Biden says Trump is trying to void health-care protections; president dismisses report on income taxes
Former vice president Joe Biden accused President Donald Trump of trying to dismantle insurance protections for preexisting health conditions, one day after the president named federal appellate judge Amy Coney Barrett as his choice to fill the vacancy left by the death of Supreme Court Justice Ruth Bader Ginsburg.
Biden's remarks underscored Democrats' strategy of focusing on the effect that Barrett's confirmation would have on the Affordable Care Act.
Trump, meanwhile, held a news conference in which he defended Barrett and pushed back against a New York Times report outlining his personal finances. According to the report, Trump paid $750 in federal income taxes in 2016 and paid nothing in income taxes for 10 of the previous 15 years. Trump dismissed the report as "totally fake news," but he did not give any details about how much he has paid in taxes.
At a White House news conference Sunday night, Trump pushed back against the Times report.
"It's fake news. It's totally fake news. Made up, fake," Trump said. "We went through the same stories - you could have asked me the same questions four years ago. I had to litigate this and talk about it. Totally fake news."
The report says Trump "is personally responsible for loans and other debts totaling $421 million, with most of it coming due within four years."
At the news conference, Trump dodged reporters' questions about how much he claims to have actually paid in taxes, citing the reason he has given for the past several years: that his tax returns are under audit by the Internal Revenue Service.
"The IRS does not treat me well. They treat me like the tea party, like they treated the tea party. . . . They treat me very badly," Trump said, in an apparent reference to the agency's 2017 settlement with conservative-leaning groups that said they were being unfairly scrutinized. He added that when his returns are no longer under audit, "I would be proud to show it."
At one point, a reporter asked Trump, "Can you give people an idea how much you actually are paying?"
"Yeah, basically - well, first of all, I've paid a lot, and I paid a lot in state income taxes, too," Trump replied. "New York state charges a lot. And I've paid a lot of money in state. It'll all be revealed. It's going to come out, but after the audit."
He added that the IRS is "doing their assessment" and that "we've been negotiating for a long time."
In response to another reporter's question about the specific amount he has paid in federal income taxes, Trump first berated the reporter, then said, "I look forward to releasing that. I look forward to releasing many things. I'm going to release many things. People will be really shocked."
Earlier Sunday, House Speaker Nancy Pelosi, D-Calif., said that Trump and Republicans want Barrett confirmed quickly so she can "overturn the Affordable Care Act," keeping the focus on health care rather than on the landmark Roe v. Wade abortion rights decision ahead of the November election.
"What I am concerned about is anyone that President Trump would have appointed was there to undo the Affordable Care Act," Pelosi said in an interview on CNN's "State of the Union." "That is why he was in such a hurry, so he could have been in place for the oral arguments which begin Nov. 10. … If you have a pre-existing medical condition, that benefit will be gone."
She urged Americans to "vote, vote, vote," describing it as "the antidote" to "whatever he does."
"Vote for affordable care. Vote for your pre-existing condition. Vote for your safety. And vote for your health," Pelosi said.
The speaker also defended Barrett against attacks on her Catholic faith, arguing the judge's religion should not be an issue. Like Barrett, Pelosi, too, is Catholic.
"I think it's appropriate for people … to ask her about how faithful she would be to the Constitution of the United States, whatever her faith," Pelosi said. "It doesn't matter what her faith is or what religion she believes in. What matters is, does she believe in the Constitution of the United States? Does she believe in the precedent on the Supreme Court that has upheld the Affordable Care Act?"
In an interview on "Fox News Sunday," Sen. Debbie Stabenow, D-Mich., echoed Pelosi's comments about health care, highlighting Barrett's past statements on the Affordable Care Act.
"For me, this is all about in the middle of a … once-in-a-lifetime health pandemic," Stabenow said. "It's very clear from her writings, multiple writings, that she will be the vote that takes away health care for millions of Americans, including people - 130 million people and counting with preexisting conditions."
White House Chief of Staff Mark Meadows denied that Trump is undermining confidence in the election process by repeatedly suggesting there will be widespread voter fraud.
"I don't know that he's publicly undermining confidence as much as promoting the facts," Meadows said Sunday morning on CBS News's "Face the Nation."
There is no evidence of widespread voter fraud; a Washington Post analysis found that Trump has peddled false claims or imaginary threats about voting by mail at least 100 times this year.
Meadows said Trump believes the Justice Department's recently announced investigation into a handful of discarded mail-in ballots warrants a widespread look at the possibility of voter fraud happening in other places, too.
Last week, the Justice Department said it is investigating nine discarded ballots found in northeastern Pennsylvania. The Trump campaign immediately seized upon the news to claim evidence of a Democratic conspiracy to tamper with the election.
Meadows didn't answer directly when pressed by host Margaret Brennan on whether Trump has confidence in FBI Director Christopher Wray.
"They need to investigate it and make sure that the voting populace makes sure that their vote counts and no one else's does," Meadows said. "We want to make sure he's doing his job. There are different degrees of confidence in different Cabinet members. And, certainly, he's still there."
Meadows also questioned whether the Food and Drug Administration should issue stricter standards for approving a coronavirus vaccine. The move could help shore up public trust in the vaccine development process, but Trump has publicly threatened to block the guidance, which is being considered by the White House Office of Management and Budget.
According to a report by The Post, Meadows told FDA Commissioner Stephen Hahn on Wednesday that the agency must provide a detailed justification for the new guidance. Asked by Brennan about that conversation, Meadows didn't deny it took place and reiterated his skepticism that stricter guidance is needed.
"We're trying to make sure that the guidance we give is not a inhibitor to getting things out fast but it also doesn't detract from it," he said.
