Election Live Updates: Biden and Trump Gear Up for the Debates

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Credit…Erin Schaff/The New York Times

The question for Joseph R. Biden Jr. came from a high school teacher standing somewhere in a parking lot in Moosic, Pa., looking at the candidate as he stood on a brightly lit stage. Would Mr. Biden, as president, support mandatory coronavirus vaccination of students before they could return to school?

Mr. Biden maneuvered a bit — that is a tricky question in this political environment — before coming up with a nuanced non-answer: It depends on the safety and efficiency of the vaccine. Besides, he noted, vaccine testing on children has not even begun yet.

Mr. Biden and President Trump both held town-hall-style events with voters this week, Mr. Trump with George Stephanopoulos on ABC on Tuesday and Mr. Biden with Anderson Cooper on CNN on Thursday. But this was just not a standard stop on the television interview circuit.

The first of three debates that could determine the outcome of the presidential race is less than two weeks away. And in a campaign environment constricted by the pandemic, neither Mr. Trump nor Mr. Biden has had much opportunity for the kind of spontaneous interaction with voters that can be invaluable for sharpening answers, preparing them for questions that even the most experienced debate preparation teams might not anticipate (such as whether vaccines for high school students should be mandatory).

In a normal contest, which this is not, campaign aides might have slipped a town hall onto the schedule for precisely this purpose. So these events were no doubt welcomed by both campaigns.

Mr. Trump and Mr. Biden are going to go through mock debates in the days ahead, in studios set up to replicate the real-life debate setting and with someone serving as a stand-in for their opponent. (Mr. Biden dodged when asked if someone was playing Mr. Trump.) They will be asked every tough question their aides can think of, and their responses will be critiqued and tested with focus groups.

But that is simply not the same as what happened at this week’s events. Granted, questions from voters can be softballs. But often, people with real-life concerns come up with queries that even the most sophisticated debate team might not have anticipated. The sheer exercise of these forums — standing in front of an audience and live television cameras, with no chance of a do-over — is hard to beat.

How does one get better at debates? The same way you get to Carnegie Hall. For proof of that, go back and look at one of Mr. Biden’s faltering early debate performances during the primary campaign, and compare it with his final debate in March.

Credit…Erin Schaff/The New York Times

Joseph R. Biden Jr. has strategically ceded center stage to President Trump — until recently adopting a shelter-in-place strategy that minimized mistakes but maximized angst among Democrats who questioned his capacity to generate enthusiasm.

Mr. Biden, appearing at a mask-mandatory CNN town hall before Mr. Trump’s flashier outdoor rally in Wisconsin later that evening, seemed relieved to be out of lockdown, and delivered a sturdy, if not especially electrifying, 90-minute performance that is likely to neither undermine nor boost his standing in the polls.

It was one of Mr. Biden’s first opportunities so far as the Democratic nominee to take questions directly from voters and to press his candidacy to a broad audience.

Here are three takeaways:

Mr. Trump and his backers have spent months suggesting, without proof, that Mr. Biden is in cognitive decline. Mr. Trump has baselessly insinuated that Mr. Biden is taking performance-enhancing drugs — and his campaign even put together a mocking worst-of video of Mr. Biden’s verbal stumbles.

Making fun of a fellow septuagenarian seems to delight Mr. Trump, who has also faced questions about his mental fitness. But Republican officials outside Mr. Trump’s inner circle fret that the attacks set the bar laughably low for Mr. Biden at the upcoming debates.

Despite a few miscues on Thursday night, Mr. Biden was lucid, sprightly, relaxed and conversant with granular details on energy policy, international relations, the economy and agricultural policy.

At one point, he had to stop himself from going on a tangent about “fertilizer and water tables.”

Mr. Trump’s town hall on ABC earlier in the week had the feel of a confrontation between a chef and a restaurant full of angry patrons who hated what they were served. One of the first questions he faced was why he had thrown America “under the bus” during the pandemic. It did not get much better from there.

CNN scheduled Mr. Biden’s event near Scranton, Pa., his hometown, and Mr. Biden took fullest home-field advantage — defusing potentially uncomfortable moments with folksy banter. When a former local police chief started to ask him a question about his stance on law and order, Mr. Biden interrupted with, “Didn’t I meet you when you were chief?”

“We did, sir,” the man responded.

There were a lot of questions like this one, from Susan Connors, who runs a small business in Scranton: “I look out over my Biden sign in my front yard and I see a sea of Trump flags and yard signs and my question is, what is your plan to build a bridge with voters from the opposing party to lead us forward toward a common future?”

Mr. Biden, who has long cited his history of working across the aisle, answered by noting that while he was “running as a Democrat,” he would be “America’s president” if elected.

A problem that vexed Hillary Clinton’s team for much of 2016 was this: How could a Manhattan billionaire developer, born into wealth, out-populist Democrats (like her) with actual working-class roots?

