The 90-minute debate, moderated by NBC's Kristen Welker, took place at Belmont University in Nashville, Tennessee, covered a wide range of topics, including Covid-19, race, immigration and climate change.
This live coverage has ended. Continue reading election news from October 23, 2020.
Read highlights, fact checks and takeaway below:
Fact check: Trump says 2.2 million people were projected to die from Covid-19
Trump, defending his administration's pandemic response, claimed Thursday that "2.2 million people — modeled out — were expected to die" from the coronavirus.
Trump has made this claim previously — that original projections for coronavirus deaths in America said the country would lose 2.2 million people to the virus.
This is misleading. Trump is referring to a model published on March 17 by Imperial College London, which did predict that 2.2 million people in America could die from the virus, but only if no mitigation efforts whatsoever were in place.
In late March, White House Coronavirus Task Force response coordinator Dr. Deborah Birx told NBC's "Today" that the projection of 1.6 million to 2.2 million deaths referred to what could happen if America did "nothing" to stop the spread of the virus.
"If we do things together, well, almost perfectly, we could get in the range of 100,000 to 200,000 fatalities," Birx said at the time.
As of Thursday evening, there have been 223,262 deaths attributed to the virus in America, according to NBC News data.
First question on Covid-19
The candidates squared off on the pandemic to start off Thursday’s debate, with Trump saying that if he hadn’t acted as he did, way more people would have died, and Biden saying the president’s incompetence needlessly cost thousands of additional lives.
With cases and hospitalizations on the rise, Welker asked both candidates how they will fight the upcoming stage of the pandemic.
“As you know, 2.2 million people modeled out were expected to die,” Trump said. “We closed up the greatest economy in the world.”
The president said the vaccine will come soon. He did not elaborate on anything different he would do in combating the virus, though he did point to his recovery from Covid-19 as proof that conditions are improving.
“We rounding the corner,” Trump claimed. “It’s going away.”
Biden pointed to the 220,000 Americans who have died.
“Anyone who’s responsible for not taking control — in fact saying, 'I take no responsibility' — anyone who [has that] response to that many deaths should not remain president of the United States of America.”
Biden said Trump “still has no plan, no comprehensive plan.”
Biden added he would work toward national standards on reopening businesses and a ramping up the testing strategy.
“I will make sure we have a plan,” he said.
Welker fact-checks Trump in real time
Candidates arrive on stage. One in a mask, one without.
Debate commission co-chair goes over changes to final debate
Frank Fahrenkopf, the co-chair of the Commission on Presidential Debates, went over the rules of the debate ahead of the 9 p.m. start time, reminding participants that they agreed weeks ago that they would respect the two-minute response time allotted to each candidate per question before diving into a back-and-forth debate.
“Unfortunately, if you happened to watch the first debate, those rules were not necessarily followed," he said. "The commission felt that we could not put in a new rule, and what we thought we would do was put in a way to enforce what they had agreed to, the original rule: no interruption.”
Fahrenkopf explained that at the start of each of the six subject areas, the candidate who is not giving his two-minute opening response will have his mic muted. Once they have both delivered their 2-min opener, their mics will both be hot for debate.
Attacks, interruptions and topics: Follow along live
NBC News' Welker to moderate tonight's debate
Moderating Thursday's final debate is NBC News' Kristen Welker.
Welker has served as a White House correspondent for NBC News since 2011. Last November, she served as one of four moderators at the fifth Democratic primary debate.
In the lead-up to the debate, Trump and his allies have targeted Welker, as they did with the first debate's moderator, Fox News' Chris Wallace.
"Look at the bias, hatred and rudeness on behalf of 60 Minutes and CBS," Trump tweeted Thursday, complaining about his recent interview with CBS' Lesley Stahl. "Tonight’s anchor, Kristen Welker, is far worse!"
In a statement, NBC News President Noah Oppenheim said, "Kristin Welker is focused on delivering for the American people a substantive conversation about the issues that voters care about and she’s going to do everything in her power to make that happen."
Inside the debate hall: Lots of masks and some notable VIPs
The view from inside the debate hall: masks. Lots of them. We haven’t seen anyone without one, though, notably, the Trump family hasn’t arrived yet. They were the main ones defying the mask mandate at the Cleveland debate.
The president’s motorcade is set to arrive any minute, and Joe Biden is already here. Seats are marked off for some of those members of the first family — Melania, Eric and Ivanka Trump. The former U.S. ambassador to the United Nations, Nikki Haley, is also here in the hall as are some former members of Congress: Democrat Lincoln Davis and Republican Jimmy Duncan Jr. among them.
