White House Blocks New Coronavirus Vaccine Guidelines

Top White House officials are blocking strict new federal guidelines for the emergency release of a coronavirus vaccine, objecting to a provision that would almost certainly guarantee that no vaccine could be authorized before the election on Nov. 3, according to people familiar with the approval process.

PHOTO: President Donald Trump is followed by White House Chief of Staff Mark Meadows as he departs for a day trip to Norfolk, Va., from the White House in Washington, March 28, 2020.

 A volunteer was injected with a coronavirus vaccine as part of a study in Hollywood, Fla., last month.

Facing a White House blockade, the Food and Drug Administration is seeking other avenues to ensure that vaccines meet the guidelines. That includes sharing the standards with an outside advisory committee of experts — perhaps as soon as this week — that is supposed to meet publicly before any vaccine is authorized for emergency use. The hope is that the committee will enforce the guidelinesor The New York Times Mark Meadows, the White House chief of staff, strongly objected to key provisions of the vaccine guidelines as too time-consuming and onerous.

The struggle over the guidelines is part of a monthslong tug of war between the White House and federal agencies on the front lines of the pandemic response. White House officials have repeatedly intervened to shape decisions and public announcements in ways that paint the administration’s response to the pandemic in a positive light.

That pattern has dismayed a growing number of career officials and political appointees involved in the administration’s fight against a virus that has claimed more than 209,000 lives in the United States.

The vaccine guidelines carry special significance: By refusing to allow the Food and Drug Administration to release them, the White House is undercutting the government’s effort to reassure the public that any vaccine will be safe and effective, health experts fear.

“The public must have full faith in the scientific process and the rigor of F.D.A.’s regulatory oversight if we are to end the pandemic,” the biotech industry’s trade association pleaded on Thursday, in a letter to President Trump’s health secretary, Alex M. Azar II, asking for release of the guidelines.

The Food and Drug Administration submitted the guidelines to the Office of Management and Budget for approval more than two weeks ago, but they stalled in the office of Mark Meadows, the White House chief of staff. Their approval is now seen as highly unlikely.

A main sticking point has been the recommendation that volunteers who have participated in vaccine clinical trials be followed for a median of two months after the final dose before any authorization is granted, according to a senior administration official and others familiar with the situation, who spoke on the condition of anonymity. Given where the clinical trials stand, that two-month follow-up period would all but preclude any emergency clearance before Election Day.

The conflict began almost as soon as the Food and Drug Administration submitted the guidelines to the White House budget office on Monday, Sept. 21. The next day, Dr. Stephen M. Hahn, the F.D.A. commissioner, briefed Mr. Azar on the matter.

That Wednesday, Mr. Meadows raised a series of concerns, a senior administration official said. He questioned the need for two months of follow-up data, said that stricter recommendations would change the rules in the middle of clinical trials and suggested that Dr. Hahn was overly influenced by his agency’s career scientists. The White House on Monday did not respond to a request for comment.

Speaking to reporters on Sept. 23, Mr. Trump publicly cast doubt on whether the guidance would be approved. “We may or may not approve it,” he said, suggesting that the regulatory action “was a political move more than anything else.”

F.D.A. officials later provided additional justification to the White House, explaining that the two-month follow-up was necessary to identify possible side effects and ensure that a vaccine’s protection against Covid-19, the disease caused by the coronavirus, was not short-lived. But they have been unable to break the stalemate.

The White House has the authority to intervene in such nonbinding guidance documents — a step below enforceable regulations — at least partly because of an October 2019 executive order that tightened restrictions over the issuance of such documents. That order asserted that “agencies have sometimes used this authority inappropriately in attempts to regulate the public.” White House officials have cited it to force the Food and Drug Administration and other agencies to submit pandemic-related guidelines to the White House budget office for review before public release.

Staff members at the budget office scrutinize the documents for statements that could undercut the president’s public message that the administration either has the pandemic under control or will soon, according to former and current federal officials.

