What Are Federal Agents Doing in Portland?

Armed federal agents are patrolling the streets of Portland against the wishes of local leaders, and the president refuses to guarantee that he won’t contest the official results of the election. It’s Monday, and this is your politics tip sheet. Sign up here to get On Politics in your inbox every weekday.

  • Military-clad agents reporting to the Department of Homeland Security are patrolling the streets of Portland, Ore., and throwing protesters into unmarked vehicles. The governor of Oregon has called it “a blatant abuse of power,” and the city’s mayor said it was “an attack on our democracy.”

  • Demonstrators have reported that officers dressed in camouflage fatigues have ambushed them and thrown them into vans without telling them why were being arrested or detained.

  • The state’s attorney general has filed a lawsuit accusing the federal agents of unlawful tactics and is seeking a restraining order against them. Washington officials have cited the post-Sept. 11 legislation that created the Department of Homeland Security in justifying the deployment of troops to quell protests. That law empowered the agency’s secretary to send in federal agents to help the Federal Protective Service when federal property is threatened.

  • President Trump also signed an executive order last month directing federal agencies to send personnel to protect monuments and statues. Immediately afterward, the Department of Homeland Security assembled “rapid deployment teams,” pulling officers from a range of law-enforcement agencies.

  • On “Fox News Sunday,” Trump was not shy about defending his decision to send in federal officers to crack down on protesters. “If you look at what’s gone on in Portland, those are anarchists and we’ve taken a very tough stand,” he told Chris Wallace.

  • In fact, the protests there are being driven by a wide range of racial- and social-justice activists. Crowds over the weekend grew to over 1,000, a mixture of longtime left-wing demonstrators and relative newcomers galvanized by the Black Lives Matter movement.

  • A minority of the Portland protesters have engaged in confrontations with the police and defaced property; Portland’s mayor, Ted Wheeler, has called repeatedly for an end to destructive protests. But he was just as quick to make it clear last week that he did not want federal officers getting involved in the situation.

  • Two polls released over the weekend showed how badly Trump’s failed response to the coronavirus has dented his re-election prospects. An ABC News/Washington Post poll out yesterday found that, by a 20-percentage-point margin, Americans said they trusted Joe Biden over Trump to handle the pandemic. Back in March, the country was roughly split on that question, according to an ABC/Post poll at the time.

  • In a Fox News poll also released yesterday, 56 percent of voters disapproved of Trump’s handling of the virus, his highest disapproval on the pandemic in five consecutive months of Fox polling. When given four choices to characterize the United States’ response to the virus, 51 percent of voters chose the worst option, saying that the government did not have the virus under control “at all.” By more than two to one, voters who told Fox that the virus was the No. 1 issue confronting the nation preferred Biden over Trump.

  • While approval of Trump’s handling of the crisis has dropped, Americans continue to give positive reviews to Dr. Anthony Fauci. Roughly three-quarters of voters said they approved of Fauci’s response to the virus, according to Fox. The share expressing strong approval — 44 percent — had jumped by seven percentage points since June.

  • But Biden still trails Trump in the realm of voter enthusiasm: While 69 percent of Trump supporters said in the ABC/Post poll that they were very passionate about voting for him, just 39 percent of Biden’s voters said the same about him.

  • It may not be a fatal flaw for Biden: Most of his voters said it was their passion for defeating Trump, not for their own candidate, that would drive them to the polls in November. Separate polls conducted last month from Monmouth University and CNN both asked voters how enthusiastic they were about voting — not about their enthusiasm about their candidate specifically — and in both cases Democrats were slightly more likely than Republicans to express a high level of passion about voting.

  • Arguably an even more pressing question is the simplest one of all: whether voters will have equitable access to the ballot. States have struggled to put in place efficient and effective voting plans amid the pandemic; California, for instance, rejected over 100,000 mail-in ballots in its March 3 primary election because of technicalities. At the same time, Trump has opposed expanding access to mail-in voting, while seeking to restrict funding for the Postal Service and blocking funds meant to improve election administration.

  • This makes a kind of political sense: Polls show that restrictions on vote-by-mail could end up hurting Democrats more than Republicans. Whereas most Biden voters said in the ABC/Post poll that they would prefer to vote by mail, fewer than one in five Trump voters said the same.

  • Commentators have begun to openly speculate that the simple appearance of a compromised election could open a window for Trump to dispute the results, in the event that Biden appears to have won. Asked flatly by Wallace whether he would accept the official results of the election if he lost, Trump refused to give a definitive answer.

  • “I have to see,” Trump said. “No, I’m not going to just say yes. I’m not going to say no, and I didn’t last time either.”

  • As Congress looks ahead to negotiations on the next phase of coronavirus relief legislation, battle lines are being drawn. House Democrats passed a $3 trillion aid package in May, but Senate Republicans are aiming for a more modest bill in the $1 trillion range. Trump has indicated that he may insist on a payroll tax cut — a long-held Republican priority — while Democrats want to ensure that expanded unemployment benefits remain available for the duration of the pandemic, in addition to extending further aid to state and local governments.

  • Here’s one thing the Trump administration is apparently not so eager to spend money on: actually fighting the virus. A source told our reporter Emily Cochrane that White House officials pushed back against an initial proposal from Senate Republicans to spend over $50 billion on programs at the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, the National Institutes of Health, the Pentagon and the State Department aimed at virus testing, distributing a potential vaccine and otherwise confronting the pandemic.

  • As Trump continues to question the advice of health experts and refuses to institute national response guidelines, a number of G.O.P. senators and governors have begun sidestepping the president. Even Mitch McConnell is quietly going against him, outwardly encouraging Americans to wear masks and expressing support for Fauci.

Credit…Mason Trinca for The New York Times

Federal agents dispersing protesters in Portland on Saturday.

When expressing your admiration for a departed civil rights hero, there’s always the temptation to wax poetic, to ponder the greater ideals of our society and the role of struggle in the fight for human equality.

But before you get to all that, just make sure you’re talking about the right guy.

John Lewis, who died on Friday at 80, co-founded the Student Nonviolent Coordinating Committee and helped organize the 1963 March on Washington before eventually living out the promise in his own activism by becoming a member of Congress for over 30 years. He was among the most widely revered figures on Capitol Hill, referred to as “the conscience of the Congress,” and his death drew tributes and eulogies from all corners.

Trump put out a restrained — if slightly grammatically challenged — statement on Saturday, tweeting: “Saddened to hear the news of civil rights hero John Lewis passing. Melania and I send our prayers to he and his family.”

But it’s probably better to be perfunctory than to be flat-out wrong — as two G.O.P. senators found out the hard way on Saturday. In separate social media posts, Marco Rubio of Florida and Dan Sullivan of Alaska put up elegantly worded tributes to Lewis’s virtuous life and work. Both were accompanied by pictures of themselves, not alongside Lewis but with Elijah Cummings, another long-serving Black member of the House, who died last year.

In his Facebook post, Sullivan wrote: “It was an honor to have served alongside John for a small portion of his impressive career of service, and to have joined him at the opening of the Smithsonian National Museum of African American History and Culture.” Sullivan’s staff later removed both the photo, which showed him and Cummings standing in front of the museum, and the reference to his and Lewis’s being there together.

Rubio took down his offending tweet and replaced it with another acknowledging the mistake, this time featuring a photo with Lewis.

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