The arena is bigger and less intimate than the room for the first debate in Cleveland, and in another contrast, people are freely mingling and chatting. The vibe is pretty low-key.
Pete Buttigieg fires back on Hunter Biden allegations on Fox News
Pete Buttigieg has made several viral appearances on Fox News in recent weeks as a Biden surrogate. On Thursday night, he appeared again and offered a retort to the accusations leveled against Hunter Biden.
"If they want to make this about the business deals of a government official, let's talk about the president of the United States having a secret Chinese bank account," Buttigieg said.
The Trump campaign had previously sought to push the accusation that Hunter Biden's relationships in the Ukraine were illegal, and has recently shifted its focus to China.
Buttigieg made the case that Trump's business relationships with China were more pressing to the public than Hunter Biden's.
"And they won't even tell us what bank it's with," Buttigieg said. "Does that bother Americans? I'm pretty sure it bothers Americans a lot more than what they're trying to whip up for the last 12 days of this election season."
Kid Rock makes an appearance at Thursday's debate
Kid Rock showed up at the debate tonight. Asked if he was supporting Trump's re-election, he told NBC News his presence would do his speaking for him.
"I think being here says it all, right?" he said. "Happy to be invited.”
The ponytailed-and-jumpsuited musician wasn't wearing a mask when he arrived at the debate venue and was later handed one by debate staffers.
Meadows called Fauci about Plexiglass barriers
White House chief of staff Mark Meadows called Dr. Anthony Fauci during the debate walkthrough on Thursday and put Fauci on the phone with an individual from the Commission on Presidential Debates to discuss the merits of having physical plexiglass barriers on stage during the faceoff, according to a person familiar with the matter.
Fauci told that person that all the barriers would do was provide a false sense of security.
The CPD didn’t immediately respond to a request for comment.
As NBC News reported earlier Thursday, the two plexiglass barriers that were initially positioned between the candidates’ lecterns were removed after the debate commission’s medical adviser consulted with Fauci.
Inside the campaign to 'pizzagate' Hunter Biden
Some of the same people who pushed a false conspiracy theory about Hillary Clinton that first emerged in 2016 are now targeting Hunter Biden, Joe Biden's son, with similar falsehoods. Their online posts are garnering astronomical numbers of shares on social media.
The fantastical rumors, which NBC News is declining to repeat verbatim, echo specific plot points central to "pizzagate," a viral disinformation campaign that predates QAnon but also falsely alleges a vast conspiracy of child abuse.
There is an important difference, however. The pizzagate-style rumors in 2016 were largely confined to far-right message boards like 4chan and parts of Reddit. But the Hunter Biden iteration of the same conspiracy theory took off last weekend with the help of speculation from conservative TV hosts and members of Congress. Their theorizing can be traced back to a new website that has been promoted by President Donald Trump and his surrogates.
Michelle Obama throws shade at Trump's '60 Minutes' interview
Plexiglass barriers removed from stage after candidates test negative for Covid
Two plexiglass barriers that were initially positioned between the candidates' lecterns have been removed, Commission on Presidential Debates co-chairman Frank Fahrenkopf, Jr. said.
Fahrenkopf told NBC News that after the commission’s medical advisor, HCA, learned President Trump and Joe Biden tested negative for Covid-19 today and consulted with Dr. Anthony Fauci, HCA changed its recommendation that the barriers were necessary. They have been removed and, Fahrenkopf said, both campaigns agreed to that decision.
Political ads are flooding YouTube
YouTube said Thursday that some political campaigns were running into difficulty finding advertising space at the times and locations they wanted because of rising demand.
A spokesperson for YouTube said the company still has plenty of advertising inventory, but certain slots were booked because of demand from a variety of advertisers, including ad campaigns unrelated to the election targeted at car buyers and holiday shoppers.
Politics has exploded on the popular online video service this year, as Trump and Biden bought up prominent YouTube ad space and others have used YouTube to drive up voter turnout, raise money or court livestreamers. The coronavirus pandemic also has more people turning to streaming video.
Bloomberg News first reported Thursday that YouTube was struggling to place all the ads in front of the desired audiences that political campaigns wanted. Prices for some slots in presidential swing states had doubled, it said.
YouTube said it was not seeing a consistent spike in particular states and that the pattern of increased spending was across the board.
Sen. Mitt Romney: Trump has '40 percent' chance of getting re-elected
Now, Romney feels less certain that is going to happen.
"Not as confident as I was before," Romney told reporters in the capitol on Thursday when asked about Trump's chances. "I think he’s got better, a better chance than the prognosticators are predicting at this stage. I think I saw a tweet today saying it’s 12 percent chance, someone else said 10 percent chance. I think it’s much more like 40 percent, but time will tell.”
