The 1st Presidential Debate

Live Updates And Fact Checks


Major-party nominees President Trump and Joe Biden debated for the first time Tuesday night in Cleveland, and it was rocky from the start, with heated exchanges and much cross-talk — most coming from Trump. There was also plenty to fact-check, including:

Another notable moment was when Trump was asked to condemn white supremacy — and ended up telling the extremist group The Proud Boys to “stand back and stand by.”

Read through the highlights from the debate below.

The 1st Debate Is Over. What’s Next?

In an evening filled with an unprecedented level of interruptions, accusations and tense back-and-forths, the first presidential debate of the 2020 election season has come to an end.

President Trump and former Vice President Joe Biden spent a majority of the night bickering and speaking over each other, with moderator and Fox News host Chris Wallace at times raising his voice in an attempt to get them to stop.

Next up: the vice presidential debate between Vice President Pence and Sen. Kamala Harris, which is set for Oct. 7.

Then, Trump and Biden are scheduled to debate each other twice more, on Oct. 15 and Oct. 22. Refer to NPR’s 2020 Election Calendar for information on key upcoming election dates.

For a post-debate recap and continued analysis, be sure to subscribe to The NPR Politics Podcast.

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Biden Uses Arabic Word, ‘Inshallah,’ To Poke Trump

Arabic speakers, Muslims and even Portuguese speakers started tweeting up a storm when Joe Biden asked when President Trump would release his long-sought-after tax returns. “When?” he asked, then added (as his campaign later confirmed): “Inshallah.”

Many wondered aloud on Twitter if they misheard him using the Arabic word that means “God willing” or “ if God wills it.” Portuguese speakers say “Oxalá” derived from the Arabic.

Any Muslim or Arab will tell you it can also be used as Biden used it, comically, a way to not fully commit to doing something you don’t want to do.

But not everyone was impressed. Some found insulting the flippant use of the word by Muslims to denote the belief that nothing will happen unless God wills it.

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Trump To Proud Boys: ‘Stand Back And Stand By’

President Trump did not explicitly condemn white supremacy and right-wing militias during the debate, despite an invitation from moderator Chris Wallace, claiming that the “left wing” is more responsible for violence than the “right wing.” Here’s the question that prompted Trump’s reaction:

WALLACE: But are you willing, tonight, to condemn white supremacists and militia groups and to say that they need to stand down and not add to the violence in a number of these cities as we saw in Kenosha and as we’ve seen in Portland? Are you prepared to specifically do that?

Trump responded: “Sure, I’m prepared to do that. I would say almost everything I see is from the left wing, not from the right wing. I’m willing to do anything. I want to see peace.” Both Wallace and Joe Biden asked him to “do it.” And then, Trump singled out one group with a statement that has drawn alarm:

TRUMP: Proud Boys, stand back and stand by. But I’ll tell you what: Somebody’s got to do something about antifa and the left. Because this is not a right-wing problem — this is a left-wing problem.

The Proud Boys, a group labeled by the Southern Poverty Law Center as a hate group, was involved in the Unite the Right rally in Charlottesville, Va., in 2017, which attracted a number of white supremacist groups. Members of the Proud Boys are known for using white nationalist memes as well as anti-Muslim and misogynistic rhetoric.

The FBI has elevated the threat level of racially motivated violent extremists in the U.S. to a “national threat priority” this year. In testimony this month to the House Homeland Security Committee, FBI Director Christopher Wray said the majority of domestic terrorism threats and violence comes from “racially motivated violent extremism,” mostly from people who subscribe to white supremacist ideologies.

Wray described antifa as an ideology or movement rather than an organized group and said the FBI was investigating some cases involving people who self-identify with antifa. But he said the protest-related violence doesn’t appear to be organized or connected to one group. Protests for racial justice have at times turned violent but have largely been peaceful.

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‘Hot Mess Inside A Dumpster Fire’: Hosts React To Messy Debate

Reactions were swift and brutal after the exceptionally tense and combative presidential debate between President Trump and former Vice President Joe Biden.

CNN’s chief Washington correspondent, Jake Tapper, characterized the debate as a “hot mess inside a dumpster fire inside a train wreck.” He was seconded by CNN’s chief political correspondent, Dana Bash, who called the debate, “a s*** show.”

ABC News chief anchor George Stephanopoulos put his feelings in context. “I have to speak personally here,” Stephanopoulos said, “as someone who’s watched presidential debates for 40 years, as somebody who’s moderated presidential debates, as someone who’s prepared candidates for presidential debates, as someone who’s covered presidential debates, that was the worst presidential debate I have ever seen in my life.”

NBC News Today show anchor Savannah Guthrie called the evening “undignified” and “cringeworthy.”

On Fox News, hosts Bret Baier and Martha MacCallum were shaken but restrained in their criticism. “I feel like we just went through something,” Baier said.

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Pushed On Right-Wing Extremists, Trump Turns To Antifa

President Trump has repeatedly tried to blame the left-wing antifa movement for violence that has broken out in some cities in connection with the civil unrest following George Floyd’s killing.

Trump leaned into that line again this evening.

After he was asked by moderator Chris Wallace whether he would condemn white supremacists and militias, Trump tried to brush the question aside and shift the topic to antifa, saying, “This is not a right-wing problem. This is a left-wing problem.”

Biden interjected to point out that FBI Director Christopher Wray, who was appointed by Trump, has called antifa an idea, not an organization.

TRUMP: That’s not an idea. Antifa is bad.

BIDEN: Everybody who tells you the truth in your administration has a bad idea.

TRUMP: Antifa is a dangerous, radical group, and you ought to be careful with them. They’ll overthrow you.

Wray spoke extensively about antifa during testimony before Congress this month.

He told lawmakers that antifa is a “real thing,” but he said, “It’s not a group or an organization — it’s a movement or an ideology.” Wray also said the FBI has open investigations into “violent anarchist extremists,” some of whom self-identify with antifa.

So far, the Justice Department has charged more than 300 people with federal crimes in connection with the recent civil unrest.

An NPR review of roughly one-third of those cases turned up no mention of antifa in any of the court documents. There are instances, however, in which alleged members or adherents of right-wing extremist groups or movements are facing charges.

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Fact check

Who Said ‘Superpredators’?: Trump Goes After Biden On Crime Bill

TRUMP: A crime bill, 1994, where you called them superpredators, African Americans, the superpredators, and they’ve never forgotten it.

BIDEN: I never said that.

President Trump criticized Joe Biden for using the term “superpredators” when he was working on the 1994 crime bill. “Superpredator” was a term coined by a Princeton University professor in the mid-1990s to describe young offenders who had “no respect for human life.” The term caught on, given the sharp increase in violent crime in America’s big cities in the 1980s, much of which was linked to the crack epidemic. The notion of teenage criminals who killed without remorse caught on and lent momentum to anti-crime legislation such as the 1994 crime bill.

Trump’s claim that Biden used the term is mostly true. Biden did refer to the problem of “predators” when violent crime statistics had been rising for a decade.

It’s also important to remember that many African Americans were asking for help with crime in big cities. The majority of the Congressional Black Caucus supported the 1994 bill, and while criminologists say it added to the trend toward more incarceration in the U.S., it also helped curb violent crime, in part by increasing the number of police officers on the street.

The wisdom of America’s move toward greater rates of incarceration is intensely debated today, but it’s true that rates of violent crime today are much lower, nationally, than they were in the early 1990s.

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Trump Again Refuses To Commit To Peaceful Transition Of Power

President Trump ended tonight’s debate by once again refusing to commit to a peaceful transition of power and to discourage his supporters from participating in violence in the event that results from the Nov. 3 race are delayed due to expected large numbers of mail-in ballots.

Trump was asked by moderator Chris Wallace if he would urge his supporters to stay calm during what could be an extended period of ballot counting and whether he would pledge to refrain from declaring victory until results had been independently certified.

“I’m urging my supporters to go into the polls and watch very carefully,” Trump said.

“I am urging my people — I hope it’s going to be a fair election. If it’s a fair election, I am 100% on board. But if I see tens of thousands of ballots being manipulated, I can’t go along with that.”

