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What Would Democrats Do If They Controlled Congress And The White House?

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There’s a decent chance that in January 2021, Washington, D.C. will be a one-party town.

Democrats have a 72 percent chance of controlling the White House, House of Representatives and Senate, according to the Deluxe version of FiveThirtyEight’s 2020 forecast. It would be the first time they’ve had a political “trifecta” since the first two years of the Obama administration. But while that possibility has pushed some to dream big, Democratic operatives say the limitations of their party’s big-tent politics will likely determine what gets done as much as the wishes of a Biden administration.

In the closing weeks of the presidential campaign, Biden has dodged questions about a once-fringe idea for expanding the number of seats on the Supreme Court, which has let imaginations run wild. Could Democrats actually pursue structural changes on a level not seen in decades? Statehood for Washington, D.C. and Puerto Rico, an overhaul of the federal judiciary, a “Green New Deal” on the scale of what Franklin Roosevelt did during the Great Depression? The country is brutally divided by partisan affiliation, and there is some sense that politics has moved to a more Machiavellian plane; if you are guaranteed power for only two years, leverage it to the hilt.

Yet even court-expansion advocates seem dubious about whether Biden and a Democratic Congress would actually come out of the gate by adding judges to the highest court. The “wish list,” said Christopher Kang of Demand Justice, a liberal group that advocates for judicial reform, is led by “expanding the Supreme Court by adding four seats to offset the two seats that would have now been stolen from a Democratic president.” More likely, though, according to Kang, is that Democrats expand the broader federal judiciary and nominate judges with resumes outside the bounds of the typical white-shoe law firm pedigrees (civil rights activists and academics fill the Demand Justice shortlist). Kang suggested as many as 200 judgeships could be added, pointing out that the Judicial Conference (the policymaking body for the federal courts) has recommended the creation of 70 new judgeships to keep up with the pace of caseloads.

Democrats’ agenda will also be determined by their margin of victory in the Senate. Sen. Joe Manchin will still be in the caucus, after all. Ryan McConaghy, who worked for Senate Minority Leader Chuck Schumer, was circumspect when it came to the subject of court expansion. “That is definitely the type of thing that would take a long time and require very careful consideration of where the votes are,” he said. McConaghy, like other Democrats I spoke to, expected that a Democratic Congress’s first priority would be a stimulus package. He drew comparisons to Obama’s first term for what might happen next. Democrats do not hold all three decision-making bodies often, so there’s going to be a real desire to have progress on a core priority. I think there’s a good chance that climate plays the role in 2021 that the ACA played in 2009 and 2010.”

As Election Day and a potential transition bears down, what seemed most on the minds of the progressives I spoke to is how a Biden White House would be staffed. There’s a worry on the left that Biden — known for hewing closely to wherever the party’s center is at any particular moment — won’t seize on a post-Trump moment to make big changes. One progressive Democratic aide, who spoke on the condition of anonymity because of the sensitivity of intraparty critiques during an election, told me that they were worried that recent history — the Obama administration during the financial crisis — would be a guide for how Biden might act. “Everyone was talking at the time about how Barack Obama was reading “Team of Rivals,” and he picked Hillary Clinton as Secretary of State, but you look at what they did with their economic team, and it was all the Citi Group-allied, Wall Street-sympathetic cabal.” Back in January 2019, economist Paul Krugman, who lobbied the Obama administration unsuccessfully for a bigger stimulus package following the economic collapse of 2008, joked to me that “the financial industry has so much clout and so much influence, not just because of the money but because they’re smart people, they’re persuasive, they have great tailors.” There’s a sense that Biden could choose gatekeepers who aren’t open to the sorts of broad changes that the Democratic primaries put in front of voters.

Under particular scrutiny are Biden’s choices for Chief of Staff: Ron Klain, Steve Ricchetti and Bruce Reed have all served as Biden’s chief of staff at various points in time. Progressives have carved out a favorite in Klain, and the Democratic aide I spoke to said that if Biden chose Ricchetti or Reed, “It’s a major tone-setter.” In areas like government antitrust action — the Department of Justice filed suit against Google this week for antitrust violations — the aide said they weren’t optimistic about a Biden administration. “The odds that he picks people that are allied with Amazon, Google, and Facebook to run DOJ antitrust, to run the FTC — they’re pretty high,” they said. “I’m pessimistic.”