The testing and release of a vaccine is an issue that has gained wide national attention. Mr. Trump has repeatedly misrepresented how quickly a vaccine might be available to most Americans, promising a major breakthrough in vaccine development as early as this month. No clinical trial in the United States has yet advanced far enough to prove that any vaccine is safe and effective, although Pfizer, one vaccine developer, is hoping for interim results soon from its trial.

The Food and Drug Administration’s new guidelines were intended to assure companies developing vaccines that they were being held to a common standard and to reassure the public. Polls suggest that Americans are increasingly wary about taking a coronavirus vaccine: A survey published last month by the Pew Research Center found that 51 percent of Americans would either probably or definitely take one, down from 72 percent in May.

Dr. Peter Marks, the F.D.A.’s top regulator for vaccines, said last week in an event organized by Friends of Cancer Research that the government had to be transparent about the standards it was using to evaluate experimental vaccines in order to build public trust. He and other health officials have stressed that the companies developing vaccines are already fully aware of the agency’s expectations for products seeking authorization for emergency use.

Mr. Azar on Friday played down the conflict with the White House, telling a House panel that those concerned about its involvement in the guidelines were making “a mountain out of a molehill.”

“What the commissioner is proposing to put out is public emergency use authorization guidance on a vaccine that would be consistent with letters already sent to the manufacturers,” Mr. Azar said. “The F.D.A. has already told the manufacturers what they’re going to look for.”

Some vaccine makers, including Johnson & Johnson, have publicly indicated that they will follow the agency’s recommendations, regardless of the White House’s actions.

At a recent meeting with F.D.A. staff members, Dr. Marks said the agency “may hear more noise in the press” about trouble with the guidance but added that the “goal isn’t to get into fights,” according to people familiar with his comments. He said at the Friends of Cancer Research event that there was no reason “to get all excited” because “we are going to have a transparent advisory committee meeting for each and every emergency use authorization that comes through.”

Privately, Dr. Marks has told colleagues that an angry tweet from Mr. Trump attacking F.D.A. scientists over the guidelines could damage public confidence in a coronavirus vaccine.

The guidance laid out more specific criteria for clinical trial data and recommended that it be reviewed by the advisory committee of independent experts. It is expected to be included in the briefing papers for the committee’s next meeting, scheduled for Oct. 22.

Food and Drug Administration officials hope the committee will consider those standards before giving its blessing to any emergency use authorization for a vaccine. The most likely recipients of any vaccine that wins that authorization will be high-risk populations such as health care workers.

In addition to the two-month follow-up period, the guidelines stated that there should be at least five cases of severe infection in the placebo group as evidence that a vaccine is effective in preventing more than just mild to moderate illness. About 10 percent of Covid-19 cases are considered severe.

The guidelines also laid out the agency’s expectation that vaccine makers would continue to assess the long-term safety and efficacy of the drug, if granted emergency use authorization.

Katie Thomas contributed reporting from Chicago. Kitty Bennett contributed research.




Vote Early

'An embarrassment': Trump tweet angers pandemic survivors

Dizzy with a soaring fever and unable to breathe, Scott Sedlacek had one thing going for him: He was among the first people to be treated for COVID-19 at Seattle's Swedish Medical Center, and the doctors and nurses were able to give him plenty of attention.

The 64-year-old recovered after being treated with a bronchial nebulizer in March, but the ensuing months have done little to dull the trauma of his illness. Hearing of President Donald Trump's advice by Tweet and video on Monday not to fear the disease — as well as the president's insistence on riding in a motorcade outside Walter Reed Medical Center and returning to the White House while still infectious — enraged him.

“I’m so glad that he appears to be doing well, that he has doctors who can give him experimental drugs that aren’t available to the masses,” Sedlacek said. “For the rest of us, who are trying to protect ourselves, that behavior is an embarrassment.”