Trump and Biden prepare for final bout with debate to focus on Covid-19, race
The gloves will be off and so will the mics in the final showdown between President Donald Trump and Democratic nominee Joe Biden.
The stage, complete with plexiglass barriers, is set for the rivals’ second and final debate, which will kick off at 9 p.m. ET in Nashville on Thursday with NBC News’ Kristen Welker in the moderator's chair.
Over the course of 90 commercial-free minutes, the candidates will spend about 15 minutes on each of six topics: fighting Covid-19, American families, race in America, climate change, national security and leadership.
And in a new twist, each candidate will have two uninterrupted minutes to address each topic while the others’ microphone is turned off in order to avoid a repeat of the shouty first debate in Cleveland.
Read the story, which will be updated throughout the night.
Trump focuses on Hunter Biden; Biden campaign says 'be our guest.'
Trump plans to focus attention on Biden’s son Hunter and his business activities overseas.
As part of that strategy, Trump’s guest list includes Tony Bobulinski, the former Hunter Biden business partner who told the New York Post that Joe Biden was in line to take a cut of a Chinese business deal negotiated by his son in early 2017.
Biden’s aides told NBC News they’re not worried about the topic.
"Be our guest," Biden deputy campaign manager Kate Bedingfield told NBC News ahead of the debate in Nashville. "He’s been trying to land this for 18 months. It got him impeached. It hasn’t worked."
Bedingfield also said she would not "dignify" the question of whether material allegedly retrieved from Hunter Biden’s laptop with the help of indicted former Trump campaign manager Steve Bannon and former New York Mayor Rudy Giuliani is real.
NBC has reported the FBI is looking into how the material was acquired.
North Carolina GOP asks Supreme Court to roll back extra time for accepting mail-in ballots
Republicans in the presidential battleground state of North Carolina asked the U.S. Supreme Court Thursday to block lower court rulings that allowed six extra days for accepting ballots sent by mail.
The Trump campaign, the state and national Republican parties, and Republican leaders of the state legislature said decisions by North Carolina's Board of Elections, upheld by federal courts, "pose an immediate threat to the integrity of the federal elections process."
The final showdown: 5 things to watch in last Trump-Biden debate
Any Americans still on the fence — and who haven't been among the hordes of early voters — will have one final chance to hear from President Donald Trump and Joe Biden in their last debate Thursday, during which the president will try to re-energize his base and close the polling gap behind Biden.
Thursday's debate in Nashville, Tennessee, was supposed to be the third faceoff of 2020, but will instead be the second of only two presidential debates after Trump declined to participate in one scheduled for last week after it was moved to a virtual format following his Covid-19 diagnosis.
Trump's polling deficit has only solidified since the poorly reviewed first debate in Cleveland and with more than 30 million votes already cast and, less than two weeks before Election Day, he is running out of time.
Voter who didn't cast ballot in 2016 explains why 2020 is different
David Litko didn't bother voting in 2016. He didn't think his vote mattered.
That's not how the McKeesport, Pennsylvania, resident is approaching 2020. He is voting this time around — and he's backing former Vice President Joe Biden in the pivotal swing state.
Litko, 61, represents a crucial 2020 voting block — people who did not vote in the 2016 presidential race but are this time. He told NBC News that he was disturbed by President Donald Trump's repeated efforts at delegitimizing mail-in voting — saying the president's "anti-democratic leanings" led him to register.
"I didn't vote in 2016 because, well, I didn't think it mattered. Then Pennsylvania was won by just, what was it? 44,000 votes?" Litko said, adding, "I was afraid that Trump was trending toward wanting to become president for life, invalidating democracy, and so I wanted to vote against that."
Cher and Lizzo lend their voices to Biden campaign
Former President Obama will not be the only star stumping for Joe Biden this week. The Biden campaign getting help from two of music’s biggest names.
Singer and songwriter Lizzo will be hitting the campaign trail for the Democratic candidate. Tomorrow, she will be making two stops in the Detroit area to discuss early voting, with a focus on young people.
Last week, Lizzo wore a custom Christian Siriano dress to the Billboard Music Awards and told the audience "there's power in your voice."
Superstar singer Cher will also be hitting the trail for the Biden-Harris ticket. The Grammy-winning singer and Oscar-winning actress will make stops in Nevada and Arizona this weekend on behalf of the campaign.
Photo: Debate's socially distanced seating
Trump tests negative for Covid-19 on plane ride to debate
President Trump tested negative for Covid-19 on his way to the debate.
“We tested him on the way here (on the plane) and he tested negative,”said White House chief of staff Mark Meadows.