Mr. Biden has made millions since leaving office, but his entire political career has been based on his “Amtrak Joe” persona, and he wore it easily on Thursday.

Mr. Trump tends to aggrandize his intellectual and collegiate credentials, referring to his business degree from Wharton as “super genius stuff.” On Thursday, Mr. Biden, who went to the University of Delaware and Syracuse Law School, took it in the other direction.

“Who the hell makes you think I need an Ivy League degree to be president?” he asked. “I really do view this campaign as a campaign between Scranton and Park Avenue.”

Credit…Al Drago for The New York Times

The Trump administration said Friday it would bar the Chinese-owned mobile apps WeChat and TikTok from U.S. app stores as of Sunday, striking a harsh blow against two popular services used by more than 100 million people in the United States.

The restrictions will ban the transferring of funds or processing of payments through WeChat within the United States as of Sunday. In the case of WeChat, the restrictions will also prevent any company from offering internet hosting, content delivery networks, internet transit or peering services to WeChat, or using the app’s code in other software or services in the United States.

Those same prohibitions on providing services go into effect on Nov. 12 for TikTok.

“Today’s actions prove once again that President Trump will do everything in his power to guarantee our national security and protect Americans from the threats of the Chinese Communist Party,” Commerce Secretary Wilbur Ross said in a statement.

The actions follow an Aug. 6 executive order by President Trump, in which he argued that TikTok and WeChat collect data from American users that could be accessed by the Chinese government. With the president trailing badly in the polls as the election nears, his national security officials have intensified their attack on China in recent weeks, targeting its officials, diplomats and executives.

TikTok is currently in talks to be acquired by the American software maker Oracle, and could announce a deal that assuages the administration’s national security concerns. In its announcement, the Commerce Department said that the president had given until Nov. 12 for TikTok’s national security concerns to be resolved, and if they were, the prohibitions in the order could be lifted.

TikTok declined to comment. Tencent and Oracle did not immediately respond to requests for comment.

The New York Times /
Siena College poll

Democrats hold a lead over Republican incumbents in three key Senate races.

Dem. Rep. Margin




8 Dem.

7% undecided





5 Dem.

6% undecided

North Carolina




5 Dem.

16% undecided

Based on a New York Times/Siena College poll of likely voters from Sept. 10 to Sept. 16.

President Trump’s mismanagement of the coronavirus pandemic has imperiled both his own re-election and his party’s majority in the Senate, and Republican lawmakers in crucial states like Arizona, North Carolina and Maine have fallen behind their Democratic challengers amid broad disapproval of the president, according to a poll conducted by The New York Times and Siena College.

Former Vice President Joseph R. Biden Jr. led Mr. Trump by wide margins in Arizona, where he was ahead by nine percentage points, and Maine, where he led by 17 points. The race was effectively tied in North Carolina, with Mr. Biden ahead by one point, 45 percent to 44 percent.

In all three states, Democratic Senate candidates were leading Republican incumbents by five percentage points or more. Senator Susan Collins of Maine, a Republican seeking a fifth term, is in a difficult battle against Sara Gideon, trailing by five points as voters there delivered a damning verdict on Mr. Trump’s stewardship: By a 25-point margin, 60 percent to 35 percent, they said they trusted Mr. Biden over Mr. Trump on the issue of the pandemic.

The poll, conducted among likely voters, suggests that the most endangered Republican lawmakers have not managed to convince many voters to view them in more favorable terms than the leader of their party, who remains in political peril with less than 50 days remaining in the campaign. Democrats appear well positioned to gain several Senate seats, and most voters say they would prefer to see the White House and Senate controlled by the same party. But it is not yet clear that Democrats are on track to gain a clear majority, and their hopes outside the races tested in the poll largely depend on winning in states Mr. Trump is likely to carry.

Here are the daily schedules of the presidential and vice-presidential candidates for Friday, Sept. 18. All times are Eastern time.

Former Vice President Joseph R. Biden Jr.

Afternoon: Tours a union training center in Duluth, Minn.

Afternoon: Delivers remarks in Duluth.

President Trump

7 p.m.: Hosts a campaign rally in Bemidji, Minn.

Senator Kamala Harris

5:45 p.m.: Delivers remarks for the Congressional Black Caucus Political Action Committee’s “Turn Up and Turn out the Vote Virtual Bus Tour.”

Vice President Mike Pence

Early afternoon: Participates in a policy forum hosted by the Libre Initiative in Phoenix.

3 p.m.: Appears at a “Veterans for Trump” event in Litchfield Park, Ariz.

Credit…Zach Gibson for The New York Times

Twenty-four winners of the Turing Award — often called The Nobel Prize of computing — have endorsed Joseph R. Biden Jr. for president, citing concerns that Donald Trump’s immigration policies are harming the progress of American technology.

“The most brilliant people in the world want to come here and be grad students,” said David Patterson, a Google distinguished engineer, former University of California, Berkeley professor, and Turing Award winner who helped organize the endorsement. “But now they are being discouraged from coming here, and many are going elsewhere.”

