5 takeaways from Trump and Biden's dueling town halls

Donald Trump and Joe Biden were in different cities for the dueling town halls Thursday that replaced their debate. But they may as well have been in different universes.

Replacing the presidential debate with competing conversations with voters was a fitting symbol of a politically divided and socially distanced America. Instead of speaking to, or even shouting at, each other, Trump and Biden spoke past one another on different networks, allowing Americans to choose a favored candidate to describe reality as they want to see it.

The town halls hosted by NBC in Miami for Trump and ABC in Philadelphia for Biden are unlikely to attract nearly the audience a debate would, history suggests, and even many Republicans were baffled by Trump’s decision to withdraw from the second presidential debate when he’s down in the polls and needs every opportunity possible to try disrupt the race’s status quo.

Going into the town hall, Biden led Trump by 9.2 points in the NBC News national polling average. Most swing-state polls in recent months show the Democrat to be the favorite.

It was not clear the town halls would change the trajectory.

Here are five takeaways from the two events:

1. TRUMP GIVES OXYGEN TO EXTREMISTS — AGAIN

At the first debate, Trump claimed he didn’t know much about the Proud Boys, a violent far-right extremist group, but told them to “stand back and stand by” in a move they heard as an endorsement.

In his NBC town hall, Trump claimed he didn’t know much about QAnon, the groundless conspiracy theory that claims elites run a vast baby-eating satanic cult, but Trump said something they are sure to hear as an endorsement.

“I know nothing about QAnon,” he said. “I do know that they are very much against pedophilia and I agree with that.”

An FBI field office recently warned that “fringe political conspiracy theories” like QAnon “very likely motivate some domestic extremists” (it already has motivated some acts of violence) and social media giants have clamped down on QAnon.

Trump also bristled when Guthrie asked him to clearly and forcefully condemn white supremacists, but the only reason he keeps getting the question is because he seems so uncomfortable answering what would be a layup for any other politician — including his own vice president.

“I denounced white supremacy," he said. "What’s your next question?”

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2. JOE BIDEN SAYS 1994 CRIME BILL WAS ‘A MISTAKE’

Biden gave his most pointed denunciation yet of the 1994 crime bill that he helped write, which has been linked to the rise of mass incarceration with disproportionate impacts on Black Americans.

Asked if it was a mistake to support it, Biden said: “Yes, it was.”

He elaborated by saying things have “changed drastically” since 1994 and noted that many Black leaders at the time supported it. He pinned a heavy part of the blame on “what the states did locally” and said the goal of the bill was “same time for the same crime.” Still, Biden conceded, “It was a mistake.”

Moments earlier, Biden was asked by a young Black man why his demographic should feel motivated enough to vote for him — a question that cut to the heart of one of the former vice president’s weaknesses: A lack of enthusiasm among young voters, including non-white millennial and Gen Z voters, who lean left but tend to be unreliable at the ballot box.

Biden cited numerous policy proposals such as making the criminal justice system more “fair,” boosting funding for historically black colleges and universities, and helping Black Americans accumulate wealth by guaranteeing first-term home buyers a $15,000 down payment.

3. BIDEN SAYS HIS APPROACH ON SUPREME COURT CHANGES ‘DEPENDS’

Biden gave his most extensive answer yet on the possibility of expanding the Supreme Court as Republicans move to confirm Trump nominee Amy Coney Barrett.

“It depends on how this turns out,” he said, referring to the confirmation process in the GOP-led Senate and whether it is rushed through before Election Day.

He said he’s still “not a fan” of “court-packing” because it could lead to a tit-for-tat escalation. He expressed more openness to changing rules surrounding lifetime tenure of justices in a way that complies with the Constitution. But he didn’t commit to any course of action, saying that much of it depends on how Republicans approach the Barrett nomination.

“I'm open to considering what happens from that point on,” he said.

Biden criticized Barrett as a nominee who “didn’t answer very many questions at all” and said that LGBTQ Americans have “great reason to be concerned” that she could vote to take away their rights. He added that people should also be concerned about their access to health care with a Republican-led lawsuit to invalidate the Affordable Care Act headed to the Supreme Court.

4. TRUMP FORGOT TO ATTACK BIDEN

The president has one job if he is to turn around his weak standing in the polls: Bring down Biden, just as he brought down Hillary Clinton in the closing days of their 2016 battle.