Sean McElwee, executive director of Data For Progress, seemed hesitant to get too optimistic. “I think the big constraint for the Obama administration and not doing progressive stuff was first the deficit fearmongering,” he said. “We’re going to spend a lot of time making the case that Democrats shouldn’t allow themselves to sort of be hampered by the deficit.”

Saikat Chakrabarti, Rep. Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez’s former chief of staff, also brought up what he saw as the misguided thinking of establishment Democrats — Biden foremost among them — on economic matters like the deficit. “I think he’s probably got some ideological hang-ups around how debt works and how deficits work and how taxes work,” Chakrabarti said. “He just needs people around him who can shake him free of those misconceptions.”

McConaghy thinks Democrats are also likely to push for the kind of reforms outlined in H.R. 1, a bill passed by the House in 2019 that proposed automatic voter registration, restoration of provisions in the Voting Rights Act and offered (non-binding) support for making Washington, D.C a state. That last item is one progressives are sure to push for. McElwee called granting D.C. statehood “morally the right thing to do.” But McConaghy said it could be tough to make a reality. “That type of thing exists in the outer ring of what the main focus will be,” he said, pointing out that the nature of the Democratic caucus is “ideologically wide and geographically diverse.” Some rural state Democrats would likely be against D.C. statehood, he said, because of a perception that it would dilute the power of their vote.

The big-tent nature of the Democratic Party is already being tested, as the Biden campaign floated the idea this week that certain Republicans could find a place in the former vice president’s cabinet.

The news was met with opprobrium from parts of the Democratic ecosystem.

“People Biden is vetting: John Kasich, Meg Whitman, Jeff Flake, Charlie Baker, Charlie Dent,” one activist tweeted.

“People Biden is not vetting: Anyone who endorsed Bernie Sanders.”

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Toronto FC hoping to make MLS Cup run having spent much of 2020 far from home

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On a recent Thursday in Hartford, Conn., Toronto FC goalkeeper Quentin Westberg pondered the dichotomy of wanting to reach MLS Cup on Dec. 12, but also desiring to see his family again. Meanwhile, Jim Liston, the team’s director of sports science, was planning a trip to Lowe’s to buy 15 garbage cans so players could have an ice bath after training. As for manager Greg Vanney, he was fretting about his team’s health and the lack of practice time their schedule was affording.

Such is the life of a team as it attempts to not only navigate its way through the COVID-19 pandemic, but has been forced to do it away from home.

Due to travel restrictions between the U.S. and Canada, TFC — like the league’s other two Canadian teams, Montreal Impact and Vancouver Whitecaps — set up a “home” base in the U.S. for the remainder of the season; Toronto were stationed in Hartford. (Vancouver Whitecaps took roost in Portland, ground-sharing with Timbers, while Montreal Impact split use of New York Red Bulls’ facilities in Harrison, N.J.) This was on top of nearly every team spending nearly a month inside a bubble back in July at the MLS is Back Tournament outside Orlando, Florida.

The Reds spent about seven weeks back in Toronto as they played a series of matches against Canadian teams. In mid-September, the remainder of the regular season — and the temporary move to Hartford — beckoned. The vagabond nature of the campaign is what led Liston to joke that he was willing to discuss “whatever five seasons” the team has been through so far. But for Vanney and the players, the campaign has required a special kind of focus.

“A lot of what we’ve done here, and what we try to preach here is just control the controllables, and don’t get too drawn into the things you can’t,” Vanney told ESPN. “Roll with it, and make the best out of whatever the situation is.”

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Toronto has largely succeeded in spite of its odyssey. While there was disappointment at missing out on the Supporters’ Shield to the Philadelphia Union, TFC went 7-3-2 during its Hartford sojourn and finished with the second-best record in the league. But the challenges have still been immense. Simply being out of one’s home environment is difficult enough, but the time spent away from family and loved ones weighs heavy on the psyche, even as Vanney has given players the occasional trip back to Toronto — under quarantine — to reconnect with loved ones.

“It’s just very different, very challenging and emotionally exhausting,” Westberg said of his experience while based in Hartford.

Westberg has arguably had it tougher than most. The TFC goalkeeper is married with four children, including a baby girl who was born in June. For that reason, Westberg and his wife, Ania, made the decision at the end of September that it would be better for her and their kids to head back to his native France so they could be surrounded by family. Westberg called it “the least bad decision,” but there are difficulties nonetheless.

“I’m a very even person, and this year has challenged me a lot,” he said. “I’m still pretty even, but I keep a lot to myself and for sure there’s some difficult days, seeing your family [struggle] from your absence.”

