Updates as Trump and Joe Biden square off

Follow our live coverage of the presidential debate between Donald Trump and Joe Biden. Be sure to refresh the page once we get closer to kickoff. 

Trump defends continuation of rallies

Asked why he continues you hold rallies against the advice of his own health experts, Trump’s responded: “Because people want to hear what I have to say.”

He also suggested that Biden would do the same thing if he could but “nobody will show up.”

He said Biden “does the circles with three people someplace,” referring to the small, socially distant events he holds.

“If you could get the crowds, you would do the same,” Trump told the former vice president.

— Ledyard King

Biden: Trump COVID response ‘totally irresponsible’

Biden slammed Trump for the way he has responded to the coronavirus pandemic and specifically criticized his reluctance to wear a face mask in public.

“He has been totally irresponsible in the way he has handled the social distancing, the people wearing masks – basically encouraging them not to,” Biden said.

“He’s not worried about the people,” Biden said.

— Michael Collins

Intelligence test: Trump and Biden question each other’s smarts

We’ve reached the stage of the debate where Trump and Biden criticize the other’s IQ.

“Did you use the word smart?” Trump told Biden, questioning his opponent’s academic credentials. “Don’t ever use the word smart with me.”

Biden, who had said Trump’s has exhibited less-than-intelligent leadership, replied: “Oh, give me a break.”

— David Jackson

‘You don’t have it in your blood’

After Biden slammed Trump for not doing enough to prevent the spread of the coronavirus in the United States, the president shot back that “we’ve done a great job.”

“We got the gowns. We got the masks. We made the ventilators – you wouldn’t have made the ventilators – and now we’re weeks away from a vaccine,” he said after Biden said the country has about 4% of the world’s population but about 20% of its deaths from the virus.

Trump went on to say that the country would have suffered far more than the 200,000-plus deaths and the 7 million-plus cases of COVID-19 if Biden had been president.

“You could never have done the job that we did. You don’t have it in your blood,” he Trump said to Biden.

— Ledyard King

Roe v. Wade 

As part of the debate about the Supreme Court, Biden said abortion is on the ballot. Trump disputed that, saying of Barrett, “You don’t know her view on Roe v. Wade.”

Barrett has written that Supreme Court precedents are not sacrosanct, which liberals have interpreted as a threat to the 1973 Roe v. Wade decision legalizing abortion nationwide.

Those views give anti-abortion groups hope that with her vote, the Supreme Court will uphold efforts by states to further restrict abortion rights – and potentially overrule Roe v. Wade someday.

In one case before the U.S. Court of Appeals for the 7th Circuit, she would have allowed Indiana to try again to win court approval of a law banning abortions based on sex, gender or disability. 

— Richard Wolf 


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​Biden ducks question on adding to SCOTUS

Biden ducked a question about whether he would support adding more justices to the Supreme Court if Amy Coney Barrett is confirmed.

“I’m not going to answer the question,” Biden said. When Trump interrupted him, Biden responded, “Will you shut up, man.”

If Trump and the Republicans push Barrett through, Democrats have vowed retaliation should they win control of the Senate in November. Their options range from ending filibuster rights – making it nearly impossible for a Republican minority to block legislation – to increasing the number of seats on the Supreme Court to restore ideological balance to the high court that will have a 6-3 conservative advantage if Barrett is confirmed. 

In the never-ending partisan war over judicial nominations, both Democrats and Republicans have changed the rules when they were in power. If Republicans muscle through the battle and win a 6-3 court majority but lose the White House and Senate in November’s election, Democrats could seek to add justices to the high court, impose term limits or further limit Senate minority rights.  

— Richard Wolf 

Trump paints a rosy picture of coronavirus response

The president insisted that his administration received widespread praise for its handling of the coronavirus pandemic, which has claimed more than 200,000 lives in the U.S. He said that many Democratic governors and “people that would not be necessarily on my side” said he did a “phenomenal job.”

A USA TODAY investigation found CDC in February gave local health officials slow, confusing and conflicting information – or none at all – on how to deal with coronavirus.

“We got the gowns we get the masks we made the ventilators you wouldn’t have made ventilators and now we’re weeks away from a vaccine,” Trump said. 

