By LIBBY CATHEY, ABC News
(CLEVELAND) — President Donald Trump and Democratic nominee for president Joe Biden will face off from a social distance in the first presidential debate of 2020 on Tuesday night in Cleveland, just five weeks out from Election Day.
The first presidential debate at Case Western Reserve University and the Cleveland Clinic comes on the heels of bombshell reporting from The New York Times on two decades of Trump’s tax records, ahead of a contentious Supreme Court confirmation process in the Senate and as the latest ABC News/Washington Post poll shows Biden maintains a 10-point edge among both registered and likely voters.
The coronavirus pandemic’s impact on the race will also be on display as the two candidates won’t partake in a handshake, customary at the top of such events. The size of the audience will also be limited and everyone attending the debate must undergo COVID-19 testing and follow other public health protocols.
The debate’s moderator, Chris Wallace of Fox News Sunday, selected six topics for Tuesday with each segment expected to get approximately 15 minutes: Trump’s and Biden’s records, the Supreme Court, COVID-19, the economy, race and violence in U.S. cities, and the integrity of the election — the final topic coming as Trump over the weekend wouldn’t commit to a peaceful transfer of power.
The 90-minute debate will air commercial-free from 9 to 10:30 p.m. ET on ABC and stream on ABC News Live. Pre-show coverage will begin on ABC News Live at 7 p.m. and on the network at 8 p.m. Following the debate, there will be additional analysis on ABC and ABC News Live.
Here’s the news leading up to Tuesday’s debate. All times Eastern:
Sep 29, 9:40 pm
Biden slams Trump’s handling of the COVID-19 pandemic
Wallace pivoted the conversation to the global COVID-pandemic, and Biden began by listing statistics including 200,000 Americans dead and over 7 million infected.
“The president has no plan. He hasn’t laid out anything. He knew all the way back in February how serious this crisis was. He knew it was a deadly disease,” Biden said. “And I laid out again in July what we should be doing.”
You should get out of your bunker and get out of the sand trap and your golf course and go in your Oval Office and bring together the Democrats and Republicans and fund what needs to be done now to save lives,” he continued.
Trump countered by saying if the country had listened to Biden then millions of people would have died, not 200,000, and touted his decision to restrict travel from China in February, along with his efforts on ventilators and vaccine development.
“When you talk about numbers you don’t know how many people died in China, you don’t know how many people died in Russia, you don’t know how many people died in India. They don’t exactly give you a straight count,” Trump said.
Asked why each should be trusted to handle the COVID-19 crisis, Biden criticizes Trump for downplaying the pandemic: “The president has no plan.”
— ABC News (@ABC) September 30, 2020
Sep 29, 9:31 pm
Trump and Biden spar over health care
While on the topic of the Supreme Court and the fate of the Affordable Care Act, Trump was quick to call Biden’s health care plan “socialized Biden.”
Biden, notably, has said he does not support “Medicare for All” and responded by calling out Trump for promising to repeal and replace Obamacare — which he hasn’t.
“He does not have a plan,” Biden said. “The fact is this man doesn’t know what he’s talking about.”
Sep 29, 9:29 pm
‘Will you shut up, man?’: Biden to Trump
Less than 20 minutes into the debate, both candidates have interrupted each other multiple times, making it difficult to understand what either is saying. Wallace has specifically asked Trump multiple times to let Biden finish his thought.
Eventually, the cross-talks continued for long enough that the former vice president said, “Will you shut up, man?” to the president.
Sep 29, 9:22 pm
Trump and Biden spar over the Supreme Court vacancy
Wallace’s first question to both candidates was on the Supreme Court. He asked why Trump believes he is right in confirming a justice before the election and why Biden believes he is right in saying the decision should wait until after Election Day.
“I will tell you very simply, we won the election. Elections have consequences,” Trump said. “We have the Senate, we have the White House and we have a phenomenal nominee respected by all top top academic good in every way, good in every way.”
“And by the way, the Democrats, they wouldn’t even think about not doing it if they have — the only difference is to try and do it faster. There’s no way they would give it up. They had Merrick Garland, but the problem is they didn’t have the election so they were stopped.”
