The plexiglass dividers that will separate Vice President Mike Pence and Senator Kamala Harris when they face off at their debate tonight in Salt Lake City will serve as powerful reminders of how the coronavirus has upended the presidential campaign and life in America.
A pandemic that has killed more than 210,000 people in the U.S. and cost millions of jobs was always going to be front and center in the campaign, but the physical dividers — the subject of a mini-debate about the debate when aides to Mr. Pence briefly objected to them — underscore the extent to which the outbreak has spread in recent days through the top levels of government, infecting President Trump, military leaders and several members of the Senate.
The outbreak served as a grim reminder of the main role of a vice president: to be able to step in and lead should the president become incapacitated or die.
Ms. Harris, still a relative newcomer to national politics who arrived in Washington as a senator in 2017, will have to make the case that she is ready to be a heartbeat away from the presidency. And Mr. Pence, the head of the White House coronavirus task force, will likely have to defend the government’s response to the virus — an effort that lagged behind other developed countries in Europe and Asia.
Both candidates have been preparing carefully. Mr. Pence went to Salt Lake City with two core players in his debate prep: Marc Short, his chief of staff, and the former Wisconsin governor Scott Walker, who played Ms. Harris in several formal 90-minute debate prep sessions that were held with the answers timed. (Aides said that Mr. Pence likes to prepare with people he feels comfortable with, and so they chose Mr. Walker — who had helped him prepare for his debate four years ago — rather than someone who was trying to look or sound like his opponent.)
At Ms. Harris’s mock debate sessions, Mr. Pence was played by Pete Buttigieg, the former mayor of South Bend, Ind., who ran in the Democratic presidential primary. Mr. Buttigieg was selected, aides said, for his debating skills and also because of his knowledge of Mr. Pence’s record as governor in their shared home state, Indiana.
As they prepare for their debate, Vice President Mike Pence and Senator Kamala Harris are confronting an electorate that is more or less divided. About one-fifth of voters say they don’t have much of an opinion of each candidate, but among those who do, strong opinions outnumber mildly favorable or unfavorable views.
Here’s what polling can tell us about the candidates and the debate.
Has Pence’s role in the virus response affected views of him?
Ms. Harris is unlikely to let Mr. Pence easily escape the fact that he was appointed to lead the White House’s coronavirus response — an effort that a wide majority of Americans not only disapprove of, but also have come to resent.
More than two-thirds of Americans said in an Axios/Ipsos poll late last month that they had little confidence in the federal government to look out for their best interests when it comes to the pandemic.
Still, in CNN polling conducted after President Trump announced his positive coronavirus test results on Friday, 62 percent of Americans said they thought Mr. Pence was qualified to serve as president. Just 35 percent said they didn’t think so. (Men were 12 points more likely than women to find him qualified.)
Harris is the only top candidate with net-positive ratings, but not by a lot.
Ms. Harris tends to fare slightly better than Mr. Pence in public perception and, on average, national polling shows that more Americans view her positively than negatively. In a Monmouth poll from early September, 43 percent gave her positive marks, and 37 percent saw her negatively. As with Mr. Pence, one in five said they had no opinion.
How will the fight over the virus and the debate itself play?
Despite widespread concern over the virus, recent polling showed that a large majority of Americans wanted the debates to go forward. More than three-quarters of likely voters in both Pennsylvania and Florida told New York Times/Siena College pollsters last week that they thought the other two presidential debates should go ahead as planned. But many of those respondents were contacted before Mr. Trump announced he had tested positive.
In the CNN poll taken after his diagnosis was made public, 63 percent of Americans said they thought the president had acted irresponsibly toward those around him in handling the risk of infection. That included more than seven in 10 women, and even a majority of white people without college degrees, a core Trump constituency.
While he has tested negative in recent days, Mr. Pence attended a White House event that has been linked to numerous officials who have since tested positive. Medical experts say there is still a chance that he could be carrying the virus.
Americans have consistently said in polls that they preferred to lean toward caution on lifting virus restrictions.
On Wednesday, Facebook said it would take more preventive measures to keep political candidates from using it to manipulate the election’s outcome and its aftermath. The company now plans to prohibit all political and issue-based advertising after the polls close on Nov. 3 for an undetermined length of time. And it said it would place notifications at the top of the News Feed notifying people that no winner had been decided until a victor was declared by news outlets.