Despite Trump’s claims, CDC chief Robert Redfield told Senate panel Sept. 14 not to expect vaccine widely available in US until summer or fall 2021.

“I’ll tell you, Joe, you could never have done the job that we did, you don’t have it in your blood. You could have never done that,” he said. 

—  Courtney Subramanian

Biden slams Trump over COVID-19 response

Biden slammed Trump over his handling of the coronavirus pandemic, saying the president still “has no plan” months after the outbreak began in the U.S.

“It is what it is because it is who you are,” Biden said, referencing Trump’s remarks from September when the president said the death toll from COVID-19 “is what it is.”

Biden pointed to remarks the president made to reporter Bob Woodward when Trump said he purposely sought to downplay the threat of the virus because he didn’t want the public panic.

“He knew back in February how serious this plan,” Biden said. “You don’t panic. He panicked.”

— Joey Garrison

Trump attacks Biden over his 47-year career

One Trump strategy is clear: Paint Biden as a career politician who has been wrong for 47 years as senator and vice president.

“You could have never done that job,” Trump told Biden during an argument over the COVID response; he also hit Biden for past policies on health care.

“The people understand,” he told Biden at another point: “47 years, you have done nothing.”

Biden also has a strategy: Paint Trump as incompetent on the pandemic, health care, and everything else.

“The president has no plan,” Biden said, a theme he echoed several times.

– David Jackson

Going off the rails

Trump tried early on to rattle Biden by constantly needling and interrupting – a sequence that ended when Biden finally telling Trump: “You shut up, man.”

True to form, Trump came out swinging – calling Biden a “socialist,” accusing him of catering to the left-wing of his party, repeatedly talking over the former vice president and moderator Chris Wallace. It was the kind of attack line the president often levels at his rallies.  

The back and forth started as Biden tried to answer a question about his health care plan. Trump tried to tie him to Bernie Sanders.

“I’m not going to listen to him,” Biden said, as he tried to ignore Trump. “The fact of the matter is I beat, Bernie Sanders.”

“Not by much,” Trump needled.

As Trump kept interrupting, Biden tried to get back on track. “Here’s the deal. Here’s the deal,” Biden repeated, before asserting that he was not on stage to “call out his lies.”

“Everybody knows he’s a liar,” Biden said.

The moderator tried to take control, asking Trump to let Biden finish.

“Gentleman, you realize that you’re both speaking at the same time,” Wallace said.

As Wallace moved on to the next topic, Biden joked sarcastically that “that was really a productive segment.”

The back-and-forth suggested the predictions were right that the debate could be among the most personal in modern times.

— Maureen Groppe and John Fritze

Biden: ‘The American people should speak’

Biden declined to say whether he would back Senate Democrats voting to end the filibuster or add seats to the Supreme Court if Republicans go ahead and confirm Amy Coney Barrett to the court before the election.

“Whatever position I take, that will become the issue,” he said. “The issue,” Biden said, “is the American people should speak. You should go out and vote.”

— Michael Collins

Trump continues to interrupt Biden on health care

 When asked what his plan is to replace the Affordable Care Act, Trump insisted he had one before touting a largely symbolic order claiming to help protect Americans with pre-existing conditions.

The Trump administration is trying to overturn the ACA, known as Obamacare, which already guarantees protections for pre-existing conditions. The order cannot be enforced unless other legislation is passed. 

Trump went on to repeatedly interrupt Biden when Wallace tried to ask the former vice president about his proposal to add a public option to Obamacare. 

“He has no plan for health care costs,” Biden said as he spoke over Trump, calling the president’s executive order “wishful thinking.” 

— Courtney Subramanian

Biden defends Obamacare

President Donald Trump accused former Vice President Joe Biden of trying to abolish private healthcare, but Biden said he sought to expand Obamacare and that private insurance would continue under his administration.

“Your party wants to go socialist,” Trump said. “They’re going to dominate you, Joe, you know that.”

But Biden said he defeated Sen. Bernie Sanders of Vermont, who advocated Medicare for All, during the Democratic primaries. Biden said he sought to expand the Affordable Care Act nicknamed Obamacare rather than abolish private insurance.

