Election 2020: No mute button, but mics will be muted at debate

Yuliya Baranych/iStock
Yuliya Baranych/iStock

By LIBBY CATHEY and LAUREN KING, ABC News

(WASHINGTON) — With 15 days to go until Election Day, and President Donald Trump and former Vice President Joe Biden racing toward Nov. 3, voters are turning out in record numbers to cast their ballots early, with long lines forming across Florida Monday as voting kicks off in that battleground state.

Roughly 28 million Americans have already voted in the 2020 election, reflecting an extraordinary level of participation and interest despite unprecedented barriers brought on by the coronavirus pandemic.

In the final weeks of campaigning, the president remains on defense as his approval rating drags. He’s hosting rallies this week mostly in states he won in 2016 including Arizona, Pennsylvania, North Carolina and Georgia.

Biden, maintaining a nationwide lead in polls — his largest lead of the election, according to FiveThirtyEight’s average — has no public events on his schedule this week so far ahead of Thursday’s final presidential debate with Trump.

Polls indicate a huge pre-Election-Day edge for Biden and a sizable Trump advantage among those who plan to vote on Nov. 3 itself. Trump has sowed doubt in the mail-in ballot process — and imminent election results — for months.

The rhetoric between candidates is expected to heat up ahead of their second and final showdown in Nashville, Tennessee.

All 50 states plus Washington, D.C., currently have some form of early voting underway.

Here’s how the day unfolded Monday. All times Eastern:

Oct 19, 10:10 pm
Supreme Court rejects GOP request in Pa. to intervene in mail ballot dispute

The Supreme Court Monday night — in a closely watched election case — rejected a request by Pennsylvania Republicans to block a state court order that now allows mail ballots arriving up to three days after Nov. 3 to be counted.
 
Chief Justice John Roberts appears to have joined the three liberal justices in agreeing to reject the GOP request. Justices Clarence Thomas, Samuel Alito, Neil Gorsuch and Brett Kavanaugh all said they would have granted an emergency stay of the state court order.
 
The split decision by the court is a major victory for Democrats who had argued that the state’s statutory requirement that mail-in ballots must be received by Election Day violates the state’s constitution. They said the pandemic, coupled with documented postal service delays, would have led to potential widespread disenfranchisement.
 
Republicans, who have been defending state law and wanted to preserve the Election Day deadline, argued the extension was an “open invitation to cast ballots after Election Day” and create “chaos” and fraud.
 
Legal experts have considered this case a major bellwether for a raft of other ballot related cases percolating on the court’s docket.

Nancy Patton Mills, chairwoman of the Pennsylvania Democratic Party, said it was a “significant victory” for voters and that the “Supreme Court was right to throw out (Harrisburg Republicans) latest bad faith effort to muddy this election.”

However, Pennsylvania GOP Chairman Lawrence Tabas said Republicans disagree with the decision and said the fact that it was a 4-4 decision “only underscores the importance of having a full Supreme Court as soon as possible.”

“To be clear, the Supreme Court decided not to grant a stay — which does not mean the actions of the Pennsylvania Supreme Court would withstand a legal challenge to their Judicial overreach should the Court hear the case,” Tabas continued.

Also weighing in were parties on either side of the Supreme Court confirmation fight.

“It is disturbing that 4 justices would have granted the stay sought by the Republican party. This underscores why Judge Amy Coney Barrett should not be confirmed to the Supreme Court at this moment because there is a good chance that she would be casting the deciding vote on matters related to the 2020 election,” Kristen Clarke, president and executive director at the Lawyer’s Committee for Civil Rights Under Law, said in a statement.

The Honest Elections Project’s executive director, Jason Snead, cited in a statement other cases moving through the courts and said, “It will certainly make headlines, but it is neither a license for other courts to modify election deadlines, nor a resolution of this crucial issue. There are clearly sufficient votes on the Court to hear this case should a cert petition be filed.”

Oct 19, 8:58 pm
No mute button, but mics will be muted at debate

During the two minutes that a candidate has to answer a question, the other candidate’s microphone will be turned off. This is designed to prevent the kind of serial interruptions seen from the president in Cleveland at the first debate.

During the follow-up discussions, however, both mics will be on and there will be no mute button. The moderator will attempt, as always, to keep equal time.

The Trump campaign responded to the announcement in a statement that said the president “is committed to debating Joe Biden regardless of last-minute rule changes,” but continued to attack the commission for “their latest attempt to provide advantage to their favored candidate.”

A Trump campaign official told ABC News that they first learned of the change through media reports.

Oct 19, 7:58 pm

Trump, RNC announce $55 million ad buy in Sun Belt, Rust Belt states

As concerns about Trump’s campaign cash crunch mount with just two weeks to go until Election Day, the campaign announced a $55 million ad blitz in several battleground states for the two final weeks of the presidential contest.