But over the course of the hour on national television, Trump barely mentioned his rival, let alone in the kind of sustained way necessary to do damage to the frontrunner. When he did mention Biden’s name, it was mostly to attack the news media for not asking the Democrat the questions Trump wanted them to.

Trump’s entire campaign strategy, like that of the other incumbent presidents before him, is built around making the election a choice between him and Biden, instead of a referendum on his presidency, and Trump has been more on-message at his rallies and with friendlier interviewers.

But under Guthrie’s tough, rapid-fire questions, Trump missed opportunities to pivot to Biden and largely gave the former vice president a pass.

5. TWO CANDIDATES, TWO VASTLY DIFFERENT TONES

It was apt that two polar-opposite candidates offered polar-opposite tones as they faced questions from the moderators and voters. Biden spoke in calm and conciliatory tones, calling for listening to scientists on a national coronavirus policy and promising to work with Republicans to achieve bipartisan goals.

“What I will be doing, if I’m elected president — not a joke,” he said. “I’m going to pick up the phone and call them and say, let’s get together.”

He predicted that with Trump and his “vindictiveness” gone, “there’s going to be, I promise you, between four and eight Republican senators who are going to be willing to move on things where there’s bipartisan consensus.” It was a version of a line he used on the campaign trail, often to criticism from progressives who argued he was being naïve about the GOP.

Trump, meanwhile, was often hostile to Guthrie’s questioning. He complained constantly about the media, the IRS, and others treating him unfairly.

He sowed doubt about the science around the Covid-19 pandemic, suggesting masks will not protect people despite what nearly all of his advisers say. And he said getting sick from the virus himself had not changed his views on masks, even as his ally Chris Christie, the former governor of New Jersey who helped Trump prepare for the first debate, said Thursday that he was wrong for not wearing a mask after being put into intensive care with the disease himself.

California GOP Won’t Comply With Order To Remove Unofficial Ballot Boxes

The California Republican Party is under fire for allegedly erecting bogus ballot drop-off boxes in at least three state counties.

“The fact that it is a box does not make it illegal,” legal counsel for the party said.

With more than 1.5 million votes already cast in California, state Republican Party leaders on Wednesday said they will not comply with an order from the state’s chief elections official to remove unofficial ballot drop boxes from counties with competitive U.S. House races.

Secretary of State Alex Padilla and Attorney General Xavier Becerra, both Democrats, say these unofficial ballot drop boxes are illegal and have ordered Republicans to remove them by Thursday. They worry voters will confuse these Republican boxes with the official ballot drop boxes put in place and monitored by county election officials.

Party leaders have said they put these boxes in Orange, Fresno and Los Angeles counties. Wednesday, party leaders would not say where else they have put these boxes or how many ballots they have collected from them.

But Tom Hiltachk, the party’s general counsel, said these boxes comply with California’s “ballot harvesting” law, which lets people collect ballots from voters and return them to county election offices to be counted.

Hiltachk said all of the party’s drop boxes are indoors either at county party headquarters, churches or retailers that have agreed to participate. He says the boxes are locked and monitored by people.

“The fact that it is a box does not make it illegal,” Hiltachk said. “If we have to use a bag, then we’ll use a bag.”

Once a voter fills out a ballot, anyone can return it. Most people mail them in prepaid envelopes provided by their county election offices. But others place them in official ballot drop boxes spread throughout the county.

State law defines a “vote by mail ballot drop box” as a “secure receptacle established by a county or city and county elections official.” The Secretary of State has rules about the boxes’ design, how they should be labeled and how often ballots should be retrieved. But county election officials decide how many boxes to have and where to put them.

Political parties will collect ballots from supporters and return them to county election offices, a practice known as “ballot harvesting.” Some states have banned this practice, but it’s legal in California.

Most of the time ballot harvesting is done by volunteers who go door to door to collect ballots from supporters. But this year, Republicans have set up boxes for people to drop off their ballots. Democrats, including Gov. Gavin Newsom, have decried these boxes as an attempt to confuse voters. A cease and desist order from the Secretary of State’s office noted some of these boxes were put in public places and labeled as official drop boxes.