COVID-19 has infected about 7.5 million Americans, leaving more than 210,000 dead and millions more unemployed, including Sedlacek. The U.S. has less than 5% of the globe’s population but more than 20% of the reported deaths.

Yet the world's highest-profile coronavirus patient tweeted on Monday, as he was due to be released from the hospital following a three-day stay: “Don’t be afraid of Covid. Don’t let it dominate your life. We have developed, under the Trump Administration, some really great drugs & knowledge. I feel better than I did 20 years ago!”

He reiterated the message in a video Monday night, saying “Be careful,” but “don't let it dominate you.”

“You’re going to beat it," he said. "We have the best medical equipment, we have the best medicines.”

The advice fit in with Trump's downplaying of the virus, his ridiculing of those who wear masks to protect themselves and others, and his insistence on holding rallies and White House events in contravention of federal guidelines. But emergency room doctors, public health experts, survivors of the disease and those who have lost loved ones were nevertheless aghast, saying his cavalier words were especially dangerous at a time when infections are on the rise in many places.

Marc Papaj, a Seneca Nation member who lives in Orchard Park, New York, lost his mother, grandmother and aunt to COVID-19. He was finding it tough to follow the president’s advice not to let the virus “dominate your life.”

“The loss of my dearest family members will forever dominate my life in every way for all of my days,” Papaj said, adding this about Trump: “He does not care about any of us — he's feeling good.”

Dr. Tien Vo, who has administered more than 40,000 coronavirus tests at his clinics in California’s Imperial County, had this to say: “Oh, my Lord. That’s a very bad recommendation from the president.”

Slideshow preview image
 The county is a farming region along the Mexican border that, at one point, had California's highest infection rate. Its 180,000 residents are largely Latino and low-income, groups that have suffered disproportionately from the virus. Cases overwhelmed its two hospitals in May.

“The president has access to the best medical care in the world, along with a helicopter to transport him to the hospital as needed,” Dr. Janet Baseman, an epidemiologist at the University of Washington's School of Public Health, wrote in an email. “The rest of us who don’t have such ready access to care should continue to worry about covid, which has killed a million people around the world in just a handful of months."

Trump supporters still not convinced about the threat

Some of Trump's supporters said they wouldn't be swayed by the White House outbreak: Wearing a mask is a choice, and to mandate its use limits freedom, said Melissa Blundo, chairwoman of the “No Mask Nevada” PAC.

“I’m not saying the coronavirus isn’t real. I’m not saying that it isn’t a pandemic," she said. "I believe tuberculosis could be called a pandemic when it kills a person every 21 seconds, but we haven’t shut down the entire world. I just find it interesting that we are taking this particular pandemic and shutting down economies.”

Data from the U.S. Centers for Disease Control show 8,920 cases of tuberculosis in 2019. In 2017, the most recent year it reported deaths, 515 died from the bacterial lung infection.

Candy Boyd, the owner of Boyd Funeral Home in Los Angeles, which serves many Black families, said Trump’s comments were infuriating and an "example of him not living in reality.” The funeral home receives fewer virus victims now than it did in the spring, when it was several a day, but people continue to die, she said.

“We have people dying and this is a joke to him,” Boyd said. “I don’t take that lightly. This is sad. This is absurd.”

Vote Early


Criminal charges in police killings of Black Americans

Breonna Taylor, a 26-year-old emergency medical technician, is one of multiple Black Americans killed by police here in recent years whose deaths have sparked a renewed push for civil rights and curbs on police brutality.

People march past City Hall during a protest against the deaths of Breonna Taylor by Louisville police and George Floyd by Minneapolis police, in Louisville, Kentucky, U.S. May 29, 2020. REUTERS/Bryan Woolston/Files

Here is a summary of some police shooting cases and their outcomes:

MICHAEL BROWN, a Black teen killed by a white police officer in Ferguson, Missouri, in 2014.

Settlement: $1.5 million.

Criminal charges: None.