Also traveling with the president were a mix of staffers and family including Ivanka Trump, Jared Kushner, Tiffany Trump, Jason Miller, Robert O’Brien, Dan Scavino — with no mask — and Kayleigh McEnany.
Biden ready to fight back if Trump goes after his family, campaign says
Ahead of tonight’s debate, the Biden campaign is telegraphing that if President Trump goes after Joe Biden’s family, it plans on attacking him for spreading and amplifying Russian disinformation.
In a pre-debate press call with reporters, the campaign's deputy manager, Kate Bedingfield, said that the campaign expected Trump “to continue to bully” and attack Hunter Biden and his foreign dealings during tonight’s debate. She said that Biden is prepared for those attacks as well, hoping to flip the attention to the fact that Trump is more obsessed with Biden’s family than America's families amid a pandemic.
“Here's the thing, these attacks are backfiring on Trump. You know, despite leveling them in the first debate, poll after poll showed voters resoundingly thought Biden won that debate because voters are sick and tired of Trump's lies and we've heard the same debunked attacks for over a year,” she said.
A senior campaign adviser, Symone Sanders, also commented on the Commission on Presidential Debate’s decision to mute the microphones, saying that the debate will serve as “a test of presidential temperament,” especially for the president.
Biden leads Trump by 10 points in new Quinnipiac national poll
Joe Biden holds a 10-point lead over President Trump ahead of tonight's final presidential debate, according to a new Quinnipiac University poll of likely voters released Thursday afternoon.
Biden leads with 51 percent of likely voters, while Trump lags behind him at 41 percent. The new poll is the third Quinnipiac national survey of likely voters since September that has shown the former vice president with a 10-point lead.
"Three straight polls in the double-digit zone," Quinnipiac University polling analyst Tim Malloy said in a statement. "For Biden-Harris, flush with cash and propelled by consistent support, it remains steady as she goes through the turbulent waters of a bitter, personal, and unsettling campaign."
Beyond the top line, likely voters in the new poll said Biden has a sense of decency by a margin of 64-30, while likely voters said 60-37 that Trump does not have a sense of decency.
Top former Obama adviser: Biden should 'prepare for a bunch of different Trumps'
Trump will vote in-person in Florida on Saturday
President Trump plans to vote early and in-person on Saturday in West Palm Beach, per White House spokesman Judd Deere.
That follows the president’s previously-announced stops in battleground Florida on Friday for events at The Villages and in Pensacola.
Trump releases video of unedited, contentious '60 Minutes' interview that he abruptly left
WASHINGTON — President Donald Trump on Thursday released what appeared to be the full, unedited interview that he did with “60 Minutes” earlier this week that he abruptly walked out of because he said that it showed the media’s bias against him.
Trump released a video of the interview — segments of which CBS was set to air on Sunday — that lasted nearly 38 minutes and showed only the angle of a White House camera that faced him, which White House officials and the network agreed would be used for only archival purposes.
Throughout the interview, the president expressed frustration that the questions posed by correspondent Leslie Stahl would not be asked of former Vice President Joe Biden, his Democratic challenger.
Read more here.
Hallie Jackson shuts down Trump campaign spokesman on election interference, fraud claims
MSNBC anchor Hallie Jackson cut short her interview with Trump campaign spokesman Hogan Gidley after he baselessly floated claims about widespread voter fraud in the presidential election and dodged when asked if the president had confidence in FBI Director Christopher Wray.
"There is no widespread evidence of voter fraud, Hogan. You know that," Jackson said, before reiterating a question about whether President Trump would "back off" claims about fraud in the 2020 race. She added that Wray has said the FBI has not seen evidence of widespread voter fraud.
Gidley did not directly answer a question about whether Trump still had confidence in Wray. Instead, he replied in part that Trump has "confidence the American people want a free and fair election."
In response to a separate question, Gidley said the Trump campaign had not been briefed ahead of time that Iran and Russia were working to influence election, which the FBI announced at a news conference Wednesday night.
Schumer, Wyden call on FBI director to resist pressure from Trump for a political investigation
Senate Minority Leader Chuck Schumer, D-N.Y., and Sen. Ron Wyden, D-Ore., sent a letter to FBI Director Christopher Wray on Thursday calling on him not to launch any political investigations that would influence the election.
They referred in a press release to "a widely questioned article in the New York Post, that alleged to have obtained stolen Hunter Biden emails from the president’s lawyer Rudy Giuliani" and noted that Trump has called on the Justice Department to investigate.
“We are deeply concerned about the possibility that in response to these reports the Trump Administration will take actions before Election Day that would seek to damage the Democratic presidential candidate and undermine the rule of law,” Wyden and Schumer said.