The president has in recent weeks redoubled his unfounded suggestions that the election will be rigged and that mail-in ballots are to blame. Citing these claims, he has declined to say that he will peacefully leave office if he is not reelected — the bedrock principle of any functioning democracy.

Trump tonight went on to say that “they cheat.” He also baselessly accused Democrats of having tried to “do a coup” to keep him out of office in his first term.

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Trump And Biden Fight Over Who Has Better Record On Reducing Crime

President Trump has made “law and order” a cornerstone of his reelection effort. As part of that, he has tried to attack Joe Biden for allegedly being soft on crime and has even suggested the U.S. was more violent during the Obama administration.

At one point during the debate, Trump asked Biden directly whether he supported law and order. Here’s the exchange:

TRUMP: Are you in favor of law and order?

BIDEN: Yes, I’m in favor of law and order. Law and order with justice where people get treated fairly, and the fact of the matter is violent crime went down 17% — 15% in our administration. It’s gone up on his watch.

TRUMP: Went down much more in ours.

Crime did drop to historically low levels during the Obama administration, according to statistics published by the FBI. The violent crime rate, for example, fell from 432 per 100,000 in 2009 to 362 per 100,000 in 2014, before inching back up in the closing years of Obama’s time in office.

Since Trump took office in 2017, the violent crime rate has inched back downward. The FBI released its statistics for 2019 — the latest official figures available — on Monday. They show the rate fell 1% in 2019 compared with the previous year, but it still remains above the lowest level seen during the Obama years.

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Fact check

Trump Turns To Go-To Falsehoods On Voting

Tonight’s final debate section focused on issues of democracy and featured a flurry of President Trump’s go-to falsehoods and misleading statements about voting in the United States.

His underlying theory — whether he’s discussing a mistake by an elections worker in Pennsylvania or the messy rollout of New York’s expanded vote-by-mail system — is that there are nefarious forces at play pulling the strings of America’s elections.

“This is going to be fraud like you’ve never heard,” Trump said Tuesday.

But there are simply no data to support that claim, which Trump has made repeatedly over the past five years.

He and his supporters usually trumpet instances of election administration error, like this case where a number of Virginia voters were sent duplicate absentee ballots, but he does not mention that Virginia has safeguards in its system to prevent people from voting twice even if they receive two ballots.

As former Vice President Joe Biden noted, Trump himself and many members of his administration have voted by mail in the past, and a number of states have implemented all-mail elections without major issues in recent years.

Biden did incorrectly say that five states “have had mail-in ballots for the past decade or more:”

In reality, while five states now allow all-mail elections, some of those states made that switch only recently. Oregon and Washington are the only states that have conducted statewide all-mail elections for more than a decade.

The bottom line remains: Mail is considered by experts, voting leaders in both major parties and national security officials to be a safe and effective way to vote.

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Fact check

Racial Sensitivity Training Is Not Racist

President Trump described why he ended federal racial sensitivity training:

TRUMP: I ended it because it’s racist. I ended it because a lot of people were complaining that they were asked to do things that were absolutely insane, that it was a radical revolution that was taking place in our military, in our schools, all over the place. You know it, and so does everybody else.

Racial sensitivity training, which addresses topics like white privilege and critical race theory, is aimed at creating inclusive workplaces for women and people of color who can often be made to feel marginal in a majority white, male workplace. Many American businesses now require — and federal agencies had used — such training to create work environments that feel safe for all.

Trump banned the training for federal workers and contractors this month, characterizing it as “efforts to indoctrinate government employees with divisive and harmful sex- and race-based ideologies,” adding, “Americans should be taught to take PRIDE in our Great Country, and if you don’t, there’s nothing in it for you!”

Historians, advocates for racial justice and racial sensitivity trainers decried the move as dangerous, saying he’s whitewashing racism in America’s history and present, and worried it would move the country backward on issues of equity.

M.E. Hart, an attorney who has run hundreds of diversity training sessions for the federal government and American businesses, said in an interview with NPR that the president misrepresented the training as “anti-American.”

“The training is designed to help people understand and work better across cultures, to help people to create a culture of psychological safety and belonging so people can bring their best to work. And the research supports that,” he said. “When people of diverse backgrounds, diverse learning styles, come together, it leads to better problem-solving, more innovation. … They’re not anti-American — they’re pro-American and pro-business.”

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Fact check

‘Portland Sheriff’ Does Not Support Trump

President Trump tonight claimed support from the “Portland sheriff”:

TRUMP: Portland, the sheriff just came out today, and he said, I support President Trump. I don’t think you have any law enforcement. You can’t even say the word law enforcement because, if you say those words, you’re going to lose all of your radical left supporters.

It’s not clear what he means here. The sheriff of the county Portland, Ore., is located in, Multnomah County, is Michael Reese. He’s not on record supporting President Trump and just denied it in a tweet:

The president may be thinking of sheriffs in rural or suburban areas of Oregon.

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Trump Again Denies Climate Science

President Trump again refused to acknowledge the overwhelming scientific consensus that humans are the main driver of climate change, and he offered an incomplete picture of what he said was America’s “record” clean air.

As The Associated Press has reported, several air pollution measurements continued their fall last year to a record level, but many experts attribute that primarily to more fuel-efficient vehicles and to the long decline of coal as an energy source. (Trump has sought to curb fuel-efficiency rules for cars and trucks and has fought to reverse coal’s decline.) Another measurement, on “tiny particles,” has stayed roughly flat over Trump’s first term.

Air quality levels plunged to dangerous levels in parts of the West this year among record wildfires — conflagrations scientists say are made worse by climate change. In tonight’s debate, Trump again focused on forest management, rather than the worsening conditions that experts say make wildfires larger and more frequent. Trump said the same when he visited California himself recently.

Trump’s environmental record is defined by the regulations he has repealed or tried to repeal. His administration says those rules are extraneous and damaging to the country’s economy.

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Fact check

Did Trump Actually Suggest Nuking Hurricanes?

Joe Biden dedicated a line in his climate change response to criticizing President Trump for having reportedly suggested the United States use nuclear bombs to stop hurricanes.

Biden was discussing his proposal for tax incentives to encourage people to weatherize their homes to help ward off hurricane damage when he said:

BIDEN: By the way, [Trump] has an answer for hurricanes. He says maybe we should drop a nuclear weapon on them.

The former vice president was referring to a report from Axios last year citing unnamed sources that said Trump had “suggested multiple times” using nuclear bombs to stop hurricanes before they reach the U.S. coast.

“I never said that at all. You made it up,” Trump responded to Biden.

Trump at the time decried the report as “fake news.”

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Fact check

Emissions Are Down, But Not Because Of Trump Policies

President Trump claimed "we have the lowest carbon" and "if you look at our numbers right now, we are doing phenomenally." While there has been a recent decline in emissions of the greenhouse gas carbon dioxide, it’s misleading to imply that Trump can in any way take credit for that drop.

Under Trump’s leadership, the United States withdrew from the Paris climate agreement, which was designed to help curb climate change. Emissions are down because of behavior changes caused by the coronavirus pandemic, but the federal government projects those numbers will largely bounce back up after the virus is under control.

According to the Union of Concerned Scientists, the United States singlehandedly accounts for 15% of the world’s carbon dioxide emissions.

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Biden Disavows The Green New Deal — But He’s Embraced Some Of Its Big Themes

BIDEN: The Green New Deal will pay for itself as we move forward. We’re not going to build plants that, in fact, are great polluting plants.

WALLACE: You support the Green New Deal?

BIDEN: No, I don’t support the Green New Deal.

TRUMP: Oh, you don’t? That’s a big statement. You just lost the radical left. Oh, you don’t.

BIDEN: I support the Biden plan that I put forward. The Biden plan, which is different than what he calls the radical Green New Deal.

Moderator Chris Wallace was criticized by climate activists for not including climate change as a planned topic in tonight’s debate. So it was a curveball when, in the final 15 minutes, Wallace added it in.

The bulk of the segment was filled with President Trump skirting Wallace’s direct questions on whether climate change is a driving contributor to overwhelming fires in California and elsewhere on the West Coast. Trump also said he had repealed scores of Obama-era environmental regulations because they were driving energy costs “through the roof.”