The inability to be home has affected the players and staff in other ways. In Toronto, there are ways of disengaging from the game. Being with friends, loved ones or even in familiar surroundings can be the best medicine in terms of forgetting a bad game or training session. But in Hartford, at the team’s hotel, that escape is nearly impossible even as players try to distract themselves by reading or taking online classes.

“You don’t really unplug,” Westberg said. “You FaceTime family, or this or that, but it’s too short. You’re 100 percent focused on your soccer, and your whole day basically relies on being ready for whatever soccer activity that you have next, whether it’s practice or game. It’s good for your physique, it’s optimal for the way you eat and the way you [train]. But mentally, you’re not as fresh as your body.”

That isn’t to say there are only negatives to the separation. There is also an us-against-the-world mentality that Toronto has adopted, given that their players and personnel are experiencing the season in a way that is vastly different than most other teams. The team staff has done what it can to make their surroundings a home away from home, whether it’s personalizing the locker rooms at Rentschler Field or having hotel staff brand the surroundings in TFC colors. The hotel went so far as to bring in a barista who could consistently give the players their coffee fix. Supporters groups have even sent down banners in a bid to convey the fact that the players are remembered.

The care that TFC takes for players has extended to families back home, with the club supplying meals to loved ones three times a week.

On the logistical side, Liston made sure that one of the gyms used at MLS is Back was brought to TFC’s hotel in Hartford, and he remarked that the food at the hotel is “arguably the best we’ve ever had on the road.”

There have also been efforts to create new routines. Assistant coach Jason Bent, aka DJ Soops, has been in charge of the pregame music selection for the past 18 months — no easy feat for a squad that has a considerable international presence. In Hartford, Bent has set aside Thursday nights to spin music in one area of the hotel. He’ll even go live on Instagram or Twitch for those who prefer to relax in their rooms.

“[We] opened it to players and staff and basically anyone that’s part of our bubble to come relax, listen to music and just enjoy each other’s company,” Bent said. “I enjoy making people happy so if it’s helping everyone even in the slightest, I have no problem arranging the set and spinning.”

For Vanney, the pandemic and operating outside of the team’s home market has meant any number of challenges. He said the team has used three different training facilities in Hartford, with varying field conditions. He recognizes that the trips home are vital for the mental health of his players and staff, but any breaks also mean less time spent on the practice field. The compressed schedule, which at times involved games every three or four days, has had an impact as well. Even the best-laid plans in terms of squad rotation were impacted as minor injuries began popping up.

“We end up with a lot of guys in different positions because they need special kinds of treatment or care to help them get fit and back to health,” Vanney said. “So it ends up being a lot of different things kind of going on all at once, and that’s been the challenge of it.”

Recovery from matches has been complicated by the fact that TFC doesn’t have access to the same level of facilities that it does at home — hence Liston’s emergency trip to Lowe’s to fashion impromptu ice baths for the players. Then there are the different ways the players occupy themselves on the road as compared to home, especially amid the pandemic.

“There’s really no life outside of the hotel,” Liston said. “[At home], you may go walk the dog in the afternoon or go for a walk with your wife or friend or girlfriend or family and you’re out and about. The recommendation [here] is to kind of stay put. So you’ve got a really active population and pro athletes, who we’re asking them to be sedentary the rest of the time, kind of stay in the hotel from a COVID and safety standpoint. That’s not optimal for recovery either.”

There are also the creature comforts of home that are no longer available on the road, which can impact sleep.

“Sleep is the number one tool for recovery, and that’s definitely been a challenge,” Liston said. “We do well-being questionnaires and the scores on quality of sleep, and hours of sleep, just drop.”

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Tom Barlow and Brian White seal Toronto’s fate in a 2-1 win for New York Red Bulls. Watch MLS on ESPN+.

Another change has been same-day travel, which has drawn mixed reactions from the TFC players and staff. Vanney and Westberg are generally in favor, saying it reminds them of when they each played in France. Flying back the same night also means a training day isn’t lost. Liston has a different perspective in that he prefers arriving the day before, and then leaving the same day.

“I think [same-day travel] makes for a really long day,” he said. “And there’s definitely a negative impact on performance, taking three bus rides and a plane ride before your game. You’re getting home — it can be 12:30, but it could also be 1:30 in the morning, and that’s where you know our well-being scores and sleep hours and quality just disappear. When you have so many games in succession, you can’t make up the sleep.”