Asked to respond to charges that Republicans are trying to jam through a Supreme Court appointment in the closing weeks of a presidential race, Pres. Trump says, “Very simply: We won the election. Elections have consequences.” https://t.co/5Bl4Ob3O2t #Debates2020 pic.twitter.com/lELoHHI3DZ
— ABC News (@ABC) September 30, 2020
When the question was given to Biden, he said that the American people have a right to say who the Supreme Court nominee should be and that that nomination should wait until the November election concludes as Americans have already begun voting.
“It’s just not appropriate to do this before this election,” Biden said. “Roe v. Wade and the Affordable Care Act could both be struck down by a conservative Supreme Court.”
Multiple Senate Democrats are refusing to meet with Trump’s nominee, Amy Coney Barrett, citing the impending election, and have expressed mounting concern with her stance on health care as the Supreme Court is set to hear arguments on the fate of the Affordable Care Act one week after the election.
Senate Republicans, meanwhile, are moving ahead with the nomination despite claims they made in 2016 about not confirming Garland during an election year.
Sep 29, 9:11 pm
Debate kicks off with COVID-19 pandemic on display
The first presidential debate of 2020 between Trump and Biden kicked off from Case Western Reserve University and the Cleveland Clinic in Ohio with moderator Chris Wallace of Fox News.
Trump and Biden skipped a handshake, customary at the top of such events, due to the coronavirus precautions. Each walked out to his respective lectern without masks.
The candidates will not deliver opening statements. Instead, the debate has been divided into six roughly 15-minute segments on the following topics selected by Wallace: Trump’s and Biden’s records, the Supreme Court, COVID-19, the economy, race and violence in U.S. cities, and the integrity of the election.
The entire audience — already limited in its size — has been tested for COVID-19.
ABC News Chief Anchor George Stephanopoulos said the main question is whether the candidates will do anything in this debate to change the course of this race.
Sep 29, 9:01 pm
‘Trump really needs to change some minds here’: Nate Silver
Editor-in-Chief of FiveThirtyEight Nate Silver said that this presidential race is a “much less close race than it was four years ago.”
“It’s a much less close race than it was four years ago.”@NateSilver538 to @GStephanopoulos: “At this point in 2016, Clinton had only about a 1-point lead in our national polling average, and was about 55% in our forecast to win the Electoral College.” https://t.co/qRMoWiBWGD pic.twitter.com/WYn2xjMgDj
— ABC News Politics (@ABCPolitics) September 30, 2020
Sep 29, 8:58 pm
Biden aide fires back at Trump Jr.’s personal attacks
Biden deputy campaign manager Kate Bedingfield fired back at Donald Trump Jr. — who did an interview with ABC News ahead of her — saying the president’s son continues to deliver personal attacks on the vice president instead of making the case for why Trump should be reelected.
“I was listening to Don Jr. and I didn’t hear a whole lot of reasons to vote for Donald Trump,” Bedingfield said. “I heard a lot of attacks. I heard a lot of personal criticisms of Joe Biden’s son. I didn’t hear a whole lot of reason — if I’m a voter sitting tonight, listening to this debate — I didn’t hear a lot of reasons to vote for Donald Trump.”
Bedingfield said Biden will offer a different choice for voters of a leader focused on the issues, not on attacks, and she said success for the evening will be defined by Biden’s ability to connect with “families at their kitchen table.”
“He’s going to be laying out a concrete vision to make life better for people across this country and I think that the clear contrast between somebody who views the world through the lens of having grown up in Scranton, Pennsylvania, versus somebody who views the world through the lens of Park Avenue is going to be very apparent on the stage tonight,” she added.
Broadcast journalists stand inside a tent outside Case Western Reserve University ahead of the first presidential debate between Republican candidate President Donald Trump and Democratic candidate former Vice President Joe Biden, Sept. 29, 2020, in Cleveland.
Sep 29, 8:53 pm
Trump Jr. defends his father’s tax record by attacking Biden
Donald Trump Jr., who is a part of his father’s re-election campaign, pointed to some of his father’s accomplishments — a great economy before COVID-19 and getting closer to achieving peace in the Middle East — before moving onto his father’s opponent.
When pressed by ABC News Chief Anchor George Stephanopoulos about his father’s tax record and debt, which was first reported by the New York Times, Trump Jr. went on the attack.
“If people have a problem with the tax code, talk to Joe Biden,” Trump Jr. said. “He’s the guy that’s been legislating these things or 47 years.”