Biden laid out the ambitious $2 trillion climate plan his campaign rolled out this summer, touching on the pivot to electric vehicles, clean electricity production and better weatherization of buildings.

Biden also promised to rejoin the Paris climate accord, which Trump has withdrawn from, but Biden, if elected, would have a window to reenter.

Trump responded by attacking the Green New Deal — a broad framing for climate action championed by New York Rep. Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez.

Biden doesn’t fully support it and repeatedly disavowed it on the stage. But the fact is, he has embraced large portions in his campaign plan. Biden wants to transform U.S. electricity generation to net-zero carbon emissions — that means relying almost entirely on clean energy like wind and solar power, as well as carbon emission-free nuclear power — in 15 years. That would be followed by a goal of a net-zero U.S. economy by 2050. And those two major goals are big themes of the Green New Deal.

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Trump Leans Into His Familiar ‘Law And Order’ Message

President Trump pressed Joe Biden on whether he supported “law and order.” This is a message that Trump has leaned into as he positions himself as the protector of the suburbs from the dangers of Democratic-led cities.

TRUMP: It is crazy what is going on, and he doesn’t want to say ‘law and order’ because he can’t.

Trump has responded to nationwide unrest over police brutality by strongly backing law enforcement. He has criticized police officers in specific cases, including those involved in the killing of George Floyd in Minneapolis. But he has argued that police brutality is the work of a few "bad apples" and not the result of systemic racism.

He has lashed out against rioters and looters, blaming local Democratic officials for not doing enough to crack down on demonstrators who destroy property.

Critics say Trump is playing on fears of largely Black and Latino neighborhoods to boost his standing with white supporters.

BIDEN: All these dog whistles and racism do not work anymore, the suburbs are by and large integrated.

Facing pressure to act after Floyd’s death, Trump signed an executive order that aims to set up a national database to track police misconduct and to incentivise better training for police officers.

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Fact check

How Biden’s Views On Crime Have Changed Since ‘Tough On Crime’ Days

As he has before, President Trump criticized former Vice President Joe Biden for the 1994 crime bill, and the disproportionate drug sentences that measure — and similar state and federal legislation from the same era of “tough on crime” politics — brought on Black offenders.

Biden has never fully apologized for or disavowed that measure, instead pointing to more popular aspects of the bill like a 10-year federal assault weapons ban and domestic violence protections.

Biden has instead repeatedly emphasized the way his views, like those of many Democrats who held public office during that era, have evolved over time. The criminal justice platform Biden is running on in 2020 takes a polar opposite approach to many topics addressed in the crime bill, including calling for reductions in mandatory minimum sentences for drug crimes.

During tonight’s debate Trump referenced “super predators” — a since-disavowed academic framing from the 1990s of urban drug dealers and gang members. The framing became a shorthand among both left- and right-wing critics during the 2016 presidential campaign, when former Secretary of State Hillary Clinton was repeatedly criticized for supporting “tough on crime” measures in the 1990s.

But, like many of the president’s go-to attack lines from 2016, his attacks are more complicated and muddied four years later. Indeed, after arguing that Biden was too tough on crime tonight, Trump spent long later segments of the debate arguing that Biden was against “law and order” and in league with violent protests.

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Fact check

Trump, Biden Spar Over Suburban Voters

President Trump, who has lost ground with suburban voters, warned again tonight that a Biden presidency would jeopardize suburbs — a charge Biden described as a racist "dog whistle."

Here’s what’s behind that rhetoric. Homeownership is the main way that middle-class families in America build wealth. Historically, many African Americans were locked out of this wealth-building opportunity by discriminatory zoning and lending policies.

Almost half a century after Congress passed the Fair Housing Act in 1968, the Obama administration sought to enforce its provisions with a rule tying federal funding to communities’ efforts to desegregate housing. The Trump administration repealed that rule this summer.

Trump tweeted, “The ‘suburban housewife’ will be voting for me. They want safety & are thrilled that I ended the long running program where low income housing would invade their neighborhood.”

Trump’s family real estate business was sued by the Justice Department in the 1970s for allegedly refusing to rent to Black families. The family settled the case with no admission of wrongdoing, but they were required to familiarize themselves with the Fair Housing Act.

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The Legacy Of Charlottesville

Joe Biden recalled the memory of deadly white supremacist violence that broke out in Charlottesville, Va., in August 2017 — a moment Joe Biden has said was pivotal in his decision to challenge Trump.

“Close your eyes, remember what those people looked like coming out of the fields, carrying torches, their veins bulging, just spewing anti-Semitic bile,” Biden said. “And the president said there were ‘very fine people on both sides.’ No president has ever said anything like that.”

Biden is referring to Trump’s comments responding to the violence, where he indeed said there were “very fine people on both sides” of the clash between white supremacists and counterprotesters. Trump later said he was referring to both anti-racist counterprotesters and those in Charlottesville who opposed the removal of Confederate monuments.

PolitiFact called the statement a situation where “context is needed.”

Later in the exchange on the debate stage, moderator Chris Wallace asked Trump if he would condemn white supremacists. Trump initially sidestepped that question, claiming that he mostly sees violence “from the left wing.” That’s despite the fact that the federal government has deemed white supremacist terrorism among the most serious threats facing the nation.

Trump eventually responded to Wallace’s question by referring to a white supremacist group, saying, “Proud Boys, stand back and stand by. But I’ll tell you what: Somebody’s got to do something about antifa and the left."

The Anti-Defamation League’s Jonathan Greenblatt has called for Trump to apologize for that statement or explain what he meant.

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Fact check

Coronavirus Vaccine Timeline: What’s Realistic?

President Trump defended his administration’s response to the coronavirus pandemic:

TRUMP: We got the gowns. We got the masks. We made the ventilators. You wouldn’t have made ventilators. Now we’re weeks away from a vaccine.

Biden picked up the thread later on:

BIDEN: This man is talking about a vaccine. Every serious company is talking about maybe having a vaccine done by the end of the year, but the distribution of that vaccine will not occur until sometime [in] the beginning or middle of next year to get it out, if we get the vaccine, and pray God we will.

WALLACE: Mr. President, I want to pick up on that 

TRUMP: You’ll have the vaccine sooner than that.

The Trump administration can rightly claim some credit for speeding up the development of a coronavirus vaccine. It has given billions of dollars to vaccine-makers to manufacture candidate vaccines “at risk,” meaning they are going to produce hundreds of millions of doses that will be thrown away if the vaccine is not safe and effective.

The question is, how fast can a vaccine be shown to be safe and effective? Scientists have warned that some things cannot be rushed and that rare side effects may not be revealed until the vaccines have been tested in tens of thousands of people. It also takes time for a vaccine to produce the kind of immune response that would protect someone from infection or illness. Some have argued for a minimum of two months after someone has been vaccinated, and since the large trials didn’t start until late July, only now are the first enrollees reaching that point.

It could be that Trump is right and that approvals are weeks — or more likely months — away. But Biden is also right that distribution to the general public will be much later, after priority groups receive the vaccine.

The undercurrent here is the concern that Trump may be pressuring scientists to rush through the approval process. Many scientists worried that the Food and Drug Administration gave an emergency use authorization to the drug hydroxychloroquine under pressure from the White House, an authorization that was subsequently withdrawn. They worry that political pressure might be brought to bear to give similar authorization to a vaccine with inadequate vetting. Even the appearance of political pressure may increase vaccine hesitancy, and a vaccine won’t work to stop the pandemic if the public won’t get immunized.

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Fact check

Trump Exaggerates Claims On Obama Economic Recovery

President Trump claimed tonight that the recovery from the Great Recession was the “slowest economic recovery since 1929.”

The federal government only started keeping its current GDP accounting system after World War II. The recovery after the Great Recession was the longest since that war, as CNN noted in a 2016 piece, but that same series of data didn’t exist before then.

As for blaming Barack Obama (and, by extension, Joe Biden) for that long recovery, it’s hard to pin that blame squarely on them. For one, that recession was remarkably deep. This chart of job losses in recent recessions, for example, shows how the Great Recession featured more job losses than all other post-WWII recessions. The deeper the hole, the longer it might reasonably take to climb out of it. (In addition, as economist Peter Diamond has noted, a housing crash can take longer to recover from than other economic declines.)

