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Democratic nominee Joe Biden and President Trump both participated in town halls on a night when they had been scheduled to debate. Biden was in Philadelphia for a town hall hosted by ABC News, while President Trump’s Miami town hall was held by NBC News. Both took questions on coronavirus, with Trump being asked about his bout with the disease and again avoiding answering when his last test was before the first debate with Biden.

Biden suggested he would potentially be open to making changes to the Supreme Court, and possibly expanding it, adding that he would state his position before the election.

With 19 days until Election Day …
October 15, 2020 at 10:38 PM EDT
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Trump campaign entered October with a little over half of Biden’s cash on hand, according to newly announced figures

By Michelle Lee

President Trump’s campaign announced Thursday night that he entered October with $251.4 million in cash, trailing Democratic presidential nominee Joe Biden by a $180.6 million — the biggest gap so far in the campaign.

Biden’s campaign announced Wednesday it had a staggering $432 million in the bank — widening the cash gap that Biden gained the month prior and marking a stunning reversal of resources since just a few months ago.

It is not yet clear how much of that amount is controlled directly by each campaign committee and can be spent directly on the presidential campaign, versus the money that is held by shared fundraising committees or the national party committees. Those figures will be made public next week.

The Trump campaign, along with the Republican National Committee and the two joint fundraising committees, raised $247.8 million in September, according to the campaign.

Meanwhile, Biden reported raising a record-breaking $383 million between his campaign committee, the Democratic National Committee and their joint fundraising committees.

October 15, 2020 at 10:11 PM EDT
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Biden expects to be at next debate, is ‘confident’ Cleveland Clinic will ensure Trump is tested beforehand

By Amy B Wang

Biden said Thursday he expected to be at the presidential debate on Oct. 22, even after Trump pulled out of the one that had been scheduled for tonight.

“Look, I’m gonna abide by what the [Commission on Presidential Debates] rules call for,” Biden said at his town hall, after moderator George Stephanopoulos asked whether he would demand that Trump test negative. Earlier Thursday evening, at his own town hall, Trump would not say whether he was tested for the coronavirus on the day of the first debate.

After Trump tested positive for the coronavirus, the presidential debates commission changed the format of what would have been the second debate to a virtual one. Trump refused to do participate unless it was in person, so the debate was scrapped. Instead, both candidates held competing town halls on different television networks tonight.

Biden said that getting tested was about “decency.”

“It’s just decency to be able to determine whether or not you’re clear,” Biden said. “I’m less concerned about me, but the people — the guys [with] the cameras, the Secret Service guys you drive up with, all those people.”

He said he thought Trump would get tested before the next debate and said he was “confident” that the Cleveland Clinic would ensure adherence to its health and safety guidelines. In the first debate, many of Trump’s debate guests refused to wear masks inside the venue, flouting the clinic’s rules.

“I think they’re gonna not let happen what happened last time,” Biden said. "They’re going to demand that it’s safe.”

October 15, 2020 at 10:09 PM EDT
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Voter flatters Trump, tells him: ‘You’re so handsome when you smile’

By Colby Itkowitz

A voter began a question on immigration with flattery, telling the image-conscious Trump that he was “handsome” and then added, “You’re so handsome when you smile,” which in turn elicited a huge smile from the president.

After this brief flirtation, the voter asked Trump if he intended to continue his effort to end the Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals program, which protects some undocumented immigrants brought to the United States as children.

He assured her without offering any specifics that his administration would “take care of Dreamers."

“We are working very hard on the DACA program, and you will be, I think, very happy over the course of the next year,” he added.

But when Guthrie pointed out that the Trump administration tried to end the DACA program and was still trying to curtail it, Trump said, “Well, because of the pandemic … you have to be very careful.”

Blaming the pandemic is confusing, as the program exists for undocumented immigrants already in the country and because the administration has been trying to end DACA since September 2017.

Adding to the confusion, the voter who complimented Trump’s appearance was identified as “lean Biden.”