The moves come after executives at the company, including Mark Zuckerberg, became increasingly alarmed by the presidential race. They have discussed President Trump’s evasive comments about whether he would accept a peaceful transfer of power if he lost the election and had conversations with civil rights groups, who have privately told them that the company needs to do more because Election Day could erupt into chaos, Facebook employees said.
“This is shaping up to be a very unique election,” Guy Rosen, vice president for integrity at Facebook, said in a call with reporters on Wednesday.
For years, Facebook has been striving to avoid another 2016 election fiasco, when it was used by Russian operatives to spread disinformation and to destabilize the American electorate.
The company is doing more to safeguard its platform after introducing measures to reduce election misinformation and interference on its site just last month. At the time, Facebook said it planned to ban new political ads for a contained period — the week before Election Day — and would act swiftly against posts that tried to dissuade people from voting. Mr. Zuckerberg also said Facebook would not make any other changes until there was an official election result.
But the additional moves underscore the sense of emergency about the election. On Tuesday, to help blunt further political turmoil, Facebook also said it would remove any group, page or Instagram account that openly identified with QAnon, the pro-Trump conspiracy movement.
Joseph R. Biden Jr.’s campaign is resuming its negative advertising against President Trump, a campaign official said Wednesday, days after it pulled back from such attacks in response to the news that Mr. Trump had tested positive for the coronavirus.
With Mr. Trump now out of the hospital and tweeting attacks against Democrats including Mr. Biden, Mr. Biden’s team signaled in a statement that the campaign intended to both push an affirmative case for Mr. Biden and highlight the sharp differences between the two candidates.
“Our campaign has always been about making the positive case for Joe Biden, but there’s a stark contrast between Vice President Biden and Donald Trump and their visions for our country,” said Mike Gwin, a spokesman for Mr. Biden. “We’re going to continue to make a full-throated case for Vice President Biden, and we will forcefully correct the record when Trump attacks and lies.”
The decision to remove negative advertising from the airwaves came as Mr. Trump was hospitalized with the virus on Friday. That day, during a campaign event in Grand Rapids, Mich., Mr. Biden offered the president wishes for a speedy recovery and refrained from attacking him directly.
“This is not a matter of politics,” Mr. Biden said at the time. “It’s a bracing reminder to all of us that we have to take this virus seriously. It’s not going away automatically. We have to do our part to be responsible.”
Mr. Trump’s hospitalization had also altered the debate strategy for Senator Kamala Harris, who will face off against Vice President Mike Pence on Wednesday night. Ms. Harris’s aides and advisers had wanted her to focus in particular on Mr. Pence’s stewardship of the coronavirus task force, tying the United States’ death toll directly to him. After Mr. Trump tested positive for the virus, campaign aides said Ms. Harris planned to avoid personal attacks and commenting on the president’s condition.
The Trump campaign, for its part, has kept up its negative advertising against Mr. Biden.
A federal appeals court on Wednesday upheld a lower-court ruling that barred the Trump administration from ending the head-counting part of the 2020 census a month early, handing a victory to state and local governments that said more time was needed for an accurate count.
But a second part of the court’s ruling could render much of that victory toothless — and add a huge dose of uncertainty to the use of this year’s census figures to reapportion the House of Representatives next year.
A unanimous three-judge panel for the United States Court of Appeals for the Ninth Circuit said that the Commerce Department had to scrap an order that would have ended the head count on Sept. 30, and that the tally should continue until Oct. 31, the previous end date. But at the same time, it said the lower court erred when it told the department to ignore a Dec. 31 deadline for delivering population totals to the White House, and to instead hew to the previous deadline of April 2021.
That Dec. 31 deadline is crucial because the White House wants to have control of those population totals, which will be sent to Congress in January to begin the reapportionment process. President Trump has said he wants to remove state-by-state tallies of unauthorized immigrants from the totals before sending them to Congress. Missing that deadline would put the census totals in the hands of a Democratic White House should Joseph R. Biden Jr. win the election.
Census Bureau officials have said repeatedly that it would be impossible to produce acceptably accurate census totals by Dec. 31 because the mountain of data processing and error-checking needed to produce population figures cannot be crammed into the two-month period from Oct. 31 to the end of the year. But the appeals court said that the Census Bureau should not be barred from trying to meet that deadline if it chose — and that if the result was an unusable census, it could take more time to fix any mistakes.
That gives the administration leeway, should it choose, to order the Census Bureau to meet the deadline at the end of the year. And that, in turn, could lead to a round of lawsuits over whether the hastily processed, pandemic-scarred population count is good enough to reallocate the 435 seats in the House.