ERIC GARNER, a Black man who died after repeatedly crying, “I can’t breathe,” while placed in a chokehold by a New York City cop during an attempted 2014 arrest.

Settlement: $5.9 million.

Criminal charges: None.

TAMIR RICE, a 12-year-old Black boy who was holding a toy gun when shot dead by a Cleveland, Ohio, police officer in 2014.

Settlement: $6 million.

Criminal charges: None.

LAQUAN McDONALD, a 17-year-old African-American, was shot dead by Chicago police as he was walking away from them during an attempted arrest in 2014.

Settlement: $5 million

Criminal charges: A jury found white police officer Jason Van Dyke guilty here of second-degree murder.

FREDDIE GRAY, a Black man who died from injuries he sustained while in handcuffs and leg irons after being thrown into the back of a Baltimore police van in 2015.

Settlement: $6.4 million.

Criminal charges: The six officers criminally charged in Gray’s death were acquitted or the charges were dropped.

WALTER SCOTT, an unarmed Black man shot in the back while fleeing on foot from a traffic stop in North Charleston, South Carolina, in 2015.

Settlement: $6.5 million.

Criminal charges: The officer pleaded guilty to federal civil rights charges and was sentenced to 20 years in prison.

PHILANDO CASTILE, a Black man shot and killed during a 2016 traffic stop in a St. Paul, Minnesota, suburb after telling police he had a gun in the vehicle.

Settlement: Close to $3 million.

Criminal charges: A jury acquitted the officer on charges of felony manslaughter and reckless discharge of a firearm.

STEPHON CLARK, an unarmed Black man killed by Sacramento, California, police in 2018 after they chased him into his grandmother’s back yard.

Settlement: Clark’s two children received $1.2 million each. Claims by other family members are pending.

Criminal charges: None.

ATATIANA JEFFERSON, a Black woman shot dead by a Fort Worth, Texas, officer in 2019 while standing in her home with a handgun after hearing noises outside.

Settlement: No lawsuit filed yet.

Criminal charges: The officer, who resigned, is awaiting trial for murder.

BOTHAM JEAN, a 26-year-old Black PwC accountant, was shot dead by a police officer who accidentally walked into his apartment thinking it was her own in 2018.

Settlement: None.

Criminal charges: In 2019, Amber Guyger, the officer, was found guilty of murder and sentenced here&text=AUSTIN%2C%20Texas%20(Reuters)%20-,as%20he%20ate%20ice%20cream to 10 years.

BREONNA TAYLOR, a Black, 26-year-old emergency room technician, was killed on March 13, 2020, by Louisville, Kentucky, police who burst into her home with a battering ram. Taylor’s boyfriend fired his gun at the intruders who returned fire, killing Taylor.

Settlement: Louisville paid $12 million here to Taylor's family and agreed to police department reforms to settle a wrongful death suit.

Criminal charges: Detective Brett Hankison was terminated here in June and indicted on Wednesday for wanton endangerment of Taylor's neighbors, a charge with a maximum sentence of up to five years. Two other officers faced no charges because their use of force was justified, the state's attorney general said.

GEORGE FLOYD, a 46-year-old Black man who was reported for allegedly using a counterfeit $20 bill, died on May 25, 2020, while handcuffed after Minneapolis police knelt on his neck for nearly nine minutes.

Settlement: A wrongful death suit filed against Minneapolis and four police officers is pending.

Criminal charges: One officer is charged with second-degree murder and manslaughter. Three others have been charged with aiding and abetting.

RAYSHARD BROOKS, a 27-year-old Black man, was shot twice in the back on June 12, 2020, as he ran from Atlanta police and fired a Taser at one officer, a non-deadly weapon he had seized from a second officer to escape a drunk-driving arrest.

Settlement: None.

Criminal charges: One Atlanta police officer was fired and charged with murder. A second was placed on administrative duty and charged with aggravated assault. The city’s police chief resigned.