“I am the Democratic Party right now,” Biden said. “The platform of the Democratic Party is what I, in fact, approved of.”

“I’m the party,” Biden added.

— Bart Jansen

Trump, Biden debate replacing RBG

President Donald Trump said at the start of the debate that he and Senate Republicans have the right to fill the vacant seat on the Supreme Court.

“We won the election. Elections have consequences. We have the Senate, we have the White House, and we have a phenomenal nominee,” Trump said.

Democratic nominee Joe Biden said Americans have a right to have their say.

“They’re not going to get that chance now because we’re in the middle of an election already,” Biden said. “We should wait and see what the outcome of this election is,” Biden said.

Democrats have decried the process more than Trump’s nominee, federal appeals court Judge Amy Coney Barrett. They note that in 2016, Associate Justice Antonin Scalia died in February, but Senate Republicans blocked President Barack Obama from filling the seat for the last 11 months of his presidency. Now, Republicans are rushing to confirm Barrett on the eve of the very next presidential election.

Only two of the Senate’s 53 Republicans have objected to that timing, giving Majority Leader Mitch McConnell the votes he needs to push through Barrett’s nomination before the election.

What’s more, the timetable is extremely short. Usually, it takes about 70 days for a Supreme Court nominee to win confirmation. Republicans are truncating the schedule to get it done in the space of 38 days. No justice in history has been confirmed later than July before a presidential election.

In a Washington Post-ABC poll out earlier this week, 57 percent of Americans said the decision on replacing Ginsburg should await the winner of the presidential election. Only 38 percent said Trump and the current Senate should move ahead.

— Rich Wolf 

Wallace v. Trump

The tricky business of moderating a debate with a president who likes to interrupt questions came to the forefront very early in the debate when Chris Wallace attempted to ask the president why he had not yet unveiled a “comprehensive” health care plan.

“Of course, I have,” Trump asserted. “I got rid of the individual mandate.”

Wallace attempted to note that getting rid of Obamacare made to have insurance was not the same as having a major plan. The two spent time arguing over each for several minutes.

“I guess I’m debating you, not him,” Trump said to Wallace.

 — John Fritze

Debate off to a quick start

One of the most anticipated events of the 2020 campaign began with little fanfare.

Forgoing the traditional pre-debate handshake because of COVID-19, Donald Trump and Joe Biden walked to their separate lecterns and briefly acknowledged each other.

“How you doing, man?” Biden asked Trump.

“I’m well,” Trump responded.

Tonight maybe the first time since George W. Bush’s funeral in 2018 that the two competitors have been in the same room.

But there was no time for chit chat.

“Gentleman, a lot of people have been waiting for this night, so let’s get going,” moderator Chris Wallace said, before launching into the first question – about Trump’s Supreme Court nominee.

— Maureen Groppe

Biden: ‘Not appropriate’ to confirm SCOTUS nominee before election

Biden argued that Americans have a right to say who the Supreme Court justice will be. “But they’re not going to get that chance now,” he said, noting that the election already has started and that tens of thousands of people already have voted.

“It’s just not appropriate to do this before this election,” he said.

— Michael Collins

Trump: I was entitled to nominate Amy Coney Barrett because I’m president

Right off the bat, Wallace asks both Trump and Biden about the new Supreme Court nominee Amy Coney Barrett.

Trump says he was entitled to nominate Barrett because he won the 2016 election, and a Democratic president would have done the same thing.

I’m not elected for three years, I’m elected for four years,” Trump said.

Biden says the winner of the election should have the right to make the nomination – and notes the court may strike down the health care law.

The candidates then argued about health care: Trump accused Biden of favoring “socialist” medicine, while Biden says Trump would give insurance companies power to cut off people with pre-existing conditions.

– David Jackson

Will Trump beat his own record?

Can Donald Trump set another record?

His first 2016 debate against Democrat Hillary Clinton attracted 84 million viewers, the most for a presidential debate.

The first presidential debate in a series tends to attract the most viewers, although not always.

The second 2008 debate between Democrat Barack Obama and Republican John McCain was the most viewed, according to the Pew Research Center. (That was also the only year when more people tuned in to the vice presidential debate than to one of the presidential matches.)