The Justice Department did not immediately react to the ruling.
Joseph R. Biden Jr. has strengthened his advantage in a range of key swing states that President Trump won four years ago, according to a batch of state polls conducted after last week’s presidential debate and released on Wednesday.
Taken together, the surveys indicated that as the coronavirus continues to dominate voters’ attention — with an outbreak in Washington now affecting a number of top Republicans, including Mr. Trump himself — it remains a stark liability for the president.
Quinnipiac University surveys in Pennsylvania and Florida each showed Mr. Biden with a double-digit lead among likely voters, up 13 percentage points in Pennsylvania and 11 points in Florida. In both states, just 40 percent of voters approved of Mr. Trump’s handling of the virus, while more than 55 percent disapproved.
Just a month ago, Mr. Biden’s lead in Florida was a statistically insignificant three points. Since then, Mr. Trump’s net favorability rating among voters in the state has dropped from negative five to negative 16 — while Mr. Biden’s flipped from negative five to positive seven.
A separate Quinnipiac poll in Iowa found Mr. Biden with a five-point edge over the president — within that survey’s margin of error, but nonetheless encouraging for the Democrat in a state that Mr. Trump won by almost 10 points in 2016.
The poll brought more encouraging news from Iowa for Democrats, with Theresa Greenfield, the candidate trying to unseat the Republican Senator Joni Ernst, leading Ms. Ernst 50 percent to 45 percent.
Mr. Biden also held onto a steady, if slim, advantage over Mr. Trump in Wisconsin, according to a Marquette Law School poll released Wednesday — 46 percent to 41 percent among likely voters.
Marquette’s polling in Wisconsin has reflected the steadiness of a race in which voters largely know where they stand: The university has released five polls of likely voters in Wisconsin since June, and in each, Mr. Biden has held a single-digit lead that was within the poll’s margin of error, as it was here.
But if there are any small billows of momentum, they appear to be blowing Mr. Biden’s way. His 48 percent approval rating was the best in any Marquette poll in Wisconsin this year, capping a 14-point rise since February.
In an indicator of how prominent the coronavirus remains in voters’ minds, Marquette found that more than six in 10 Wisconsin voters described themselves as at least fairly worried about the pandemic — including 27 percent who said they were very worried, up from 21 percent last month. Wisconsin has the third most new virus cases per capita in the country in the past week, with over 17,000 cases.
Fully 50 percent of Wisconsin voters said they did not expect the virus to be under control for another year or more.
Senator Chris Coons, Democrat of Delaware, said that Judge Amy Coney Barrett, President Trump’s nominee for the Supreme Court, repeatedly declined during a phone call on Wednesday to share her views of legal issues around abortion rights or the Affordable Care Act, citing the need to maintain impartiality on the bench.
The conversation described by Mr. Coons, one of at least eight Democrats who have met with or spoken to Judge Barrett since her nomination, likely offers a preview of how she will approach multiple days of public confirmation hearings before the Senate Judiciary Committee next week. Like other court nominees, she plans to refrain from any testimony that could tip her hand one way or another on hotly contested issues.
Mr. Coons told reporters that he had repeatedly pressed Judge Barrett on her legal commentary questioning Supreme Court precedent around the health care law and on statements about her judicial philosophy that could have bearing on the future of Roe v. Wade and other abortion rights cases. But each line of questioning ended in the same place.
“She demurred — she just essentially said I am not going to answer questions that may speak to cases that may come before me,” he said.
Democrats believe Judge Barrett, a Notre Dame law professor and appeals court judge in Chicago, has left a clear record in her legal writings and public statements indicating she would be hostile to abortion rights and the Affordable Care Act. Judge Barrett signed an anti-abortion newspaper advertisement in 2006, when she was a law professor at Notre Dame.
“We, the following citizens of Michiana, oppose abortion on demand and defend the right to life from fertilization to natural death,” said the statement, published in an advertisement in the South Bend Tribune by St. Joseph County Right to Life, which is now known as Right to Life Michiana and says it is “one of the oldest continuously active pro-life organizations in the nation.”
Mr. Coons said he had also asked the nominee whether she would recuse herself from any cases resulting from November’s presidential election, in light of Mr. Trump’s stated goal of having her confirmed to the bench in time to rule in his favor.
“She made no commitment to recusal,” he said, adding that she instead gave generic information about what would guide such decisions.