Donald Trump, Jr.: “If you have a problem, talk to the people who’ve been creating the American tax code…and that’s Joe Biden.”@GStephanopoulos: The last tax bill “was passed by your father…and many have pointed out that his businesses got benefits.” https://t.co/qRMoWiBWGD pic.twitter.com/J7b5sP8Vl4
— ABC News Politics (@ABCPolitics) September 30, 2020
Sep 29, 8:37 pm
Protesters gather outside the debate hall
Outside the debate site in Cleveland on Tuesday, protesters were seen wearing costumes — appearing to criticize Trump’s Supreme Court nominee Amy Coney Barrett — and holding signs in support of Black Lives Matter.
One photographer captured a Trump supporter in a red “Make America Great Again” hat and a counter protester in a shirt reading “racism is a public health issue” arguing ahead of the debate.
Sep 29, 8:14 pm
Debate will be a ‘referendum’ on Trump’s presidency: Matthew Dowd
ABC News’ Chief Political Analyst Matthew Dowd predicted the debate may become the most watched event of the 2020 election cycle with upwards of 70 million viewers expected to tune in before offering his strategy on how each candidate should approach the debate.
“I think Joe Biden has to come across as calm, cool, collected and thoughtful. Present his case about why he wants to be president of the United States, prosecute the case against President Trump about what he’s done over the last four years and why he thinks it’s been not good for the American public,” Dowd said.
Trump, on the other hand, should stay away from a constant attack on Biden, Dowd said.
“The best thing for Donald Trump is to present the reason why his presidency has been good for the American public. Present it in a way that rehabilitates his image because that’s the biggest thing that’s holding him back right now. It’s not the perception of Joe Biden. It’s the perception of Donald Trump,” Dowd said.
“I think Joe Biden has to come across as calm, cool, collected and thoughtful…The best thing for Donald Trump is to present the reason why his presidency has been good for the American public,”@matthewjdowd says ahead of the first presidential debate. https://t.co/oag6DRxHsk pic.twitter.com/CxjoEww00w
— ABC News Live (@ABCNewsLive) September 29, 2020
Sep 29, 8:09 pm
ABC’s pre-debate show kicks off
ABC News Chief Anchor George Stephanopoulos has kicked off the network’s live coverage of the first presidential debate of 2020 between Trump and Biden.
The debate will run commercial free for 90 minutes on ABC and ABC News Live.
— ABC News Politics (@ABCPolitics) September 30, 2020
Sep 29, 7:13 pm
The Breakdown: College students hold bipartisan debate watch party
ABC’s News Live’s new political show, “Your Voice Your Vote: The Breakdown,” checked in with younger voters ahead of the debate — a college Republican and a college Democrat at the University of Miami — who are hosting a bipartisan watch party on what issues are important to them.
“What I think young voters really care about is making our American democracy a more just and equitable one for all,” said Rachel Stempler, president of University of Miami Young and College Democrats.
“What I think young voters really care about is making our American democracy a more just and equitable one for all,”
Rachel Stempler, president of University of Miami Young and College Democrats, says ahead of the first presidential debate. #Debates2020 https://t.co/oag6DRxHsk pic.twitter.com/udjfSdx9X6
— ABC News Live (@ABCNewsLive) September 29, 2020
“I think the most important issues for voters here in South Florida, are the detrimental effects of COVID shutdowns and the looming threat of socialist policies coming from the west. I hope to see these issues addressed at the debate,” said Andrew Heffler of the University of Miami College Republicans.
“Your Voice Your Vote: The Breakdown” with ABC News Live Update’s Diane Macedo and ABC News Senior National Correspondent Terry Moran airs weekdays at 3 p.m. ET and re-airs at 5 p.m., 8 p.m., 10:30 p.m. and 12:30 a.m. ET on ABC News Live.
Sep 29, 6:37 pm
Biden adviser says expect focus to be on “kitchen table issues”
In an interview with CNN’s Jake Tapper Tuesday evening, Biden senior adviser Symone Sanders said that the former vice president’s focus in the debate will be on “kitchen table issues.”
“Look, we expect that the American people actually don’t want to hear President Trump attack Vice President Biden and his family,” Sanders said. “So Joe Biden is going to speak directly to those folks at home tonight about the kitchen table issues that they care most about. And what President Trump decides to do with his time, that’s on him.”
When asked how Biden is going to deal with Trump possibly attacking the Biden’s son Hunter, she said, “This is not about the vice president’s son. This is about Joe Biden and Donald Trump.”
