Trump v Biden at TV town halls: a president kept in check – latest reaction live

 

Powered by Guardian.co.ukThis article titled “Biden’s town hall drew in 1 million more viewers than Trump’s – how it happened” was written by Sam Levin (now), Joan E Greve, Tom McCarthy and Martin Belam (earlier), for theguardian.com on Saturday 17th October 2020 00.13 UTC

1.13am BST

Summary

We’re ending our live coverage for the day, thanks for following along. Some links and developments from the day:

12.46am BST

Minnesota traces Covid outbreak to Trump rally

The Minnesota department of health said it has so far traced 20 Covid-19 cases to a Trump rally in Bemidji in September, CNN reports:

Sixteen of the 20 cases are people who were at the rally. Two people are now hospitalized, according to CNN.

12.42am BST

Donald Trump is now speaking at a rally in Macon, Georgia, attacking the media and Democrats with typical falsehoods and unsubstantiated claims.

In his last speech today, the president repeatedly mocked Joe Biden for verbal slips, but misspoke in numerous bizarre ways himself, notes CNN’s fact checker Daniel Dale:

At the Macon rally, one state representative and Trump supporter crowd-surfed, an activity that clearly violates social-distancing guidelines:

12.32am BST

Joe Kennedy III reports campaign finance violation

Congressman Joe Kennedy III’s failed Senate campaign reported today that it improperly spent .5m of donations intended for the general election during the primary against Senator Ed Markey, the Boston Globe has just reported.

Federal campaign finance rules bar candidates from spending their general election funds on expenses during the primary, the Globe said.

“After an internal review, I believe it was an honest mistake by those involved, resulting from misinformation, not malintent,” Kennedy said in a statement to the Globe. “But as the candidate, I take full responsibility for the error that occurred and have worked to rectify it as expeditiously as possible.”

Kennedy also said he did not know about the improper spending.

Markey won the tight race with support of progressive groups.

Updated at 12.44am BST

12.00am BST

The QAnon conspiracy theory has been linked to several violent acts since 2018, with QAnon supporters arrested for threatening politicians, breaking into the residence of the Canadian prime minister, an armed standoff near the Hoover dam, a kidnapping plot and two kidnappings, and at least one murder.

QAnon adherents believe that Donald Trump is trying to save the world from a cabal of satanic pedophiles. The conspiracy theory’s narrative includes centuries-old antisemitic tropes, like the belief that the cabal is harvesting blood from abused children, and it names specific people, including Democratic politicians and Hollywood celebrities, as participants in a global plot. Experts call these extreme, baseless claims “an incitement to violence”.

The conspiracy theory’s claims have put ordinary people at risk. The FBI identified QAnon in 2019 as a potential domestic terror threat and the Combating Terrorism Center at West Point described it as a “novel challenge to public security”.

QAnon supporters believe that there will soon be mass arrests, and members of the cabal will be brought to justice. If supporters of the conspiracy theory begin to lose faith in Trump’s ability to stop the cabal of child abusers, said Travis View, one of the hosts of the QAnon Anonymous podcast, that might inspire them to begin taking more direct violent action themselves.

More here:

11.49pm BST

1,000 current and former CDC officers criticize Covid response

More than 1,000 current and former officers of a disease-fighting program at the US Centers for Disease Control and Prevention have authored an open letter criticizing the US response to Covid, the Wall Street Journal reports.

“The absence of national leadership on Covid-19 is unprecedented and dangerous. CDC should be at the forefront of a successful response to this global public health emergency,” said the letter signed by officers from the Epidemic Intelligence Service program of the CDC. More details:

11.39pm BST

Trump’s cabinet is “scrambling to enact regulatory changes affecting millions of Americans” due to fears that he will lose his re-election, according to a new New York Times report.

The rushed proposed rules, the Times says, include:

  • Labor department changes that would redefine what it means to be an “independent contractor”, affecting 19m people.
  • A department of homeland security rule that would make it much more difficult to sponsor an immigrant coming to the US.
  • A proposal that would loosen limits on how many hours some truckers can spend behind the wheel.
  • Another DHS proposal that would enable the government to more easily collect biometric data.

The blitz is so hurried that some of the changes could be particularly vulnerable to court challenges, the Times reported.

11.22pm BST

A Montana concert attended by Republican Congressman Greg Gianforte, who is also running for governor, has been linked to a Covid-19 outbreak, the AP reports.

Gianforte hasn’t since taken a test, his spokesperson said, saying he does not have symptoms and his healthcare provider said it wasn’t necessary.

The outdoor concert, held on 3 October in Helena,had been approved by the local health department, the Independent Record reported. The event organizers have since faced criticisms for failing to follow local Covid regulations, which say public events should not have more than 250 attendees.

Gianforte has previously faced criticisms for not wearing a mask and hugging supporters:

11.10pm BST

Ronna McDaniel, chair of the Republican National Committee who also recently had Covid, is present at Trump’s rally, without a mask:

11.01pm BST

Joe Biden and Kamala Harris both tested negative for Covid-19 today, the campaigns said:

This comes one day after both reported that they flew on planes this week with people who have tested positive for coronavirus, though they both said they did not have close contact with the affected people.

10.53pm BST

Supreme court agrees to hear arguments in Census case

The US supreme court agreed today to hear arguments in a closely-watched case over whether Donald Trump can exclude undocumented immigrants from the total population count used to determine how many US House seats each state gets.

The court said Friday it will hear oral argument in the case on 30 November. Trump issued an executive order blocking undocumented people from the count earlier this summer, but a three-judge panel blocked the measure in early September. The constitution requires the census, which is used to apportion House seats, to count all “persons”. In September, the judges wrote that because the decennial census does not ask about citizenship, citizenship status could not be taken into account when apportioning seats.

But the supreme court’s decision alone to hear the case is ominous. The case took a unique procedural route to the court and because it came from a three judge panel, the court is obligated to consider it. The court could have upheld the three judge panel’s ruling without an oral argument – the fact that it set one may be a signal it is open to overturning it.

Separately, the supreme court this week allowed the Trump administration to end counting for the census two weeks early, despite warnings it would result in an undercount of the population. Observers have speculated the Trump administration is trying to rush the census to ensure Trump has the opportunity to try and exclude undocumented immigrants from the count before he leaves office.

10.47pm BST

Donald Trump called Hope Hicks, his senior advisor who tested positive for Covid earlier this month, up to the stage at his Florida rally:

She was not wearing a mask, and said very little, but joked: “We can share a microphone now.”

Trump is back on the campaign trail this week after his hospitalization for Covid. At a town hall last night, the president spread falsehoods about the virus and masks.

10.31pm BST

Trump approves wildfire aid for California, reversing rejection

Donald Trump reversed his administration’s decision to deny California’s request for additional federal wildfire aid, the state’s governor has announced.

“Just got off the phone with President Trump who has approved our major disaster declaration request,” Gavin Newsom tweeted. “Grateful for his quick response.”

