Next Trump-Biden debate scuttled by virus: US election news

Trump refuses virtual debate, Biden schedules solo town hall as White House COVID-19 outbreak unhinges US campaigns

Democratic presidential nominee Joe Biden campaigned in Arizona on Thursday and President Donald Trump remained stuck in Washington, DC [Kevin Lamarque/Reuters]
  • US President Donald Trump said he does not believe he is contagious and is feeling good enough to resume campaign rallies.
  • Joe Biden and Mike Pence both campaigned in Arizona, a key battleground state.
  • Trump said he will not participate in next week’s debate with Democratic nominee Biden after organisers announced it would take place virtually.
  • Pence and Kamala Harris faced off on Wednesday night in a civil debate focused on the pandemic.

Hello and welcome to Al Jazeera’s continuing coverage of the United States elections. This is Jihan Abdalla and William Roberts.

Thursday, October 8:

20:15 ET – Mike Pence campaigns in US southwest states Nevada and Arizona

With President Trump stuck in quarantine back at the White House, Vice President Mike Pence campaigned in Nevada and Arizona, two states the Trump campaign hopes to win on Election Day.

In Nevada, the campaign event was held outdoors and limited to a gathering of 250 persons in compliance with state restrictions for COVID-19.

Vice President Mike Pence speaks at a social distanced campaign event at Boulder City Airport, in Boulder City, Nevada, on October 8, 2020. [David Becker/Reuters]

A second campaign event with Pence was held in Maricopa County, Arizona. The Vice President and his wife appeared before supporters at a body armour manufacturing site, with fewer COVID-19 safety precautions, according to reports.

Vice President Mike Pence waves to audience members after speaking at a campaign stop at TYR Tactical in Peoria, Arizona, on October 8, 2020. [Brian Snyder/Reuters]

20:00 ET – More Americans disapprove of Trump’s handling of coronavirus pandemic: Poll

With Trump’s handling of the pandemic dominating the campaign, a new Reuters/Ipsos poll suggests Americans are steadily losing confidence in how the president has managed the crisis with his net approval on the issue hitting a record low.

The poll taken October 6 through October 8 found only 37 percent of American adults approve of Trump’s handling of the pandemic and 59 percent disapprove. The net approval rating of negative 22 percentage points is the lowest in the poll dating back to March 2 and has steadily declined over the last 10 days, the Reuters news service reported.

19:30 ET- Donald Trump Jr campaigns in Florida without COVID-19 safeguards

Donald Trump Jr held an indoor rally at a hotel in Panama City Beach, Florida. A crowd packed into the space to see the president’s son. Few were wearing masks, according to reports.

19:00 ET – Trump clear to return to campaign as soon as Saturday: White House physician

President Trump’s physician Dr Sean Conley released a statement through the White House communications office saying Trump has continued to “respond extremely well to treatment, without evidence on examination of adverse therapeutic effects.”

“Saturday will be Day 10 since Thursday’s diagnosis, and based on the trajectory of advanced diagnostics the team has been conducting, I fully anticipate the president’s safe return to public engagements at that time.”

Trump was first diagnosed with COVID-19 on the evening of October 1 and was admitted to Walter Reed hospital the next day. He was released back to the White House on October 5.

Dr Sean Conley, physician to President Donald Trump issued a statement on the president’s health through the White House communications office [Jacquelyn Martin/AP Photo]

17:30 ET – FBI busts armed group planning to kidnap Michigan governor

Thirteen people have been arrested in alleged plots to kidnap the Michigan governor and attack the state capitol building, prosecutors said on Thursday.

The group plotted to kidnap Gretchen Whitmer, a Democrat and frequent target of Republican President Donald Trump’s ire, ahead of the US presidential election, according to an FBI affidavit.

“Our efforts uncovered elaborate plans to endanger the lives of law enforcement officers, government officials and the broader public,” Michigan Attorney General Dana Nessel told a news conference to announce the charges.

Adam Dean Fox is one of several people charged with plotting to target law enforcement, attack the state Capitol building in Lansing, Michigan, and kidnap Governor Gretchen Whitmer, according to a criminal complaint unsealed in federal court. [Kent County Sheriff via AP]

17:00 ET – Trump returns to Oval Office for second day while recovering from COVID-19

Deputy Press Secretary Judd Deere told a media pool reporter at the White House that the president is in the Oval Office.