Sanders went on to downplay the importance of the debate 35 days out from Election Day, saying that Tuesday’s event isn’t going to “fundamentally change the course of this race.”
“Joe Biden is going to make the case that this is really about Scranton versus Park Avenue,” she added.
-ABC News’ Beatrice Peterson
Sep 29, 6:21 pm
Trump vs. Biden on the issues: Climate change and the environment
Climate change — a hot-button topic for years — has taken on renewed significance ahead of the 2020 presidential election, with wildfires decimating the West, tropical storms pounding the Gulf Coast and year after year of record temperatures.
Both Trump and Biden largely toe their respective party lines when it comes to issues pertaining to environmental policy.
Throughout his presidency, Trump reversed many American commitments to mitigating climate change, most notably pulling out of the Paris Agreement, removing clean water protections and seeking to fast track environmental reviews of dozens of major energy and infrastructure projects, such as drilling, fuel pipelines and wind farms.
Biden has countered the Trump administration’s policies by promising to protect the environment with a proposed a $5 trillion plan.
Here is where each candidate stands on the issues.
Sep 29, 5:38 pm
Biden brings three guests to the debate
Biden’s campaign announced his three guests to the debate: Kristin Urquiza, Gurneé Green and James Evanoff Jr.
The public first met Urquiza when she shared her story at the Democratic National Convention. She lost her father to COVID-19, and declared his “only pre-existing condition was trusting Donald Trump — and for that he paid with his life.” Urquiza is an environmental advocate at Mighty Earth and co-founded the awareness campaign “Marked by COVID.”
Green is a small business owner from Cleveland Heights who was also highlighted during the Democratic National Convention. He owns the Cleveland Heights fashion boutique Chemistry 11. In addition to being a small business owner, Green is a certified health care information technologies analyst and a mother of two.
Evanoff is a service technician in Cleveland. He has eight years of seniority with United Steel Workers and works at ArcelorMittal, which was recently acquired by Cleveland Cliffs.
ABC News’ Molly Nagle and Mary Bruce
Sep 29, 4:19 pm
Trump vs. Biden on the issues: Economy
When President Trump rang in 2020, the economy was one of his biggest selling points for reelection. He had inherited a strong economy from the Obama administration, and it continued to grow stronger during his first term. Unemployment was hovering at a 50-year-low, GDP growth was exceeding expectations and Wall Street was riding the longest bull market in its history.
But by spring, all of that came crashing down. While the economy has begun to shakily recoup some of its losses, a full and speedy recovery is anything but assured, making it a top concern for many Americans. According to a poll from the Kaiser Family Foundation released earlier this month, registered voters ranked the economy as the most important issue in deciding their pick for president, putting it ahead of the ongoing pandemic.
Trump is now trying to convince the country that since he oversaw a robust economy before the outbreak, he’s the best candidate to restore it. His opponent, Joe Biden, argues that Trump’s mishandling of the coronavirus compounded its impact on an economy that was inequitable to begin with and that it should be reimagined rather than rebuilt.
Click here to see how the candidates’ economic plans compare.
-ABC News’ Shannon K. Crawford
Sep 29, 4:03 pm
Biden heads to Ohio for debate
Former Vice President Joe Biden boarded a new campaign plane in Wilmington, Delaware, at 3:18pm as he gets ready to head to Cleveland, Ohio, for the debate tonight.
Sep 29, 3:57 pm
In Pennsylvania, advantage Biden with a big boost from women: POLL
Overwhelming support in Philadelphia and its suburbs lift former Vice President Joe Biden to a clear lead in crucial Pennsylvania, with backing from college-educated white people and women — notably white, moderate and suburban women — central to his advantage in a new ABC News/Washington Post poll.
President Donald Trump, for his part, is suffering attrition among his 2016 supporters; 8% of them now back Biden instead. While a small slice of the electorate, it’s a potentially important factor in a state Trump won by 44,292 votes out of nearly 6.2 million cast four years ago.
Likely voters support Biden over Trump by 54 to 45%, almost exactly matching a national ABC/Post poll released Sunday. The result includes more than a 2 to 1 Biden lead in the populous Philadelphia suburbs, home to nearly a quarter of likely voters, and close results in northeastern and western Pennsylvania, leaving only the conservative center of the state clearly to Trump.