Most Democrats are boycotting the usual “courtesy calls” in protest of Republicans rushing through a Supreme Court nominee so close to the election, after refusing to do so four years ago when a Democrat was in the White House. Along with Mr. Coons, Senators Sheldon Whitehouse of Rhode Island, Cory Booker of New Jersey, Amy Klobuchar of Minnesota, Dianne Feinstein of California, Richard J. Durbin of Illinois, Patrick J. Leahy of Vermont and Joe Manchin III of West Virginia have also spoken with her. All but Mr. Manchin are members of the Judiciary Committee.
Judd Deere, a White House spokesman, said after the calls with Mr. Coons and other Democrats that Judge Barrett had “emphasized the importance of judicial independence and spoke about her judicial philosophy and family.”
The meetings took place by phone rather than in person after lawmakers abandoned Capitol Hill this week amid a coronavirus outbreak that appears to trace directly to a large White House ceremony Mr. Trump held more than a week ago to announce Judge Barrett’s nomination.
Despite Democratic pleas to delay the confirmation hearings in light of the health risks, Republicans insist they will move ahead as planned.
Throughout its 208-year history, The New England Journal of Medicine has remained staunchly nonpartisan. The world’s most prestigious medical journal has never supported or condemned a political candidate.
In an editorial published on Wednesday, the journal said the Trump administration had responded so poorly to the coronavirus pandemic that it had “taken a crisis and turned it into a tragedy.”
The journal did not explicitly endorse former Vice President Joseph R. Biden Jr., the Democratic nominee, but that was the only possible inference, other scientists noted.
The N.E.J.M.’s editors join those of another influential journal, Scientific American, who last month endorsed Mr. Biden.
The political leadership has failed Americans in many ways that contrast vividly with responses from leaders in other countries, the editorial said.
In the United States, it said, there was too little testing for the virus, especially early on. There was too little protective equipment, and a lack of national leadership on important measures like mask wearing, social distancing, quarantine and isolation.
There were attempts to politicize and undermine the Food and Drug Administration, the National Institutes of Health and the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, the journal noted.
As a result, the United States has had tens of thousands of “excess” deaths — those caused both directly and indirectly by the pandemic — as well as immense economic pain and an increase in social inequality as the virus hit disadvantaged communities hardest.
The editorial castigated the Trump administration’s rejection of science. “Instead of relying on expertise, the administration has turned to uninformed ‘opinion leaders’ and charlatans who obscure the truth and facilitate the promulgation of outright lies.”
The uncharacteristically pungent editorial called for change: “When it comes to the response to the largest public health crisis of our time, our current political leaders have demonstrated that they are dangerously incompetent. We should not abet them and enable the deaths of thousands more Americans by allowing them to keep their jobs.”
Scientific American, too, had never before endorsed a political candidate. “The pandemic would strain any nation and system, but Trump’s rejection of evidence and public health measures have been catastrophic,” the journal’s editors said.
President Trump returned to the Oval Office on Wednesday, even as a full picture of his health remained unclear and many of his aides were in quarantine amid a West Wing outbreak that continues to grow.
White House officials said he went in for an update on the stimulus talks that he had called off Tuesday. And two people close to the White House said that advisers were exploring the possibility of resuming travel events for the president next week.
Despite the president’s insistence on returning to seeming normalcy, experts on the virus say he is entering a pivotal phase in the disease — seven to 10 days after the onset of symptoms — when some patients take a turn for the worse.
Underscoring the potential dangers, a White House memo instructed staff members to follow new safety protocols, among them some that Mr. Trump has previously dismissed. They include surgical masks and protective eye covers. Many health experts believe the West Wing outbreak is a result of White House officials ignoring precautions recommended by public health experts.
Mr. Trump told the White House medical staff that he was feeling “great” and was symptom-free, according to a statement released Wednesday by his physician, Dr. Sean P. Conley. But Dr. Conley offered few further details about the president’s treatment, including whether he was still taking a steroid.
Dr. Conley’s statement said Mr. Trump has not needed supplemental oxygen since returning from the hospital. But the full picture of the his health remains murky. Doctors, for instance, have not shared results of the president’s chest X-rays or lung scans, crucial measures of the severity of his illness.
The president — trailing in the polls and less than a month away from the election — is trying to project the image of a healthy leader, and not of a patient with Covid-19. He has said he plans to be at the next debate, on Oct. 15, when it is possible he could still be contagious. His opponent, former Vice President Joseph R. Biden Jr., says there should not be a debate if the president still has the virus.