The ads, funded by the campaign and the Republican National Committee, will target a string of key states along the Sun Belt and the Rust Belt, including Arizona, Iowa, Michigan, North Carolina, Florida, Pennsylvania, Georgia, Nevada and Wisconsin, as well as in Iowa and Ohio, campaign manager Bill Stepien said on a call with reporters on Monday.

The new ad spending comes on the heels of a growing uneasiness within the president’s reelection campaign as it continues to implement belt-tightening measures including cutting back on television ad spending in the final stretch of the campaign.

 The new ads will zero in on appealing to older voters, RNC Chairwoman Ronna McDaniel said on the call, including one ad that would focus on “Medicare savings” achieved under the Trump administration, which she described as “truly phenomenal.”

Recent polls have shown older voters moving toward Biden.

The campaign described the new ad blitz as a 40% increase in Trump’s team’s ad spending, though it’s not yet clear what the new spending will bring the total amount for the final two weeks to. It’s also not clear how much of the new spending will be allocated to each state.

Ad research firm Kantar/CMAG was still aggregating new ad placements that were coming in throughout the day on Monday, but earlier, CMAG’s analyst Mitchell West told ABC News that the firm’s researchers had spotted some cancelations from Minnesota, Wisconsin and Ohio and some additional placements in Florida, Arizona and Georgia.

As of Monday morning — without the new spending included the Trump campaign had a total of $45 million worth of airtime reserved for the two final weeks, including $12 million in Florida, $5.6 million in North Carolina, $5.3 million in Ohio and $4.3 million in Minnesota, according to CMAG’s data.

-ABC News’ Will Steakin and Soorin Kim

Oct 19, 7:27 pm

Supreme Court rejects GOP request in Pa. to intervene in mail ballot dispute 

The Supreme Court Monday night — in a closely watched election case — rejected a request by Pennsylvania Republicans to block a state court order that now allows mail ballots arriving up to three days after Nov. 3 to be counted. 

Chief Justice John Roberts appears to have joined the three liberal justices in agreeing to reject the GOP request. Justices Clarence Thomas, Samuel Alito, Neil Gorsuch and Brett Kavanaugh all said they would have granted an emergency stay of the state court order.

The split decision by the court is a major victory for Democrats who had argued that the state’s statutory requirement that mail-in ballots must be received by Election Day violates the state constitution. They said the pandemic, coupled with documented postal service delays, would have led to potential widespread disenfranchisement. 

Republicans, who have been defending state law and wanted to preserve the Election Day deadline, argued the extension was an “open invitation to cast ballots after Election Day” and create “chaos” and fraud.

Legal experts have considered this case a major bellwether for a raft of other ballot related cases percolating on the court’s docket.

-ABC News Senior Washington Reporter Devin Dwyer

Oct 19, 5:37 pm

Trump attacks Biden: ‘He wants to listen to Dr. Fauci’

At a campaign rally in Prescott, Arizona, Trump fired off attacks on Biden, Harris, the Obamas, the Cuomos and Democratic Senate candidate Mark Kelly, among others, and continued his public critique of the nation’s top infectious disease expert Dr. Anthony Fauci.

“Biden wants to lock it down. He wants to listen to Dr. Fauci,” Trump said, insisting people are “getting tired of the pandemic.” He repeated his earlier criticism that Fauci made bad calls about wearing masks and shutting off travel from China, adding that Fauci is a “wonderful guy” but “he just happens to have a very bad arm.”

Moments before Trump took the stage, he slammed the task force doctor on Twitter, sarcastically comparing his TV stardom to the legendary Bob Hope and mocking Fauci’s Washington Nationals face mask because of his famously bad first pitch at Nationals Park.

Oct 19, 4:17 pm

Trump: Answering reporters’ questions only debate prep 

Taking questions from reporters ahead of a rally in Prescott, Arizona, Trump referred to his exchanges with the press as “debate prep” and did not indicate he was doing any other preparation — while Biden has hunkered down to get ready for their final matchup on Thursday.

“What am I doing to prepare? I’m doing this,” Trump said. “I’ve done — I’ve done very well in debates and you know, you do what you do. You just do what you do. The last debate I had two on one. I usually have two on one at least. And I did well in the last debate and we did well with Savannah Guthrie based on reports, but all you can do is look, you know, you go around. We do interviews with you. This is like — I call this debate prep.”

The president also told reporters he’d be fine with authorizing his doctors to release confirmation that he’s been tested for COVID-19 before this week’s debate in Nashville, following Biden calling it a matter of “decency” at an ABC News Town Hall last week.