They are urging Wray "to resist pressure from President Trump and other partisan actors to take any actions intended to benefit President Trump politically on the eve of the election. Succumbing to such pressure would deeply undermine our national security interests and the credibility of law enforcement, and could have devastating consequences for the resiliency of our democracy.”
Biden gets pre-debate pep talk from Brayden Harrington
The Biden campaigned released a new video in honor of International Stuttering Awareness Day. The video shows the former vice president watching a recorded message from Brayden Harrington, the New Hampshire boy he met before the primary in February and who delivered a memorable address at the Democratic National Convention.
In the video from Brayden, he jokes that Biden probably won’t be able to get in a word during tonight’s presidential debate but he’s rooting for him. And if Biden hits a block during the debate, to do what he normally does and “keep faith in his heart.”
Biden met Brayden Harrington at a town hall event in Concord, New Hampshire. His parents told the Democratic candidate that Brayden wanted to hear Biden speak because he [Brayden] also stutters. In a touching moment, Biden tells Brayden to not let his stutter define him.
“I know about bullies. You know about bullies — the kids who make fun. It’s going to change, honey. I promise you,” Biden said. The former Vice President kept in touch with Brayden and his family leading to Brayden speaking at the Democratic convention in August.
Trump allies have been characterizing Biden as declining. Some going as far as mocking his stutter. But, in his video, Brayden reminds Biden that he’ll always be rooting for him.
Poll shows Democrats lead in three Iowa House districts and fourth tightening
New polling in Iowa shows a tightening race in the state’s single Republican-held House seat while Democrats hold leads in the other three districts. A Monmouth University poll released Thursday shows two first-term Democratic incumbents leading in their races while the Democratic candidate leads in an open seat held by the party.
- Iowa-01: First-term Rep. Abby Finkenauer holds an 8-point lead among registered voters over Republican challenger Ashley Hinson, 52 percent to 44 percent. Women back Finkenauer by a 61 percent to 35 percent margin while men prefer Hinson, 53 percent to 43 percent.
- Iowa-02: The race to replace retiring Democratic Rep. Dave Loebsack flipped from a slight GOP lead in the summer to a Democratic lead now. Rita Hart leads Mariannette Miller-Meeks by six points, 49 percent to 43 percent among registered. Miller-Meeks had a 47 percent to 44 percent lead in August.
- Iowa-03: First-term Democratic Rep. Cindy Axne widened her lead over former Rep. David Young in a rematch from 2018 since August — she currently leads 52 percent to 43 percent. Axne has a 25-point lead among registered voters in Polk County, which she won by 16 points two years ago.
- Iowa-04: The race to replace controversial GOP Rep. Steve King, who lost his primary to Randy Feenstra, has tightened since the summer with Feenstra leading Democrat J.D. Scholten, who lost to King two years ago, by six points, 48 percent to 42 percent. The Republican held a 20-point lead over Scholten in August.
The Monmouth poll was conducted by telephone and online from October 15- 20, sampling 1,547 Iowa registered voters from a voter list file. The results have a margin of error between +/- 4.8 and +/- 5.2 percentage points, depending on the district.
See more Iowa polls here.
'We’re gonna call nonsense': Donald Trump Jr. says they'll be watching who controls the mute button
Donald Trump Jr. said that the campaign is going to be monitoring the person who controls the mute button during tonight's debate. He told “Fox and Friends” host Ainsley Earhardt that they’re going to have someone in the room and promised, “We’re gonna call nonsense when we see nonsense.”
Trump Jr. claims that the Commission on Presidential Debates messed up his father’s microphone in 2016 during his debate against Hillary Clinton.
He criticized the commission's handling of the debates, saying that they’re biased.
New polls show tightening races for control of the Senate
Democratic U.S. Senate candidate Mark Kelly’s lead over Arizona Republican incumbent Martha McSally appeared to narrow in a race that could determine control of the Senate, a Reuters/Ipsos poll shows.
Here are the latest results for three Senate races on which Reuters/Ipsos is polling:
- Arizona: Kelly leads McSally, 51 percent to 44 percent in a poll conducted from Oct. 14-21, but Kelly held a 11-point lead in a previous poll.
- North Carolina: Democratic challenger Cal Cunningham and incumbent Thom Tillis were tied at 47 percent in a poll conducted from Oct. 14-20. A poll conducted the week before showed Cunningham leading Tillis by four points.
- Michigan: Democratic incumbent Gary Peters held a 5-point lead over GOP challenger John James, 50 percent to 45 percent, in a poll conducted from Oct. 14-20. Peters led James by eight points in a poll conducted the week before.