With the playoffs set to begin for TFC on Nov. 24, the end is in sight, even as it makes for a complex — and even conflicting — set of emotions.

“This is the tricky part. I miss them a lot,” Westberg said of his family. “But in a way I want to see them as [late] as possible in December, because obviously, there’s this idea that we want to do well in the playoffs and we want to keep going. TFC has a history of setting high standards and high expectations. It’s a heavy load to carry but also an exciting one.”

Win or lose, it’s a season they’ll never forget.

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Bettman: NHL is mulling temporary realignment

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The NHL is considering a temporary realignment of its teams for the 2020-21 season due to COVID-19 travel restrictions, according to commissioner Gary Bettman.

Bettman said Tuesday that restrictions on travel across the Canadian border, as well as “limitations in terms of quarantining when you go from certain states to other states” within the United States, could mean the NHL creates a more regionalized alignment for its upcoming season.

“As it relates to the travel issue, which is obviously the great unknown, we may have to temporarily realign to deal with geography, because having some of our teams travel from Florida to California may not make sense. It may be that we’re better off — particularly if we’re playing a reduced schedule, which we’re contemplating — keeping it geographically centric and more divisional-based; and realigning, again on a temporary basis, to deal with the travel issues,” Bettman said during a 2020 Paley International Council Summit panel with fellow commissioners Adam Silver of the NBA and Rob Manfred of MLB.

The NHL board of governors has a meeting scheduled for Thursday which will provide a progress report and possible recommendations for a season format, based on talks between the league and the NHL Players’ Association. The target date for starting next season remains Jan. 1.

Bettman said the league is considering a few scheduling options for the 2020-21 season. Something that’s off the table: playing the entire season in the kind of bubbles the NHL had in Toronto and Edmonton, Alberta, to complete last season. But Bettman said teams opening in their own arenas is a possibility, along with a modified bubble.

“We are exploring the possibility of playing in our own buildings without fans [or] fans where you can, which is going to be an arena-by-arena issue. But we’re also exploring the possibility of a hub. You’ll come in. You’ll play for 10 to 12 days. You’ll play a bunch of games without traveling. You’ll go back, go home for a week, be with your family. We’ll have our testing protocols and all the other things you need,” he said.

Bettman also indicated that the NHL is exploring “a hybrid, where some teams are in a bubble, some teams play at home and you move in and out.”

The NBA’s board of governors unanimously approved a deal with the players’ union that sets the stage for a season that will open on Dec. 22 and with a reduced schedule of 72 games. Silver said that the commissioners are in communication on COVID-19-related issues, especially the NBA and the NHL, since the two leagues’ teams share arenas and, in some cases, team owners.

Silver said he senses that the NBA will have fans in many of its buildings this season.

“We’re probably going to start one way, where we’re maybe a little bit more conservative than many of the jurisdictions allow,” he said. “What we’ve said to our teams is that we’ll continue to work with public health authorities. Arena issues are different than outdoor stadium issues. There will be certain standards for air filtration and air circulation. There may be a different standard for a suite than there will be for fans spaced in seats.”

Silver said there will be standardized protocols that are consistent from arena to arena, such as proximity between players and fans: “In certain cases, for seats near the floor, we’re going to be putting in testing programs, where fans will certify that they’ve been tested — some within 48 hours, some within day of game.” While Silver supported a continued expansion of the NBA postseason through its play-in tournament, Bettman said that he’s not in favor of expanded playoffs or “playing with the fundamentals of the game.” The NHL had 24 teams in its postseason last summer.

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The Battleground States Where We’ve Seen Some Movement In The Polls

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With apologies to The Raconteurs, the presidential race continues to be “steady as she goes,” with little sign of tightening despite a plethora of new polls. FiveThirtyEight’s presidential forecast gives Joe Biden an 89 in 100 shot at winning the election, while President Trump has just an 11 in 100 chance. This makes Biden the favorite, but still leaves open a narrow path to victory for Trump, for whom a reelection win would be surprising — but not utterly shocking.

At the same time, we also have fewer polls from live-caller surveys, which have historically been more accurate and have shown slightly better numbers for Biden, than polls that use other methodologies, such as polls conducted primarily online or through automated telephone calls. Nevertheless, while the overall picture has shifted only a little in recent days, a few battleground states have seen at least some movement in their polls, which has slightly altered the odds Biden or Trump wins in each of those places.

What election stories need to get more coverage | FiveThirtyEight Politics Podcast

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