Since leaving the hospital Monday evening, the president has returned to minimizing the seriousness of the pandemic — even as many states in the country are experiencing serious outbreaks.
Montana and Oklahoma, where hospitals are strained, set single-day case records on Tuesday, according to a Times database. And Alaska, Indiana, Minnesota, Montana, North Dakota, Utah and Wyoming reported more cases in the last week than they have during any seven-day period of the pandemic.
Taylor Swift, the pop megastar who has increasingly leveraged her fame and platform to weigh in on political matters and social causes, announced Wednesday that she would support Joseph R. Biden Jr. and Senator Kamala Harris in the presidential election.
Ms. Swift, who has roughly 140 million followers on Instagram and more than 87 million Twitter followers, made her views known in an interview with V Magazine.
“The change we need most is to elect a president who recognizes that people of color deserve to feel safe and represented, that women deserve the right to choose what happens to their bodies, and that the LGBTQIA+ community deserves to be acknowledged and included,” Ms. Swift said, according to an excerpt from the interview released by the magazine.
“Everyone deserves a government that takes global health risks seriously and puts the lives of its people first,” she continued. “The only way we can begin to make things better is to choose leaders who are willing to face these issues and find ways to work through them.”
Ms. Swift kept her personal political views mostly out of public view for years, leading to widespread speculation.
But she broke that silence most notably two years ago when she endorsed two Democratic candidates running for office in Tennessee, her adopted home, and sharply criticized then-Representative Marsha Blackburn’s record as she ran for a Senate seat she would eventually win. (Ms. Swift does not appear to have endorsed Marquita Bradshaw, the Democratic nominee for the Tennessee Senate seat currently held by Lamar Alexander, a Republican who is retiring.)
Earlier this year, Ms. Swift offered her fans a more intimate look at her decision to speak out, in a Netflix documentary, “Miss Americana.” Ms. Swift’s journey toward finding her voice is a central theme; she is shown in a tug-of-war with her team about whether to make her feelings about Ms. Blackburn known. And despite being urged to stay on the sidelines by some members of her management, she ultimately chooses the opposite course.
This summer, Ms. Swift offered her support for Black Lives Matter after the killing of George Floyd by the police, and she also came out in favor of the removal of monuments of two men she called “DESPICABLE figures in our state history.”
Racial injustice has been ingrained deeply into local and state governments, and changes MUST be made there. In order for policies to change, we need to elect people who will fight against police brutality and racism of any kind. #BlackLivesMatter
— Taylor Swift (@taylorswift13) June 9, 2020
She also has added posts celebrating a Supreme Court ruling protecting gay and transgender workers from workplace discrimination and supporting Juneteenth.
In recent months Ms. Swift has assailed President Trump for “stoking the fires of white supremacy and racism,” and highlighted the importance of mail voting. She also hinted at her support for Mr. Biden and Ms. Harris in August, reposting Ms. Harris’s announcement about becoming Mr. Biden’s running mate and adding only: “YES.”
A box fan, an air filter — and duct tape to attach them. With four such devices cobbled together for a grand total of about $150, the vice-presidential debate on Wednesday night can be made much safer than with the plexiglass barriers being used, according to experts in airborne viruses.
Vice President Mike Pence and Senator Kamala Harris will be seated more than 12 feet apart, with barriers between them. But the barriers will do nothing to protect Ms. Harris if Mr. Pence is infected and exhaling virus that can be carried through the air, experts said.
On Monday, the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention released new guidelines indicating that indoors, the virus can be carried aloft by aerosols — tiny droplets — farther than six feet. In one study in August, scientists found infectious virus at a distance of 16 feet from an infected patient.
Linsey Marr, an environmental engineering professor at Virginia Tech and an expert in airborne viruses, laughed outright when she saw a picture of the debate setup.
“It’s absurd,” she said. When she first heard there would be a plexiglass barrier, she said, she imagined an enclosure with an open back or top. “But these are even smaller and less adequate than I imagined.”
Other experts said the barriers would have made some sense if the debaters were seated close together.
“Those plexiglass barriers are really only going to be effective if the vice president or Kamala Harris are spitting at each other,” said Ellie Murray, an epidemiologist at Boston University.
“Those are really just splatter shields.”
“At 12 feet 3 inches apart, spray droplet transmission is not the issue,” said Donald Milton, an aerosol expert at the University of Maryland. “What is the ventilation like? What is the direction of the airflow?”
