WASHINGTON – President Donald Trump’s struggling reelection campaign receives a major boost Monday with the expected confirmation of his latest Supreme Court nominee, tilting the top body to the right for potentially decades to come in a historic victory for American conservatives.
The Republican-controlled Senate is all but certain to elevate judge Amy Coney Barrett to the life-long position in a vote Monday evening — making her the sixth conservative, and third Trump appointee, on the nine-member bench.
With eight days until the November 3 vote, the appointment of the 48-year-old Catholic marks an undeniable victory for Trump to trumpet as he barnstorms battleground states in a final bid to claw back ground against Democrat Joe Biden.
But it remains to be seen whether it can be a game-changer for the Republican president, accused by his rival of abandoning the fight against Covid-19 with polls showing voters overwhelmingly disapprove of his pandemic response.
Trump denied Monday he is giving up on fighting the virus, as he landed in Pennsylvania for a trio of rallies — his fifth trip to the swing state in a month — and insisted, despite a new surge in infections, that the pandemic is in retreat.
“We’re absolutely rounding the corner,” he told reporters as he arrived in Allentown.
But the president betrayed his frustration at the health crisis dragging on his reelection hopes, with a tweet complaining about US media coverage of “COVID, COVID, COVID, all the way to the Election.”
More than 225,000 Americans have died, cases are spiking in several states, and hopes have dimmed that a trillion-dollar coronavirus relief package could be negotiated and pass Congress before the Election Day.
Complicating Trump’s argument that America has the upper hand against the virus, his chief of staff Mark Meadows conceded Sunday that “we are not going to control the pandemic,” which he said could only be done through “vaccines, therapeutics and other mitigation areas.”
Biden immediately seized on Meadows’s comment as he again hammered the administration over the virus, which has set records for new cases in recent days, with nearly 90,000 on Saturday and more than 63,000 Sunday.
“It was a candid acknowledgement of what President Trump’s strategy has clearly been from the beginning of this crisis: to wave the white flag of defeat and hope that by ignoring it, the virus would simply go away,” the former vice president said in a statement Sunday.
Trump countered by calling Biden a “pathetic candidate.”
“He’s waved the white flag on life. He doesn’t leave his basement,” he said.
Trump further taunted his opponent Monday for referring to him as “George” during a campaign webcast — presumably a reference to one of the Bush presidents, and the latest in a string of verbal gaffes by the Democrat.
“Joe Biden called me George yesterday. Couldn’t remember my name,” tweeted Trump, 74, who has repeatedly accused his rival of being senile.
– Historic early voting –
Biden had yet to release a public schedule for Monday — the 77-year-old has mounted a far more cautious in-person campaign than Trump due to coronavirus concerns, although he did campaign in Pennsylvania on Sunday.
“In 8 days, we’re going to take our democracy back,” tweeted the former vice president, who leads Trump in the polls both nationally and in half a dozen key battlegrounds.
He spoke as millions of Americans — wary of the health dangers of crowded polling booths, and energized by a race that both candidates have framed as critical — continued to vote early, whether by mail or in person.
On Sunday early voting had surpassed the total of 58 million pre-election ballots from 2016, an independent vote monitor said. By Monday the early voting tally had soared passed 60.5 million.
Data shows Democrats have opened up a major lead over Republicans in early voting in battleground states, although analysts note that Trump could yet stage a comeback on Election Day.
But even Republican leaders in Congress have begun to recognize the grim indications that Trump’s presidency is in trouble.
“A lot of what we’ve done over the last four years will be undone, sooner or later, by the next election,” Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell said Sunday.