballot.
Mr. Trump and his wife, Melania, have both voted this way in the past, and the president, while not always very clearly, has said he supports absentee ballots.
“Solicited Ballots (absentee) are OK,” he wrote in a tweet on Thursday.
Battleground states like Pennsylvania, Ohio, Michigan, Wisconsin, Georgia, Florida and North Carolina are no-excuse absentee states.
Election officials in many of those states have indicated that they will need more time to process the expected torrent of mail-in ballots, as they experienced in the primaries. Election officials in Philadelphia, for example, needed a week to fully tabulate votes after the June primary.
Mr. Trump’s tweets are the latest in a series of inaccurate posts he has published for months on social media about the efficacy of mail-in ballots. It is part of what has been a longtime conundrum for social media companies that have debated how to handle posts by Mr. Trump, a world leader whose posts are typically considered newsworthy.
Twitter, for its part, began adding labels to some of Mr. Trump’s tweets in May marking them as misleading, and it added one such label on Thursday. The service has been stricter with other leaders. In March, tweets from the Brazilian president, Jair Bolsonaro, and the Venezuelan president, Nicolás Maduro, that promoted unproven cures for the coronavirus were removed.
Christopher Wray, the director of the Federal Bureau of Investigation, said during a House Homeland Security committee hearing on Thursday that Joseph R. Biden Jr. was the primary target of Russia’s ongoing online disinformation campaigns.
Mr. Wray said that while Russia has not successfully hacked any election systems, the influence campaign on social media has sought to raise skepticism of the Democratic candidate.
“We certainly have seen very active, very active efforts by the Russians to influence our election in 2020,” Mr. Wray said on Thursday. “An effort to both sow divisiveness and discord, and I think the intelligence community has assessed this publicly, to primarily to denigrate Vice President Biden in what the Russians see as a kind of an anti-Russian establishment.”
Mr. Wray’s comments echoed a statement made by last month by William R. Evanina, the director of the National Counterintelligence and Security Center, who said Russia has used a range of techniques to target Mr. Biden. China has also sought to influence American politics, intelligence officials have said, although Russia presents a much more immediate threat.
While Mr. Wray and Mr. Evanina issued blunt warnings of the Russian disinformation campaign, Attorney General William P. Barr has been less forceful. Asked on CNN earlier this month if he accepted that Russia was attempting to interfere in the election, Mr. Barr said, “I accept that there is some preliminary activity that suggests that they might try again.”
The Department of Homeland Security was also scrutinized earlier this month after it emerged that the agency declined to publish a July 9 intelligence document warning of Russian attempts to denigrate Mr. Biden’s mental health. That bulletin also warned of China and Iran’s efforts to target Mr. Trump. At the time, the acting secretary of Homeland Security, Chad F. Wolf, said he questioned the quality of the report and sent it back for revision.
An updated version of the bulletin dated Sept. 4 obtained by The Times still includes warnings of Russia’s efforts to target Mr. Biden with additional details on how the nation’s tactics compare to China and Iran.
“Iranian and Chinese overt influence actors have promoted unsubstantiated narratives that question the mental health of President Trump,” analysts said in the bulletin. “These efforts probably fall short of Russia’s more sustained, coordinated malign influence operations across multiple overt and covert platforms to undermine other U.S. politicians.”
A woman on Thursday added her voice to the chorus of those who have accused President Trump of sexual assault or misconduct over the past 40 years, coming forward in an interview with The Guardian to say that he kissed and groped her against her will at the United States Open tennis tournament in 1997.
The woman, Amy Dorris, a former model, said she was invited, along with her boyfriend at the time, to Mr. Trump’s private box to watch the tennis match. Ms. Dorris was 24.
“He just shoved his tongue down my throat and I was pushing him off,” Ms. Dorris said, explaining she met Mr. Trump through the boyfriend, Jason Binn. “And then that’s when his grip became tighter and his hands were very gropey and all over my butt, my breasts, my back, everything.”
She added: “I was in his grip, and I couldn’t get out of it. I don’t know what you call that when you’re sticking your tongue just down someone’s throat. But I pushed it out with my teeth. I was pushing it. And I think I might have hurt his tongue.”