A US Marine is posted at the West Wing door, an indication that President Donald Trump is in the Oval Office as he remains out of public view while fighting COVID-19 at the White House on October 8, 2020. [Jonathan Ernst/Reuters]

15:45 ET – Biden says he would reveal his view on expanding Supreme Court, if he wins

Biden said Americans would learn his position on increasing the number of justices on the US Supreme Court after the November election if he were to win.

Biden, who has repeatedly declined to provide his view on the issue, told reporters that revealing it now would distract voters from focusing on Trump’s nomination of Amy Coney Barrett to the top court.

“The moment I answer that question, the headline in every one of your papers will be about that other than – other than focusing on what’s happening now,” Biden said.

The Senate Judiciary Committee is set to start hearings on Barrett on Monday.

15:30 ET – Joe Biden to participate in solo town hall on October 15

Joe Biden will participate by himself in an ABC News town hall on October 15, the date he was originally slated to debate Donald Trump, the Associated Press news agency reported.

The move comes after Trump pulled out of their planned duel town hall following an announcement by the Commission on Presidential Debates that it would be held virtually because of the president’s COVID-19 diagnosis.

Biden has called for pushing back the town hall format to October 22, effectively replacing the third planned debate.

Trump countered with a proposal to hold a town hall on October 22 and then a third debate on October 29, just days before the November 3 election.

15:00 ET – Court blocks extension of Wisconsin absentee ballot deadline

A federal appeals court blocked a decision to extend the deadline for counting absentee ballots by six days in battleground Wisconsin, in a win for Republicans who have fought attempts to expand voting across the country.

If the ruling stands, absentee ballots will have to be delivered to Wisconsin election clerks by 8 pm on Election Day if they are to be counted. The ruling makes it more likely that results of the presidential race in the pivotal swing state will be known within hours of poll closing.

14:10 ET – Trump to hold “virtual radio rally” on Rush Limbaugh’s show

Conservative radio talk show host Rush Limbaugh announced during his broadcast that President Trump will host “the largest virtual rally in radio history” on his show on Friday.

“I’m thrilled to announce that our commander-in-chief, President Donald Trump, will be right here tomorrow hosting the largest virtual rally in radio history. Be sure to tune in. You don’t want to miss this,” Limbaugh said.

First Lady Melania Trump presents the Presidential Medal of Freedom to Rush Limbaugh as his wife Kathryn watches during the State of the Union address to a joint session of Congress on Capitol Hill in Washington, Tuesday, February. 4, 2020 [AP Photo/Patrick Semansky]

Details such as whether Limbaugh will join Trump or whether he’ll turn over his broadcast to the president will be announced later. Limbaugh did say that Trump will be taking questions from listeners.

Limbaugh is the most popular conservative radio host in the US and was notably awarded the Presidential Medal of Freedom by Trump in a surprise moment during his February State of the Union speech.

14:10 ET – More than 50 million watched the VP debate

More than 50 million people watched Wednesday night’s vice presidential debate across the seven biggest channels on television, according to preliminary Nielsen ratings.

The debate which brought Mike Pence and Kamala Harris face to face was a much bigger audience draw than the comparable VP debate in 2016, between Pence and Tim Kaine, when about 35 million people watched the debate on the same seven channels.

The total TV audience for the Pence-Harris debate is expected increase when Nielsen releases finalized data later in the day on Thursday.

14:00 ET – Biden tested negative for COVID-19 today: campaign

Democratic US presidential nominee Joe Biden tested negative for COVID-19 on Thursday, his campaign said in a statement.

Democratic presidential candidate Joe Biden departs Wilmington, Delaware, for travel to Arizona for a campaign event [Kevin Lamarque/Reuters]

13:45 ET – Senate leader McConnell says ‘vast differences’ with Democrats over COVID-19 relief spending

Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell blames the approaching presidential and congressional elections for the lack of progress in coronavirus stimulus negotiations between the White House and Democrats in Congress.

“We’ve had a real challenge the last few months, getting back to the kind of bipartisan place where we were in March and April. There’s no question that the proximity to the election has made this much more challenging,” McConnell told a news conference in Erlanger, Kentucky.

“We do agree that another rescue package is needed. We have vast differences about how much we should spend,” said McConnell.

McConnell has not been to the White House in two months because of its lax handling of coronavirus precautions, he said.

Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell, whose Republican caucus would have to agree to any COVID-19 spending deal, says the proximity of the election is impeding a bipartisan agreement [Joshua Roberts/Reuters]

13:20 ET – ‘Trump doesn’t make the debate schedule,’ Biden campaign says

Biden’s campaign swiftly responded to Trump’s team who suggested to hold the next presidential debate on October 22, rather than October 15.