Newsom’s tweet came hours after he said he was appealing the president’s rejection for additional aid to clean up the damage from six recent large fires. It has been a disastrous wildfire season in California, with more than 8,500 blazes burning more than 6,400 square miles (16,000 sq km) since the start of the year.

10.21pm BST

Senator Dianne Feinstein faces growing progressive backlash

Hi all – Sam Levin in Los Angeles, taking over our live coverage for the rest of the day.

California senator Dianne Feinstein, the top Democrat on the judiciary committee, is facing growing backlash from progressive groups who argue she has failed in her leadership role in the Amy Coney Barrett nomination hearings.

After Demand Justice, a progressive group, called for her to step down yesterday, Naral Pro-Choice America, a leading reproductive rights group, has also called her “wildly out of step with the American people”, saying the “committee needs new leadership”:

Naral criticized Feinstein of offering “an appearance of credibility to the proceedings”. The ranking Democratic senator notably said, “This has been one of the best set of hearings that I’ve participated in,” and gave chairman Lindsey Graham a hug:

California congresswoman Katie Porter, a Democrat, also criticized Feinstein, telling HuffPost, “I disagree strongly with senator Feinstein that that set of hearings was one of the best or was even acceptable. I think Amy Coney Barrett did not answer basic questions about her beliefs and stonewalled repeatedly. We got many fewer direct answers than we have out of most supreme court hearings.”

10.14pm BST

The Los Angeles Times has obtained an early copy of another Trump book, this one called Tower of Lies: What My 18 Years of Working With Donald Trump Reveals About Him and by Barbara A Res, a former Trump Organization staffer.

“The book recounts racist, anti-Semitic and sexist behavior,the Times reports, “along with Trump’s ability to lie ‘so naturally’ that ‘if you didn’t know the actual facts, he could slip something past you.’”

Res left Trump’s employ two decades ago and has been critical of him since. On the page, the Times said, she…

…recalled Trump berating her when he spotted a Black worker on a construction site.

“Get him off there right now,” he said, “and don’t ever let that happen again. I don’t want people to think that Trump Tower is being built by Black people.”

Trump turned red-faced when she brought a young Black job applicant into the lobby of another building, she wrote.

“Barbara, I don’t want Black kids sitting in the lobby where people come to buy million-dollar apartments!”

Res wrote that Trump hired a German residential manager, believing his heritage made him “especially clean and orderly”, and then joked in front of Jewish executives that “this guy still reminisces about the ovens, so you guys better watch out for him”.

Trump and his campaign often pointed to Res during the 2016 election as an example of his progressive history of hiring and promoting women. But during her 18-year tenure, she wrote, Trump talked frequently and graphically about women’s looks and his own sexual exploits – and forced Res to fire a woman because she was pregnant and bar her own secretary from important meetings because she did not look like a model.

One might think – see below – that so close to the election, the seam of Trump books might be close to mined out. Tim Murtaugh, communications director for the Trump campaign, would hope so. He told the Times Res’s book was “transparently a disgruntled former employee packaging a bunch of lies in a book to make money”.

10.01pm BST

Today so far

That’s it from me today. My west coast colleague, Sam Levin, will take over the blog for the next few hours.

Here’s where the day stands so far:

  • The number of US coronavirus cases surpassed 8 million, which is more than any other country in the world. The US reported 63,610 new coronavirus cases yesterday, marking the highest single-day total since mid-August.
  • Despite those alarming statistics, Trump again claimed the country is “rounding the turn” in its coronavirus crisis. Speaking in Southfield, Michigan, Joe Biden criticized the president for suggesting the situation is improving. “It’s not disappearing. In fact, it’s on the rise again,” Biden said. “It’s getting worse, as predicted.”
  • Biden’s ABC town hall attracted more viewers than Trump’s NBC town hall last night. According to Nielsen, Biden’s event was watched by almost 1 million more viewers, even though Trump’s town hall was broadcast on more channels. The figures will likely enrage the ratings-obsessed president, who reportedly told aides he hoped to beat Biden and then use the numbers to humiliate them.
  • The US has posted a record-high federal budget deficit of .1tr, which is three times as high as last year’s deficit. Due to the coronavirus pandemic, the country’s revenue has declined while government spending has soared this year.
  • Barack Obama will campaign for Biden in Philadelphia next week. The Biden campaign announced Obama, who won Pennsylvania in 2008 and 2012, will travel to Philadelphia next Wednesday.

Sam will have more coming up, so stay tuned.

9.47pm BST

Trump is now speaking in Ocala, Florida, and the president is once again attacking Joe Biden as the head of a “corrupt family”.

As Trump attacked Biden and his son, Hunter, the Florida crowd started to chant, “Lock him up!”

“Joe Biden is a corrupt politician, and he has been for a long time,” Trump said. “The Biden family is a criminal enterprise.”

The president added, “In fact, they sort of make ‘Crooked Hillary Clinton’ look like amateur hour.”

Trump repeatedly referenced a New York Post story about some of Hunter Biden’s emails that federal investigators are reportedly examining as part of a potential foreign intelligence operation.

Updated at 9.53pm BST

9.36pm BST

Echoing other recent comments, Joe Biden called on the country to unite and promised to give equal concern to all Americans, including those who don’t support him, if he wins the presidential race.

“If we can’t unite the country, we’re in trouble,” Biden said. “I’m running as a proud Democrat, but I’m going to govern as an American president.”

The Democratic nominee implicitly criticized Trump for further dividing the country during his four years in office.

“Bring the country together, that’s the job of a president,” Biden said. “We can be so much better than what we’ve seen.”

After delivering an impassioned plea for everyone to vote, Biden concluded his remarks in Southfield.

9.28pm BST

Joe Biden also criticized Senate Republicans for moving to confirm Amy Coney Barrett to the supreme court just days before the presidential election.

“Getting rid of Obamacare is why [Republicans] are racing to get this nominee through the supreme court. Make no mistake about it,” Biden told the small audience in Southfield, Michigan.

The supreme court is set to hear arguments in a case involving the ACA one week after the election. The Trump administration has sided with states calling for the ACA to be dismantled in the case.

9.17pm BST

Biden criticizes Trump for saying US is ’rounding the turn’ in coronavirus crisis

Joe Biden criticized Trump for repeatedly suggesting, as recently as this afternoon, that the US is “rounding the turn” in its coronavirus crisis.

“He’s gone around the bend,” Biden joked about the president’s comments. “It’s not disappearing. In fact, it’s on the rise again. It’s getting worse, as predicted.”

The US reported 63,610 new coronavirus cases yesterday, marking the highest single-day total since mid-August.

The country’s total number of coronavirus cases since the start of the pandemic also surpassed 8 million today, representing a far higher case count than any other nation in the world.

9.08pm BST

Joe Biden said he was “grateful” to the FBI for intervening in a plot to kidnap Michigan Governor Gretchen Whitmer, describing those involved in the scheme as “domestic terrorists”.