Dr. Milton and his colleagues contacted the debate commission and both campaigns to recommend purchasing plug-and-play air filters — excellent ones run to just about $300 each — or four box fans and air filters taped together. Each debater would have one device positioned to suck up and clean the air exhaled, and another to produce clean air.
In research conducted with singers over the past few months, they have found that this so-called “Corsi box” — named for Richard Corsi, the scientist who cobbled together the first one — can significantly decrease aerosols.
The safest solution, experts said, is to move the debate online.
The debate between Vice President Mike Pence and Kamala Harris takes place on Wednesday night from 9 to 10:30 p.m. Eastern. Here are some of the many ways you can watch it:
The Times will livestream the debate, and our reporters will provide commentary and analysis.
The debate will be televised on channels including ABC, CBS, NBC, CNN, C-SPAN, Fox News and MSNBC.
The Roku Channel will carry streams from several news outlets.
The streaming network Newsy will carry the debate on several platforms.
The hashtag #AAPISheRose was trending on Twitter on Wednesday, as Asian-Americans shared stories of their family members and prominent women who have paved the way for what they see as a historic moment: Senator Kamala Harris, a Black and Indian-American vice-presidential candidate, taking the debate stage.
The hashtag was started by a group of prominent Asian-Americans that included Jeff Yang, a writer and journalist; Curtis Chin, a filmmaker; and Hannah Kim, the former chief of staff for Representative Charles B. Rangel, as a way to encourage the community to share personal stories and honor the strong female role models in their own lives.
As they discussed ways to celebrate Ms. Harris’s groundbreaking status as the first woman of color on a major party’s presidential ticket, Mr. Yang said, “the conversation turned to the idea of resilience, of standing up in the face of crisis, which so many of the AAPI women in our lives, from moms to mentors to pioneering icons, have done. They rose to the moment, rose to the occasion — and they raised us!”
“This is my mom, Bailing,” Mr. Yang wrote on Twitter. “She was the first of 12 siblings of a single mom to go to college in the US. On the day our first AAPI VP candidate @KamalaHarris takes the stage, I honor her and celebrate all the badass AAPI women who made us possible.”
“I’d like to honor 2 AAPI women who paved the way for so many,” the actor Daniel Dae Kim wrote on Twitter. “@TisaChang & #JadinWong, I will always remember the support you gave this young struggling actor.”
Sujata Day, an actress and director who shared her mother’s story, said that when she heard about the hashtag, it resonated immediately.
“My mom cried the day that she was chosen,” Ms. Day said in an interview about Ms. Harris’s selection. “For me, honestly, it’s always been my mom — she’s been such a cheerleader of me and everything that I do.”
The hashtag held special relevance, Ms. Day said, because Asian-Americans are typically taught to keep their successes hidden and to stay humble.
“I know that these amazing women don’t usually use their own voices to talk about all the amazing things that they’ve done,” Ms. Day said. “So it’s important for our generation to, you know, toot their horns.”
“This is my grandmother who dressed up like a boy to hitch a ride to town to go to school, and a lifelong advocate for teacher’s rights,” Alice Wu, a director and screenwriter, wrote in her tribute. “I honor her today as our first aapi candidate for VP @KamalaHarris takes the debate stage. You got this, Kamala. We got your back.”
Jaime Harrison, the Democrat challenging Lindsey Graham, brought his own plexiglass to the South Carolina Senate debate over the weekend. In Wednesday night’s vice-presidential debate, Senator Kamala Harris and Vice President Mike Pence will be separated by two sheets of it.
For months, the plexiglass business has been booming for Jim Meadows, who manufactures it from his refrigeration parts shop in southeast Texas. A staunch supporter of President Trump, Mr. Meadows believes that by selling it he is “pandering to the uninformed,” though he’s happy to have the business.
Orders peaked in the summer and continue to trickle in, as the number of Covid-19 cases has climbed past 810,000 in the state. Just a week or so ago, he fulfilled an order for 100 sheets for the local school district to install.
So far, the president’s illness has done little to change the partisan view of the pandemic, including Mr. Meadows’s. He dismisses it as overblown, though more than 16,000 people have died in Jefferson County, where he has lived for decades.
Even as Mr. Meadows fulfills orders, he doubts the barriers do anything other than give some people a bit of peace of mind.
“I don’t even know what form of insanity even brought this to be,” he said. “If plexiglass worked, we could have built a plexiglass wall around China.”
Though several scientific studies have shown the effectiveness of face masks in stopping the spread of coronavirus, there have not been similar findings on plexiglass.