“Sure, I would have no problem with it. I’m — not only am I free — positive or whatever, what would you call it. I’m totally free, right? Not only am I free. I’m immune, they say,” he said.

Trump campaign manager Bill Stepien tweeted that he sent a letter to the bipartisan Commission on Presidential Debates demanding the third presidential debate be focused on foreign policy and also, as the campaign did on a call earlier, railed at any rule changes, including “granting an unnamed person the ability to shut off a candidates microphone.”

“The commission’s pro-Biden antics have turned the entire debate season into a fiasco,” Stepien said in the letter.

The letter makes no mention of the president potentially skipping the third debate if Trump’s demands are not met.

The commission said last week it was looking at changes, but finals plans have yet to be announced.

Reacting to the Trump campaign’s letter to the debate commission, the Biden campaign emphasized that the decision to let moderators choose the topics was agreed upon months ago.”The campaigns and the Commission agreed months ago that the debate moderator would choose the topics. The Trump campaign is lying about that now because Donald Trump is afraid to face more questions about his disastrous COVID response,” Biden’s national press secretary TJ Ducklo said in a statement. “As usual, the president is more concerned with the rules of a debate than he is getting a nation in crisis the help it needs.”

–ABC News’ Will Steakin and Jordyn Phelps

Oct 19, 2:24 pm

Harris holds drive-in rally in Orlando, calls Trump ‘loco’ 

As early voting kicks off in Florida, Harris hosted a drive-in rally in Orlando to encourage supporters in the state to get their ballots in early.

“You will be the first to put our country back on the right track,” Harris told the crowd of Floridians.

Roughly 90 cars were parked with supporters waving Biden-Harris signs and honking their horns when Harris danced out to take the stage.

During the event, she largely stuck to the campaign message of outlining Trump’s failures on the pandemic and also called him “loco” for what she called his “obsession” with ending Obama-era policies.

“He knew it was airborne. But what did he do?  He kept that information to himself. I call it a cover up,” Harris said.

“Donald Trump has this weird obsession with trying to get rid of whatever Barack Obama and Joe Biden created. Have you noticed that? It’s this weird obsession, right? Loco,” she said later on.

It’s the California senator’s first trip back on the road after cancelling trips through the weekend when two people who traveled with her tested positive for COVID-19. Harris continues to test negative, according to her campaign.

Harris next heads to Jacksonville for a voter mobilization event in the late afternoon.

-ABC News’ Beatrice Peterson 

Oct 19, 1:14 pm

Trump calls Fauci ‘disaster’ in all-staff campaign call

Trump, during an all-staff campaign call, attacked Dr. Anthony Fauci, the nation’s leading infectious disease expert on the president’s own coronavirus task force, as a “disaster” while also dismissing the still surging pandemic, claiming Americans are “over COVID” as U.S. deaths near 220,000.

“People are tired of COVID. Yep, there’s gonna be spikes, there’s gonna be no spikes, there’s gonna be vaccines — with or without vaccines, people are tired of COVID,” the president said on the call, using large attendance at his recent rallies as an example. “People are saying whatever, just leave us alone.”

“People are tired of hearing Fauci and all these idiots — these, these people, these people that have gotten it wrong,” Trump said. “Fauci, he’s a nice guy. He’s been here for 500 years … Every time he goes on television, there’s always a bomb, but there’s a bigger bomb if you fire him. But Fauci’s a disaster — I mean this guy, if I listened to him we’d have 500,000 deaths.”

Trump’s attacks come after Fauci told CBS News program “60 Minutes” in an interview that aired Sunday night he was not surprised the president contracted COVID-19.

“Absolutely not. I was worried that he was going to get sick when I saw him in a completely precarious situation of crowded, no separation between people, and almost nobody wearing a mask,” Fauci said. “When I saw that on TV, I said, ‘Oh, my goodness. Nothing good can come outta that, that’s gotta be a problem.’ And then sure enough, it turned out to be a superspreader event.”

It also comes as Trump trails Biden in nationwide polls, in part, due to his handling of the coronavirus pandemic.

-ABC News’ Will Steakin

Oct 19, 1:17 pm

Pence to ramp up campaign travel in closing stretch, may link up with Trump on the trail 

Vice President Mike Pence is getting set to ramp up his campaign schedule in the final days of the 2020 election with scheduled visits to Maine, New Hampshire, Ohio, Michigan, Indiana, Pennsylvania and Florida this week.

On a press call this morning, the vice president’s Chief of Staff, Marc Short, said Pence will maintain “a very aggressive schedule,” maintaining at least six days on the road with at least two rallies a day this week and they may do up to three rallies a day in the closing week.