See more data on this new poll here.
-Gary Langer of Langer Research Associates, conducted the poll.
Sep 29, 3:39 pm
Biden, Harris release 2019 tax returns
The Biden campaign released Joe Biden and Kamala Harris’ 2019 tax returns, a clear effort to draw a sharp contrast with the revelations about Trump’s tax returns reported by the New York Times, ahead of tonight’s debate.
With Tuesday’s release Biden has made public 22 years of records, and Harris 15 years.
The releases were posted to Biden’s campaign site.
-ABC News’ Mary Bruce and Molly Nagle
Sep 29, 3:24 pm
Trump vs. Biden on the issues: Health
With unprecedented unemployment in the United States, where health care is inextricably linked to employment, and a coronavirus pandemic ravaging the globe, it’s safe to say that on Nov. 3, health is on the ballot.
As it stands, more than 200,000 Americans have died of COVID-19. Another 13 million are unemployed.
Health might be a political football in 2020, but it’s also a deeply personal issue that affects every American voter. Given health’s crucial significance this year, the nonprofit Commonwealth Fund polled 4,220 likely voters in battleground states between Aug. 25 and Sept. 20 on which health care issues mattered most to them, and which candidate — President Donald Trump or former Vice President Joe Biden — they thought would be more likely to address those health concerns.
Here’s what the American public said about which health care issues they care about, in advance of the first presidential debate.
-ABC News’ Erin Schumaker
Sep 29, 3:08 pm
Trump departs for Ohio ahead of debate
President Trump is on his way to Ohio ahead of the debate tonight and while he didn’t speak to reporters before departing, his chief of staff Mark Meadows said that Trump was essentially done preparing for the debate and added that he was in a good mood.
Meadows said that some of the debate guests would be traveling on Air Force One, but didn’t name names. However Alice Johnson, who Trump pardoned last month, was spotted boarding.
In addition to Johnson, the pool traveling with the president so far has spotted Lara Trump, Eric Trump, Tiffany Trump, Donald Trump Jr. and Kim Guilfoyle aboard Air Force One.
-ABC News’ Katherine Faulders
Sep 29, 2:41 pm
Trump, Biden compete for battleground Ohio ahead of 1st debate
Despite Republican successes in statewide races in Ohio since 2016, the Buckeye State has become increasingly competitive as Trump and former vice president Joe Biden prepare to face off in Cleveland for their first debate on Tuesday.
In recent weeks Trump and Vice President Mike Pence have traveled repeatedly to Ohio, where they defeated Hillary Clinton and Sen. Tim Kaine, D-Va., her vice presidential candidate, in 2016, 51% to 43%.
Republicans also performed well statewide two years ago, winning the gubernatorial race and other down-ballot contests.
“Ohioans showed up for President Trump in 2016 and we expect them to do the same this November,” Trump campaign spokeswoman Samantha Zager told ABC News.
The president’s campaign has had a permanent presence on the ground in Ohio since 2016, and said they have made more than 10 million voter contacts in the state, where they and other GOP groups continue to canvass on the ground during the coronavirus pandemic.
The Biden campaign, meanwhile, has relied on virtual and digital organizing in the state during the pandemic, and has hosted hundreds of events and held 450,000 conversations with voters over the last month. Following Tuesday’s debate, Biden will take a train tour of the state on Wednesday.
Biden has delivered a sharp economic message focused on Trump’s record, centered on Toledo and Youngstown, home to several car plants and many blue-collar voters who abandoned Democrats and voted for Trump for years ago.
He’s run at least eight television ads in recent weeks, including a response to Trump’s call for a ban on Goodyear, the Ohio-based tire company than ran in Akron, where the company is based.
In an election year reshaped by the coronavirus pandemic, it’s also playing host to a number of legal battles over access to ballot drop boxes, which are increasingly used by voters as an alternative to in-person voting or relying on the United States Postal Service, amid concerns about service delays.
Read more about the battle for Ohio here.
-ABC News’ Ben Siegel and Adia Robinson
Sep 29, 2:07 pm
Erosion in base underscores debate’s stakes for Trump
An immutable fact of politics in the era of President Donald Trump is that there’s no separating the president from his base.
Yet an ABC News/Washington Post poll released Tuesday morning out of critical Pennsylvania — FiveThirtyEight’s most likely tipping-point state — brings new evidence that Trump can’t bank on the range of supporters he once did.