And, indeed, there are some who argue that the Obama administration should have pursued an even bigger stimulus to power the recovery.

There’s also the flip side of what Trump refers to as a slow recovery: It was also a remarkably long, uninterrupted recovery for the job market. Obama bragged that he presided over the longest uninterrupted stretch of private-sector job growth in U.S. history — and he was right. All of that said, once again, it’s impossible to neatly assign credit or blame for job growth (or lack thereof) to a president — and often they don’t deserve much of either.

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Trump’s Tax Returns Get Turn In Spotlight

Perhaps inevitably, President Trump was asked about this week’s report in The New York Times that he has paid little or no federal income taxes in the past decade and a half.

He bristled as he said, “I paid millions in taxes, millions in income tax.”

The president has famously refused to release his personal tax returns — breaking decades of precedent — so it’s difficult to know for sure how much he has paid.

The Times reported that Trump has declared massive losses over the years that effectively allowed him to dodge taxes. For instance, after the collapse of his casinos, he declared more than $700 million in losses on his 2009 tax bill and asked for large refunds for money he made in preceding years, when he was pulling in profits from his TV show, The Apprentice.

Trump has frequently said over the years that people who take advantage of the tax code to reduce their own taxes are “smart.”

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Fact check

Trump Inaccurately Claims Biden Said He Attended HBCU Delaware State

In another tense exchange, President Trump criticized former Vice President Joe Biden’s education, claiming that Biden has incorrectly said he went to Delaware State University instead of the University of Delaware.

TRUMP: You said you went to Delaware State, but you forgot the name of your college. You didn’t go to Delaware State.

Trump went on to then attack Biden’s intelligence.

Trump’s comment on Delaware State University is referring to a statement Biden made during a speech in South Carolina last year in which the former vice president said he “got started out of an HBCU, Delaware State.”

In the speech, Biden makes no direct claim of attending the university, though The Washington Times reported on the statement and featured a quote from DSU spokesman Carlos Holmes denying Biden went to the school.

Holmes has since come forward saying that he was not given the correct context for the news organization’s question, telling WHYY’s Mark Eichmann, “The reporter did not mention anything about his campaign statement last year, and at that point I was totally unaware of it.”

Holmes characterized the reporting as “unfortunate,” adding that when “watched in full context, it is clear that Biden was discussing his long association with historically Black colleges and universities, not making a claim that he had attended Delaware State University.”

The former vice president holds an honorary doctoral degree from the university and has delivered two commencement speeches for the school, in 2003 and in 2016.

Eichmann points out that Biden’s comments are linked to his longtime history in Delaware politics. In his 2016 commencement address, Biden explained that members of the DSU student community played a memorable role in his first Senate run.

“It really did start here,” Biden said, adding, “The only reason I got elected then was because of this campus and the community it represents.”

Read more on Biden’s comments here, from WHYY.

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Fact check

Trump: ‘I’m Not Fighting Masks’

BIDEN: Masks make a big difference. His own head of the CDC, if we just wore a mask — if everybody wore a mask and social distance between now and January, we’d save up to 100,000 lives. It matters. It matters.

TRUMP: They’ve also said the opposite.

BIDEN: No serious person said the opposite.

TRUMP: What about Dr. Fauci?

BIDEN: He did not say the opposite.

TRUMP: He said very strongly masks are not good. Then he changed his mind and said masks are good. I’m OK with masks. I’m not fighting masks.

Trump does not like wearing masks and has been holding rallies where many supporters don’t wear them. He has also repeatedly mocked Biden for wearing masks in public. The president’s lax mask attitude has put him at odds with the heads of U.S. science agencies such as Dr. Francis Collins of the National Institutes of Health and Dr. Robert Redfield of the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, who said at a recent Senate hearing: “I might even go so far as to say that this face mask is more guaranteed to protect me against COVID than when I take a COVID vaccine.” Trump disputed Redfield’s statement, describing masks as “a mixed bag.”

Early in the pandemic, public health experts, including Dr. Anthony Fauci, were slow to recommend universal masking. In late February, Surgeon General Jerome Adams tweeted: “Seriously people- STOP BUYING MASKS!” By April, however, as researchers realized that the coronavirus was spreading from people without symptoms, the CDC changed its guidelines to recommend wearing masks. Since then, public health experts — including Fauci — have been consistently urging people to wear masks in public.

Masks help prevent the spread of the coronavirus by catching virus particles that come out of infectious people’s noses and mouths when they’re speaking or breathing — and by offering the wearer some protection against breathing them in. Even if masks are not 100% effective, research (funded by NIH) shows that adopting universal face coverings in public could keep people from getting infected and reduce deaths by a minimum of 3% to 5% — more, if the masks are highly effective (i.e., surgical masks).

Meanwhile, health officials have been warning that a vaccine may work in only 50% of the people who get it. This means a vaccine may not be the magic wand that ends the pandemic — and even after a vaccine is approved, mask-wearing, social distancing and hand-washing may be part of our lives for a while yet.

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Trump Attacks Biden Over His Son, Hunter

Joe Biden’s son, Hunter, has been at the center of a partisan whirlpool for years over the payments he has taken from foreign business associates, including during the time when Biden was vice president.

President Trump hit Biden over Hunter’s dealings tonight and also mentioned Hunter’s business relationships with Chinese interlocutors.

In the case of Ukraine, Trump and his administration sought to condition military assistance authorized by Congress on the announcement, by Ukraine’s leaders, of an investigation into the Bidens. Ultimately the Ukrainians made no such statement and the assistance was released, but House Democrats impeached Trump over what they called his abuse of power.

Hunter Biden was being paid by a Ukrainian gas company even as his father handled the Ukraine portfolio for President Barack Obama, part of a bid to open doors in Washington. Although the saga has embarrassed Biden and his campaign, prosecutors have concluded that no laws were broken.

All the same, Trump and other critics argue that Biden’s family has ridden his coattails through his decades in public office, including as vice president, to try to profit from their connection to him. Complicating this attack line, however, is Trump’s close dependence on his immediate family — including a daughter and son-in-law who serve as two of his closest aides within the White House — and the hundreds of thousands of dollars or more that Trump has been paid by the government, as documented by The Washington Post.

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Trump Claims Military Was ‘Broken,’ But It’s Not So Simple

Trump has claimed since before he was elected that the military had become “depleted” under President Barack Obama — for whom Biden worked as vice president — and tonight he called it “broken.” But that’s always been a complicated claim.

Trump’s assertion that he has provided greater support for the military is simpler: He has. The “topline” of the Defense Department budget in the final year of Obama’s administration was just over $626 billion, as discussed in this study by the Center for Strategic and International Studies. Since Trump took office, Department of Defense funding has ticked up a few percentage points per year, and in February, the administration requested more than $705 billion.

But that money hasn’t necessarily bought a larger force, and many of the same issues the military confronted under Obama persist: aging ships, aircraft and other equipment; vertiginous costs to replace them; and what officials call still more rapid technological gains by potential rivals, especially China. For example, the People’s Liberation Army-Navy now has more ships than the U.S. Navy, the Pentagon says, and it likely will continue growing and improving.

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Fact check

Manufacturing Has Started To Recover, But Still Slumped

Manufacturing has begun to recover from the punch thrown by the pandemic, but factories still employed 716,000 fewer people last month than they did a year ago, and 237,000 fewer than when President Trump took office in 2017. Factories were in a slump even before the coronavirus pandemic. After a strong year in 2018, President Trump’s trade war disrupted supply chains and raised manufacturing costs. Factories added just 29,000 jobs in all of last year. Manufacturing plays a smaller role in the U.S. economy than it used to, employing just 8.6% of the total workforce. But manufacturing is a major employer in a number of key swing states, including Wisconsin, Michigan and Iowa.

The president’s trade war with China has prompted some U.S. companies to rethink their supply chains. But in many cases, businesses have shifted production to other suppliers in Asia or Mexico. A survey last year by the American Chamber of Commerce in China found just 6% of companies operating there were considering moving jobs to the United States.