“It’s the sort of behavior you might expect from Isis. It should shock the conscience of every American,” Biden said.

The Democratic nominee added, “The failure to condemn these folks is stunning, from the outset.”

During his NBC News town hall last night, Trump refused to condemn the right-wing conspiracy theory QAnon.

Updated at 9.29pm BST

9.03pm BST

Joe Biden opened his remarks by thanking the three people who introduced him, including a woman who described her family’s struggles to secure reliable healthcare coverage.

The Democratic nominee said her story was far too common across the country.

Biden also said of Democratic Governor Gretchen Whitmer, “There’s not a better governor in the United States of America than Gretchen Whitmer.”

The Democrat also emphasized that Michigan needed to reelect Senator Gary Peters, who is facing a difficult reelection race right now.

“We badly need you back in the United States Senate,” Biden told Peters.

8.51pm BST

Biden delivers healthcare speech in Michigan

Joe Biden is now speaking in Southfield, Michigan, where he will deliver a speech on “protecting and expanding access to affordable health care” according to his campaign.

Biden was introduced by Democratic Senator Gary Peters, who is in a tough reelection race right now, and Democratic Governor Gretchen Whitmer.

Biden’s speech comes as polls show the Democratic nominee leading in Michigan, which Trump won by less than 1 point in 2016.

After the Southfield speech, Biden will attend a virtual meeting with African American faith leaders and hold a voter mobilization event in Detroit.

Watch Biden’s speech here:

Updated at 8.55pm BST

8.45pm BST

US federal budget deficit hits record high of .1tr

The US has posted a record-high federal budget deficit of .1tr, due to decreased revenue and increased government spending amid the coronavirus pandemic.

The AP reports:

The Trump administration reported Friday that the deficit for the budget year that ended on 30 September was three times the size of last year’s deficit of 4bn. It was also tr higher than the administration had estimated in February, before the pandemic hit.

It was the government’s largest annual shortfall in dollar terms, surpassing the previous record of .4tr set in 2009. At that time, the Obama administration was spending heavily to shore up the nation’s banking system and limit the economic damage from the 2008 financial crisis. …

The administration’s final accounting of the 2020 budget year shows that revenues fell by 1.2% to .42tr, while government spending surged 47.3% to .55tr. That spending reflects the relief programs Congress passed in the spring to support the economy as millions of Americans were losing their jobs.

Some Republican lawmakers are now voicing opposition to another massive coronavirus relief bill due to budget concerns, but Trump himself has instructed Congress to “go big or go home” on the relief package.

Updated at 8.54pm BST

8.31pm BST

The Democratic National Committee sharply criticized Trump’s handling of the coronavirus pandemic, after the number of US cases surpassed 8 million.

“Eight million have been infected. Eight million have fallen into poverty since May. Over 217,ooo have lost their lives and millions more are out of work. And in recent weeks, hospitalizations have surged,” chairman Tom Perez said in a statement.

“The only thing more staggering than these numbers is the incompetence that caused them. Donald Trump abandoned the American people when they needed strong leadership, refusing to provide the relief they deserve.”

Speaking to voters in Florida today, Trump claimed the country was “rounding the turn” in its coronavirus crisis, even though the US reported 63,610 new coronavirus cases yesterday, marking the highest single-day total since mid-August.

Updated at 8.36pm BST

8.19pm BST

The California GOP has agreed not to place its own unauthorized ballot boxes that the state deemed illegal, election officials just announced.

The state Republican party sparked national scrutiny this week after installing their own unofficial ballot drop-boxes in Los Angeles, Orange and Fresno counties, raising concerns about potential fraud and voter confusion.

County election officials are responsible for official drop-boxes, and experts said it was misleading and potentially unlawful to install Republican-controlled boxes that voters could mistake for legitimate collection sites.

After GOP officials publicly pledged to keep their boxes up and defy a cease-and-desist order, the Republican party agreed “they will not make available or condone the use of unstaffed, unsecured unofficial ballot drop boxes”, the secretary of state, Alex Padilla, said in a statement.

California law does allow groups to collect and deliver ballots on voters’ behalf if the voters give permission, but the state has said it is unlawful to install unattended boxes and to misrepresent them as “official”.

The GOP has admitted that one of their boxes was labeled “official” in error, but has defended their ballot collection efforts, and argued that Democratic election leaders have misrepresented their activities.

8.04pm BST

Obama to campaign for Biden in Philadelphia

The Biden campaign has announced that Barack Obama will travel to Philadelphia next Wednesday to stump for the Democratic nominee.

The campaign did not yet announce where or specifically when Obama would be speaking in Philadelphia, which is also where the former president delivered his Democratic convention speech in August.

Obama won Pennsylvania in 2008 and 2012, but Hillary Clinton lost the state to Trump by less than 1 point in 2016.

Joe Biden has repeatedly traveled to Pennsylvania in recent months, and Democrats hope he will be able to flip the state on 3 November.

According to FiveThirtyEight’s polling average, Biden currently has a 6.9-point advantage over Trump in Pennsylvania.

Updated at 8.14pm BST

7.45pm BST

Trump is using an official White House event on “protecting America’s seniors” to attack Joe Biden and NBC News anchor Savannah Guthrie, who moderated his town hall last night.

Speaking in Fort Myers, Florida, Trump said of Guthrie, “I had somebody going totally crazy last night.”

Despite that, Trump said the event went “very well”, even though he attracted widespread criticism for refusing to denounce the right-wing conspiracy theory QAnon.

The president also attacked Biden’s son, Hunter, outlandishly describing the Bidens as a “crime family”.

Updated at 8.15pm BST

7.34pm BST

US surpasses 8 million coronavirus cases

The number of coronavirus cases in the US since the start of the pandemic has now surpassed 8 million.

According to data compiled by Johns Hopkins University, the US has confirmed 8,008,402 cases of coronavirus since March.

The country reported 63,610 new coronavirus cases yesterday, marking the highest single-day total since mid-August.

Health experts have also warned of increased spread of the virus in the Midwest, as the weather gets colder and more Americans gather inside.

Despite those alarming statistics, Trump just said at his event in Florida, “We are rounding the turn. I say that all the time.”

7.22pm BST

Trump cited his son Barron’s experience with coronavirus to argue that states should reopen schools despite concerns about the spread of the virus.

“Children should go to school,” Trump said. “My young son Barron had it. And he had it. And all of a sudden he doesn’t have it. It’s like, you know, it’s different.”

The first lady announced in a statement earlier this week that 14-year-old Barron had tested positive for the virus but developed no symptoms.

“We cannot allow unscientific, panic-driven, fear-based policies to deny our children and grandchildren their future and their dreams,” Trump told the Florida crowd.

The president also attacked his Democratic rival, Joe Biden, at the official White House event in Fort Myers.