The poll shows former Vice President Joe Biden leading Trump 54-45 among likely voters, mirroring the results of the ABC/Post national poll released Sunday. Hillary Clinton backers from 2016 support Biden 98-1 in the Pennsylvania poll, while Trump’s supporters from last time break 92-8 in his favor.
This does not mark a mass exodus. But it suggests a narrowing coalition, Wisconsin and Michigan — all states won by Trump by less than a percentage point, in a region Trump and Biden are set to visit in the days after Tuesday night’s first presidential debate.
There won’t be many, or perhaps any, singular moments as critical as this first debate in terms of changing the trajectory of the race. Trump wants and needs to effectively disqualify Biden as an alternative — to make the campaign about Biden more than himself.
Biden will be trying to avoid a brawl of an insult-fest. He will be seeking to keep the campaign focused on COVID-19 and the economy — about Trump and his leadership, in a campaign that’s been more steady than not.
-ABC News Political Director Rick Klein
Sep 29, 1:14 pm
At least 1.1 million voters already cast their ballots in the 2020 election ahead of 1st presidential debate, according to election expert’s analysis
Ahead of tonight’s presidential debate, a first opportunity to see former Vice President Joe Biden and President Trump spar over a range of critical issues, some voters already decided who they are voting for.
At least 1.1 million ballots have already been cast in the 2020 election, according to data compiled by Michael McDonald, an elections expert and professor of political science at the University of Florida.
Across the 14 state reporting data — Minnesota, Michigan, Wisconsin, Florida, North Carolina, Georgia, Ohio, Iowa, Illinois, Virginia, South Carolina, Montana, South Dakota and New Jersey — voters cast a total of 1,144,059 ballots, as of the most recent reports.
McDonald cautions that the total number is likely higher because he does not “have complete reports for all states.”
On Sunday, when the vote total was just under 1 million, McDonald wrote in his analysis that the volume of early voters “this far in advance of an election has never occurred in any American election. Period.”
“Around this time in 2016, I noted only 9,525 people had voted,” he wrote. “There literally is no comparison since at this comparable point in time in 2016, so few people had cast early votes that states did not bother to release any data.”
-ABC News’ Kendall Karson
Sep 29, 12:39 pm
Trump vs. Biden on the issues: Racial justice
The horrific killing of George Floyd in March set off massive protests across the country against racial injustice and police brutality.
Over the months that followed, new and previous supporters of the Black Lives Matter (BLM) movement held demonstrations from coast to coast and a new generation of Americans protested for racial equality.
Race is now at the center of the national conversation heading into the final weeks of the 2020 campaign for president, from the disproportionate impact the novel coronavirus pandemic has had on communities of color to reforms that would help address racial disparities in policing.
It has also been a complicated issue for both candidates over the course of their long careers. Former Vice President Joe Biden made history by choosing a Black woman, Kamala Harris, to be his running mate and served alongside the nation’s first Black president.
But he has also drawn criticism for his position on busing in the 1970’s to help end segregation in schools and the 1994 crime bill, which helped lead to an era of mass incarceration.
Trump set the tone for his presidency when he said Mexico was not sending its best immigrants, including “rapists,” on the day he announced his campaign. That was followed by a call to ban Muslim immigration, his perpetuation of the debunked “birther” conspiracy against President Barack Obama among other things. And he has largely ignored the sources of the racial unrest that has erupted around the country in recent months.
At the same time, Trump has claimed he is the least racist person and touted the economic opportunities he has created for African Americans during his presidency.
Here’s a look at where Trump and Biden differ on the issue of racial justice, and significant statements they’ve made related to race
-ABC News’ Justin Gomez
Sep 29, 11:35 am
Inside Trump debate preparations
President Trump had planned to meet with a small team of advisers over the weekend to go over to go over topics ahead of Tuesday night’s faceoff, sources familiar told ABC News.
Over the last few weeks the president has resisted typical debate prep, similar to 2016. This time, debate meetings have taken place both at the White House and the president’s weekend retreat in Bedminster, New Jersey, with sessions often including top advisers such as former New Jersey Gov. Chris Christie, Trump campaign manager Bill Stepien, Jason Miller and Jared Kushner along with other top aides.
The sessions have often featured conversations about potential debate topics or issues of the day that are on the president’s mind with few traditional sessions such as mock debates, according to sources familiar with the meetings.