The Times first spoke to Mr. Meadows this spring, when the pandemic was most heavily felt in urban America, where residents predominantly support Democrats.
That gap has narrowed considerably, and public polling shows widespread support for mask requirements.
Mr. Meadows, though, said he refuses to wear a mask at any time — despite the local mandate requiring them. When he stopped into a hardware store recently, he said another man took his own mask off after seeing Mr. Meadows, which he took as a sign of feeling “empowered.”
“I really think there’s a lot of unnecessary fear, but if it makes people feel good, then fine, they can do whatever they want,” he said. “If you want to wear a crocheted doily over your face, then do that.”
Biden campaign surrogates played up Vice President Mike Pence’s skill as a debater ahead of his matchup with Senator Kamala Harris on Wednesday, while previewing how Ms. Harris planned to make a case against President Trump’s handling of the coronavirus.
On a call with reporters Wednesday morning, Senator Cory Booker of New Jersey called Mr. Pence, a former radio talk-show host, “a formidable debater.”
Symone D. Sanders, a senior adviser for the Biden campaign, cited Mr. Pence’s “history of being a successful debater” and said, “We are not coming in underestimating him,” engaging in the time-honored pre-debate custom of managing expectations.
The Biden campaign made clear that Ms. Harris’s task was to critique Mr. Trump’s record, particularly on the pandemic, which has killed more than 210,000 people in the United States. “This debate is really about President Trump’s failed leadership,” said Liz Allen, Ms. Harris’s communications director.
Ms. Sanders said it was not Ms. Harris’s role to fact-check Mr. Pence, adding that the senator would be “speaking directly to voters at home, not questioning Mike Pence.”
“Mike Pence may not interrupt or shout like Trump did last week,” Ms. Sanders said, “but that doesn’t mean he’s being more truthful.”
As for Ms. Harris’s safety sharing a debate stage with Mr. Pence, given the coronavirus outbreak at the White House, Biden campaign officials indicated they were putting their trust in the safety measures put in place by debate organizers.
“They’ll be 12 feet apart,” Ms. Sanders said, “and we don’t expect them to have any interaction except for the words that they share on the debate stage. And we believe that we’re being safe.”
The family of an Arizona woman who was captured, tortured and then killed by members of the Islamic State will be guests of Vice President Mike Pence at his first debate against Senator Kamala Harris, an administration official said.
Kayla Mueller was on a humanitarian mission to Turkey when she was captured in 2013. Two years later, officials determined that she had been killed in captivity. The debate is taking place the same day that two notorious Islamic State detainees were extradited from Britain.
Mr. Pence’s aides are seeking to draw a contrast between President Trump and his Democratic challenger, former Vice President Joseph R. Biden Jr., who had urged caution when the Obama administration discussed the raid that led to the killing of Osama bin Laden in 2011.
Carl and Marsha Mueller, Ms. Mueller’s parents, spoke at the Republican National Convention at the end of August. They said they believed that their daughter would have been rescued if Mr. Trump had been in office at the time.
The Texas Supreme Court intervened on two closely watched voting issues on Wednesday, blocking Houston election officials from sending out mail-in ballot applications to more than 2 million voters and upholding Gov. Greg Abbott’s order to extend the timetable for early voting because of the pandemic.
The rulings by the all-Republican court delivered a split decision for political parties: Democrats had supported efforts to send out ballot applications, and Republicans had sought to quash the expansion of early voting.
Governor Abbott, a Republican, had added six days to Texas early voting, which is now set to begin on Oct. 13. The chairman of the Republican Party of Texas and other conservatives challenged the governor’s order, arguing that he did not have the power to impose it.
The court’s other decision overturned the Harris County clerk’s plans to send mail-in ballot applications to all 2.4 million registered voters in heavily Democratic Harris County, home to Houston.
State officials said the move defied the state’s restrictive absentee voting law, which permits mail-in balloting only for voters 65 or older, those with disabilities, voters who plan to be out of their home county and eligible voters confined in jail. But the clerk, Chris Hollins, said he wanted all voters to have clear guidance on their options during the pandemic.
In its ruling, the court noted that only a “small percentage” of Harris County voters would be eligible to cast mail-in ballots under state law and concluded that the election code did not authorize an elections administrator to send a mail-in ballot application to “a voter who has not requested one.” Permitting the mass mailing of unsolicited applications, the court ruled, would result in “irreparable injury to the state.”