“And you know one thing: ‘Sleepy Joe’ can do nothing about it,” Trump said.

7.11pm BST

Speaking to voters in Florida, Trump reflected on his own experience with coronavirus, crediting an experimental antibody drug cocktail with his rapid recovery.

“I don’t know what they gave me, but give me some more and you can have some,” Trump said, before adding that he was joking.

“I wasn’t feeling great, and the next day I wake up and I’m like, ‘Who can I fight today?’” the president said.

Trump was hospitalized at Walter Reed Medical Center for three days after he tested positive for coronavirus.

7.05pm BST

Trump has started speaking in Fort Myers, Florida, where he is holding an event on “protecting America’s seniors.”

The president said of the coronavirus pandemic, “We are rounding the turn. I say that all the time.”

In reality, coronavirus cases are on the rise across the country. According to Johns Hopkins University, the US reported 63,610 new coronavirus cases yesterday, marking the highest single-day total since mid-August.

6.57pm BST

The crowd at Trump’s Florida event on “protecting America’s seniors” is “several hundred strong,” according to the White House press pool.

The chairs in the large ballroom have been spaced apart, but some attendees have pushed them closer together. Mask-wearing at the event is also inconsistent.

6.45pm BST

Trump has arrived in Fort Myers, Florida, for his speech on “protecting America’s seniors,” who make up a crucial voting bloc in the swing state.

The president was greeted by Republican Governor Ron DeSantis when he arrived. Neither man wore a face mask as they greeted each other.

6.31pm BST

Today so far

Here’s where the day stands so far:

  • Joe Biden’s town hall last night attracted more viewers than Trump’s, according to Nielsen. Although Trump’s event was broadcast on more channels, Biden still attracted almost 1 million more viewers. The figures will likely enrage the ratings-obsessed president, who told aides he hoped to beat Biden and then use the numbers to humiliate them.
  • The Trump campaign raised 7.8m in September, while the Biden team raised 3m last month. Biden’s record-shattering fundraising totals in August and September have erased Trump’s cash advantage in the presidential race.
  • The US reported 63,610 new coronavirus cases yesterday, marking the highest single-day total since mid-August. Another 904 Americans also died of the virus yesterday.

The blog will have more coming up, so stay tuned.

Updated at 7.29pm BST

6.22pm BST

Biden beat Trump in the ratings game, Nielsen says

It’s official: Joe Biden beat Trump in the ratings game from last night’s dueling town halls, a fact that will likely enrage a president who loves to boast about his ratings.

CNN reports:

Joe Biden’s town hall on ABC averaged 13.9 million viewers on Thursday night, easily surpassing the Nielsen ratings for President Trump’s town hall on NBC. That alone was a result virtually no one in the TV business expected. And that’s not even the most surprising part.

The Trump town hall was simulcast by two of NBC’s cable channels, MSNBC and CNBC, but even when those channels are included in the total, Biden — on only one network — still prevailed.

The Trump town hall averaged 10.6 million viewers on the NBC broadcast network. On MSNBC, Trump reached 1.74 million viewers, and on CNBC, about 671,000 viewers. So Trump’s gross audience across the three channels was 13 million, about one million fewer than Biden’s audience on ABC alone.

NBC News received some criticism for scheduling Trump’s town hall at the same time as Biden’s, although Biden’s event ran 30 minutes longer.

Trump reportedly told aides before the town halls that he wanted to directly counter-program Biden, in the hopes of getting better ratings and then using them to humiliate his Democratic rival.

That wish has clearly not come to pass. The blog will now be closely watching Trump’s Twitter feed to see how he reacts.

6.13pm BST

According to excerpts of Trump’s Fort Myers speech, the president will say he is fighting for America’s seniors “with every ounce of energy and conviction that I have.”

“As president, I am deeply aware that America’s 54 million seniors have borne the heaviest burden of the China virus,” Trump will say, continuing his efforts to blame Beijing for the coronavirus pandemic.

“I am moving heaven and earth to safeguard our seniors from the China virus, to deliver life-saving therapies in record time, and to distribute a safe and effective vaccine before the end of the year,” Trump will say.

The president will add, “Seniors will be the first in line for the vaccine and we will soon end the pandemic.”

The director of the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, Dr Robert Redfield, has said a coronavirus vaccine will not be widely available to the American public until mid to late 2021.

Recent polls indicate Trump has lost major ground with Florida’s senior voters since 2016, when he won the swing state.

5.54pm BST

Trump is en route to Fort Myers, Florida, to deliver a speech on “protecting America’s seniors,” a crucial voting group that has recently been moving toward Joe Biden in the polls.

Although the focus of Trump’s speech is on protecting older Americans, an NBC News reporter noted the event was being held indoors with few people wearing masks, in contradiction of public health experts’ guidelines on limiting the spread of coronavirus.

5.40pm BST

Mitt Romney has released another statement criticizing Trump, specifically the president’s refusal to denounce the right-wing conspiracy theory QAnon during last night’s town hall.

But the Republican senator once again wrapped his criticism in some “bothsidesism,” condemning politicians’ refusal to denounce groups like “antifa, white supremacists, and conspiracy peddlers.”

The president has similarly tried to deflect criticism for his approach to white supremacist violence by accusing Joe Biden of refusing to condemn violence on the left from groups like antifa.

However, Biden has repeatedly condemned all violence from Americans of all political leanings, and FBI Director Christopher Wray has said antifa is not a group, as Trump has indicated, but a broad philosophy.

5.17pm BST

Biden wins early ratings game against Trump

This is Joan Greve in Washington, taking over for Tom McCarthy.

The early numbers from last night’s dueling town halls are in, and the president will not be happy.

According to the early figures, Joe Biden’s ABC News town hall drew 2.3 million more viewers than Trump’s NBC News town hall.

Variety reports:

Biden drew 12.7 million total viewers on the Disney-owned network, while Trump drew 10.4 million in the same 9-10 p.m. time slot on NBC. Across the entire runtime, the Biden town hall averaged 12.3 million viewers. In terms of the fast national 18-49 demographic, Biden is comfortably on top with a 2.6 rating to Trump’s 1.7.

The official ratings from last night will be available later today, but there were already some signs that Biden’s event was attracting more interest, as the ABC telecast saw higher viewership numbers on YouTube.

The numbers will likely frustrate the famously ratings-focused president, who reportedly told aides that he wanted to counter-program Biden to get better ratings and then use them to humiliate his Democratic rival.

4.59pm BST

The Trump campaign is removing ads from the airwaves in Minnesota’s biggest media market, according to local reports – indicating 1) they’re out of money, and/or 2) they no longer think Minnesota, which Trump barely lost in 2016, is in play in 2020:

In a daunting dynamic for Trump backers, the campaign has been pulling down tens of millions of dollars worth of ads in battleground states across the country in recent weeks to play defense in erstwhile Trump states such as Georgia.