The poll was conducted online and in English. The Arizona survey included 658 likely voters and had a credibility interval of 4 percentage points. The earlier Michigan poll surveyed 686 likely voters and had a credibility interval of 4 percentage points. North Carolina’s surveyed 660 likely voters and had a credibility interval of 4 percentage points.
Biden tests negative for Covid-19 ahead of debate
Joe Biden was tested for the coronavirus ahead of tonight's debate and his results came back negative.
“Vice President Biden underwent PCR testing for COVID-19 today and COVID-19 was not detected,” the Biden campaign said in a statement passed along by the pool.
BIDEN'S 13 NEGATIVE TESTS SINCE Oct. 2:
Friday Oct. 2 – negative x2
Sunday Oct. 4 – negative
Tuesday Oct. 6 – negative
Thursday Oct. 8 – negative
Saturday Oct. 10 – negative
Monday Oct. 12 – negative
Wednesday Oct. 14 negative
Thursday Oct. 15 - negative
Friday Oct. 16 – negative
Monday Oct. 19 – negative
Tuesday Oct. 20 – negative
Thursday Oct. 22 - negative
Trump administration's child separations a voter issue
After taking a back seat to the coronavirus pandemic, the reminder that the Trump administration intentionally separated babies and children from their parents to deter Central American migration is back in the news, two weeks before the presidential election.
This week, American Civil Liberties Union lawyers told a federal judge they have yet to locate the parents of 545 children and that the overwhelming majority of the children’s parents were deported.
The revelation — while many people are voting early — inserts an issue into the election cycle that was such a lightning rod in the 2018 midterms, Republicans tried distancing themselves from the administration’s separation strategy.
As the administration’s systemic separating of families returns to the forefront of the American consciousness, Trump will have to contend with the re-emergence of images of horrified parents pleading to know the whereabouts of their children, the sounds of crying children as they are mocked by an agent, children caged in pens of chain-link fencing and stories of young children who died while in custody.
Click here to read the full story.
Analysis: Trump and Biden look to seal the deal in final debate
It's the last chance — for President Donald Trump, Democratic nominee Joe Biden and undecided voters.
Thursday night's second presidential debate, held before a limited in-person audience at Belmont University here and tens of millions of Americans watching from their homes, matches up two candidates still looking to seal the deal with a small fraction of the electorate.
The race remains close enough that everything matters. Biden holds narrow leads — within the margin of error or just outside it — in nearly every swing-state poll, and FiveThirtyEight.com gives him an 87 percent chance, or about 7 in 8, of winning. And yet both Republicans and Democrats say they are feeling déja vu from the 2016 campaign, when Hillary Clinton's polling leads in key swing states evaporated on Election Day.
It's impossible to know how the debate will affect the race, if at all, before the two candidates square off. But one thing that's worth watching is whether either breaks out new promises or behaves in a markedly different way from past public appearances.
What is likely is that the debate will help a limited set of voters decide whether they're done with Trump and comfortable with Biden or whether they will look past Trump's flaws because they think Biden isn't right for the job.
Read more of Jonathan Allen’s analysis here.
Trump has prepped for tonight's debate even less than last one
President Trump has done even less traditional debate prep for the second and final contest tonight in Nashville than he did for the first face-off, according to multiple people familiar with the discussions.
Trump has been counseled by aides and allies to not interrupt as much, though it’s unclear how much he will follow that advice. The president indicated he is not pleased with the new microphone-muting adjustment and says he will plan to speak up when he feels it’s appropriate.
The president has also been told by advisers to let former Vice President Joe Biden speak more than he did on the stage in Cleveland, in their view, to allow the Democratic nominee to potentially stumble or make a mistake.
Expect Trump to raise Hunter Biden and China throughout the debate. The president has suggested as much in recent days.
The team that helped prepare the president last time did not reassemble this time around, partially because several of them were still recovering from coronavirus. As a reminder, the following people got sick around the time the president and first lady did: senior aide Hope Hicks, senior aide Stephen Miller, outside adviser Kellyanne Conway, former Gov. Chris Christie and campaign manager Bill Stepien.
A few back-and-forth practice meetings took place on Air Force One over the last week while the president was traveling to battleground states. Those sparring rounds were more topic-oriented discussions with aides, however, and did not resemble formal sessions.
Trump, for his part, told reporters he considers his exchanges with them “prep,” in addition to the 13 rallies he’s done since his return to the trial last week after his hospitalization for Covid-19.
Biden calls for 'bipartisan commission' to propose ways to 'reform the court system'
WASHINGTON — Joe Biden told “60 Minutes” he would set up a "bipartisan commission of scholars" from across the ideological spectrum to explore ways to change the Supreme Court.
“And I will — ask them to over 180 days come back to me with recommendations as to how to reform the court system because it’s getting out of whack,” Biden said, according to excerpts released Thursday ahead of an interview to air Sunday.