Trump debate comment pushing Black Americans, others to vote

FILE - In this Oct. 1, 2020, file photo, people cast their vote early in Chicago. Black Americans and other people of color say President Donald Trump’s refusal to outright condemn white nationalists during this week's debate has strengthened their resolve to vote in November. (Ashlee Rezin Garcia/Chicago Sun-Times via AP)

 When President Donald Trump refused to outright condemn white nationalists in this week’s presidential debate and urged his supporters to monitor polling sites, Portia Roberson was reminded of earlier eras when Black Americans were intimidated at the polls to deter them from voting.

Roberson, a 51-year-old Black woman who lives in Detroit, found the comments chilling — but also felt a renewed resolve to vote.

For many Black Americans and other people of color, Trump’s comments in his debate with Democratic challenger Joe Biden were a harsh reminder that the nation has yet to fully grapple with systemic racism laid bare this year by protests against police killings of Black people, the coronavirus pandemic, and the resulting economic fallout.

But they were also a call to action.

“I hope that we take some of that frustration, anger and sadness that we’ve all been feeling for the better part of 2020, and use it to motivate ourselves to go to the polls and make sure we vote and vote for candidates who really reflect what Black folks need in this country,” said Roberson, CEO of the Detroit nonprofit Focus: Hope.

Trump tried to walk back his debate comments on Wednesday, but the moment when he told one far-right group to “stand back and stand by” had already been cemented in the minds of many Americans, experts and activists say. A day after the debate, the president said he didn’t know the group but that it should “let law enforcement do their work.”

Youtube video thumbnail

During the debate, he also urged his “supporters to go into the polls and watch very carefully because that’s what has to happen.”

Eric Sheffield, a Black real estate developer in Atlanta whose parents hail from the Deep South, said Trump’s comments reminded him of the Jim Crow era.

“I hear the ghost of voter suppressionists past,” said Sheffield, 52. “It’s the same soup. It’s just warmed over now.”

It’s not just Black Americans who took notice — and umbrage — at the president’s debate comments. Similar concerns are also reverberating among Americans from other backgrounds, said Anna Mach, a biracial Filipino American woman who is a master’s student at the University of Denver.

“I’m disgusted and angry and terrified by those comments,” Mach, 22, said. “But I’m not surprised.”

Since the coronavirus, which first flared in China, spread to the United States, Mach said she’s seen a surge in hate directed toward Asian Americans. Trump himself has been criticized for referring to COVID-19 as the “Chinese virus.”

“I’m worried there will be more hate crimes from white supremacists,” she said.

On Thursday, when asked for a definitive statement on whether the president denounces white supremacism, White House Press Secretary Kayleigh McEnany said that Trump had said the day before: “I have always denounced any form of that.”

Some organizations are working to transform the fears elicited by Trump’s comments into votes.

The New Georgia Project has identified about 600,000, Black, Latino, Asian American and young voters that it wanted to encourage to vote in November, said CEO Nse Ufot. She said that doesn’t include an additional 90,000 Black voters who live in Georgia’s “rural Black belt” who didn’t vote in 2016 and who they’re also trying to reach.

“The debate was not about communicating his (Trump’s) vision for America,” Ufot said. “It was about making it super unpleasant and awful and distasteful and to encourage people to withdraw from the process, and we won’t let that happen.”

Dr. Elvin Geng, a professor at Washington University School of Medicine in St. Louis helped establish Asian Americans Against Trump, which has been funding digital and print ads in Asian-language media outlets in battleground states.

Geng hopes younger Asian Americans who don’t support Trump will talk to their relatives who do about their thinking and maybe change some minds.

“In many realms ... immigrants do look to their kids for what they think, how to think about what’s happening in America,” Geng said.

While Trump’s comments — and his record on race — may have unsettled many Americans, for some Black people they evoke a particularly dark history.