(h/t: @bencjacobs)

Updated at 5.01pm BST

4.27pm BST

The journalism nonprofit ProPublica has published a stunning investigative report on how the Atlanta-based Centers for Disease Control and Prevention – for decades the global gold standard for tracking and treating infectious diseases – succumbed to political pressure and infiltration from the Trump administration to issue advice its own scientists disagreed with.

Here’s a crucial passage:

How could an agency that eradicated smallpox globally and wiped out polio in the United States have fallen so far?

ProPublica obtained hundreds of emails and other internal government documents and interviewed more than 30 CDC employees, contractors and Trump administration officials who witnessed or were involved in key moments of the crisis. Although news organizations around the world have chronicled the CDC’s stumbles in real time, ProPublica’s reporting affords the most comprehensive inside look at the escalating tensions, paranoia and pained discussions that unfolded behind the walls of CDC’s Atlanta headquarters. And it sheds new light on the botched COVID-19 tests, the unprecedented political interference in public health policy, and the capitulations of some of the world’s top public health leaders.

CDC Director, Dr. Robert Redfield, testifies during a US Senate Senate Health, Education, Labor, and Pensions Committee hearing to examine Covid-19, on September 23, 2020.
CDC Director, Dr. Robert Redfield, testifies during a US Senate Senate Health, Education, Labor, and Pensions Committee hearing to examine Covid-19, on September 23, 2020.
Photograph: Alex Edelman/AFP/Getty Images

Senior CDC staff describe waging battles that are as much about protecting science from the White House as protecting the public from COVID-19. It is a war that they have, more often than not, lost.

Employees spoke openly about their “hill to die on” — the political interference that would prompt them to leave. Yet again and again, they surrendered and did as they were told. It wasn’t just worries over paying mortgages or forfeiting the prestige of the job. Many feared that if they left and spoke out, the White House would stop consulting the CDC at all, and would push through even more dangerous policies.

To some veteran scientists, this acquiescence was the real sign that the CDC had lost its way. One scientist swore repeatedly in an interview and said, “The cowardice and the caving are disgusting to me.”

Collectively, the interviews and documents show an insular, rigorous agency colliding head-on with an administration desperate to preserve the impression that it had the pandemic under control.

Read the full piece here.

3.51pm BST

Incumbent Republican senator Joni Ernst of Iowa had an awkward moment at a debate with challenger Theresa Greenfield last night when she failed to demonstrate basic knowledge about one of the state’s top commodities, soybeans.

It’s a hugely important race – a Greenfield win, and a flip of the seat from red to blue, could seal control of the US senate next year for Democrats.

Whether Ernst’s stumble here will hurt her with voters is an open question. The Trump administration is breaking all records for subsidizing farmers (bn in 2020 federal payouts alone) after Trump’s trade war with China sent commodities prices plummeting. So maybe Republicans have some goodwill to burn with farmers.

Anyway Ernst is asked what is “the break-even price for soybeans in Iowa?” Meaning what’s the rough average price per bushel farmers need to sell at to cover costs – not counting the gigantic subsidies. She answers .50, about half of the best answer, .05.

Is this the biggest political pricing stumble since presidential candidate Rudy Giuliani (that happened) couldn’t say how much milk and bread cost back in 2007?

For a dive into the senate races that matter this cycle, visit our interactive:

3.14pm BST

Joe Biden said at a town hall event Thursday night that he would announce before election day whether he favors expanding the supreme court.

Biden has repeatedly declined to lay out a stance on the issue amid an ongoing Republican sprint to install a third justice nominated by Donald Trump before the election, in what critics have called a naked power grab.

The Senate judiciary committee appeared poised to approve and hand off the nomination of judge Amy Coney Barrett to the full Senate next week.

Barrett’s installation on the court would make for the most dramatic ideological realignment on the court in decades. In part that’s because she would replace a liberal justice, the late Ruth Bader Ginsburg.

Protestors against Amy Coney Barrett’s nomination march to the Hart Senate building on Thursday.
Protestors against Amy Coney Barrett’s nomination march to the Hart Senate building on Thursday.
Photograph: Bryan Dozier/REX/Shutterstock

But the conservative court coup would also be the result of a successful plot by Senate majority leader Mitch McConnell to hold open a supreme court seat for almost a year in 2016 so that Trump could fill it instead of Barack Obama.

That fact, combined with similar maneuvering by McConnell at the district and appeals court levels, have led Biden backers to express outrage that the candidate’s unwillingness to stake out a position on so-called “court-packing” would create controversy.

The court has already been packed, Biden supporters say, by Trump, McConnell and their Republican surrogates and outside accomplices.

Read the further:

2.32pm BST

In a new interactive elections timeline, Alvin Chang has explained how various 2020 US election scenarios, including the case of Trump losing but refusing to concede, could play out.

Americans are used to a certain routine with presidential elections – but this year might be different, Alvin writes. If you’re not current on such concepts as the safe harbor deadline and wonder how states select electors, read about it here:

Updated at 2.33pm BST

1.43pm BST

Republican senator Susan Collins, who is up against Sara Gideon in a competitive Senate race in November, will no doubt be thrilled at the ‘endorsement’ she has just received from the president. Donald Trump has tweeted that she is “Not worth the work!” that he claims to have done for Maine.

Collins has previously been clear that she would not vote for a rushed nomination to the supreme court.

Collins has represented Maine since 1996. A poll yesterday put Gideon seven points ahead of her. Joe Biden is similarly ahead in the polls for both of Maine’s congressional districts and the statewide vote. Maine is one of only two states to split its electoral college votes rather than adopting a winner-takes-all approach. In 2016 Hillary Clinton received three votes, and Trump one.

Updated at 1.44pm BST

1.28pm BST

Nina Lakhani in New York writes for us this morning on how Native Americans’ right to vote has been systematically violated for generations. She has interviewed Jean Reith Schroedel, professor emerita of political science at Claremont Graduate University, whose new book, Voting in Indian County: The View from the Trenches weaves together historical and contemporary voting rights conflicts. Schroedel says:

One thing few Americans understand is that American Indians and Native Alaskans were the last group in the United States to get citizenship and to get the vote. Even after the civil war and the Reconstruction (13th, 14th and 15th) amendments there was a supreme court decision that said indigenous people could never become US citizens, and some laws used to disenfranchise them were still in place in 1975. It’s impossible to understand contemporary voter suppression in Indian Country without understanding this historical context.

Take Jackson county in South Dakota. The county council has just decided to close the legally mandated early voting centre on the Pine Ridge Reservation, citing concerns about Covid, but not in the voting site in Kadoka, where the white people go. Regardless of the intent, this will absolutely have a detrimental effect on Native people’s ability to vote.

ID requirements can make it very difficult for people who live on reservations where many roads don’t have names or numbers – so-called non-standard addresses, which are very problematic in states requiring IDs with residential addresses. A number of states like South Dakota have chosen to make it a felony offense with prison terms and fines if someone votes using an address different to the one given to register, even though unstable housing is a big issue on reservations, and people crash in different places all the time.