Democrats decried the decision. “Once again, the all-Republican Texas Supreme Court steps into this election against the interests of voters and a functioning democracy,” said Gilberto Hinojosa, the Texas Democratic Party Chairman.
Texas’s attorney general, Ken Paxton, a Republican, called the ruling on the ballot applications “a huge win for Texas.”
Yet another legal confrontation is also moving forward in the courts over Mr. Abbott’s recent order to limit Texas counties to one location for dropping off mail-in ballots. The Texas chapter of the N.A.A.C.P. became the latest group on Wednesday to file suit charging that the order is unconstitutional and would impose severe hardship on voters.
Senator Lindsey Graham, a South Carolina Republican who went from being one of President Trump’s fiercest critics to one of his biggest boosters, faces a much tougher challenge than he expected as he seeks re-election. The nonpartisan Cook Political Report announced Wednesday that it now considers his race against the Democrat Jaime Harrison a toss-up.
Other analysts still rate the race as favoring Mr. Graham: Sabato’s Crystal Ball changed its rating last month to “Leans Republican” from “Likely Republican,” and FiveThirtyEight calls Mr. Graham “favored” to win. Several recent polls have shown the candidates tied, or essentially tied, which is remarkable in South Carolina, a Republican stronghold that Mr. Trump won by 14 percentage points in 2016.
“There has been no more surprising race on the Senate map than South Carolina,” Jessica Taylor wrote in the Cook report.
Mr. Harrison, the first Black chairman of the South Carolina Democratic Party and a former Washington lobbyist, has proved to be an adept fund-raiser and a strong candidate.
Mr. Graham’s political evolution has been one of the most striking of the Trump era: During the 2016 campaign he called Mr. Trump a “kook,” “crazy” and “unfit for office,” among other things, before becoming one of his closest allies.
And in 2016 he made a blunt pledge, as he joined other Republicans in blocking President Obama’s pick for the Supreme Court on the grounds that it was too close to the election. “I want you to use my words against me,” he said then. “If there’s a Republican president in 2016 and a vacancy occurs in the last year of the first term, you can say, ‘Lindsey Graham said, “Let’s let the next president, whoever it might be, make that nomination.”’”
But when Justice Ruth Bader Ginsburg died less than two months before the presidential election, Mr. Graham, who oversees the Senate Judiciary Committee, reversed himself, and vowed to move forward swiftly with Mr. Trump’s nominee, Amy Coney Barrett.
Mr. Harrison has been happy to use Mr. Graham’s words against him, at their debate last Saturday and on Twitter.
In changing the ratings, Cook noted that a recent Quinnipiac University poll found that 50 percent of likely voters said that they did not believe Mr. Graham is honest, compared with 40 percent who said he was.
But the report also said that the Barrett confirmation hearings could provide Mr. Graham “one remaining Hail Mary,” offering him a chance to remind Republican voters of his ability to help put conservative judges on the bench.
The Manhattan district attorney can enforce a subpoena seeking President Trump’s personal and corporate tax returns, a federal appeals panel ruled on Wednesday, dealing yet another blow to the president’s yearlong battle to deny prosecutors his financial records.
The unanimous ruling by a three-judge panel in New York rejected the president’s arguments that the subpoena should be blocked because it was too broad and amounted to political harassment from the Manhattan district attorney, Cyrus R. Vance Jr., a Democrat.
“Grand juries must necessarily paint with a broad brush,” the judges wrote.
They concluded that the president did not show that Mr. Vance had been driven by politics. “None of the president’s allegations, taken together or separately, are sufficient to raise a plausible inference that the subpoena was issued ‘out of malice or an intent to harass,’” they wrote.
Mr. Trump is expected to try to appeal the decision in the United States Supreme Court.
Mr. Vance has said that his office will not enforce the subpoena for 12 days in exchange for the president’s lawyers’ agreeing to move quickly.
The decision marks the fifth time courts have rebuffed the president’s attempts to block the subpoena.
The president and Mr. Vance have been locked in a bitter legal dispute since August 2019, when Mr. Vance’s office subpoenaed eight years of Mr. Trump’s tax returns and other financial records from his accounting firm, Mazars USA. The subpoena is part of an investigation into Mr. Trump and his business practices.
A recent New York Times investigation, based on more than two decades of confidential tax-return data for Mr. Trump and hundreds of his companies, showed that he paid no U.S. income taxes in 11 of the 18 years that The Times examined. He paid only $750 in both 2016 and 2017.