In a statement, the Trump campaign denied Ms. Dorris’s account. “The allegations are totally false,” Jenna Ellis, a legal adviser to the Trump campaign, said in a statement. “We will consider every legal means available to hold The Guardian accountable for its malicious publication of this unsubstantiated story. This is just another pathetic attempt to attack President Trump right before the election.”
Mr. Trump has consistently denied the accusations from more than two dozen women who have come forward with stories of unwanted groping, kissing and assault, dating back to the 1970s. In the case of Natasha Stoynoff — a journalist who claimed Mr. Trump assaulted her when she was conducting an interview with his wife, Melania Trump — the president made her claim a punchline at a rally.
“Look at her. … I don’t think so,” he said.
Mr. Trump is currently the subject of a defamation lawsuit from the author E. Jean Carroll, who has accused him of raping her in a Manhattan department store in the 1990s. In an unusual move last week, the Justice Department moved to replace the private legal team defending the president with government lawyers. Ms. Carroll sued Mr. Trump last November, claiming that he lied by publicly denying he had ever met her.
In her interview with The Guardian, Ms. Dorris explained that the reason she had waited so long to come forward with her story was because she felt protective of her twin daughters. But they had also inspired her to speak out, she said.
“Now I feel like my girls are about to turn 13 years old and I want them to know that you don’t let anybody do anything to you that you don’t want,” she said. “And I’d rather be a role model. I want them to see that I didn’t stay quiet, that I stood up to somebody who did something that was unacceptable.”
Senator Ron Johnson of Wisconsin, a Republican who was set to appear with President Trump at a campaign rally in the state Thursday night, said he would skip the trip and self-isolate for two weeks after coming into contact with someone with the virus.
A statement from his Senate office said that Mr. Johnson had tested negative for the coronavirus Wednesday evening and was not experiencing symptoms. But out of caution and because little time had passed since the exposure, he canceled plans to travel to Wisconsin aboard Air Force One with Mr. Trump and appear at the rally in Mosinee.
Ben Voelkel, his spokesman, said Mr. Johnson planned to isolate until Sept. 29, meaning he would likely miss crucial votes as the Senate considers a temporary catchall government funding bill and potentially additional coronavirus relief legislation.
His plan to quarantine was not expected to delay the release of a much-anticipated report that he drafted with the Senate Homeland Security Committee he leads and that he has boasted would wound Joseph R. Biden Jr., the Democratic presidential nominee. Mr. Johnson had said the results of his investigation would become public in the next few days.
The report, which is said to focus on work that Mr. Biden’s son, Hunter, performed for a corrupt Ukrainian energy firm while his father was vice president, has become mired in controversy. Democrats have accused Mr. Johnson of using Senate powers to engage in political smears of Mr. Biden with baseless claims and innuendo, a claim that Mr. Johnson has denied. They have also warned that in doing so, Mr. Johnson is amplifying a known Russian misinformation campaign meant to sow doubt about Mr. Biden’s integrity.
Though there have been no major outbreaks of the virus in Congress, it has been a constant presence in the Capitol since the spring, with dozens of lawmakers either testing positive or proactively quarantining themselves after coming into contact with someone who had.
Former Vice President Joseph R. Biden Jr. spoke with Democratic senators on Thursday, discussing in broad strokes what his agenda would be as president and stressing that he was running a campaign intended in part to bolster Democratic candidates down the ballot.
It was Mr. Biden’s first time speaking with the Senate Democratic conference since formally becoming the party’s presidential nominee, and multiple senators said he emphasized that he would not become complacent despite his advantage in the polls. Mr. Biden discussed his campaign strategy and the response his team was seeing in individual states, and described how his administration would address the pandemic and the country’s economic recovery.
“He must have said this three times: ‘I take nothing for granted. I know the polls look OK right now but I’m working tirelessly,’” said Senator Chris Coons of Delaware, a staunch ally of Mr. Biden. “Some of it was the mechanics, polling, travel, schedule. Some of it was the core themes and message, why I’m running, what all this is about. And a lot of it was, we need to work together.”
Senator Ben Cardin of Maryland said Mr. Biden was “not overconfident” about his chances.