Large shares of voters have told the Pew Research Center over the years that the debates were very or somewhat helpful in deciding who to vote for. But only 10% of those who voted in 2016 said they had definitely made up their minds “during or just after” the debates. Almost two-thirds said they had decided around the time of the conventions or even before.

— Maureen Groppe

Biden tweets photo of headphones and ice cream to mock Trump

The Joe Biden campaign had some pre-debate fun on Twitter, throwing shade on President Donald Trump’s accusations that Biden could be on performance-enhancing drugs and wearing an earpiece during the debate.

“It’s debate night, so I’ve got my earpiece and performance enhancers ready,” Biden tweeted with a photo of earphones and a tub of Jeni’s Splendid Ice Creams.

The choice of Jeni’s, based in Columbus, Ohio, was seemingly a nod to Cleveland, Ohio, which is hosting the debate.

It’s debate night, so I’ve got my earpiece and performance enhancers ready. pic.twitter.com/EhOiWdjh1b

— Joe Biden (@JoeBiden) September 29, 2020

Trump has routinely level baseless accusations that Biden – whose mental fitness he has questioned throughout the campaign – is taking performance-enhancing drugs.  

The Trump campaign Tuesday accused the Biden campaign of agreeing several days ago to a “pre-debate inspection for electronic earpieces” but “abruptly reversed themselves” today.

During a press call Tuesday, Biden deputy campaign manager Kate Bedingfield said Biden will not be wearing an earpiece and fired back, alleging the Trump campaign asked debate moderator Chris Wallace to not mention the number of COVID-19 deaths during the debate.

— Joey Garrison 

How to watch?

Viewers can stream the match-up live at USATODAY.com and all of our social platforms. The debate also will be aired on most major networks and cable news channels, including Fox News, CNN, ABC, CBS, NBC, MSNBC, PBS and C-SPAN.

The debate is scheduled to start at 9 p.m. ET. 

Presidential debate city: In the COVID era, it only takes a village

CLEVELAND – In a “normal” year, a presidential debate site is like a small city: Many hundreds of people roam sidewalks throughout the day, meeting, talking and generally taking in the scene.

This year’s opening debate at the Cleveland Clinic is more like a village, or a series of gated communities.

Fewer hundreds of people are hanging out this time, and most of them are in isolated cells required by hosts who want to block an outbreak of coronavirus at the most-watched event of the presidential election.

“This is very subdued and very scaled back,” said Aaron Kall, the director of debate at the University of Michigan who snagged a seat in the media filing center.

Most print reporters are based in the filing center at the Intercontinental Hotel that sits in the middle of the Cleveland Clinic complex.

A few blocks over, most television reporters do stand-ups from positions in a white-tented city, entry to which requires a special credential. Previously, many television networks set up broadcast facilities from within the general media filing center.

In previous presidential years, the temporary citizens of debate cities past could walk down the street – or hang out at the filing center – and bump into folks like future George W. Bush presidential counselor Karen Hughes (in 2000) or future Barack Obama presidential press secretary Josh Earnest (in 2008).

Not so this year: Campaign officials are largely sequestered in spaces across the Cleveland Clinic campus, popping out mostly for television interviews that are largely sealed off.

One group remains in force even in this shrunken community: Security.

Blue-uniformed police officers and camouflage-clad soldiers patrolled campus throughout the day. They formed a large perimeter just outside the TV tents when Trump and Biden did walk-throughs in the debate hall itself. Security choppers whomped overhead during a cloudy, windy day.

In the late afternoon, less than a dozen anti-abortion demonstrators gathered but drew relatively little attention.

The television island is across the street from the debate hall, where Trump and Biden will probably feel the biggest effect from the scaled-back debate city.

Only 70 or so people will be allowed into the debate hall, and that could well affect the performances of the candidates.

As a political candidate, Trump has never debate before so small a crowd, and in the past, he has thrived on crowd reactions, Kall noted. Biden at least has the experience of having debated Democratic primary rival, Bernie Sanders, in front of no crowd at all.

“The lack of a crowd,” Kall said, “makes a huge difference.”