October 15, 2020 at 9:31 PM EDT
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Biden signals openness to court packing: ‘It depends on how this turns out’

By Sean Sullivan

Biden, who has repeatedly declined to say whether he would seek to expand the Supreme Court, sent the most direct signal yet that he is open to the idea, and he indicated that he would take a more definitive position before the election.

After saying he has not “been a fan of court-packing,” he suggested he might support the idea anyway.

“So you’re still not a fan?” Stephanopoulos asked him.

“Well, I’m not a fan,” Biden said, adding: “It depends on how this turns out. Not how he wins, but how it’s handled. How it’s handled.” Biden appeared to be referring to the current showdown over the nomination of Judge Amy Coney Barrett.

Pressed on what he meant by that, Biden said, “It depends on how much they rush this.”

If the Senate votes on Barrett’s nomination before the election, Biden said, “I’m open to considering what happened from that point on.”

Biden and other Democrats oppose her nomination and have called on Republicans to let the next president decide on the nominee.

Biden’s position represents a shift from the primary, when he, as he noted, was firmly against expanding the court. In recent weeks, he has declined to take a firm public position, even as he pointed out his past opposition.

He said in the town hall that he would come out with a definitive position before the election, “depending on how they handle this.”

October 15, 2020 at 9:07 PM EDT
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Biden once again defends police departments: ‘We shouldn’t be defunding cops’

By Amy B Wang

As he has throughout his campaign, Biden once again defended police officers, saying he did not support the “defund the police” movement.

“We shouldn’t be defunding cops,” he said in his town hall Thursday night. “We should be mandating the things that we should be doing within police departments and make sure there’s total transparency.”

Biden suggested police departments needed additional training to teach de-escalation tactics, as well as psychologists and social workers who could accompany police officers on 911 calls involving mentally ill people.

The stance is not new, and puts Biden at odds with a movement from the liberal wing of the Democratic Party to greatly reduce the budgets of police departments — or eliminate them entirely. Trump, meanwhile, has tried to establish himself as the “LAW & ORDER!” candidate while painting Biden as a radical leftist who would defund police departments if elected.

October 15, 2020 at 9:03 PM EDT
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Trump says he ‘probably’ owes money to foreign bank or entity

By Colby Itkowitz

Trump seemed to confirm at least some of the details of the New York Times’s reporting on his taxes, first claiming the numbers were “wrong” but then describing the $421 million he reportedly owes as a “tiny percentage” of his worth and saying the $750 he reportedly paid in income taxes for each of two years was a “filing fee.”

Asked to whom he owes that $421 million, Trump said he didn’t “owe Russia money. I owe a very, very small ... it’s called mortgages.” Asked if he owes money to a foreign bank or entity, he said, “Not that I know of" before saying, “probably" when pressed.

Guthrie asked why he doesn’t just clear it up by releasing his tax returns. He repeated the same reason he’s given since 2016: he’d love to but is under audit. Reminded that the IRS doesn’t stop him from making them public while under audit, Trump acknowledged that, but then claimed he’s “treated very, very badly by the IRS." What stops him from releasing his taxes, he said, is “common sense and intelligence.”

October 15, 2020 at 8:44 PM EDT
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Trump still doesn’t have specifics on Obamacare replacement plan

By Colby Itkowitz

Trump couldn’t give a more specific answer to what he will do to protect people with preexisting conditions if a lawsuit supported by his Justice Department that would strike down the Affordable Care Act if successful.

“We will always protect people with preexisting conditions,” Trump insisted, saying, as he often does, that he wants to replace Obamacare with something “better.”

“The problem with Obamacare was that it’s not good,” the president said. He said he would replace it with something cheaper, but when pressed on what that is and why it hasn’t happened yet, Trump continued to talk about his efforts to dismantle the Obama-era health-care law.

When Guthrie pressed him on the pending court case that would end preexisting conditions, Trump said his administration was supporting the lawsuit "in order to replace it with much better health care at a much lower price, and always, under all circumstances, we are going to protect.”