“And it’s not about court packing,” Biden said. “There’s a number of other things that our constitutional scholars have debated and I’ve looked to see what recommendations that commission might make.”
The answer comes as Biden faces pressure to take a position on the push to add seats to the Supreme Court in response to what Democrats describe as a theft by Republicans for enabling President Trump to fill a vacancy in an election year after preventing Barack Obama from doing so in 2016.
Read more here.
Plexiglass will stay on debate stage between Trump and Biden's lecterns
The Commission on Presidential Debates' co-chair Frank Fahrenkopf, Jr., says the two plexiglass barriers placed between each candidates’ lecterns on stage at Belmont University in Nashville will remain in place “at the recommendation of the commission’s medical advisors.”
“I’m not sure that the Trump campaign wanted it," he said on MSNBC.
Fahrenkopf also noted:
—Anyone who enters this hall has to pass a covid test (meaning test negative) and must be wearing a mask.
—Both campaigns and their invited guests have agreed to keep their masks in while in audience.
—CPD is working with each campaign to confirm their tests.
Fahrenkopf would not answer if people need to show or prove their negative test results to CPD or the debate's medical advisors
Trump's debate topics tonight: China and Hunter Biden
Alyssa Farah, the White House director of strategic communications and assistant to the president, said expect President Trump to discuss two topics at tonight's debate: China and Hunter Biden
"We need to have a real discussion on China," Farah said Thursday on Fox Business News.
"Traditionally the third debate is really a foreign policy debate. But this one’s got a whole lot of different topics," she said. "So the president’s going to go in ready to make his case on the issues he sees as most important —the economy, holding China accountable, the economic recovery."
"And I do think we are going to, whether it's asked or he has the opportunity to bring it up, he is going to get into this issue of Hunter Biden," she said. "The American people need to know if the Biden family in any way is beholden to China."
Cybersecurity company finds hacker selling info on 186 million U.S. voters
WASHINGTON — A cybersecurity company says it has found a hacker selling personally identifying information of more than 200 million Americans, including the voter registration data of 186 million.
The revelation underscored how vulnerable Americans are to email targeting by criminals and foreign adversaries, even as U.S. officials announced that Iran and Russia had obtained voter registration data and email addresses with an eye toward interfering in the 2020 election.
Much of the data identified by Trustwave, a global cybersecurity company, is publicly available, and almost all of it is the kind that is regularly bought and sold by legitimate businesses. But the fact that so many names, email addresses, phone numbers and voter registration records were found for sale in bulk on the so-called dark web underscores how easily criminals and foreign adversaries can deploy it as the FBI said Iran has done recently, by sending emails designed to intimidate voters.
"An enormous amount of data about U.S. citizens is available to cyber criminals" and foreign adversaries, said Ziv Mador, vice president of security research at Trustwave, which found the material.
Read more here.
Google saw evidence of fake email operation linked to Iran
Google said in a statement Thursday that the tech company and others have seen evidence that an operation linked to Iran “sent inauthentic emails to people in the U.S. over the past 24 hours.”
“For Gmail users, our automated spam filters stopped 90% of the approximately 25,000 emails sent. Additionally, this morning we removed one video file on Drive and one video on YouTube with fewer than 30 views, and terminated the associated Google accounts,” Google PR said.
“We referred the matter to the FBI and will continue to work with law enforcement and others in the industry to identify and remove any related content.”
The FBI announced at a briefing Wednesday evening that Iranian intelligence was responsible for a recent campaign of emails sent to intimidate Florida voters. Officials also said that Russia was also working to influence the election.
'Exciting moment': Obama votes by mail, runs down instructions
Trump says he plans to release an 'unedited preview' of that '60 Minutes' interview
Trump on Thursday said he would soon be releasing an "unedited preview" of the interview he abruptly left earlier this week with CBS News' Lesley Stahl of "60 Minutes."
"I will soon be giving a first in television history full, unedited preview of the vicious attempted 'takeout' interview of me by Lesley Stahl of @60Minutes. Watch her constant interruptions & anger. Compare my full, flowing and 'magnificently brilliant' answers to their 'Q’s," he tweeted.
The White House agreed to record the interview for archival purposes only. His threat came after the show released a clip Thursday morning in which Stahl asked Trump to identify his biggest domestic priority.
"Well, ultimately, let me tell you, it was happening, we created the greatest economy in the history of our country. And the other side ... ," Trump said.
"You know that's not true," Stahl said.
"It is totally true," Trump responded.
"No," Stahl said.
"The priority now is to get back to normal, get back to where we were, to have the economy rage and be great with jobs and everybody be happy," Trump said.