— David Jackson

Today in #Election2020:
•There are 35 days to Election Day
•The first presidential debate takes place in Cleveland pic.twitter.com/S8BDUkTCg5

— USA TODAY Politics (@usatodayDC) September 29, 2020

Who are Trump, Biden inviting?

A UFC fighter, a steelworker and an outspoken critic of the U.S. response to the coronavirus pandemic are among the guests President Donald Trump and former Vice President Joe Biden invited to watch the debate Tuesday.

For Trump, invited guests include UFC fighter Colby Covington; his personal attorney, Rudy Giuliani, and Alice Marie Johnson, a criminal justice reform advocate Trump pardoned in August. Johnson also spoke at the Republican National Convention last month.

Biden invited two Ohioans as guests: A union steelworker, James Evanoff Jr,. and Gurnee Green, a clothing shop owner. Another Biden guest: Kristin Urquiza, a Trump critic who spoke at the Democratic convention about how COVID-19 claimed her father’s life in June. 

The guest campaigns choose to highlight can signal messages they hope to raise: In this case, Trump’s decision to invite Johnson suggests he’ll discuss his bipartisan efforts to reform the criminal justice system. By choosing Urquiza, Biden is highlighting criticism of Trump’s handling of the pandemic.  

– John Fritze and Courtney Subramanian

Milkshakes are on the menu at Pence’s debate watch party

Instead of cheering his boss on in Cleveland, Vice President Mike Pence kicked off a debate watch party for supporters in an old alfalfa field in Pennsylvania.

More than 250 people gathered at Meadow Spring Farm, a dairy farm in Lancaster County – although Pence, himself, didn’t stick around after speaking to the crowd. Instead, he returned to Washington, D.C., where he planned to watch the debate.

Attendees are dining on barbecue washed down with “Farm Show Milkshakes,” the dairy concoction usually sold at the state’s farm show but coming to Trump/Pence supporters via a food truck.

Adding to the carnival atmosphere is a makeshift photo booth set up in the barn, featuring hay bales, a tractor and a Trump/Pence sign.

Only a handful of supporters are using face masks. Trump campaign apparel is popular. Some are wearing traditional Amish or Mennonite apparel.

Trump won 57% of the vote in Lancaster County in 2016. And on the drive to the farm from the Lancaster airport, Pence was greeted by about 30 supporters waving Trump 2020 signs and chanting “Four more years.”

“Everyone here understands that pathway to victory runs right through where we are standing tonight,” Rep. Lloyd Smucker, R-Pa., said in remarks to the crowd that got them roaring when he mentioned

President Donald Trump’s Supreme Court nominee Amy Coney Barrett.

— Maureen Groppe

No openers, no ‘spin room,’ no shakes

If the debate between President Donald Trump and former Vice President Joe Biden looks different from debates of the past, that will be by design – and due to the pandemic.

Trump and Biden agreed to skip the traditional handshake to open their first face-to-face match-up, for instance. The audience, meanwhile, will be less of a factor than it has been in the past: About 70 people will watch in person, compared with hundreds who attended in the past.

Also absent: The “spin room,” where campaign surrogates give interviews to crowds of journalists as they make their case on why their candidate won the debate. Those interactions can shape the post-debate coverage, which is how millions of Americans learn about the key exchanges.

Trump, Biden and moderator Chris Wallace will not be required to wear masks once they take the stage, said Peter Eyre, a senior adviser to the Commission on Presidential Debates. But nothing prevents Biden from wearing one as he walks onto the stage, which would almost certainly draw the first contrast between himself and Trump.

— Courtney Subramanian and John Fritze

Just the facts

USA TODAY is going to have a team of experts who will be offering up facts during the debates. Will COVID-19 be a major topic tonight? Yeah, that’s likely. Thankfully we’ve covered the topic extensively and can offer in-the-moment context and facts.

The Supreme Court, health care, taxes and border security could all become topics of debate tonight. No worries, we’ve got you covered. 

Read or Share this story: https://www.usatoday.com/story/news/politics/elections/2020/09/29/live-presidential-debate-updates-trump-and-joe-biden-square-off/3578155001/


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