The rhetoric conjured up memories of Southern segregationists and voter intimidation tactics for the Rev. Wendell H. Paris, 75, who was involved in voting rights work in the 1960s including registration drives in Alabama and the Selma-to-Montgomery march.

“Whenever you hear him say, ‘law and order,’ that’s coded language,” said Paris. “We have reverted back to the racial situation of the 1950s and the 1960s.”

Even after the Voting Rights Act in 1965 offered greater protections, Paris recalled the way white deputies in uniform would show up at voting precincts in mostly Black areas to watch over voters — which had the effect of intimidating them given the history of racist mistreatment.

Because of that history, University of Michigan political science professor Vincent Hutchings said he believes Trump’s comments are stirring legitimate concerns that overzealous supporters will cause trouble at polling sites, particularly in Black communities.

“What sorts of things would represent violations or fraud?” Hutchings asked. “It’s very murky and so, as a consequence, people have to exercise their own discretion, and when that happens, all bets are off, so it is certainly dangerous in that regard.”

Chicago resident Cynthia Bell, who said the debate “broke my heart,” has decided to vote early out of concern over potential intimidation at the polls.

“How is this possible in this day and age?” asked Bell, who manages a senior center in her mostly Black community. “What have we gotten ourselves into?”




4 takeaways from the most juvenile presidential debate in U.S. history

Raised voices, interrupting and chaos was story of first 2020 Presidential Debate

After months of anticipation, President Trump and his Democratic rival, former Vice President Joe Biden, finally met onstage in Cleveland on Tuesday night for the first presidential debate of 2020 — perhaps the single most important moment of the fall campaign.

But “presidential debate” is too dignified a phrase to describe what actually went down Tuesday at Case Western University. “Foodfight” is the more fitting term — with one candidate, Trump, determined to sling a torrent of false and misleading attacks at his Democratic opponent, and the other, Biden, often struggling to reach the end of a sentence without getting sidetracked by Trump’s haranguing interruptions. 

“Gentlemen! I hate to raise my voice, but why should I be different than the two of you?” moderator Chris Wallace of Fox News was forced to shout after the umpteenth unintelligible spat of the evening. “I think that the country would be better served if we allowed both people to speak with fewer interruptions. I’m appealing to you, sir,” Wallace said, turning to Trump, “to do that.” 

“Well, and him, too,” Trump muttered, gesturing toward Biden. 

“Well, frankly, you’ve been doing more interrupting than he has,” Wallace retorted. 

“Well, that’s all right,” Trump continued, “but he does plenty.” 

“Well, sir, less than you have,” Wallace said. 

Such was the level of discourse throughout the evening, thanks to Trump. Here are four takeaways from the most juvenile presidential debate in U.S. history. 

Trump tried to rattle Biden — but it probably wasn’t enough to shake up the race 

President Donald Trump and Joe Biden during first presidential debate on Sept. 29, 2020, at Case Western University and Cleveland Clinic, in Cleveland, Ohio. (Phot illustration: Yahoo News; photos: Brian Snyder/Reuters, Julio Cortez/AP)

Despite an unprecedented amount of real-world upheaval — the COVID-19 pandemic, the resulting economic collapse, a racial reckoning in the streets — the presidential race between Trump and Biden has remained remarkably stable. Exactly one year ago, Biden was leading Trump by 7.6 percentage points, on average; today, Biden is ahead by 7. If the election were held right now, forecasters predict that Biden would win 331 electoral votes

This means that — with 35 days to go until Election Day and voters already beginning to cast ballots in many states — the onus Tuesday was on Trump to change a dynamic that has proven stubbornly resistant to even the most momentous news events.

If nothing else, you can say this about the president’s performance: He certainly tried.

Trump arrived in Cleveland with a single-minded strategy. After years spent crafting a caricature of Biden as an old, enfeebled man who can barely function without the aid of teleprompters, earpieces or performance-enhancing drugs, Trump’s goal Tuesday was to do or say whatever was necessary to trip Biden up and make him lose his train of thought. The hope, it seemed, was that Biden’s rattled missteps would be cut together for viral videos designed to advance that narrative — hence the incessant interruptions.  