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Fact check

Trump And Biden On Their Tax Plans

Joe Biden has proposed raising the corporate tax rate from its current rate of 21% to 28% — which would still be below the level in 2016. Biden also wants to impose higher income and payroll taxes on those making more than $400,000, and tax millionaires’ dividends and capital gains at the same rate as ordinary income.

According to the nonpartisan Tax Policy Center, more than 80% of Biden’s proposed tax increase would fall on the richest 5% of taxpayers. Biden’s plan would raise an estimated $4 trillion over the next decade.

Despite repeated promises from the president and his advisers, the GOP tax cut passed in 2017 hasn’t come close to paying for itself. Corporate tax revenues fell 31% the first year the cut was passed. Overall tax revenues as a share of the economy have declined in each of the two years since the cut took effect. The tax cut also failed to deliver a sustained increase in economic growth.

The economy grew 2.2% last year, roughly on par with the pace over the past decade. Growth briefly hit Trump’s 3% target in 2018, following passage of the GOP tax cut. But that now appears to have been a short-lived “sugar high.” While backers of the tax cut said it would encourage more business investment and spark a decade of sustained 3% growth, business investment actually slumped for most of last year. That was partly a result of sagging global demand as well as uncertainty, stemming from the president’s trade war.

In the first 37 months that President Trump was in office — that is, before the pandemic struck – the U.S. economy added 6.8 million jobs. That’s impressive, but hardly unprecedented. In the 37 months before Trump took office, the U.S. economy added 8.2 million jobs.

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What It’s Like In Tonight’s Debate Hall

I am standing in an atrium at the Cleveland Clinic, looking at a tall white tree. On the left side of the tree is the president of the United States. On the right side of the tree is the former vice president.

Tonight’s debate, like so many other things in 2020, has a strange, surreal feel.

Rather than gather in an auditorium, the Commission on Presidential Debates has set up an ad-hoc auditorium inside a large academic building. Walking into the venue with Joe Biden’s traveling press pool, I had no idea we were inside the debate room itself until we rounded the corner and saw the trademark dark blue and red set.

I’m standing just off the set, where the red carpet stops and is ringed by those white trees, and that’s where I saw President Trump emerge from a blue curtain and walk onto the stage for his first face-to-face encounter with Biden since the day Trump was inaugurated in 2017.

The room was quiet and tense before Trump began interrupting, attacking and criticizing Biden through every answer. Trump’s gaze is mostly focused on Biden, as he looks for opportunities to unnerve a rival Trump has repeatedly framed as mentally diminished.

The crowd is occasionally nervously tittering as Trump attacks, but it’s mostly dead quiet.

Biden is standing still, looking squarely at the camera. He’s clearly trying to ignore the president’s attacks and speak directly to the audience of voters.

There have been some notable exceptions, of course — most memorably at the very end of the first topic section, when Biden turned to Trump and said: “Will you shut up, man?”

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‘I Disagree With Them’: Trump Asked About Contradicting His Top Health Officials

Moderator Chris Wallace asked President Trump about his practice — especially recently — of contradicting his top health officials.

WALLACE: President Trump, you have repeatedly either contradicted or been at odds with some of your government’s own top scientists. The week before last, the head of the Centers for Disease Control, Dr. Redfield, said it would be summer before the vaccine would become generally available to the public. You said that he was confused and mistaken. Those were your two words.

TRUMP: Yeah.

WALLACE: But Dr. Slaoui, the head of your Operation Warp Speed, has said exactly the same thing. Are they both wrong?

TRUMP: I’ve spoken to the companies, and they said we could have it a lot sooner. It’s a political thing. People like this would rather make it political than save lives.

It’s a very political thing. I’ve spoken to Pfizer, all the people we have to speak to, Moderna, Johnson & Johnson and others. They can go faster than that by a lot. Become very political because the left — I don’t know if you call them left.

WALLACE: You’re suggesting the head of your Operation Warp Speed, Dr. 

TRUMP: I disagree with them.

Trump’s critics have pointed to how he has silenced and sidelined federal scientists, such as the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention’s Dr. Nancy Messonnier after Feb. 25, when she warned the American public to prepare for significant disruptions, saying of the pandemic, “This could be bad.” Trump reportedly wanted her fired for those statements, and the next day he launched the White House coronavirus task force and put Vice President Pence in charge of it. Since then, politicians and political appointees have briefed the public and reporters, not career scientists.

The Trump administration has also overridden decisions at the CDC and forced changes to the agency’s official recommendations and website — changes that downplayed the risks of singing in church, narrowed testing recommendations for asymptomatic people (later reversed) and, in its guidelines on school reopening, minimized the COVID-19 risks for children.

— Carrie Feibel, NPR Science Editor
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Fact check

No V-Shaped Recovery

While President Trump boasted about a rapid recovery from the pandemic recession, this is not shaping up as a V-shaped recovery.

U.S. employers added 10.6 million jobs in the past four months, but that’s less than half the 22 million jobs that were lost in March and April, as the economy slid into the deepest recession since the Great Depression.

What’s more, job gains slowed in July and August. (We’ll get a report on September’s job gains on Friday.)

While the unemployment rate fell in August to 8.4%, it’s still in double digits for African Americans, Latinos and Asian Americans. There are 4.7 million fewer people working today than when President Trump took office in 2017.

While Joe Biden has voiced more caution than President Trump about resuming economic activity during the pandemic, he has not advocated "closing down" the country as Trump suggested.

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Fact check

Is There A Biden-Sanders ‘Manifesto’?

President Trump used the first presidential debate to characterize Democratic nominee Joe Biden as “far left.”

“You agree with Bernie Sanders, who is far left on the manifesto, we call it,” Trump said.

“That gives you socialized medicine,” he added.

It appears Trump was referring to the formation of a joint task force in May between Biden and Sen. Sanders, I-Vt., aimed at unifying the Democratic Party ahead of the election on the issues of climate change, criminal justice reform, the economy, education, immigration and health care.

The task force included prominent surrogates from different wings of the party, from former Secretary of State John Kerry to progressive Rep. Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez, D-N.Y.

The groups produced a 110-page set of policy recommendations, including a plan to eliminate carbon pollution from power plants by 2035, fund universal prekindergarten across the country, expand Social Security and raise the national minimum wage.

It did not call for “Medicare for All,” the single-payer health plan Sanders has sought. Biden’s preferred proposal — adding a “public option” to the Affordable Care Act — is included in the policy wish list.

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Fact check

Trump Claims On Drug Prices Aren’t Accurate

When President Trump was asked to explain what health care plan would replace the Affordable Care Act, he pivoted to drug prices.

TRUMP: There’s nothing symbolic. I’m cutting drug prices. I’m going with favored nations, which no president has the courage to do because you’re going against big pharma. Drug prices will be going down 80 or 90%.

Trump has tried a variety of tactics to bring down drug prices, recently signing four executive orders to lower drug prices on July 24, but health policy experts say they will likely offer only minimal relief and take a long time to implement. Some may not be implemented at all.

The “most favored nation” initiative Trump mentions here may bring down drug prices for some people at some point, but any savings would likely be years away.

— Sydney Lupkin, NPR Pharmaceuticals Correspondent
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Fact check

Trump’s China Travel Ban

TRUMP: You didn’t think we should have closed our country because you thought it was too — it was terrible. You wouldn’t have closed it for another two months. By my doing it early, in fact, Dr. Fauci said President Trump saved thousands of lives.

Trump issued a proclamation that kept out Chinese citizens and others traveling from China starting Jan. 31, when there were just over 10,000 cases in China. But that action did not apply to American citizens, permanent residents or other authorized travelers, so it’s possible they brought the virus into the country.

Biden’s campaign later said that he supported the travel ban because “science supported it too.”

But many early cases in New York, where the pandemic first hit hardest in the U.S., have been traced to Italy. There was no limit on travel from Italy or other European countries until March 26, when major outbreaks were already underway.

And again, U.S. citizens and residents were allowed to reenter the U.S. while others were banned, making travel restrictions a less-than-effective tool for controlling the spread of the coronavirus. Microsoft founder and health philanthropist Bill Gates told Fox News recently that they may have made the situation worse by causing people to come back to the country at a time when the U.S. couldn’t test or quarantine them.