Sen. Cory Booker, D-N.J., said Sunday he plans to meet with Barrett but argued that, if confirmed to the Supreme Court, the newest justice should recuse herself from any decisions related to the November election.
If she does not, Booker said, the Supreme Court "will be further delegitimized."
"It's my intention to do so," the senator said when asked on NBC News's "Meet the Press" whether he intends to meet with Barrett. "I think you know my spirit, which is to sit down and meet with people and talk to them. And I'm going to make it very clear. One of the things I want to ask her is, will she recuse herself in terms of any election issues that come before us, because if she does not recuse herself, I fear that the court will be further delegitimized."
Booker noted Trump has suggested he won't accept the results of the election unless he wins and that he plans to take the matter to the Supreme Court if he loses.
"My larger hope is that the Republican Party realizes they're undermining their legitimacy (and) the legitimacy of the Supreme Court, and that they stop what they're doing and wait until the American public has spoken in this election," Booker told host Chuck Todd.
Trump on Sunday declined to detail the steps he is taking to prepare for his first presidential debate next week against Joe Biden, suggesting serving as president every day gives him all the preparation he needs.
"I think I prepare every day," Trump said in a "Fox & Friends" interview that aired Sunday morning. "I think, you know, when you're president, you sort of see everything that they're going to be asking. And they may disagree with you, but we've done a great job."
The president went on to defend his record on handling the economy, the coronavirus pandemic and other issues, without providing any specifics on his debate preparation.
Trump and Biden are set to face off Sept. 29 at Case Western Reserve University and the Cleveland Clinic in Cleveland in a 90-minute debate moderated by Fox News Channel's Chris Wallace.
In contrast to Trump, Biden last week took some time off the campaign trail to prepare for this week's debate.
Trump also on Sunday weighed in on the Supreme Court confirmation process, saying he believes Barrett will be confirmed "probably long before the election" but also argued "you have all the way to January 20th."
"So, I mean, who would not do this?" he said on "Fox & Friends." "They say, 'Well, why didn't you wait for the next -.' Well, elections have consequences. And we won the election. We have the Senate. We have the presidency."
Sen. Tom Cotton, R-Ark., on Sunday dismissed Trump's refusal to commit to a peaceful transfer of power if he loses the November election, arguing "what the president was saying is that he is not going to concede in advance."
"We have been transferring the office of the presidency from one person to the next since 1796," Cotton said on "State of the Union." "I'm confident it's going to happen again in January 2025, after President Trump finishes his second term."
Pressed on whether he was alarmed by Trump's comments, Cotton pointed to the president's concerns about mail-in voting during the coronavirus pandemic.
"He's since said that if there is a clear winner, if the court settles the contested election, that, of course, he will" concede, Cotton said. "But the premise of the question that you just played me is the president's going to lose. I don't think the president is going to lose. The president is going to win."
Trump has repeatedly asserted if he doesn't win, it will be because of fraudulent mail-in voting and not because more Americans voted against him. His remarks have prompted some Republican lawmakers to affirm the role the peaceful transfer of power has played in U.S. democracy - although, notably, most of them did not mention Trump directly.
Lt. Gen. H.R. McMaster, Trump's former national security adviser, on Sunday was one of the few to directly criticize the president over the remarks.
"Well, what I think is, is that it's a gift to our adversaries - right? - who want to shake our confidence in who we are, shake our confidence in our democratic principles and institutions and processes," McMaster said on "Meet the Press" when asked about Trump's refusal to commit to a peaceful transfer of power.
McMaster noted that Russia, in particular, "has engaged in this campaign of disruption, disinformation and denial. And if the Russians can just use our own words against us, that's the best way to pull us apart from one another."
Tom Ridge, the former Republican governor of Pennsylvania and the country's first homeland security secretary, said Sunday that he is backing Biden for president.
Ridge, who was homeland security secretary under President George W. Bush, opposed Trump as early as 2015, when he supported former Florida governor Jeb Bush for the Republican nomination for president and told NBC News's Chuck Todd that Trump was "an embarrassment to the country."
In an op-ed in the Philadelphia Inquirer published Sunday, Ridge went further, urging his fellow Pennsylvanians to join him in voting for Biden in November and noting that it "will be my first vote for a Democratic candidate for president of the United States."
Trump, Ridge said, "lacks the empathy, integrity, intellect and maturity to lead" and "sows division along political, racial and religious lines."
"And he routinely dismisses the opinions of experts who know far more about the subject at hand than he does - intelligence, military, and public health," he said. "Our country has paid dearly in lives lost, social unrest, economic hardship and our standing in the world."
He praised Biden as a leader who has "the experience and empathy necessary to help us navigate not only the pandemic, but also other issues that have fractured our nation, including social injustice, income inequality and immigration reform."
Ridge also questioned the direction the Republican Party has taken, while declaring that he stands by the conservative principles that have been "exhorted by my party's forebears - Abraham Lincoln, Teddy Roosevelt and Ronald Reagan."
"Those principles have been indispensable to me in deciding to extend my hand of support to Joe Biden, who I believe absolutely must be America's next president," he said.
Also backing Biden on Sunday was actor and pro wrestler Dwayne "The Rock" Johnson, who announced his endorsement in a video posted to Twitter.
"As a political independent & centrist, I've voted for both parties in the past. In this critical presidential election, I'm endorsing @JoeBiden & @KamalaHarris," he tweeted. "Progress takes courage, humanity, empathy, strength, KINDNESS & RESPECT."
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The Washington Post's Paige Winfield Cunningham and Amanda Erickson contributed to this report.
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