Slideshow preview image

But in a broader sense, Trump may have failed to do what he actually needed to do: sway the very small number of remaining undecided voters — a mere 4 percent of the electorate, according to most polls — to his side. 

According to one pre-debate survey, 60 percent of swing voters said that the coronavirus pandemic (30 percent) and health care (30 percent) were the top issues facing the United States. Zero percent said “Hunter Biden,” a topic Trump returned to again and again throughout the night.  

Trump’s attempts to get under Biden’s skin did unsettle his rival on occasion. But they also provoked some of the Democrat’s most memorable lines. 

“Will you shut up, man?” Biden snapped at one point. “This is so unpresidential."

Biden attempted to keep his focus on ordinary Americans 

Joe Biden speaks during the first U.S. presidential debate hosted by Case Western Reserve University and the Cleveland Clinic in Cleveland, Ohio, U.S., on Tuesday, Sept. 29, 2020. (Matthew Hatcher/Bloomberg via Getty Images)

During the debate, one of Trump’s tactics was to try to drive a wedge between Biden and the left wing of his own party. 

“You just lost the radical left,” the president said when Biden reiterated, to no one’s surprise, that he is not and has never been a supporter of the Green New Deal.

To some degree, left-leaning Twitter was disappointed with the nominee’s performance — particularly when he failed to deliver punchy comebacks to Trump’s most outlandish claims or seemed to spend more time complaining about the president’s lack of decorum (“Folks, do you have any idea what this clown is doing?”) than prosecuting the case against him.

Yet Biden had a strategy, too, and it’s one that arguably made more electoral sense than Trump’s. At every turn — no matter what sort of distraction Trump was creating — Biden pivoted back to how his policies and the president’s would affect working Americans. 

“We want to talk about families and ethics?” Biden said, when Trump brought up his son Hunter yet again. “His family, we could talk about all night. This is not about my family or his family. It’s about your family. The American people.

“He doesn’t want to talk about what you need,” the former vice president continued, looking squarely at the camera. “You.” 

In a muddled debate, it was the closest Biden came to a thesis statement. He went on to argue that the American people need many things: expanded access to health care, continuing protections for preexisting conditions, “safety” from COVID-19, “more money” so schools and businesses shuttered by the pandemic can reopen, and a president whose word they can trust.

“Do you believe for a moment what he’s telling you, in light of all the lies he’s told you about the whole issue relating to COVID?” Biden asked. “He still hasn’t even acknowledged that he knew this was happening, knew how dangerous it was going to be back in February, and he didn’t even tell you.”

“He panicked — or he just looked at the stock market, one of the two,” Biden went on. “Because, guess what, a lot of people died — and a lot more are going to die unless he gets a lot smarter, a lot quicker.”

Tellingly, Trump didn’t respond by defending his handling of the pandemic or reaching out to the forgotten men and women of the United States who have been affected by it. All night, the president was argumentative without making any kind of argument for his candidacy.

Instead, Trump took personal offense when Biden insulted his intelligence.

“Don’t ever use the word ‘smart’ with me,” Trump objected. “There’s nothing smart about you, Joe.”

Biden’s pitch may not have been the flashiest. With all the crosstalk, it may not have come through as clearly as it could have. But in substance, it’s the same kind of populist, meat-and-potatoes approach that helped Trump connect with late-breaking swing voters in 2016. By ceding that ground to Biden on Tuesday night, Trump did little to win those voters back.  

Trump again refused to condemn white supremacists

President Donald Trump speaks during the first presidential debate at Case Western Reserve University and Cleveland Clinic in Cleveland, Ohio, on September 29, 2020. (Saul Loeb/AFP via Getty Images)

In the age of social media, presidential debates are often more about individual moments than either candidate’s overall performance. And one moment in particular may continue to shape the campaign in the days and weeks to come. 