Opinions differ on how useful the travel restrictions were. Health experts like Dr. Anthony Fauci of the National Institutes of Health credit the travel restrictions for slowing down the spread. A modeling paper in Science found that they may have slowed the spread for a few weeks at the start, but it made no difference by March.

And many experts say the administration squandered precious time because they didn’t immediately start ramping up testing, contact tracing and the production of personal protective equipment (PPE). In fact, U.S. testing got off to a really slow start because of problems with the coronavirus test the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention originally used.

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Biden Dodges Question On Court Packing

Joe Biden sidestepped a question about whether he would expand the number of justices on the Supreme Court — a proposal called “court packing” that is being pushed by many progressive groups.

BIDEN: Whatever position I take in that, that will become the issue.

Biden was pressed by moderator Chris Wallace on whether he would support ending the filibuster in the Senate or packing the court.

Instead Biden urged voters to weigh in, saying, “the issue is the American people should speak. You should go out and vote. You’re in voting now. Vote and let your senators know how strongly you feel.”

Biden has resisted the push from the left of his party on this issue as the debate over the recent vacancy on the Supreme Court has revived calls from liberal activists on the proposal. But Biden publicly came out against it during the Democratic primaries, arguing it would be a bad precedent, and make the court a divisive issue. He has not addressed the issue since the death of Supreme Court Justice Ruth Bader Ginsburg.

Massachusetts Democratic Sen. Ed Markey is one lawmaker publicly pressing the issue, but since Ginsburg’s death most Democrats in the Senate have avoided talking about it. Instead they are focused on opposing Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell’s push to move forward with the president’s nominee, Amy Coney Barrett, with just a few weeks until the election.

Both liberal groups and Republicans point to Senate Minority Leader Chuck Schumer, D-N.Y., saying after the president pushed forward with plans to fill the vacancy on the court that “nothing is off the table.”

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Trump’s Record On Health Care

President Trump’s administration has supported a lawsuit that would scrap the Affordable Care Act, also known as Obamacare.

Trump has argued that he would replace Obamacare with a better law but has not released any specifics. He has put forward executive actions that declare that the U.S. supports covering preexisting conditions. Still, it would take an act of Congress to do that.

Trump has put forward plans to help lower prescription drug costs, and he has also said he would send out $200 cards to help seniors pay for prescription drugs.

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Fact check

Biden Claims 100 Million Americans Have Preexisting Conditions

As President Trump and Joe Biden debated over the Supreme Court, Biden claimed: “There’s 100 million people who have preexisting conditions, and they’ll be taken away as well.” Biden said: “Those preexisting conditions, insurance companies are going to love this.”

Trump said that there aren’t 100 million people with preexisting conditions.

Biden does have factual basis for his claim, according to, which looked into it this year. Biden’s team pointed to a report from health care consulting firm Avalere that found that 102 million Americans have preexisting conditions.

That said, it’s not that all of those people would immediately lose their coverage if the Affordable Care Act disappeared tomorrow, as also pointed out. People with employer-based insurance would not lose it. Only those people with insurance from the individual markets would be at risk, and they are a small share of those with preexisting conditions.

On the other hand, as the piece also notes, many Americans have lost their jobs — and therefore their insurance — during the pandemic.

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Trump’s Strategy Was To Run Roughshod; Biden: ‘Will You Shut Up, Man?’

President Trump’s strategy tonight clearly was to just keep talking, to run roughshod over Joe Biden and the moderator, Chris Wallace.

People who hate Trump will say he’s a bully. People who love him are likely laughing.

If you’re an independent, you probably don’t like Trump’s tone, but perhaps Biden looks soft.

Biden got in a couple of shots at the end of that segment, calling him a “clown.”

“Will you shut up, man?” Biden said at one point, adding, “This is so unpresidential. … That was really a productive segment. … Keep yapping, man.”

Trump has to defend a lot of his record coming in. Debates tend to be all about style and less about substance. We’ll see if he can maintain not talking about substance and derail the debate in segments coming up.

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Debate Begins With Supreme Court Vacancy Controversy

The first presidential debate started off with a question on the issue roiling Washington right now — whether President Trump should fill the vacancy on the Supreme Court left by the death of Ruth Bader Ginsburg.

President Trump flatly insisted, “Elections have consequences,” adding, “We won the election, and therefore we have the right to choose her,” referring to Amy Coney Barrett, his nominee, whom he announced on Saturday. The president said Democrats would have also moved ahead with a nominee if they were in charge.

Joe Biden argued that “the election has already started” and that the debate and Senate vote on a new nominee should wait until after the next president is sworn in. As Senate Democrats have done, Biden pivoted to the issue of the Affordable Care Act, which he said was at risk, pointing that a case involving the health care law is pending at the high court.

Biden was careful not to personally attack Barrett, saying she “seems like a very fine person.”

The back-and-forth between the president and Biden then focused on how many people have preexisting conditions and whether they would be at risk of losing coverage due to a ruling by the high court.

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Abortion And The Supreme Court

Former Vice President Joe Biden said that a new vacancy on the Supreme Court means abortion rights are “on the ballot” in next month’s election, saying, “Women’s rights will fundamentally change” if President Trump’s nominee, Amy Coney Barrett, is confirmed.

Trump pushed back on that notion, asking, “Why is it on the ballot? It’s not on the ballot … and you don’t know her view on Roe v. Wade.

Trump’s nomination of Barrett on Saturday has been cheered by groups opposed to abortion rights and denounced by reproductive rights advocates. Barrett’s record — as well as Trump’s promise to nominate only justices who would vote to overturn the 1973 Roe v. Wade decision — suggests opposition to abortion rights, but Barrett has promised to separate her personal beliefs, including her Catholic faith, from her jurisprudence.

Under Trump, the court has moved steadily to the right. Until his retirement in 2018, Justice Anthony Kennedy had often been the swing vote on abortion; he was replaced with Justice Brett Kavanaugh, who has voted to uphold restrictions on abortion. In a surprise move this summer, Chief Justice John Roberts voted to strike down a Louisiana law requiring doctors who perform abortions to have hospital admitting privileges, making Roberts the swing vote in that case. If Barrett is confirmed, the court is expected to have a majority with a solidly anti-abortion tilt.

Polling suggests that while most Americans favor some restrictions on abortion, a large majority supports Roe.

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Fact check

ACA And The Supreme Court

Former Vice President Joe Biden wasted no time in turning from a discussion on the Supreme Court to focusing attention on the Affordable Care Act, which President Trump campaigned against and which his administration continues to challenge in court.

While Trump has repeatedly promised to offer a GOP alternative to the ACA that would concretely replace its protections for those with preexisting medical conditions, he has yet to do so.

According to the Census Bureau, 9.2% of Americans went without health insurance last year. That uninsured rate declined steadily following passage of the Affordable Care Act. But after falling to 8.6% in 2016, the rate has risen for the past three years in a row.

Most Americans still get their health insurance through an employer, though pandemic job losses have stripped millions of people of their health care coverage as well.

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Not Your Typical Debate Site

The first of three presidential debates brings with it structural changes to adapt to the coronavirus pandemic.

The audience is capped at roughly 100 people, seated with some distance between them, in front of a makeshift stage at the health education campus at Case Western Reserve University in Cleveland.

There was not the traditional handshake between the two candidates or between the candidates and moderator Chris Wallace, of Fox News.

The health and safety protocols in place for the debate were provided by Cleveland Clinic.

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Biden Mocks Baseless Earpiece Claim Pushed By Trump Allies

Allies and supporters of President Trump have pushed the unsupported claim that Joe Biden would be wearing an earpiece during tonight’s debate.

The accusation — which falls in line with Trump’s equally unfounded attacks on Biden’s mental fitness and allegations that the former vice president may be taking performance-enhancing drugs — seeks to undermine Biden’s competency and ability to answer questions clearly and coherently without assistance.

As the theory gained traction online, Fox News published a story alleging that the Trump campaign had requested “to allow a third party to inspect the ears of each debater for electronic devices or transmitters.” The Fox story cites an unnamed source in saying the Biden campaign declined to participate.