“Trump chose today to pull out of the October 15th debate. Trump’s erratic behavior does not allow him to rewrite the calendar, and pick new dates of his choosing,” Biden campaign spokeswoman Kate Bedingfield said in a statement.

“We look forward to participating in the final debate, scheduled for October 22, which already is tied for the latest debate date in 40 years. Donald Trump can show up, or he can decline again,” according to the statement.

“That’s his choice.”

13:05 ET – Fauci says ‘reasonably good chance’ Regeneron antibody therapy helped Trump

Top US infectious diseases expert Dr Anthony Fauci said Trump’s health was likely helped by an experimental therapy made by Regeneron Inc in which he received antibodies to fight the disease.

“There is a reasonably good chance that in fact it made him much better,” Fauci said during an interview on MSNBC.

12:50 ET – Candidates descend on battleground Arizona

Fresh off the vice-presidential debate, Mike Pence will campaign in Nevada before heading to Arizona, where he’ll be competing for voters’ attention with Joe Biden and Kamala Harris, who will also be in Arizona today.

The state, which has not voted for a Democratic presidential nominee since 1996, has become a battleground state this year, much to the concern of the Donald Trump campaign.

Polls show Biden leading the president in Arizona, where the economy and the coronavirus pandemic are proving to be the number one issue on voters’ minds after the president’s poor debate performance last week and his COVID-19 diagnosis, Al Jazeera’s William Roberts reports.

President Donald Trump’s anti-immigrant policies have not played well with Latino voters in Arizona [File: Carlos Barria/Reuters]

12:30 ET – Trump campaign offers to move town hall debate with Biden to October 22

The Trump campaign put out a statement offering to have the debate with Biden on October 22 – a week later than originally planned – and to hold a second debate on October 29.

“The American people should not be deprived of the chance to see the two candidates for president debate face to face two more times just because the Commission on Presidential Debates wants to protect Joe Biden,” according to the statement.

“As President Trump said, a virtual debate is a non-starter and would clearly be a gift to Biden because he would be relying on his teleprompter from his basement bunker.”

President Donald Trump on Thursday rejected plans for a virtual debate with Democratic rival Joe Biden [Jim Watson, Saul Loeb/AFP]

12:20 ET – US VP debate audience up slightly from 2016: preliminary ratings

Television viewership for Wednesday’s debate rose slightly from a similar pre-election 2016 debate, according to early Nielsen ratings data reported by Hollywood publication Variety.

About 22.6 million people watched the face-off across six networks, Variety said. That figure is 6 percent higher than the comparable number four years ago when the Republican Pence debated Democrat Tim Kaine.

12:00 ET – Pelosi seeks comprehensive deal as COVID-19 aid talks resume

US House of Representatives Speaker Nancy Pelosi warned that coronavirus aid legislation would have to be wide-ranging to “crush” COVID-19, as negotiations with Republicans over a possible deal started again.

The Trump administration is focused on providing separate “standalone” bills to give new emergency aid to struggling US airlines and delivering another round of $1,200 direct payments to Americans. But Pelosi, the top Democrat in Congress, said, “There is no standalone bill without a bigger bill.”

At her weekly news conference, the House speaker added that she did not know what the prospects were for reaching a deal with the Trump administration on a new coronavirus aid bill.

But she noted some “progress.”

Speaker of the House Nancy Pelosi said she would not agree to moving legislation to bailout US airlines without an agreement from Republicans on a larger coronavirus relief package [J. Scott Applewhite/AP Photo]

11:50 ET – Biden to talk to voters directly as Trump to skip debate

Democratic presidential nominee Joe Biden will take questions directly from voters next week given Trump’s decision to pull out of a scheduled presidential debate on October 15 since it was moved online, Biden’s campaign said on Thursday.

In addition, the campaign called for rescheduling of the debate.

“Given the president’s refusal to participate on October 15th, we hope the Debate Commission will move the Biden-Trump Town Hall to October 22nd, so that the president is not able to evade accountability,” Biden campaign spokeswoman Kate Bedingfield said in a statement. “The voters should have a chance to ask questions of both candidates, directly.”

U.S. Postal Service (USPS) workers rally to end mail delaysA person holding a sign as US Postal Service workers rally in Manhattan calling for an end to mail delays, funding for the Postal Service and for the firing of US Postmaster General Louis DeJoy [File: Mike Segar/Reuters]

11:15 ET – Mail-in ballot mix-ups: How much should we worry?

