The Note: Trump uses vaccine push as political weapon, as wars on science continue

Trump's push for a vaccine has put some Democrats in a potentially awkward spot.

The TAKE with Rick Klein

The administration behind "Operation Warp Speed" also employed a Health and Human Services official who claimed "deep-state scientists" working for the federal government "do not want America to get well."

A president who admitted he downplayed the COVID-19 threat now says he actually "up-played" it. And he is maintaining that it will disappear -- all while casting doubt on mask-wearing, urging states and colleges to reopen quickly and suggesting his opponent is undermining efforts to develop and distribute a vaccine.

"I trust vaccines. I trust scientists. But I don't trust Donald Trump," Biden said.

The administration's push for a vaccine has put some Democrats in a potentially awkward spot. Being skeptical of Trump isn't the same as rejecting everything and anything that comes out of his administration, a distinction Biden laid out Wednesday.

Yet Trump has feuded with his own public-health experts more regularly and significantly than Biden. Even now he is disputing scientific consensus on COVID-19 when it comes to personal behavior, and is casting doubt on the timeline that his own CDC director offered Wednesday about how long a vaccine would take to roll out.

"I believe he was confused," the president said after the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention Director Robert Redfield testified that a vaccine would most likely not be widely available until well into 2021. "It doesn't really matter."

One thing that isn't confusing: Trump has a timeline in mind for a vaccine that happens to coincide with the election. One thing that will matter: When and how a vaccine is actually available to Americans.

The RUNDOWN with MaryAlice Parks

In a roundabout way, full of insults aimed across the aisle, the president Wednesday seemed to urge members of his own party on Capitol Hill to be more lenient in their negotiations with Democrats.

“Go for the much higher numbers, Republicans, it all comes back to the USA anyway (one way or another!),” he wrote on Twitter, suggesting that Republicans back a bigger stimulus and spending bill as Democrats have pushed.

The White House press secretary clarified later in the day that Trump was specifically referring to a "skinny" bill proposed by Senate Republicans voted on last week. That package failed, and Kayleigh McEnany said the president now wanted a larger bill with direct stimulus payments to Americans.

The day of back and forth put many Republicans in a familiar but awkward spot: confused by what the president was pushing, at odds with the White House on fundamentals, and unable to close ranks around a deal. Many were quick to express their reluctance to back a bigger spending proposal at this time, despite unemployment still high and signs of a slowing recovery. There seemed to be skepticism among GOP members Wednesday that the caucus would come together.

The Senate’s top GOP vote counter, John Thune, R-S.D., admitted he thought anything that stood a chance of passing in the Senate in the near future would be likely be approved by mostly Democratic votes with a handful of Republicans pushing it over the edge.

A bipartisan deal for about $1.5 trillion in expanded economic relief and aid emerged from the House side this week, but any bill with enough buy-in to cross the finish line still looks a ways off.

The TIP with Quinn Scanlan

With only about seven weeks left until Election Day, and even less time until a significant amount of voters cast their ballots early amid the pandemic, exactly where Democrats' opportunities lie to pick up seats in the Senate is coming into focus.

A trio of polls from Quinnipiac may have helped clear some of that fog. In deep-red Kentucky, despite her fundraising prowess, Democrat Amy McGrath's shot against Sen. Mitch McConnell is looking increasingly long as the majority leader leads by a 12-point margin among likely voters. But in Maine, the exact opposite: Moderate incumbent Sen. Susan Collins is down 12 points against Democrat Sara Gideon -- a result her campaign blasted as "an extreme outlier."

In South Carolina, one of Trump's staunchest defenders, Sen. Lindsey Graham, is in a dead heat with Democrat Jaime Harrison, 48% to 48%. Despite this poll, the raters -- and history -- lean in Graham's favor, but Harrison told ABC News' "Powerhouse Politics" podcast that he "was born into long odds," and even took pity on the three-term incumbent, saying, "I almost feel a little sad for him."

Even if South Carolina easily goes to Graham, Kentucky's not in play at all and Maine isn't that much of a blowout, by-and-large Senate Republicans are on defense this election, hoping to safeguard 23 seats compared to Democrats' 12. And where Cook Political Report's ratings stand now, six GOP-held seats are rated toss-ups and another leans blue.

If Democrats sweep those seats, even while losing their seat in Alabama, they'd take the majority -- without needing a tie-breaking vote in the White House.

THE PLAYLIST

ABC News' "Start Here" podcast. Thursday morning's episode features ABC News' Anne Flaherty, who discusses the latest plans for a potential coronavirus vaccine as a top Health and Human Services official takes a leave of absence after online rants surfaced. Heather Dinich from our partners at ESPN discusses why the Big 10 made such a quick turnaround on a college football season. And ABC News Senior Meteorologist Rob Marciano checks in from Pensacola, Florida, after Hurricane Sally dumped buckets of rain on the city. http://apple.co/2HPocUL

ABC News' "Powerhouse Politics" podcast. "I feel a little sad for" Sen. Lindsey Graham, Jaime Harrison told ABC News Political Director Rick Klein and Chief White House Correspondent Jonathan Karl Wednesday. Harrison, South Carolina's Democratic Party Chairman competing to unseat the three-term incumbent, remains adamant that the race is close, pointing to a recent Twitter tit-for-tat with Graham over releasing tax returns to suggest his rival is "flailing." https://bit.ly/2CGGdCY

WHAT YOU NEED TO KNOW TODAY

  • FBI Director Christopher Wray, Homeland Security Secretary Chad Wolf and others are scheduled to testify before the House Homeland Security Committee on worldwide threats to the homeland at 9 a.m.
  • Former second lady Jill Biden hosts a virtual working families roundtable in Raleigh, North Carolina, at 2 p.m. She will also hold a virtual community conversation in Fort Myers, Florida. After, she attends Sen. Mark Warner's, D-Va., virtual "Pig Roast" to kick off early voting in Virginia.
  • President Donald Trump visits the National Archives Museum to deliver remarks at the White House Conference on American History at 2:30 p.m. Later he travels to Wisconsin for a campaign rally in Mosinee at 8 p.m. CT.
  • Former Vice President Joe Biden attends a virtual fundraising event. Later, he and Dr. Biden host a virtual Rosh Hashanah event. At 8 p.m., he participates in a CNN town hall in Scranton, Pennsylvania.
  • Sen. Kamala Harris, D-Calif., travels to Philadelphia. In the afternoon, she attends “Sister to Sister, Mobilizing in Action,” a conversation hosted by She Can Win. Later, she participates in a community conversation with Latino leaders and elected officials. In the evening, she attends a virtual fundraising event.
  • Download the ABC News app and select "The Note" as an item of interest to receive the day's sharpest political analysis.

    The Note is a daily ABC News feature that highlights the key political moments of the day ahead. Please check back tomorrow for the latest.

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