With the memory still lingering of Trump’s controversial claim that “very fine people” had attended a 2017 white supremacist rally in Charlottesville, Va., Wallace gave the president a chance Tuesday night to condemn those on the right who have incited violence at more recent protests. 

But Trump declined, even as Wallace repeatedly pressed him to speak out. 

“Are you willing tonight to condemn white supremacists and militia groups and to say that they need to stand down and not add to the violence at a number of these cities, as we saw in Kenosha, and, as we’ve seen, in Portland?” Wallace asked Trump.

“Sure, I’m willing to do that, but I would say that almost everything I see is from the left wing, not from the right wing. I’m willing to do anything. I want to see peace—”

“Well, then, do it, sir,” Wallace interrupted.

“Say it,” Biden interjected. “Do it. Say it.”

“You want to call them, what do you want to call them?” Trump replied. “Give me a name. Go ahead, who would you like me to condemn?”

“White supremacists,” Wallace interjected.

“Proud Boys,” Biden added, referring to the group of self-described “Western chauvinists” whose members appeared alongside white supremacist groups at the 2017 Unite the Right Rally in Charlottesville, and have been a consistent presence during more recent clashes in Portland, Ore.

“Proud Boys, stand back and stand by,” Trump said — before immediately pivoting. “But I’ll tell you what, somebody’s got to do something about antifa and the left, because this is not a right-wing problem.” 

The Proud Boys quickly embraced the moment, posting clips of the president’s comment and even circulating an image with Trump’s quote superimposed over their logo. 

Trump has in the past sought to blame violence stemming from some recent protests on antifa, an umbrella term for radical left-wing activist groups that sometimes engage in street brawls.

It’s an assessment that Trump’s own FBI Director, Christopher Wray, and acting Homeland Security Secretary Chad Wolf have both dispelled in testimony before Congress. By their account, white supremacist violence is the most persistent and deadly domestic terrorist threat facing the country. 

When Biden noted Wray’s comments. Trump shot back, “Well, you know what? He’s wrong.”

Biden, for his part, said that while he supports peaceful protests, he condemns violence of all kinds. 

In the wake of Charlottesville, Trump’s approval rating fell below 37 percent for the first time — the lowest level of his presidency — and remained below 40 percent for the rest of the year. 

Trump repeated his baseless claim that the election will be rigged

President Donald Trump participates in the first 2020 presidential campaign debate with Democratic presidential nominee Joe Biden held on the campus of the Cleveland Clinic at Case Western Reserve University in Cleveland, Ohio, U.S., September 29, 2020. (Brian Snyder/Reuters)

Another moment that may live on after the debate was the segment where the president of the United States told roughly 100 million Americans that they won’t be able to trust the results of the upcoming election. 

“This is going to be fraud like you’ve never seen,” Trump said.  

As “evidence,” Trump peppered the television audience with an array of out-of-context remarks about small incidents that were largely examples of errors by election workers affecting tiny, inconsequential numbers of votes — then suggested again, as he has done repeatedly in recent weeks, that he might not accept the results of November’s election

“If I see tens of thousands of ballots being manipulated, I can’t go along with that,” Trump said. 

With comments like these, it’s unclear whether Trump is trying to rationalize a potential loss or whether he’s laying the groundwork to claim victory before the year’s pandemic-induced influx of mail ballots have been fully tabulated. Either way, Trump’s efforts to delegitimize an American election in advance are unprecedented. They represent what his own FBI director described as “misinformation” that “will contribute over time to a lack of confidence of American voters and citizens in the validity of their vote.” 

Trump is “trying to scare people into thinking it’s not going to be legitimate,” Biden responded on stage. But “he cannot stop you from being able to determine the outcome of this election. If we get the votes, it’s going to be all over. He’s going to go.”




Vote Early

National Weather

Click on Map for Forecast

The Opinion Poll