Read more here: How Native Americans’ right to vote has been systematically violated for generations

1.19pm BST

Angela Stanton King, the Trump ally who is running for Congress, has appeared to double-down on her support for QAnon this morning on social media, retweeting another user asking: “Why would people feel so threatened by a group that is fighting against pedophilia and child sex trafficking? …unless of course….”

King, who is running in Atlanta, Georgia, for the congressional seat once held by the late civil rights icon John Lewis, told the Guardian in an on-camera interview she believed the debunked conspiracy theory while continuing to deny she was a follower of QAnon.

When asked if she believed the retailer Wayfair was involved in a global pedophilia conspiracy, she replied: “You know they are. You saw it. You watch the news just like I did.” The candidate then ended the interview.

The QAnon conspiracy theory of course goes beyond pedophilia and incorporates time-worn antisemitic tropes into its fabric, as Julia Carrie Wong explained for us back in August.

Read it here: QAnon explained – the antisemitic conspiracy theory gaining traction around the world

1.11pm BST

Steve Peoples and Hannah Fingerhut are reporting on a new poll from the Associated Press this morning which brings the news that the overwhelming majority of American voters believe the nation is deeply divided over its most important values, and many have doubts about the health of the democracy itself. Supporters of President Donald Trump and Joe Biden alike think the opposing candidate will make things even worse if elected.

Overall, 85% of registered voters describe Americans as being greatly divided in their values, and only 15% say that democracy in the United States is working extremely or very well.

The poll shows voters overall are especially pessimistic about the impact of Trump’s reelection: 65% say divisions would worsen if the Republican president were reelected. Amazingly, that number includes a quarter of Trump’s own supporters who think he’ll aggravate division.

The poll finds fewer than half of voters say they are highly confident that votes in the election will be counted accurately, but more Biden supporters than Trump supporters say that, 53% vs. 28%.

12.50pm BST

There can be no more thankless task than trying to fact-check a TV debate in real-time, except perhaps to attempt to fact-check two competing town halls being shown simultaneously in real-time. CNN have nevertheless had a crack at. They found the following claims by Trump to be false or misleading…

  • 85% of people who wear masks get the coronavirus – false
  • US deaths from Covid were expected to exceed 2 million – misleading
  • Biden called him ‘xenophobic’ – misleading
  • Biden wants to “quadruple” taxes – false
  • We set a record on jobs – misleading
  • ‘Thousands of ballots’ were found in dumpsters – false
  • He’ll protect people with pre-existing conditions – false
  • He’ll ‘take care’ of DACA recipients – misleading
  • Obama and Biden never tried criminal justice reform – false
  • He has done more for the Black community than any president but Lincoln – false
  • People can decide for themselves if Osama bin Laden is alive – “a baseless claim with no evidence to back it up. The facts around the killing of bin Laden are not a debatable opinion.”

This was their verdict on Joe Biden

  • Trump said injecting bleach will combat coronavirus – misleading
  • Redfield said masks would save more lives than a vaccine – goes beyond what Redfield said
  • Trump did nothing on unemployment after congressional aid expired – false
  • There are more American troops in Afghanistan than when Obama left office – false
  • Green New Deal calls for eliminating non-renewable energy by 2030 – misleading

Read all the details here: CNN – Competing town halls highlight Trump’s dishonesty

12.28pm BST

Donald Trump seems very confident of his poll numbers this morning.

You can keep an eye on the latest poll numbers in the crucial swing states that are going to decide November’s election with our US election polls tracker. At the moment Joe Biden is enjoying a national polling lead average of 10.6%.

12.21pm BST

I posted earlier an excerpt from Chris McGreal’s piece for us today, looking at former Democrat voters in Minnesota who are sticking with Trump for 2020. Michael Sainato has the flipside for us – people who voted for Trump in 2016 but who are now dismayed by the broken promises on jobs since then.

Shannon Mulcahy of Whitestown, Indiana, voted for Trump in the last election. This time his rival Joe Biden will get her vote. For 18 years she worked at the Rexnord steel bearings plant in Indianapolis before it shut down in 2017, moving operations to Mexico. Mulcahy was one of 300 workers who lost their jobs.

Since losing her job, Mulcahy has struggled with depression while trying to find other work. She’s managed to find a new job, though it pays significantly lower than what she was making at the plant.

“There are a lot of plant closings he could have stopped. He talked the talk everyone wanted to hear about saving jobs. I don’t see him saving any jobs,” said Mulcahy. “I think it’s all fake. It’s all a campaign thing. He’s telling people what they want to hear.”

Trump won the 2016 election in part with his promise to keep manufacturing jobs like Mulcahy’s in the US. A promise that helped him win former Democratic voters across the midwest’s manufacturing states. Those promises have done little to turn around the long-term decline of manufacturing in the US.

The US gained roughly 500,000 manufacturing jobs between 2016 and 2019, according to an analysis by the Economics Policy Institute. Trump’s trade wars hurt manufacturing but then came the coronavirus pandemic. Even after adding 66,000 manufacturing jobs in September, the sector is still 647,000 jobs short of where it was in February before the pandemic hit the US. In the meantime, nearly 1,800 US factories disappeared between 2016 and 2018.

Read it here: ‘It’s all fake’: Trump’s manufacturing jobs promises ring hollow in midwest

12.15pm BST

Glenn Greenwald has addressed the topic in typically forthright style for the Intercept today, arguing that “Facebook and Twitter cross a line far more dangerous than what they censor”. Greenwald, who has previously written for this paper, says in his piece:

State censorship is not the only kind of censorship. Private-sector repression of speech and thought, particularly in the internet era, can be as dangerous and consequential. Imagine, for instance, if these two Silicon Valley giants [Facebook and Twitter ]united with Google to declare: henceforth we will ban all content that is critical of President Trump and/or the Republican Party, but will actively promote criticisms of Joe Biden and the Democrats.

Would anyone encounter difficultly understanding why such a decree would constitute dangerous corporate censorship? Would Democrats respond to such a policy by simply shrugging it off on the radical libertarian ground that private corporations have the right to do whatever they want?

It has been astonishing to watch Democrats over the last twenty-four hours justify this censorship on the grounds that private corporations are entitled to do whatever they want. Not even radical free-market libertarians espouse such a pro-corporate view. Even the most ardent capitalist recognizes that companies that wield monopoly or quasi-monopoly power have an obligation to act in the public interest, and are answerable to the public regarding whether they are doing so.

The grave dangers posed by the censorship actions of yesterday should be self-evident. Just over two weeks before a presidential election, Silicon Valley giants — whose industry leaders and workforce overwhelmingly favor the Democratic candidate — took extraordinary steps to block millions, perhaps tens of millions, of American voters from being exposed to what purports to be a major exposé by one of the country’s oldest and largest newspapers.