“He knows the attacks are coming and the unpredictables are coming,” Mr. Cardin said. “We have to be prepared for everything.”
Senator Debbie Stabenow of Michigan noted that there were “a lot of shout outs for Jill Biden,” and the amount of campaigning she has done on behalf of her husband, as well as a conversation about Senate races, including in Alabama and Michigan, where Democrats are defending seats.
There was no discussion, multiple senators said, of ending the 60-vote filibuster.
“It was very upbeat, but the vice president is taking nothing for granted,” said Senator Chris Van Hollen of Maryland. “He talked about the dignity of work. Lunchbox Joe was very present.”
Mr. Van Hollen said Mr. Biden did not engage in a detailed policy conversation but emphasized the importance of not losing jobs to China and creating “homegrown jobs here in America.” The message was “work hard until the polls close in November,” Mr. Van Hollen said.
Virginia’s Supreme Court on Thursday denied Kanye West’s appeal to have his name included on the ballot in the general election, a victory for Democrats who were worried that he would siphon votes from Joseph R. Biden Jr.
Mr. West, a billionaire hip-hop artist, will not make the ballot in most states, among them Florida, Texas and Michigan. Several supporters of Mr. Trump have worked on the ground to help place Mr. West’s name on the ballot in multiple states. He will appear on ballots in Colorado, Minnesota and Iowa.
Mr. West, who was a loyal Trump backer until recently, when he declared his candidacy, has had only one campaign event, in South Carolina, where he broke down crying. His wife, Kim Kardashian West, has spoken about his struggle with bipolar disorder.
Mark Herring, Virginia’s attorney general, welcomed the ruling Thursday. “This case could have thrown the election into complete chaos and disenfranchised thousands of Virginians,” he wrote on Twitter.
The original suit was brought after some voters said West’s campaign had duped them into agreeing to be electors for him if he won the popular vote in Virginia. In that case, the Circuit Court in Richmond earlier this month granted an injunction prohibiting the Board of Elections from placing Mr. West’s name on the ballot.
In the decision Thursday, the state Supreme Court upheld the lower court ruling, saying: “Having considered the record and arguments presented, we find it is not ‘appropriate under the circumstances of th[is] case’ to alter the temporary injunction.”
After the ruling, Justin Sheldon, one of the lawyers representing some of the voters, said, “We’re very, very excited that the court upheld the temporary injunction and didn’t allow the fraud of the West campaign to affect, or have any impact on, the presidential election in Virginia this year.”
When asked in a previous interview with The New York Times why he was running in 2020 when it was too late to get on the ballot in every state, and whether he was being exploited by Republican operatives, Mr. West responded by text, writing: “The first question is incorrect as I am already on some ballots,” and using an emoji with a slight smile. He also texted, “Praise God for you,” and said he was finishing his album and not answering questions.
In an event with Black female leaders in Philadelphia on Thursday, Senator Kamala Harris discussed what she said would be a key priority if she is elected vice president: addressing racial disparities in health and education.
Speaking in the Mount Airy neighborhood, Ms. Harris, Joseph R. Biden Jr.’s vice-presidential running mate, cited as one goal bringing down the maternal mortality rate for Black women, which exceeds the rate for white women.
“When a Black woman walks into a doctor’s office or a clinic or a hospital, she is not taken seriously, or as seriously as other people,” Ms. Harris said, noting data that Black women were three to four times more likely to die in connection with childbirth. “Part of the agenda is about what we need to do to track racial disparities in health care, but also to deal with racial biases within the health care system.”
About 15 people sat in a backyard in chairs that were spaced out at the event, which was hosted by She Can Win, a group that invests in women interested in civil engagement and leadership.
Ms. Harris said another high-priority area she and Mr. Biden were pursuing was providing a path for small businesses to have access to capital through low-interest government loans. She also pledged to provide government funding of $70 billion for historically Black public and private colleges and universities.
At the event, she called for the establishment of a national database to track police officers who break the law and to prevent officers who have been fired or been disciplined for violence elsewhere from moving to other jurisdictions.