Asked by ABC News if he will eventually link up with Trump for joint rallies, Short said that the campaign feels that “there’s a stronger benefit to them being in different markets,” but that in the final days they could be doing more together.

 “I think in the closing days, you will see them end up joining travel trips, and we actually do plan to do some of that a little bit beginning next week.”

Short added that the public could see them together as early as Monday during a trip to Pennsylvania and “certainly” in the “last couple of days.”

-ABC News’ Justin Gomez

Oct 19, 11:59 am
Biden reacts to Trump taunting him over saying he will ‘listen to the scientists’

The Biden campaign is latching on to Trump’s taunt over Biden listening to scientists, with the former vice president tweeting ”…yes,” in response to one report reading “Trump: Biden will ‘listen to the scientists’ if elected.”

Trump, at a rally in Carson City, Nevada, Sunday night, mocked Biden for saying if elected he would “listen to the scientists” regarding the ongoing pandemic which has left nearly 220,000 Americans dead.

“If I listen totally to the scientists, we would right now have a country that would be in a massive depression,” said Trump, who also continued to criticize Biden’s use of circles at campaign events for social distancing. Trump also claimed Biden would create lockdown measures that would lead to the “Christmas season” being canceled.

Biden spokesperson Andrew Bates, responding to the attack in a statement Monday, turned to the economy.

“Now new coronavirus cases are surging and layoffs are rising. If Donald Trump had listened to Joe Biden when he urged him not to trust the Chinese government over his own scientific advisers about this crisis, he wouldn’t be the worst jobs president since 1929,” Bates said.

Biden’s rapid response spokesperson Rosemary Boeglin also took aim at the attack tweeting, “Closing message, 8 months into a pandemic he’s let spin out of control: “President Donald Trump sought to insult former Vice President Joe Biden on Sunday by saying that his Democratic opponent would listen to scientists if elected president.”

Shortly afterward, the Biden campaign announced Biden’s 11th negative COVID-19 test since Trump tested positive earlier this month.

“Vice President Biden underwent PCR testing for COVID-19 today and COVID-19 was not detected,” the campaign said in a statement to reporters.

-ABC News’ Will Steakin and Molly Nagle

Oct 19, 10:45 am
Biden off the trail, meeting with advisers, prepping for Thursday’s debate

While Trump is slated to hold a two rallies in Arizona Monday, Biden is off the trail and prepping for their final one-on-one match up in Nashville on Thursday.

A source familiar with Biden’s schedule tells ABC News that the former vice president is meeting with advisers and doing debate prep.

Over the weekend, the Commission on Presidential Debates announced the topics the moderator, NBC News’ Kristen Welker, has selected. Her list, subject to change: Fighting COVID-19; American Families; Race in America; Climate Change; National Security; Leadership.

The debate will start at 9 p.m. ET and run for 90 minutes without commercial interruption, the commission said.

-ABC News’ Molly Nagle


Oct 19, 10:20 am
Biden outspending Trump on campaign ads

In the crucial final two weeks of the election, the Trump campaign is being outspent by the Biden campaign on television ads $45 million to $54 million — a spending gap that is further widened as pro-Biden outside groups are spending more than three times the amount pro-Trump outside groups are on the ad war.

In Iowa, for instance, Trump had been completely off the air since July and is only now set to go back up in a state where polls currently show a more competitive race than 2016, when the president won by over nine points. Sources pointed to the president’s recent Iowa rally as a way the team hoped to make up for the lack of ad spending in the state.

The president’s team has also been pulling back spending in other states crucial to his White House win four years ago. Earlier this month, the campaign canceled more than $2 million worth of airtime in Ohio, pushing back its return to the state until the last two weeks of October after being mostly quiet since the summer. It’s now among Trump’s top markets entering the home stretch, with $5.3 million reserved for airtime from Oct. 20 through Election Day.

And in key states like Pennsylvania, Michigan and Wisconsin, the Trump campaign is being vastly outpaced by the Biden campaign. From September through Election Day, Trump has invested about $31 million in those three states, compared to Biden who has poured more than $110 million in those states during the same period.

When asked about cutting ads in crucial swing states, Trump campaign Deputy National Press Secretary Samantha Zager called TV ads “a small piece of the voter outreach puzzle” and said that “it makes no sense to run TV ads in states we know we’re going to win, and in other states, they’re a useful tool to reach the right voters with the right message.”

Needless or not, from Oct. 20 through Nov. 3, the Biden campaign, the Democratic National Committee and pro-Biden outside groups have reserved a total of $141.5 million of airtime, twice the $70.8 million that the Trump campaign and pro-Trump outside groups have reserved during the same period, according to ad spending data from media research firm CMAG.

-ABC News’ Will Steakin and Soo Rin Kim

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