Wednesday, Hiltachk blamed “perhaps an overzealous volunteer” for mislabeling some drop boxes as “official.” He said none of the boxes now carry those labels. Hiltachk said a photo distributed by the Secretary of State’s Office of a drop box on a public sidewalk was just a pastor photographing the box as it was being delivered. He said the box is actually inside the church.

“The letter from the Democrat Secretary of State is a voter suppression effort, aimed at intimidating California Republican Party officials and volunteers from gathering and delivering ballots,” said Harmeet Dilon, an attorney and member of the Republican National Committee.

Padilla and Becerra’s offices did not immediately respond to requests for comment.

State law requires ballot harvesters to also sign the ballot they are delivering, but there is no penalty for not doing this. Jessica Levinson, an election law professor at Loyola Law School, said that means voters who put ballots in these Republican drop boxes will still have their votes counted. But that doesn’t mean the party couldn’t be held accountable, she said.

“California is not going to discard all those ballots,” she said. “Could you use that lack of penalty and essentially exploit it to your benefit? I guess my response is, it is still not what the law provides you should do.”

The Secretary of State’s Office reported Wednesday that more than 1.5 million vote-by-mail ballots have already been returned. In 2016, just 150,000 people had returned their vote-by-mail ballots at this point in the election cycle.

But this year, the coronavirus has changed how people vote. For the first time, California has mailed a ballot to every active registered voter before the election to encourage people to cast ballots remotely instead of in person during a pandemic.

“Californians are voting early in historic numbers,” Padilla said in a news release. “We knew the COVID-19 pandemic would pose significant challenges, but elections officials have prepared and voters have responded.”

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Trump torched for mocking Biden, elderly people with weird photoshopped tweet

 

President Donald Trump tweeted an image Tuesday of his Democratic opponent, Joe Biden, edited on to the body of an elderly person sitting in a wheelchair, endorsing him for “Resident” of a retirement home.

The image showed a room full of elderly wheelchair users with Biden’s face superimposed on one of them. Biden is 77, Trump is 74.

Despite being only a few years apart, Trump and his campaign have invested big in trying to cast Biden as too old for the job. Trump has repeatedly called him “sleepy” and “stupid.” He’s seized on the former vice president’s speech issues and gaffes to claim he has dementia.

Trump has been hemorrhaging support from senior voters in the polls, due in part to his handling of the COVID-19 pandemic, which carries higher risks for older people. Trump had a 9-percentage-point advantage with voters 65 and older in the 2016 election against Democrat Hillary Clinton, according to the Pew Research Center, but numerous polls now indicate Biden leads Trump with that group three weeks ahead of the Nov. 3 election. 

A recent national Fox News survey found Biden had a narrow lead with likely voters 65 and older. A CNN poll found Biden was up by 21 percentage points, with 60% for Biden and 39% for Trump. 

HuffPost has reached out to the Biden campaign for comment on Trump’s tweet.

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At a Florida campaign event on Tuesday, Biden told potential voters at a senior citizen community center that Trump’s careless remarks about the coronavirus affecting “virtually nobody” show he doesn’t care about them.

“To Donald Trump, it’s simple, not a joke, you’re expendable. You’re forgettable. You’re virtually nobody. That’s how he sees seniors. That’s how he sees you,” Biden said.

The Trump camp has courted seniors with an eight-figure ad campaign in swing states. Last week, Trump tweeted a rambling video addressed to “my favorite people in the world, the seniors,” promising them a free COVID-19 “cure.”

While some Trump supporters appeared to find the president’s tweet funny, critics piled on. Some called it ageist, and others said it was a strange move for a candidate to further alienate a voting demographic whose support he has been losing.

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Shark Tank star Daymond John: We should be building businesses

Shark Tank star, Fubu founder and business mogul Daymond John has a message for the country.

Young men and women should be building businesses right now.

“I think like all of us we are out there watching the world crumble and a lot of civil unrest. And instead of seeing these young men and women burning down businesses they should be building businesses,” John said on Yahoo Finance’s The First Trade.

To that end, John is putting his money and legendary hustle to work to help new businesses sprout amidst the COVID-19 pandemic.