Trump has also been eager to target Biden personally, looking to lean into attacks on his son, Hunter Biden, once he’s on the debate stage, including over his Ukraine business dealings while his father was in office, though he has denied any wrongdoing and has never faced charges, sources said. The president even previewed that strategy at a rally Fayetteville, North Carolina, laying into the former vice president’s son and saying, “I think it’ll be brought up in the debate.”
-ABC News’ Will Steakin, Katherine Faulders and John Santucci
Sep 29, 10:53 am
Trump vs. Biden on the issues: Election security and integrity
Russia’s ongoing brazen efforts to interfere in the presidential election — as they did four years ago — remains a principal concern among national security officials, along with other adversaries including China. But unlike in 2016, the rapid and sweeping embrace of vote-by-mail in response to the coronavirus pandemic injects new uncertainty about election security, as millions prepare to vote in an alternative way.
Fueling those anxieties over mail voting, which is underway in several states, is President Trump’s unsubstantiated allegations of rampant fraud, even as dozens of state election officials tell ABC News that they have confidence in the system. His campaign against vote-by-mail throughout the cycle exceeds similar efforts he made in 2016, when he argued, without evidence, that voter fraud was the only reason Hillary Clinton won the popular vote. His own voting integrity commission found no evidence of that.
The integrity of this year’s matchup between Trump and former Vice President Joe Biden has taken on an outsized role in the increasingly competitive political environment, as attempts to undermine confidence in the democratic process mount both from outside the country’s borders and from inside the Oval Office.
Biden has attempted to combat Trump’s onslaught by pointing out that Trump himself has voted-by-mail in Florida from the White House.
Some elections experts argue Trump’s offensive against mail-in voting is a voter suppression tool, which could lay the “groundwork for contesting a close election if he loses, ” wrote Rick Hasen, a professor of law and political science at the University of California, Irvine, and the author of “Election Meltdown: Dirty Tricks, Distrust and the Threat to American Democracy.”
“The most benign explanation for Mr. Trump’s obsessive focus on mail-in balloting is that he is looking for an excuse for a possible loss to his Democratic opponent, Joe Biden, in November. The less benign explanation is that he is seeking to sow chaos to drive down turnout and undermine the legitimacy of the election,” wrote Hasen.
At the first presidential debate on Tuesday at Case Western Reserve University in Cleveland, Ohio, the two rivals are set to spar over the integrity of the election, one of the topics previewed by the Commission on Presidential Debates.
Here’s what we know about the candidates’ histories with and stances on the issues.
-ABC News’ Kendall Karson and Quinn Scanlan
Sep 29, 10:15 am
Biden preps for personal attacks from Trump ahead of Tuesday’s debate
A tale of two campaigns is emerging ahead of the first face-to-face meeting in the general election between President Donald Trump and former Vice President Joe Biden Tuesday night on the presidential debate stage.
While President Trump has hit the campaign trail hard, holding eight events in the last week, Biden has taken a decidedly different approach, keeping a light schedule in order to prepare for their upcoming meeting.
The former vice president has hunkered down for debate preparations, which are being overseen by Democratic debate guru and Biden’s former chief of staff, Ron Klain, according to sources familiar with the preparation.
The preparations also includes Bob Bauer, a senior Biden adviser and former White House general counsel, stepping into the role of Donald Trump to help the former vice president get ready for Tuesday according to a source familiar with the process.
“Joe Biden is very big on preparing,” said Patti Solis Doyle, a Democratic strategist and former adviser to Biden, who took part in his 2008 vice presidential debate preparations.
“He understands that this is an opportunity to really speak directly to the American people. And so he wants to make sure he’s ready and prepared,” she added, noting his fondness for briefing books and discussion of strategy.
Biden aides expect the former vice president to focus on making the case for his own presidency in his time on the stage, with Biden expected to contrast his vision with Trump’s record — particularly his response to the coronavirus pandemic.
More on Biden’s debate prep can be found here.
-ABC News’ Molly Nagle
Sep 29, 9:37 am
Suburban women in key battlegrounds are ‘critical’ debate audience
When President Donald Trump and former Vice President Joe Biden share a debate stage for the first time Tuesday night, a key audience for both candidates will be suburban women voters in a handful of critical election battlegrounds.