The newsmagazine also released a clip of its interview with Joe Biden, during which he said he would create a national, bipartisan commission of constitutional scholars to review the nation's court system and put together recommendations for reforms.
Iran says claims by U.S. of interference in 2020 election are 'absurd'
An Iranian official rebuted claims made by U.S. officials that Iran has been interfering in the 2020 presidential election.
"Unlike the U.S., Iran does not interfere in other country's elections. The world has been witnessing U.S.'s own desperate public attempts to question the outcome of its own elections at the highest level," a spokesman for the Iranian mission to the U.N., Alireza Miryousefi, said Thursday.
"These accusations are nothing more than another scenario to undermine voter confidence in the security of the U.S. election and are absurd. Iran has no interest in interfering in the U.S. election and no preference for the outcome," Miryousefi said. "The U.S. must end its malign and dangerous accusations against Iran.”
White House deputy press secretary Judd Deere said that “Unlike the Obama-Biden administration, President Trump has and will always put America First. He has directed the FBI, DOJ, and defense and intel agencies to proactively monitor and thwart any attempts to interfere in US elections, and because of the great work of our law enforcement agencies we have stopped an attempt by America’s adversaries to undermine our elections.”
This comes after the FBI announced Wednesday that Iranian intelligence was responsible for a recent campaign of emails sent to intimidate Florida voters into voting for Trump. Officials also said that Russia was working to influence the election.
Trump national security adviser says president would accept results if he loses on Nov. 3
President Donald Trump's White House national security adviser Robert O'Brien says that the president would accept the results of the election if he loses and it's called on Election Day, Nov. 3.
“If he loses, of course he will,” O'Brien said in an interview with Politico. “If he loses the election, I’m certain the president will transfer power over, but we’ve got to make sure there’s no fraud in the election and we need to make sure it’s a free and fair election, just like we demand of other countries overseas, we need to make the demand of ourselves."
This comes as Trump has been preemptively been casting doubt on the legitimacy of the results, suggesting that mail-in ballots shouldn't count and that the Supreme Court may have to decide the outcome of the election, while also dodging questions on a peaceful transition of power should he lose.
Obama to campaign for Biden in key battleground state of Florida on Saturday
President Obama will hit the campaign trail again for his former vice president on Saturday in the key battleground state of Florida, the Biden campaign announced Wednesday.
Obama held his first in-person event for Biden on Wednesday in Philadelphia in which he delivered a blistering speech against the current president, saying he has been unable to take "the job seriously."
"We've got to turn out like never before. We cannot leave any doubt in this election," Obama said. "We can't be complacent. I don't care about the polls. There were a whole bunch of polls last time. Didn't work out. Because a whole bunch of folks stayed at home and got lazy and complacent. Not this time. Not in this election."
Cindy McCain on why she's backing Biden: 'Every time you think it couldn't get much worse, it does'
Cindy McCain, the widow of Sen. John McCain, R-Ariz., campaigned for Biden with Sen. Amy Klobuchar, D-Minn., Wednesday and told voters why she believes the former vice president should be elected.
"Every time you think it couldn't get much worse, it does," McCain said about why she's backing Biden during the virtual event for Minnesota Women for Biden.
“And so for me I know people want to figure out why I would — I would vote for a Democrat number one, but I’ve known Joe Biden for 40 years,” said McCain.
Everything you need to know about the last debate
The second and final presidential debate is set for Thursday night, giving President Trump an opportunity to make up ground against Joe Biden.
Trump, who's trailing in national polling by about 9 points, will have to be more disciplined than he was in the chaotic first debate, while Biden has to avoid any major missteps.
Just catching up? Here's what you missed
Here's what you missed from the trail this week:
Packed crowds, few masks at Trump's NC rally
Several thousand people were packed together outside President Trump's North Carolina rally, largely without masks despite a statewide mask mandate for both indoor and outdoor public spaces. Campaign staff and volunteers were asking attendees to put on their masks as they entered the rally and they handed out disposable ones to anyone who didn’t have a mask.
Earlier Wednesday, North Carolina Gov. Roy Cooper, a Democrat, announced the state would remain in Phase 3 for three more weeks, so as it stands "the limits on mass gatherings will remain at 25 people indoors and 50 people outdoors." The crowd at Trump’s far exceeds that.
The warm-up speakers, while the crowd waits for Trump, have included the chair of the state’s Republican Party and the Republican candidate for governor, who vowed to repeal the statewide mask mandate. Diamond and Silk, video bloggers and political personalities who describe themselves as Trump’s "most loyal supporters" also spoke.
The president is scheduled to speak at 7 p.m. ET.