John has created Black Entrepreneurs Day to be held on Oct. 24 at 7 p.m. EST. It will be a live streamed event on John’s Facebook page that spotlights Black businesses. Conversations will be between John and star friends Shaquille O’Neal (a Papa John’s board member), Gabrielle Union, Jamie Foxx, Robert Johnson, L.L. Cool J (who will at Yahoo Finance’s All Markets Summit later this month). And Chance the Rapper and Questlove will perform live.

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As part of the virtual gathering, John will assist in picking seven Black entrepreneurs each of which will get a $25,000 grant funded by the event’s sponsors: Chase for Business, The General Insurance, PepsiCo, Cisco Webex, Intuit’s Quickbooks, Robinhood and Yappa.

The event comes on the heels of John teaming up with home improvement chain Lowe’s to identify minority-owned businesses with products that could be sold at the retailer’s stores. John will help prep the business owners for pitches to Lowe’s executives, including CEO Marvin Ellison.

John says efforts like these — and more — are needed as the reality is government stimulus hasn’t done much to truly help minority-owned businesses during the pandemic.

“It did not help, very little,” John said of the first round of fiscal stimulus. “44% of Black entrepreneurs, the companies, will shutter and be done, period, against 17% of non-Black, meaning white. I’m not sure if it’s the fact that they don’t have great relationships with bankers or they were overlooked or it’s very hard, especially for Black farmers, but this stimulus package, we need it now. I don’t care if you’re Black, white or indifferent. We pay our taxes, now. This is a situation that we know will go away and should not play politics. Politics will be played next year and the next hundred thousand of years. People need it now, and this is the bridge we need.”

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Anthony Fauci Says He Didn’t Consent To Trump Ad That Takes His Words Out Of Context

President Donald Trump is seen following a coronavirus task force daily briefing in March as Fauci stands by.

“They did this without my permission and my comments were taken out of context,” Fauci said in response to the ad that suggests his endorsement.

A campaign ad that appears to show Dr. Anthony Fauci endorsing President Donald Trump’s handling of the coronavirus pandemic used a clip taken out of context and was not approved by Fauci before it aired, the doctor told media outlets Sunday.

“They did this without my permission and my comments were taken out of context,” Fauci, the nation’s top infectious diseases expert who’s a member of the White House coronavirus task force, said in a statement to NBC News and CNN.

“In my nearly five decades of public service, I have never publicly endorsed any political candidate. The comments attributed to me without my permission in the GOP campaign ad were taken out of context from a broad statement I made months ago about the efforts of federal public health officials,” his statement continued.

Dr. Anthony Fauci, director of the National Institute of Allergy and Infectious Diseases, is seen testifying on Capitol Hill
Dr. Anthony Fauci, director of the National Institute of Allergy and Infectious Diseases, is seen testifying on Capitol Hill in September. Fauci said Sunday that a clip of him used in a Trump campaign ad was taken out of context.

Tim Murtaugh, communications director for Trump’s reelection campaign, defended the veracity of the ad in a statement to HuffPost on Sunday.

“These are Dr. Fauci’s own words. The video is from a nationally broadcast television interview in which Dr. Fauci was praising the work of the Trump Administration. The words spoken are accurate, and directly from Dr. Fauci’s mouth,” he said.

The Trump campaign’s 30-second ad, which first began airing in Michigan, features a clip of a video interview that Fauci gave Fox News back in March.

“I can’t imagine that ... anybody could be doing more,” Fauci is heard saying immediately after the video’s narrator directly applauds Trump’s efforts, stating: “President Trump tackled the virus head-on, as leaders should.” 

But Fauci was actually referring to the efforts of himself and his entire team, as a video of the uncut interview clip shows.

“I’m connected by phone throughout the day and into the night and I’m talking 12-1-2 in the morning. I’m not the only one. There’s a whole group of us that are doing that, it’s every single day. So I can’t imagine that under any circumstances that anybody could be doing more,” he said.

The president tweeted later Sunday to rebut Fauci’s statement.

“They are indeed Dr. Fauci’s own words,” Trump tweeted, without addressing the context of his words. “We have done a ‘phenomenal’ job, according to certain governors. Many people agree. ... And now come the Vaccines & Cures, long ahead of projections!”

Throughout the pandemic, Trump has publicly undermined Fauci on nationwide safety protocols and potential treatments for COVID-19. Just on Sunday, ABC News reported that the White House was blocking the doctor from appearing on the ABC News’ “This Week.”

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