The 24 also include the executive chairman of Google’s parent company, Alphabet, another Google employee, the top artificial intelligence researcher at Facebook, two Microsoft employees, and many academics who played key roles in the creation of technologies that are now fundamental to the global internet.

The endorsement comes days after the research journal Scientific American endorsed Mr. Biden, citing Mr. Trump’s response to the coronavirus pandemic and his skepticism over climate change. It was the publication’s first presidential endorsement in its 175 years history. Likewise, this is a first for the Turing winners.

Tech researchers have expressed concern over Mr. Trump’s immigration policies since he was elected. For decades, much of the country’s tech talent has come from overseas.

Anti-immigration rhetoric from the administration, its efforts to ban travel from certain countries and reports of slowdowns in the visa process have already pushed foreign nationals away from American universities and companies.

Credit…Brittany Greeson for The New York Times

There may be no better microcosm for the national mood than Michigan, a state that tipped for President Trump in 2016 by just over 10,000 votes — making it the geographic and symbolic center of the country’s political realignment.

College-educated voters and women voted overwhelmingly Democratic in the 2018 midterm elections, flipping the House blue. This year, the president’s inability to contain the coronavirus has added to many voters’ frustration with him, and he has struggled to find a message that can draw back Americans at the political center. With voter enthusiasm surging, political observers say this could be the highest-turnout election in the country’s history, despite the pandemic.

And in Michigan, a poll released Friday by The Detroit Free Press showed Joseph R. Biden Jr. leading Mr. Trump by eight percentage points in the state, roughly in line with his advantage in other polls — powered by the same anti-Trump sentiment that helped Democrats flip two suburban House districts in 2018.

Still, the Republican base in Michigan is strong, and it shows up at the polls more consistently than Democratic voters. That was part of what carried Mr. Trump to victory in 2016, when voter enthusiasm was low across the board.

This year, however, conscious that their ballots could again help decide the election, Michiganders of all political persuasions report being heavily motivated to vote. That’s a bad sign for Mr. Trump, who has never received a predominantly positive review from the roughly four in 10 Americans who identify as independents.

In 2016, polls were so faulty in Michigan that they whiffed in both the Democratic primary and the general election, overestimating Mrs. Clinton’s strength both times. In the general, many polls failed to correct for the fact that white men without college degrees — a key part of Mr. Trump’s base — are among the most difficult to reach.

But pollsters have sought to correct for the kinds of mistakes that led to an underestimation of Mr. Trump’s strength four years ago, adjusting to account for his support among less educated white voters and in some cases striving to reach more cellphone respondents.

Credit…Al Drago for The New York Times

President Trump sought on Thursday night to keep Wisconsin from slipping away from him in the fall election as he held a nighttime airport rally and contended that Joseph R. Biden Jr. was neglecting the key battleground state just as Hillary Clinton had four years ago.

Mr. Biden visited Wisconsin two weeks ago after the police shooting of Jacob Blake in Kenosha, as did Mr. Trump.

“The family is all over the place, all over the country,” Mr. Trump told supporters gathered in Mosinee, referring to his children who were out campaigning for him. “Unlike Joe, who lets you down when he never came back to Milwaukee to apologize or pay respects. I came to Wisconsin and I have been here a lot since we started.”

Mr. Trump was trying to capitalize on Mr. Biden’s decision to cancel the full-scale Democratic National Convention that was initially set to be held in Milwaukee and hold it online instead. But if Mr. Biden should apologize to Wisconsin for canceling his convention there, Mr. Trump did not explain why he should not apologize to Florida for canceling his own convention in that state.

Mr. Trump won Wisconsin with less than one percentage point of the vote in 2016 but now trails Mr. Biden by six points in the latest Washington Post-ABC News poll.

Mr. Trump’s speech was the usual mélange of rambling riffing on China, the coronavirus, law and order, the border wall, Mrs. Clinton, Mr. Biden, Barack Obama and other favorites. At one point, even he suggested his tirades were getting repetitive. “We have enough politics,” he said. “We have politics all over. Sometimes I have to turn it off. I can’t do it anymore. I can’t watch me! I can’t watch!”

President Trump will not make an in-person appearance at the United Nations General Assembly, which opens next week in New York City, his chief of staff, Mark Meadows, said on Thursday, in an apparent change in the White House’s plan.

The annual event, which typically brings dozens of world leaders together in midtown Manhattan, will be held virtually this year, with leaders delivering speeches remotely by video. As recently as July 30, Mr. Trump’s ambassador to the United Nations, Kelly Craft, said that Mr. Trump would be “the only world leader to be speaking in person.”

But Mr. Meadows told reporters traveling with the president on Air Force One to a campaign rally in Mosinee, Wis., that Mr. Trump would not physically visit United Nations headquarters for the General Assembly.

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