Read more here: The Intercept – Glenn Greenwald: Facebook and Twitter cross a line far more dangerous than what they censor

12.10pm BST

Alex Hern reports for us this morning on the backlash that Twitter has been experiencing after it attempted to stop the spread of a story about Hunter Biden from the New York Post. The tech company has now changed its policy. Hern writes:

The story, supposedly based on materials stolen from Hunter Biden’s laptop by a computer repair shop, was blocked by Twitter on two grounds, the company said. First, it contained personal information such as private email addresses; and second, it contained hacked material, violating a policy instituted in 2018 to try to limit “hack-and-leak” information operations of the sort run by the Russian state in 2016. That latter policy has now been weakened.

“We will no longer remove hacked content unless it is directly shared by hackers or those acting in concert with them,” Twitter’s policy chief Vijaya Gadde tweeted. “We will label tweets to provide context instead of blocking links from being shared on Twitter.”

The policy against hacked materials had led to concern, going beyond Republican politicians and activists, that Twitter could penalise reporting around hacks, limiting legitimate journalism, Gadde said. “We want to address the concerns that there could be many unintended consequences to journalists, whistleblowers and others in ways that are contrary to Twitter’s purpose of serving the public conversation.”

Read more here: Twitter softens policy on hacking after row over blocked New York Post story

11.55am BST

Pfizer to apply for emergency US use of its Covid-19 vaccine candidate in November

A quick snap from Reuters here that Pfizer has said today that it would apply for emergency use in the United States of its Covid-19 vaccine candidate as soon as a safety milestone is achieved in the third week of November. It is being developed along with Germany’s BioNTech.

Donald Trump has repeatedly said that a vaccine in the US was just around the corner, and applied pressure to the Food and Drug Administration over their process for approving a vaccine for use.

This is the current homepage of the Donald Trump website:

The front page of the Donald Trump official website.
The front page of the Donald Trump official website.
Photograph: Donald Trump official website

As I reported earlier, yesterday, according to the Johns Hopkins university tracker, the US saw 63,610 new coronavirus cases. That’s higher than yesterday and at a level not seen since mid-August. There were 904 new deaths recorded. The level of new daily cases being reported is now around 25% higher than it was a fortnight ago.

11.45am BST

The New York Times opinion desk have put together a panel of what they thought were the best and worst moments of the competing Trump and Biden town halls last night. Some of the views on Biden:

Frank Bruni: For the first half-hour, I struggled to retain consciousness. By the last half-hour, I had plunged into a state of political somnambulism. In other words, Joe Biden had an excellent night. My low rating for how compelling his performance was equals a high rating for how smart it was. Biden is protecting a lead.

Michelle Goldberg: When it was over, Biden put his mask on and kept up a (socially distanced) dialogue with the audience. I wish ABC had left the audio on, but even without it, the visual showed how comfortable he is connecting with normal people.

Peter Wehner: Biden’s best moments came when he spoke not about policy but about concepts like honor and decency, why holding grudges never works and his commitment to heal a weary and wounded nation.

And on Trump:

Matthew Continetti: He made a case for a second term based on the economic and foreign policy achievements that preceded the onset of the coronavirus pandemic. He spent much of the event on defense, but the final moments offered Trump a chance to remind undecided voters about the pre-Covid world and project optimism about the future.

Michelle Cottle: It was bad when he pretended that there is serious dispute about the public health benefits of wearing masks, based largely on some encounter he had with a waiter. Also not good: when he said that people should decide for themselves whether to believe his retweet of a conspiracy theory that President Obama had SEAL team 6 killed to cover up that Osama bin Laden isn’t really dead.

Daniel McCarthy The best moment was Trump’s insistence that he wouldn’t try to set expectations for Amy Coney Barrett’s rulings. He could have said what his base wanted to hear, or he could have said something vague and pleasing to all. Instead he said something true and displeasing — judges should not be proxies for political questions.

Read it here: New York Times – The dueling Biden-Trump town halls: best and worst moments

11.17am BST

Donald Trump has a few events in his diary today. He delivers remarks on ‘Protecting America’s Seniors’ in Fort Myers, Florida this afternoon, before heading to hold a rally in Ocala. He then jumps back on Air Force One to head for Georgia, where there is a second 7pm rally in Macon.

He’s up and tweeting, and rather bizarrely his first tweet of the day is to an article on satirical website the Babylon Bee. The president of the United States has shared an article they wrote yesterday saying that Twitter had shut their entire site down to stop negative stories about Joe Biden spreading.

Trump says: “Wow, this has never been done in history. This includes his really bad interview last night. Why is Twitter doing this. Bringing more attention to Sleepy Joe & Big T”

Other recent articles on the Babylon Bee site include ‘Mark Zuckerberg pops out of man’s shower to warn him the story he’s reading is fake news’, ‘Senator Hirono demands Amy Coney Barrett be weighed against a duck to see if she is a witch’ and ‘Man forced to resign as patriarch after failing to bring all groceries inside in one trip’.

You can imagine how this is being recieved.

Updated at 11.18am BST

10.56am BST

Here’s what Max Greenwood at the Hill thought about Joe Biden’s performance last night:

Biden’s town hall was a far cry from that of president Trump. [It] was a calm affair, in which he was asked and answered questions on everything from criminal justice reform to climate change and foreign policy.

In one of the most notable exchanges of the evening, the former vice president left the door open to adding justices to the Supreme Court. He noted that he was “not a fan” of such a move, but expressed openness to the issue if he believed Senate Republicans were moving too quickly to confirm Trump’s latest Supreme Court nominee Amy Coney Barrett. Asked whether voters had a right to know his position on the matter, Biden said that he would make his stance clear before election day.

Biden acknowledged that his past support for a decades-old crime bill that included mandatory minimums for drug offenses was a “mistake.” He defended other aspects of criminal justice legislation that he supported during his time in the Senate, however, and said certain elements weren’t executed properly by the states.

At times, the former vice president found himself walking a fine line between his own platform and the politics of the voters he needs to win over if he hopes to capture the White House in November.

Asked at one point about whether he would move to ban fracking, an important issue in Pennsylvania, he reiterated that he would not. But he also said that he would “stop giving tax breaks and subsidizing oil,” and planned to invest heavily in renewable energy.

Biden sought to cast himself as an even-keeled alternative to Trump. Responding to a question about the president’s foreign policy accomplishments Biden said that Trump deserved “a little but not a whole lot” of credit.

“We find ourselves less secure than we’ve been,” Biden said. “I do compliment the president on the deal with Israel recently, but if you take a look we’re not very well trusted around the world.”