October 15, 2020 at 8:37 PM EDT
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Asked to denounce white supremacy and QAnon, Trump attacks antifa

By David Nakamura

Trump grew defensive when pressed several times to denounce white supremacy and the unfounded pro-Trump conspiracy theory called QAnon.

“You always do this to me,” a visibly irritated Trump said to NBC News host Savannah Guthrie when she opened the line of questioning. “I’ve denounced white supremacy for years."

“Why didn’t you ask Joe Biden why he doesn’t denounce antifa?” Trump asked, referring to a loose collection of far-left groups that he has blamed, inaccurately, for propagating widespread violence during racial justice protests.

When Guthrie responded that Trump seemed hesitant, the president responded: “Hesitant? Here we go again.”

But instead of denouncing white-supremacist groups, Trump continued to attack antifa and NBC News for the questions. He also declined to denounce QAnon, a far-right conspiracy theory with adherents who believe Trump is saving the country from a cabal of powerful establishment figures who run a child-trafficking ring.

Trump professed not to know much about QAnon, even though the FBI has labeled it a terrorist threat.

“What I do hear about it is that they are very strongly against pedophilia, and I agree with that,” Trump said.

When Guthrie pressed him, Trump said: “I’ll tell you what I do know about. I know about antifa and I know about the radical left, and I know how violent they are. ... They are burning down cities.”

Guthrie then asked Trump why he had retweeted this week a random Twitter user who suggested an unfounded conspiracy that former president Barack Obama and Biden had killed the Navy SEAL team that had killed Osama bin Laden to cover up the fact that it had actually killed a body double.

“I know nothing about it,” Trump said. “That was a retweet. That was an opinion from somebody. I’ll put it out there — people can decide.”

“I don’t get that,” Guthrie replied. “You’re the president, not somebody’s crazy uncle."

October 15, 2020 at 8:35 PM EDT
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Biden signals openness to vaccine mandate — but details are murky

By Sean Sullivan

Biden suggested early in his town hall that he would be open to a mandate for a safe coronavirus vaccine. But he acknowledged that enforcing it would be difficult.

“It depends on the state of the nature of the vaccine, when it comes out, how it’s distributed,” Biden said.

“How could you enforce that?” Stephanopoulos followed up.

“Well, you couldn’t,” Biden said. “That’s the problem.”

Biden has compared his stance to his calls for a mask mandate, which he says would require working with governors and other local officials to urge people to use them.

Biden said he would not look to fine people for not complying.

October 15, 2020 at 8:31 PM EDT
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Trump won’t accept that mail-in-ballots aren’t corrupt

By Colby Itkowitz

Trump insisted there is widespread voter fraud with mail-in ballots, battling with moderator Savannah Guthrie over her presenting the fact that there is no evidence of that.

“How can you say that? You do read newspapers? You do watch the news?” Trump asked her as she pointed out that isolated incidents of problems with ballots is a sliver of the millions of votes.

When asked if he’d accept a peaceful transfer of power, Trump complained about the investigation into Russia and possible collusion with his campaign, repeating a debunked conspiracy that it was the Democrats who tried to discredit his presidency.

“And then they talk about, ‘Will you accept a peaceful transfer?’ And the answer is yes, I will. But I want it to be an honest election, and so does everybody else,” he said. "When I see thousands of ballots dumped in a garbage can and they happened to have my name on it, I’m not happy about that.”

There is no evidence of thousands of ballots being discarded or any coordinated effort to undermine voting. Guthrie excused Trump of trying to sow doubt in the results like she might do if she complains about a hurt ankle before playing tennis with her husband.

October 15, 2020 at 8:15 PM EDT
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Trump won’t say whether he was tested day of debate with Biden

By Colby Itkowitz

To kick off the Trump townhall, NBC’s Savannah Guthrie tried to nail down the timeline of Trump’s coronavirus infection, including whether he had been tested the day he debated Biden.