ABC News Live recently met with five women voters from diverse backgrounds and political views in the suburbs around Minneapolis to discuss the 2020 campaign and issues important to mothers, young female professionals and retirees across the state.
They described anxiety over a year of cascading crises for their families, from the pandemic and recession, to protests for racial justice, a spike in violent crime and looting and a sudden vacancy on the U.S. Supreme Court.
Sep 29, 8:35 am
Some Trump top advisers expect a dominant performance by president
President Donald Trump is set to enter the first presidential debate on Tuesday down in the polls, but coming off the high of nominating his third Supreme Court justice. Some top advisers expect a dominant performance by the president, despite the opposing narratives of attacks on Joe Biden’s mental state and the Trump campaign’s work to raise expectations for the Democrat ahead of the showdown.
With days to go the debate, Trump has carried out conflicting and confounding strategies both repeatedly targeting Biden’s mental acuity, claiming at a recent rally he doesn’t know he’s alive, while also making passing attempts to boost the former vice president as a seasoned debater who could outshine him.
“This guy doesn’t have a clue. He doesn’t know where the hell he is,” Trump told his supporters in Pittsburgh a week to the day before the first debate. “This guy doesn’t know he’s alive.”
At a campaign rally Saturday night in Pennsylvania, the president both attacked Biden as “dumb” before immediately lauding him as an experienced debater.
“He’s a dumb guy. Always known as a dumb guy. But we look forward to seeing him in the debate. He’s got a lot more experience. He’s got 47 years. I’ve got 3 1/2 years. So we’ll see. But he’s got 47 years of experience,” Trump said.
Biden has brushed off Trump’s onslaught of attacks on his mental fitness.
“Watch me, Mr. President. Watch me. Look at us both, what we say, what we do, what we control, what we know, what kind of shape we’re in,” the former vice president said when asked by ABC News about the president’s attacks on his cognitive ability.
While some advisers tell ABC News they’re nervous as the president enters his first debate since his encounters with Hillary Clinton four years ago — with Biden having participated in nearly a dozen debates leading up to clinching the Democratic nomination — others are anticipating a knockout performance by the president and expect the debate to help highlight the former vice president’s gaffes, sources familiar said.
Sep 29, 8:07 am
Topics for Tuesday’s debate
The debate between Trump and Biden will run from 9 p.m. to 10:30 p.m. with no breaks for commercials.
The program will be divided into six segments of 15 minutes each, according to the Commission on Presidential Debates, with topics decided by the moderator.
Topics for Tuesday night’s debate are:
- Trump and Biden records
- The Supreme Court
- Race and violence
- Integrity of election
Sep 29, 7:15 am
Commission on Presidential Debates: Don’t expect moderators to be ‘fact checkers’
Viewers tuning in Tuesday night may anticipate moderator Chris Wallace to fact check the candidates in real time, but the Commission on Presidential Debates (CPD) attempted to manage those expectations over the weekend.
“There’s a vast difference between being a moderator in a debate and being a reporter who is interviewing someone,” CPD co-chair Frank J. Fahrenkopf Jr. said Sunday on CNN. “We don’t expect Chris or our other moderators to be fact checkers. The minute the TV is off, there are going to be plenty of fact checkers in every newspaper and every television station in the world. That’s not the role, the main role, of our moderators.”
Wallace — who received widespread praise for moderating the third and final 2016 debate between Trump and Hillary Clinton — also said Sunday on Fox News that his job as a moderator is “to be as invisible as possible.”
“I’m trying to get them to engage, to focus on the key issues, to give people at home a sense of, ‘why I want to vote for one versus the other,"” Wallace said.
Sep 29, 5:16 am
ABC News outlines three-hour primetime coverage of first debate
ABC will offer three hours of primetime coverage for the first presidential debate of 2020 on Tuesday evening with ABC News Chief Anchor George Stephanopoulos leading coverage from New York City joined by World News Tonight Anchor David Muir and ABC News Live Prime Anchor Linsey Davis.
A one-hour special, Trump vs. Biden: The Main Event – A Special Edition of 20/20, kicks off network coverage at 8 p.m. ET. The program will set the stage for the critical night for both candidates, reporting on the latest developments from the campaign trail, the stakes for both campaigns and the most important issues to voters across the country.
Pre-show coverage will begin at 7 p.m. on ABC News Live.
Copyright © 2020, ABC Audio. All rights reserved.