Earlier in the day, Ms. Harris met with U.S. Representative Dwight Evans for a tour of local businesses, including a florist shop and a Black-owned restaurant, in the West Oak Lane neighborhood of Philadelphia.
“Is the win defined by defeating Donald Trump?” Ms. Harris said to the group. “Or is the win defined by winning? And I say that because if you use that first definition, then the job is over the day we’re inaugurated. If you go by that second definition, which is what I am compelled to do this for, then the job begins that day.”
As Donald J. Trump ran for the White House, he promised to “come up with a great health plan” that would replace the Affordable Care Act with something better that maintained its biggest selling point: protecting people with pre-existing medical conditions.
Once elected, he swore he had a “wonderful plan” and would be “putting it in fairly soon.”
On Tuesday night, President Trump returned to the theme during a town-hall-style meeting broadcast on ABC, where he was taken to task by Ellesia Blaque, an assistant professor at Kutztown University in Pennsylvania. She told him she had a congenital illness, demanded to know what he would do to keep “people like me who work hard” insured.
“We’re going to be doing a health care plan very strongly, and protect people with pre-existing conditions,” Mr. Trump told her, adding, “I have it all ready, and it’s a much better plan for you, and it’s a much better plan.”
But after four years, the unkept promise may be catching up to Mr. Trump. There still does not seem to be any plan, because other than abolishing the Affordable Care Act — which requires insurers to cover pre-existing conditions and which the White House is asking the Supreme Court to overturn — the Republican Party cannot agree on one.
And with tens of thousands of Americans losing their coverage to a coronavirus-induced economic turndown, fears of inadequate or nonexistent health insurance have never been greater.
“What the public wants to know is, ‘Where am I going to get health insurance and how much is it going to cost me,’ and that plan didn’t really provide any kind of direction for getting answers to that,” said James C. Capretta, a resident fellow at the American Enterprise Institute who advised President George W. Bush on health policy.
Attorney General William P. Barr has ratcheted up his involvement in partisan politics in recent days, floating federal sedition charges against violent protesters and the prosecution of a Democratic mayor; asserting his right to intervene in Justice Department investigations; warning of dire consequences for the nation if President Trump is not re-elected; and comparing coronavirus restrictions to slavery.
Mr. Barr’s comments came in remarks on Wednesday at a college event, an interview with Chicago journalists and a call with federal prosecutors last week.
Sedition comments: Mr. Barr told prosecutors in the call to consider charging rioters and others who had committed violent crimes at protests in recent months with sedition, according to two people familiar with the call. The highly unusual suggestion to charge people with insurrection against lawful authority alarmed some on the call, which included U.S. attorneys around the country, said the people, who spoke only anonymously because they feared retribution. The remarks were first reported by The Wall Street Journal.
Weighing charges against Seattle’s mayor: The attorney general has also asked prosecutors in the Justice Department’s civil rights division to explore criminally charging Mayor Jenny Durkan of Seattle for allowing a police-free protest zone near the city’s downtown for weeks this summer, according to two people briefed on those discussions. The directives are in keeping with Mr. Barr’s approach to prosecute aggressively in cities where protests have turned violent. But in suggesting prosecuting Ms. Durkan, a Democrat, Mr. Barr also took aim at an elected official whom President Trump has repeatedly attacked.
Presidential contest: Mr. Barr told a Chicago Tribune columnist in an interview published Monday that the nation could find itself “irrevocably committed to the socialist path” if Mr. Trump lost the election and that the country faced “a clear fork in the road.”
Comparing virus restrictions to slavery: Speaking at an event hosted by Hillsdale College on Wednesday, Mr. Barr said that some state governors had overreached in enacting stay-at-home orders and closing businesses. “Other than slavery, which is a different kind of restraint, this is the greatest intrusion on civil liberties in American history,” he said.
Intervening in D.O.J. investigations: Mr. Barr said in his speech at the event that as the nation’s top law enforcement official, he had the right to intervene in investigations and to overrule career lawyers, castigating his own department and attacking what he described as politically motivated inquiries.
His remarks scanned as a rebuke of career Justice Department lawyers who have questioned his level of involvement — a management style in which he has cast himself as the ultimate authority on almost every issue that the department faces, including antitrust settlements, criminal prosecutions and civil litigation.