Trump said he “felt fantastically” on the night of the debate but couldn’t remember if he’d been tested ahead of it, but said he’s tested all the time.

“I probably did,” Trump said. Pressed by Guthrie on whether he was tested before the debate, Trump said was more wishy-washy. “Possibly I did, possibly I didn’t,” he said.

October 15, 2020 at 7:59 PM EDT
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Overloaded voter check-in system partly blamed for long early voting lines in Georgia

By Paulina Firozi

The high volume of voters who turned out in Georgia to cast their ballots early this week initially overloaded the computer system used to check them in at the polls, contributing to hours-long wait times, officials said.

In some places, voters waited up to 10 hours on Monday, the first day of a three-week in-person voting period. Some had arrived at polling locations before dawn. Lines curved through nearby streets even before early-voting centers opened their doors. Images and videos shared on social media showed long, winding and spaced-out queues.

With the record-breaking turnout, the Georgia secretary of state’s office said the computer system run by an outside vendor used to pull up voter profiles and check them in was overwhelmed.

October 15, 2020 at 6:59 PM EDT
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Christie, recovering from covid-19, says he should have worn a mask at the White House

By Colby Itkowitz

Former New Jersey governor Chris Christie (R) issued a statement about his recovery from covid-19, highlighting the severity of the disease and advocating the wearing of masks, in stark contrast to Trump’s nonchalant attitude even after contracting it himself.

Christie was among those seen maskless and hugging guests a few weeks ago at a Rose Garden ceremony that many suspect was a superspreader event that caused people in Trump’s immediate orbit to catch the coronavirus, which causes the disease covid-19, including Christie.

Now that he is recovered, Christie said that all public officials should be advocating for every American to wear a mask and that “no one should be cavalier about being infected or infecting others.”

Christie shared that he had spent seven days in intensive care and had a lot of time to think. He said he was wrong not to wear a mask at the White House, where Trump does not require it or encourage it.

“I hope that my experience shows my fellow citizens that you should follow CDC guidelines in public no matter where you are and wear a mask to protect yourself and others,” Christie said, referring to guidance from the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, which strongly advocates mask-wearing.

The statement reads like a rebuke of the president, who emerged from his illness emboldened, continuing to downplay the virus as something that will simply go away and holding crowded events with no mask or social distancing requirements. But Christie, who like Trump was treated with an experimental antibody therapy, said getting sick made him understand how serious covid-19 is.

“Having had this virus, I can also assure those who have not had it of a few things,” Christie said. “It is something to take very seriously. The ramifications are wildly random and potentially deadly. No one should be happy to get the virus and no one should be cavalier about being infected or infecting others.”

In the statement, Christie also took the position that the nation should fully reopen, but that “every public official, regardless of party or position, should advocate for every American to wear a mask in public, appropriately socially distance and to wash your hands frequently every day.”

“It is never too late to start,” Christie said. “It will take leadership that both challenges and trusts the American people.”

October 15, 2020 at 6:13 PM EDT
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GOP megadonors Sheldon and Miriam Adelson donate $75 million to bolster Trump

By Colby Itkowitz

Republican kingmakers Sheldon and Miriam Adelson donated $75 million last month to a super PAC working to reelect Trump, an infusion of cash to bolster the president’s campaign in its final weeks.

The massive infusion of money to the Preserve America PAC makes up most of the group’s September fundraising, according to its Federal Election Commission report. The Adelson donation almost covers the $76 million the group spent on anti-Biden ads last month, according to the FEC filing.

Trump is trailing Biden in the polls and in the money race. Biden has shattered previous fundraising records, raising $383 million in just one month and going into October with $432 million to spend.

The Trump campaign has yet to disclose its September financials but had raised $150 million less than Biden in August.

The Preserve America PAC launched at the beginning of September, a venture by GOP megadonors to band together to blanket the airwaves in swing states with anti-Biden ads.