Several high-profile cases of voters getting incorrect blank absentee ballots in the mail are raising questions about how often such mix-ups occur and whether they could affect this year’s presidential election.

Mail-in ballots are under heightened scrutiny this year as voters request them in record numbers amid the coronavirus pandemic and Trump launches baseless attacks against the process.

Snafus occur during every election, but experts say there should be adequate time between now and the close of polls on November 3 to resolve them. US elections are massive, decentralised undertakings involving hundreds of thousands of election workers and multiple contractors. Mistakes happen.

“In a normal election year, there are stories of voting machines configured for the wrong precinct. As voters shift to voting by mail, the equivalent error is a batch of ballots mailed out with the wrong ballot style,” said Doug Jones, a University of Iowa election technology expert.

10:30 ET – Doctors and nurses battle virus skeptics

Doctors and nurses treating those sick and dying from the coronavirus say the politics of the crisis are complicating treatment efforts.

The families of some of those hospitalised with the virus do not believe it is real and it is unclear how Trump’s bout with the virus will affect the situation. Some doctors are not optimistic.

“Just imagine that while you are caring for your own staff that are dying from this disease, and while you are trying to keep yourself safe, and you are trying to keep your family safe, and you are trying to deal with a disease that such little is known about, and then to have somebody tell you that it is all a hoax after you have been dealing with that all day,” said Dr Phillip Coule, the health system’s chief medical officer at Augusta University Medical Center in Georgia.

“Imagine the emotional distress that that causes.”

09:50 ET – Trump says COVID-19 aid talks have restarted, good chance for deal

Trump said talks with Congress have restarted over further COVID-19 relief and that there was a good chance a deal could be reached, but gave no other details about a possible agreement.

“Now they are starting to work out,” he told Fox Business Network in a telephone interview about talks after he cut off negotiations via a post on Twitter earlier this week.

09:45 ET – US weekly jobless claims inch lower, but remain high

The number of Americans filing new claims for jobless benefits drifted lower last week.

Initial claims for state unemployment benefits totalled a seasonally adjusted 840,000 for the week ended October 3, compared with an upwardly revised 849,000 in the prior week, the Labor Department said.

Claims have stalled at historically high levels after dropping below one million in August as the government changed the way it strips seasonal fluctuations from the data. They are above their peak of 665,000 during the 2007-09 Great Recession, though filings have dropped from a record 6.867 million at the end of March.

Democratic presidential candidate, former Vice President Joe Biden, is on the campaign trail in Arizona on Thursday [Andrew Harnik/AP Photo]

09:40 ET – ‘Perfect physical specimen’

Trump, confined to the White House, said he does not believe he is contagious and is feeling good enough to resume campaign rallies as he tries to boost his flagging re-election bid.

“I’m back because I’m a perfect physical specimen,” Trump told Fox Business.

Trump’s contention he was no longer contagious was not yet backed up by solid evidence from his doctors. The White House has refused to say when his last negative test for the virus was and, as a result, it is unclear how long he has been positive.

Donald Trump said he is ‘feeling good, really good’ in his first interview, conducted over the telephone, since he returned from the hospital on Monday [Erin Scott/Reuters]

09:35 ET – Trump not to participate in virtual debate with Biden

Trump said he will not participate in next week’s debate with Biden after organisers announced it will take place virtually because of the president’s diagnosis of COVID-19.

“I’m not going to do a virtual debate,” Trump told Fox Business News, moments after the nonpartisan Commission on Presidential Debates announced the changes.

The Commission on Presidential Debates made the decision unilaterally, citing the need “to protect the health and safety of all involved with the second presidential debate”.

Pence, Harris debate [AP]

09:30 ET – Wednesday night’s debate

Wednesday’s vice-presidential debate had sharp moments, some modest interruptions and violations of the debate clock. But the dynamics between Republican Mike Pence and Democrat Kamala Harris represented a rare 2020 return to some semblance of normal presidential politics.

The candidates were separated by plexiglass out of concern for the spread of the coronavirus from cases emanating from the White House.

Harris put Pence on the defensive, calling Trump’s pandemic response “the greatest failure of any presidential administration in the history of our country”.

Pence expressed sympathy for all those affected by the pandemic, and he accused Harris of “playing politics with people’s lives”.

Here’s more about the Pence-Harris debate including a timeline of what was said.

Read the US election news from Wednesday, October 7, here.

Source: Al Jazeera and news agencies


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