Biden, who in his multiple runs for the White House has taken the debate stage many times, poked fun at the conspiracy theories in a tweet.

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‘Race And Violence In Our Cities’ Sparks Criticism

When moderator Chris Wallace of Fox News announced he would ask questions in a segment he called “Race and Violence in Our Cities,” it set off a chorus of criticism and outrage among advocates for racial justice.

They warn that lumping race and violence together in the debate ignores the core issues of systemic racism and police violence that set off the racial justice movement and protests that spread through the U.S. and the world. Critics say the title of the segment plays into President Trump’s mischaracterization of Black Lives Matter and protests for racial justice as violent.

Demonstrators have taken to the streets across the country and the globe since the killing of George Floyd, Breonna Taylor and other Black people at the hands of police. The protests have largely been peaceful, with some violence and destruction, including from armed counterprotesters.

While there have been thousands of arrests, most demonstrators are being detained for nonviolent infractions like curfew violations or a failure to disperse. There has also been violence from law enforcement against unarmed protesters and journalists, including use of less-lethal bullets, tear gas and pepper spray.

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Biden Is Staying At A House In The Cleveland ’Burbs

Tonight’s debate — as well as tomorrow’s whistle-stop train tour through Ohio and Pennsylvania — marks former Vice President Joe Biden’s first overnight trip away from Wilmington, Del., since the COVID-19 pandemic hit in March.

But instead of staying at a hotel, Biden is spending the night at a private house in suburban Pepper Pike, outside Cleveland. Neighbors came out to wave and gawk when the Democratic presidential nominee’s motorcade rolled up, and Biden walked across the yard to speak to several of them from a distance.

Biden arrived for the debate in a small plane decked out with a Biden-Harris graphic. Campaign staffers confirmed that this is the first time Biden has flown on this logo-wrapped plane.

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Moderator Chris Wallace Says He Aims To Be ‘Invisible’

Don’t expect moderator Chris Wallace to do a lot of real-time fact-checking tonight.

He said so himself.

“My job is to be as invisible as possible,” he said Sunday on Fox News.

It’s a point he has made in the past. “I do not believe it is my job to be a truth squad,” he said ahead of a 2016 general election debate he moderated (and for which he received plaudits).

The host of Fox News Sunday garnered praise for an interview with President Trump in July in which he vigorously fact-checked the president’s coronavirus response.

Wallace has the backing of the Commission on Presidential Debates. Its co-chair, Frank Fahrenkopf, said on CNN recently: “We don’t expect Chris or our other moderators to be fact-checkers.”

That’s a stance that may frustrate Joe Biden’s campaign as its candidate prepares to debate Trump, who regularly exaggerates and tells demonstrable falsehoods. Biden adviser Symone Sanders said on a call with reporters today: “It is not Joe Biden’s job in this debate to fact-check Donald Trump. That’s the moderator’s job.”

We’ll be fact-checking claims by both Trump and Biden throughout the debate here.

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Whom Are Biden And Trump Bringing To The Debate?

President Trump and former Vice President Joe Biden are both planning to bring a few special guests to tonight’s debate.

The Biden campaign announced that Kristin Urquiza will attend, underscoring his plans to attack Trump on his handling of the coronavirus pandemic. Urquiza spoke during the Democratic National Convention about losing her father to COVID-19. “My dad was a healthy 65-year-old,” she said. “His only preexisting condition was trusting Donald Trump, and for that, he paid with his life.”

Biden will bring two Ohio residents as guests: Gurneé Green, the owner of a small business in Cleveland Heights, and James Evanoff Jr., a steelworker in Cleveland.

Trump is bringing his longtime legal adviser and friend Rudy Giuliani, the former mayor of New York City, who helped him prepare for the debate. Also along for the event: mixed martial arts fighter Colby Covington, known for his support of Trump.

Reporters also spotted Alice Johnson boarding Air Force One for Cleveland. Johnson, who spoke during the Republican National Convention, had her sentence commuted by Trump in 2018 and has since become an advocate for criminal justice reform. In her speech during the convention, Johnson thanked Trump, adding, “He saw me as a person.” He later gave her a full pardon.

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Election Integrity On The Agenda

One of moderator Chris Wallace’s main topics tonight is going to be the integrity of the election, a subject on which the two candidates have divergent views.

President Trump has baselessly claimed that widespread voter fraud is rampant in both in-person and mail-in voting systems, without providing any evidence. His challenger, former Vice President Joe Biden, has accused Trump of eroding confidence in U.S. democracy and has stoked fears about whether Trump will actually leave office if voted out.

Wallace may ask about all of that, as well as how voting has changed in response to the coronavirus pandemic. Here’s a quick overview of how U.S. elections have adjusted:

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How The Debate Will Work

The debate tonight is set to last 90 minutes and will focus on six topics that will each get 15 minutes. Each candidate will have two minutes to respond to the opening question in each segment. Candidates will get a chance to respond to each other as well. The topics (not necessarily in this order) are:

Democrats were quick to point out that climate change was left off the list of topics for Tuesday’s debate. A day after the topics were released, 36 senators signed on to a letter urging the Commission on Presidential Debates to address climate change in upcoming debates. (The vice presidential debate is set for Oct. 7, and two additional presidential debates are scheduled for Oct. 15 and Oct. 22. See a full calendar of key election dates here.)

Trump and Biden are also likely to be asked about the recent revelations concerning Trump’s tax information, as reported first by The New York Times, which points to the president having massive debt and sizable tax write-offs. Biden and Harris released their own 2019 financial information Tuesday ahead of the debate.

Read more about Biden’s and Trump’s expected attack lines here.

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Trump Arrives In Cleveland

President Trump has arrived in Cleveland.

A senior Trump campaign official told reporters aboard Air Force One that the president is “ready to go” for the debate and wouldn’t be doing any final debate prep on the flight.

The official also told reporters he expects Trump’s taxes to come up right away when the debate begins. On Sunday, The New York Times reported that the paper had obtained several years of Trump’s recent tax returns, showing that in 2016 and 2017 he paid $750 in income taxes and for 10 of the past 15 years paid none.

Rudy Giuliani and UFC fighter Colby Covington will attend the debate tonight as two of Trump’s guests, the campaign said. Trump made a point in 2016 of inviting debate guests who would irk his opponent, Hillary Clinton, including several women who had accused her husband, former President Bill Clinton, of sexual misconduct.

The Biden campaign said today that the former vice president has invited the daughter of a man who died from the coronavirus, a steelworker and a small-business owner to attend the debate.

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Biden, Harris Release Tax Returns

Two days after The New York Times published reporting on several years of President Trump’s recent tax returns, Democratic presidential nominee Joe Biden and his running mate, Kamala Harris, released their 2019 returns and financial disclosures.

Biden’s 2019 tax return shows taxable income of $944,737 and a federal tax bill of $299,346. Harris and her husband, Doug Emhoff, reported $3,018,127 in taxable income and paid $1,185,628 in taxes.

Both Biden and Harris had already released more than a decade of previous tax returns. Trump has notably refused to release his tax returns, breaking a precedent that decades of major-party presidential nominees have followed.

The New York Times reports that Trump’s tax returns show millions of dollars in losses and that Trump paid only $750 in income taxes in each of 2016 and 2017, and in 10 of the last 15 years paid no income tax at all. The report also raised questions about questionable tax deductions made by Trump that could run afoul of tax law.

Biden’s campaign continued to seize on the tax story on Tuesday.

“Donald Trump thinks that the vast majority of hardworking Americans who pay their taxes are suckers,” Biden’s deputy campaign manager, Kate Bedingfield, told reporters. “He looks out for the stock market but looks down on workers and middle-class families struggling to get by.”

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Biden, Trump Campaigns Preview Their Attack Lines Ahead Of Debate

President Trump and Joe Biden have spent months attacking each other from a distance. Tonight, the two candidates will meet on a debate stage for the first time — going after each other’s records and positions on the coronavirus pandemic, the Supreme Court and the economy.

The Democratic nominee is expected to make the president’s handling of the pandemic a major focus of the debate.