“Because I am ultimately accountable for every decision the department makes, I have an obligation to ensure we make the correct ones,” he said.
Pennsylvania’s Supreme Court delivered a pair of significant victories to Democrats on Thursday, blocking a third-party presidential candidate from the ballot this fall and extending the state’s deadline for receiving mail-in votes.
Early in the day, the court ruled that the Green Party and its candidate, Howie Hawkins, failed to follow electoral procedures and cannot appear on the ballot this fall — a significant win for Democrats seeking to recapture a battleground state that narrowly swung to President Trump in 2016.
The high court, by a 5-to-2 margin, partially reversed a lower court decision that had permitted Mr. Hawkins, an environmental activist from New York, to appear on the ballot, while kicking off his running mate.
The decision removed a final hurdle for county boards of elections, who can now mail ballots to registered voters who have applied for them.
The case has been a focal point for both major-party campaigns, which have been focusing intensely on a state that had been reliably Democratic since Harry Truman’s election in 1948. In 2016, the Green Party’s nominee, Jill Stein, drew nearly 50,000 votes — more than Mr. Trump’s 44,000-vote margin of victory.
Later, the court extended the state’s mail ballot deadlines, a move opposed by Republicans and the Trump campaign. The decision is likely to increase voter participation and could delay the release of final results from a state that could determine the outcome of the national election.
State law requires mail-in ballots to be received by 8 p.m. on Election Day, but this year because of the pandemic they will be counted if received by 5 p.m. the Friday after the election.
The high court also greenlighted the use of drop boxes for ballots and denied attempts by the Trump campaign to post poll watchers outside of their home counties.
Dan Coats, President Trump’s former director of national intelligence, called on Congress on Thursday to create a nonpartisan panel to reassure Americans that the results of the election are legitimate.
In a New York Times Op-Ed, Mr. Coats wrote that the panel was needed to “save our democracy.”
The proposed commission would monitor systems that were already in place to count, evaluate and certify election results, Mr. Coats wrote. In doing so, it could confirm that election laws and regulations had been “scrupulously and expeditiously followed — or that violations have been exposed and dealt with — without political prejudice and without regard to political interests of either party.”
The goal, he added, was to “firmly, unambiguously reassure all Americans that their vote will be counted.”
Hours after Mr. Coats’s proposal was published, Mr. Trump, his former boss, once again sought to cast doubt on the legitimacy of the upcoming election.
“Because of the new and unprecedented massive amount of unsolicited ballots which will be sent to ‘voters,’ or wherever, this year, the Nov 3rd Election result may NEVER BE ACCURATELY DETERMINED, which is what some want,” Mr. Trump tweeted Thursday morning. “Stop Ballot Madness!”
Mr. Coats’s proposal represents a striking departure from the approach taken by his successor, John Ratcliffe, who has tried to limit congressional briefings on foreign election interference.
Mr. Coats, a former Republican senator from Indiana who was national intelligence director from early 2017 until mid-2019, angered the president by providing unwelcome assessments of Russia and its efforts to undermine the 2020 elections. He left office in frustration, according to former senior administration officials.
Mr. Ratcliffe, a former Republican congressman from Texas who fiercely defended the president during the Russia investigation, has downplayed such threats, an approach the president prefers.
In his Op-Ed, Mr. Coats did not refer to Mr. Trump or his supporters directly. But he made his case in the starkest possible terms.
Our democracy’s enemies, foreign and domestic, want us to concede in advance that our voting systems are faulty or fraudulent; that sinister conspiracies have distorted the political will of the people; that our public discourse has been perverted by the news media and social networks riddled with prejudice, lies and ill will; that judicial institutions, law enforcement and even national security have been twisted, misused and misdirected to create anxiety and conflict, not justice and social peace.
If those are the results of this tumultuous election year, we are lost, no matter which candidate wins. No American, and certainly no American leader, should want such an outcome. Total destruction and sowing salt in the earth of American democracy is a catastrophe well beyond simple defeat and a poison for generations.
Requests for comment from the White House and congressional leaders were not immediately returned.