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Dueling Trump and Biden events, toxic air closes Yosemite and Mississippians fight for their voting rights

Joe Biden sharpened his attacks on Thursday, saying President Donald Trump's pandemic response was "close to criminal."
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With the pollutant levels in the air at Yosemite literally off the charts, it's unclear when the mecca for outdoor enthusiasts will reopen.Brian van der Brug / Los Angeles Times via Getty Images

Good morning, NBC News readers.

President Donald Trump and Joe Biden hit the campaign trail with divergent events, Mississippi voters are challenging vote-by-mail restrictions, and Yosemite closes as toxic air reaches off-the-charts levels.

Here's what we're watching this Friday morning.


Dueling Trump, Biden events in battleground states sets tone for upcoming debates

President Donald Trump and Democratic presidential nominee Joe Biden held dueling prime-time events Thursday night in two major battleground states reflecting their divergent views on American life during the coronavirus pandemic.

Biden's event was so socially-distanced that it was a drive-in town hall meeting in Scranton, Pennsylvania. While Trump's was a crowded outdoor rally in Mosinee, Wisconsin, where few were seen wearing masks, despite a state mandate requiring them.

The former vice president was asked an array of policy questions from voters across the political spectrum, moderated by CNN's Anderson Cooper. He sharply attacked the president — at one point saying Trump "should step down" over his response to Covid-19.

The president spoke for over an hour and half, at times reading from a teleprompter but mostly going off-script. He hammered his political rivals with familiar attacks, called Biden a puppet of the progressive wing of the Democratic party and said his administration was doing a "great job" addressing the coronavirus pandemic.

The two presidential candidates are set to square off in person at the first debate on Sept. 29 in Cleveland on Fox News.


'Scared,' 'frustrated' Mississippians fear they won’t be able to vote by mail

Mississippi and four other states — Indiana, Texas, Louisiana and Tennessee — continue to limit vote-by-mail access and don't consider the pandemic to be a valid reason for absentee voting.

Each state faces numerous legal challenges to the stymied access. With less than two months until Election Day, many voters remain confused about whether and how they can vote by mail.

"I just thought surely this would all be figured out and I wouldn't be sitting here in September not knowing if every member of my family is going to be able to vote safely without putting us at extreme risk," said Mary Harwell, one of six plaintiffs, along with the American Civil Liberties Union and the Mississippi Center for Justice, to sue the state to expand absentee voting in Mississippi.

The uncertainty has the potential to affect voter access and, therefore, the outcomes of the elections themselves.


Yosemite National Park closes as air quality reaches off-the-charts levels

One of America's most popular national parks, Yosemite, was closed Thursday as wildfires continued to scorch the West Coast and fill the air with toxic smoke.

The federal government-run air quality monitor, Airnow.gov, showed that pollutant levels in the park were so high that they exceeded the site's index.

Dangerous air quality is expected in the park, which is spread across nearly 1,200 square miles in the Sierra Nevadas, for the next several days, the National Park Service said.

A record 3.4 million acres have burned in California this year, a staggering number that officials and experts have attributed to climate change and a buildup of dried vegetation.

With wildfires devastating the West Coast, our latest Into America podcast digs into how some Native American tribes are reclaiming their traditions of burning the land to save the forest.

We apologize, this video has expired.

Trump administration scrapped plan to send every American a mask in April, email shows

The White House scrapped an effort to send hundreds of millions of cloth masks to every U.S. household in April, choosing instead to distribute the masks to nonprofit organizations and state and federal agencies, according to an internal email from a senior Trump administration official obtained by NBC News.

A spokesperson for the Department of Health and Human Services told NBC News that 600 million masks have been distributed around the country to nonprofits and state and federal agencies.

However, public health experts said sending masks directly to Americans' homes in the early days of the global pandemic would have sent a stronger message encouraging Americans to wear masks.

A former GOP aide to Vice President Mike Pence who served as his adviser on the Coronavirus Task Force, publicly denounced Trump's pandemic response in an ad released Thursday and said she plans to vote for Biden.

Meantime, Israelis are facing a second coronavirus lockdown just as the Jewish High Holiday season begins.

“They are depressed, they are disappointed,” Rabbi Yuval Cherlow said, adding that he was also trying to cheer up his community.


'More than just a job': As layoffs loom, pilots face a tricky future

Thousands of pilots across the country are facing pink slips in a matter of weeks unless the airline industry receives more financial aid from the federal government. Airline executives met with White House officials on Thursday in a last-minute attempt to secure additional funding.

For many pilots, flying has been their dream since they were kids, and the crisis in the industry has left pilots young and old stuck in a holding pattern — either hoping for a miracle or eyeing the exit.

Meantime, back on the ground, Wall Street and Silicon Valley are on divergent paths in terms of managing employees' return to the office.

As a condition of $25 billion in federal payroll support, airlines agreed not to institute any involuntary layoffs or furloughs until Oct. 1. Now that deadline is looming.Andrew Harrer / Bloomberg via Getty Images

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One inspiring thing

Sometimes it's just the little things.

Ozzie Padilla, 11, saw that his neighbors were going through a tough time. Their 11-year-old daughter, Effie, has been battling leukemia.

So, he thought he'd take one thing off their plate. Now he cuts their grass once a week so the family has one less thing to worry about.

"I thought it was just the right thing to do," he said.


Thanks for reading the Morning Rundown.

If you have any comments — likes, dislikes — send me an email at: petra@nbcuni.com

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Thanks, Petra