“President Trump lied to the Americans about COVID-19. Period. And how deadly it is,” Biden senior adviser Symone Sanders told reporters today on a call to preview their campaign’s debate strategy. “He didn’t have a plan, and more than 200,000 Americans paid with their lives. Nearly 30 million are unemployed. President Trump needs to answer for those failures tonight on the debate stage.”

The former vice president will also likely question Trump about his taxes. The Biden campaign says the revelation that Trump paid no or very little federal income taxes over many years will help Biden illustrate a larger contrast between the two candidates that he’s already been trying to draw on the campaign trail.

“Donald Trump thinks that the vast majority of hardworking Americans who pay their taxes are suckers,” Biden’s deputy campaign manager, Kate Bedingfield, said at the top of the call with reporters. “President Trump only sees the world from Park Avenue. He looks out for the stock market but looks down on workers and middle-class families struggling to get by.”

To emphasize the point, the Biden campaign just now released 2019 tax returns for Biden and his running mate, Kamala Harris. Biden’s 2019 tax return shows taxable income of $944,737 and a federal tax bill of $299,346.

Meanwhile, the Trump campaign today released a list of “17 questions Joe Biden must answer in the debate” — most unrelated to the pandemic and recession.

The first question on that list is about Biden’s son, Hunter, whose work for a bank, hedge fund and lobbying firm with dealings in Ukraine and China has prompted scrutiny during the campaign and among congressional Republicans.

Trump and his supporters have long wielded Hunter Biden’s work as a political cudgel to deflect from the president’s own foreign entanglements, most notably when Trump asked Ukraine to investigate the Bidens as a condition for receiving U.S. foreign aid — part of a string of events that led to the president’s impeachment in the House. While investigations have found some of Hunter Biden’s work to be ethically squishy, there isn’t evidence he broke the law.

The Trump campaign also made clear it sees the Supreme Court confirmation battle as a winning issue, asking why Biden won’t release a list of potential nominees he would consider putting on the bench.

And as Democrats say whoever wins the November election should appoint the next justice, the Trump campaign is promoting statements Biden made as vice president in 2016 about the Senate’s constitutional duty to hold a vote on a president’s nominee, even near an election.

What the Trump campaign doesn’t mention is that the statements it’s citing were in the context of then-President Barack Obama’s Supreme Court nominee, Merrick Garland, whose nomination Republicans successfully blocked because the election was some eight months away.

While Biden will zero in on Trump’s handling of the pandemic and the economy, the Trump campaign is signaling that the president will instead try to make parallel accusations about how the Obama-Biden administration handled the H1N1 pandemic in 2009 and the Great Recession.

A news release previewing the president’s debate strategy, for example, asks Biden to answer why he and Obama broke a 2008 pledge not to raise taxes on the middle class — a claim that fact-checkers have ruled not true.

Fox News’ Chris Wallace said on his show Sunday that his job as moderator is to be as “invisible as possible” and that he’s not looking to fact-check in real time.

The Biden campaign says that’s not the candidate’s role either.

“It is not Joe Biden’s job in this debate to fact-check Donald Trump,” Sanders, the Biden senior adviser, said today. “That’s the moderator’s job. Joe Biden will be speaking directly to the American people.”

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Sitting Presidents Tend To Struggle In 1st Reelection Debates

Presidents facing reelection often falter in their first debates. That’s true with five of the last six incumbent presidents. (Bill Clinton is the exception to this rule. He had good reelection debates against Republican Bob Dole.)

Some presidents recover to win reelection; some don’t. There are multiple reasons for this, per Alan Schroeder, a professor at Northeastern University and the author of Presidential Debates: Fifty Years of High-Risk TV. Incumbent presidents:

  • spend four years in office being deferred to and agreed with,

  • aren’t used to being spoken to forcefully and directly, and

  • are simply out of practice.

Here’s a look back at some of the struggles:

1980: There was just one debate, and it came days before the election. And that was bad news for Jimmy Carter. Carter was lampooned for saying he’d asked his daughter what she thought was the most important issue facing the country. (Nuclear weapons was her answer, by the way.) At the end of the debate, Reagan delivered a searing message.

“Next Tuesday, all of you will go to the polls and stand there in the polling place and make a decision,” he said. “I think when you make that decision, it might be well if you would ask yourself, ‘Are you better off than you were four years ago?’ 

1984: People remember Reagan saying he wouldn’t exploit his opponent’s “youth and inexperience,” but that was in the second debate. That only came up because of questions about Reagan’s age that were raised due to a meandering first debate.

1992: George H.W. Bush struggled in all three of his debates, stuck in a triangle with billionaire independent Ross Perot and Democrat Bill Clinton. Bush made the infamous debate gaffe of looking at his watch, appearing uninterested. But he struggled in the first debate too. He tried to go after Clinton’s character, and that failed.

Clinton’s blistering response: “When Joe McCarthy went around this country attacking people’s patriotism, he was wrong. He was wrong. And a senator from Connecticut stood up to him named Prescott Bush. Your father was right to stand up to Joe McCarthy; you were wrong to attack my patriotism.”

2004: In talking about the Iraq War, which wasn’t going particularly well, George W. Bush seemed peevish and annoyed. He smirked, made faces, shook his head. It was also the debate that saw an Internet conspiracy crop up about a mysterious bulge on his back. People wondered if a system had been rigged up for him to be fed answers.

“I guess the assumption was that if I were straying off course they would … kind of like a hunting dog, they would punch a buzzer and I would jerk back into place,” Bush said on ABC’s Good Morning America. “That’s just absurd.”

2012: Mitt Romney got the better of Obama stylistically throughout the night. Even at the beginning of the debate, Obama just seemed like he didn’t want to be there. The debate fell on Obama and his wife’s anniversary, and he said directly to first lady Michelle Obama, “I just want to wish, Sweetie, you happy anniversary and let you know that a year from now, we will not be celebrating it in front of 40 million people.”

Romney seemed to get the better of the anniversary exchange, cracking this joke, which drew bigger laughs. “Congratulations to you, Mr. President, on your anniversary,” he began. “I’m sure this was the most romantic place you could imagine here — here with me.”

Obama, who of course went on to win reelection, has acknowledged that it wasn’t his best night.

“We had one stinker in there,” Obama told his former campaign manager, David Plouffe, on Plouffe’s podcast last month.

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A Consequential Day In The 2020 Presidential Campaign

Good morning! Today’s a big day in the presidential campaign, with the much-anticipated first debate between President Trump and Democratic nominee Joe Biden.

There are five weeks to go until Election Day, but almost a million ballots have already been cast in this election, according to Michael McDonald, a turnout expert at the University of Florida who runs the U.S. Elections Project, which tracks voting. That’s up from fewer than 10,000 early votes cast at this time four years ago.

So the stakes are high for both Trump and Biden. Here are six questions ahead of tonight’s debate, beginning at 9 p.m. ET at Case Western Reserve University in Cleveland:

1. Can Trump avoid the sitting-president first-debate slump? Presidents up for reelection often struggle in their first debates. It happened to Barack Obama, both Bushes, Ronald Reagan and Jimmy Carter. Some recovered; some didn’t.

2. Does Biden come across competently? The Trump campaign has lowered the bar significantly for Biden, but he has to clear it. He had some spotty debates in the primary and some better ones.

3. Can Trump and Biden control their tempers and tone? Trump will likely try just about anything to derail Biden. And Biden will likely try to sharply indict Trump’s record. Will either man take the bait and become unfocused?

4. How does Trump defend his record? From the coronavirus pandemic and race relations to replacing Ruth Bader Ginsburg at the Supreme Court and Trump’s tax returns, these 90 minutes might fly by. Trump certainly has his back against the wall and needs to defend his record and expand his appeal to the middle of the electorate.

5. How does Biden respond to personal attacks? Get ready. It’s coming. Trump needs to make Biden an unacceptable choice rather than let this election continue to be a referendum on him. One way Trump is likely to try to do that — and pivot from his own record — is to go after Biden’s son, Hunter. How Biden responds could set the tone for who wins the debate.

6. How does the moderator control the stage? Fox News Sunday’s Chris Wallace is moderating, and he’s incisive, tough and prepared, as evidenced by his interview with Trump in July. Debates can go very far south if a moderator isn’t in control. How the candidates respond when Wallace pushes them will be telling.

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