Read more here: The Hill – Biden draws sharp contrast with Trump in low-key town hall

10.50am BST

There’s a school of thought that says that Joe Biden’s large national polling lead suggests the election is his to lose on 3 November. But there’s also the ramifications of the US electoral system to contend with. To end up in the White House Biden has to flip key swing states like Michigan, Pennsylvania and Wisconsin blue. He’s also got to keep the Democratic vote up in the battleground states that narrowly voted for Hillary Clinton in 2016. Chris McGreal has been in Virginia, Minnesota for us, talking to Democrats who voted Trump in 2016, and who plan to back him again…

“The Democratic party left us. Even in the past four years it’s changed so much. Supporting people who riot? Defunding the police? That’s crazy. I think a lot of us up here are Democrats in Republican clothing now,” he said.

Cuffe, who twice voted for Barack Obama, is one of six mayors from a stretch of Minnesota mining country, known as the Iron Range, who turned their back on the Democratic party and signed a joint letter endorsing Trump even as the state is swinging behind the president’s opponent, Joe Biden

The mayors said that after decades of voting for Democrats, they no longer regarded the party as advocating for workers.

“Lifelong politicians like Joe Biden are out of touch with the working class, out of touch with what the country needs, and out of touch with those of us here on the Iron Range and in small towns like ours across our nation,” they said.

The mayors praised Trump for standing up to China, cutting taxes and said he “fought for the working class”.

“Now, four years later, the Iron Range is roaring back to life and for the first time in a very long time, locals are hopeful because of this president’s policies and willingness to fight for us,” the mayors said in their endorsement.

Read more here: ‘The Democratic party left us’: how rural Minnesota is making the switch to Trump

10.43am BST

Here’s a reminder that we’ve got a live online discussion of the US election coming up on Tuesday 20 October at 2pm ET – that’s a 7pm BST evening kick-off if, like me, you are based in the UK. It will feature a panel of our leading US journalists.

Senior political reporter Daniel Strauss, political correspondent Lauren Gambino and columnist Richard Wolffe will be chaired by our columnist and podcast presenter Jonathan Freedland. There are more details and the ability to book your tickets here: Guardian Newsroom: The US presidential election

10.42am BST

Russell Contreras reports for the Associated Press on a group of Black scholars, activists and writers who have launched a new project to combat misleading information online around voting, reparations and immigration, supporters.

The newly formed National Black Cultural Information Trust seeks to counter fake social media accounts and Twitter trolls that often discourage Black voters from participating in elections or seek to turn Black voters against other communities of color.

Jessica Ann Mitchell Aiwuyor, the project’s founder, said some dubious accounts behind the social media #ADOS movement which stands for American Descendants of Slavery have urged Black voters to skip the presidential election.

Some accounts also use the hashtag to flame supposed divisions between African Americans and Black immigrants from the Caribbean and Latin America, she said. Most recently, some social media users have used #ADOS to blame Somali immigrants in Minneapolis for the May 2020 death of George Floyd rather than the police officer charged with killing him.

“The disinformation used to target Black communities is cultural,” said Aiwuyor, an African American activist and scholar. “It’s cultural disinformation, which uses cultural issues to infuse false information and cause confusion.”

Aiwuyor said some social media accounts are using “digital Blackface” posing as Black users when they aren’t or resurrecting old accounts that haven’t tweeted in four years to spread false information about where to vote or where candidates stand on issues.

Members of the National Black Cultural Information Trust plan to monitor social media posts and flag those spreading misleading and fake stories. They plan to use crowdsourcing, website tools that show if accounts have troll-like behavior, and scholars on standby to counter any claims about slavery or voting.

10.23am BST

Gabby Orr for Politico has some glimpses of what it was like behind the scenes at Trump’s town hall TV appearance last night. She writes:

Like a boxer consulting his coach during breaks, the president was egged on by aides when Guthrie and the audience paused for commercials. Some clustered around the president for several minutes during the breaks.

At the edge of the stage during the event stood White House chief of staff Mark Meadows, director of strategic communications Alyssa Farah and senior campaign adviser David Bossie. Trump’s daughter Tiffany and Kimberly Guilfoyle, the girlfriend of his eldest son Don Jr., were also seated among the audience.

During one TV break, Trump stood up and acknowledged a small audience behind him — some of whom delivered a whoop and cheer, another calling out “Latinos for Trump.”

The setting marked a starkly different scene from the flurry of rallies Trump has embarked upon in the final three weeks before election day. Most of the rallies feature crowds packed shoulder to shoulder just like they were pre-pandemic, many not wearing masks. Thursday’s town hall event forced Trump into an environment designed for social distancing, with many attendees shown wearing masks.

President Donald Trump talks with voters after the NBC News Town Hall, at Perez Art Museum Miami.
President Donald Trump talks with voters after the NBC News Town Hall, at Perez Art Museum Miami.
Photograph: Evan Vucci/AP

Read it here: Politico – Inside Trump’s town hall: Plenty of sparring and a few cheers

10.13am BST

Five of the men accused in a plot to kidnap Michigan Gov. Gretchen Whitmer will return to federal court today as a hearing on whether there is enough evidence to charge them continues, reports the Associated Press.

A federal judge also plans to consider whether two of the men, including the Michigan man described by federal authorities as the ringleader of the effort, should remain in jail before trial.

US magistrate Judge Sally Berens on Tuesday ordered Kaleb Franks, Daniel Harris and Brandon Caserta held without bond until trial, saying their repeated participation in discussions about abducting Michigan’s Democratic governor and surveillance of Whitmer’s vacation home validated the decision. Berens is scheduled to make bond decisions Friday for Adam Fox and Ty Garbin.

A sixth man, Delaware resident Barry Croft, was separately ordered to be transferred to Michigan earlier this week.

The preliminary hearing began Tuesday and featured hours of testimony by a lead FBI agent on the Michigan case, revealing new detail about investigators’ use of confidential informants, undercover agents and encrypted communication to thwart the purported scheme.

Agent Richard Trask also said members of anti-government paramilitary groups from several states discussed abducting Whitmer or Virginia’s Democratic governor, Ralph Northam, during a June meeting in Ohio.

Fox and Croft were among those who attended that session, according to testimony and federal court documents. But it was not clear if talk of targeting Northam went beyond that meeting, and nothing from the complaint or Trask’s testimony indicated that anyone had been charged with a plot involving Northam.

Several of their defense attorneys implied during questioning on Tuesday that their clients were “big talkers” who did not intend to follow through with action.

Prosecutors, though, said some of the men conducted surveillance of Whitmer’s northern Michigan house in August and September and four of the men had planned to meet last week to pay for explosives and exchange tactical gear.

Seven other men purportedly linked to an extremist paramilitary group called the Wolverine Watchmen were charged in state court last week with providing material support for terrorist acts and possession of a firearm while committing a felony. Michigan’s attorney general charged an eighth person, a Wisconsin man, in that case on Thursday.

After news of the alleged plot emerged, Gov. Whitmer was very vocal in her criticism of Donald Trump for failing to disavow white supremacy and for encouraging militias with a call to ‘Liberate Michigan’ on social media.

10.09am BST

Ken Dilanian has this for NBC News on those emails that the New York Post is claiming are from Hunter Biden’s laptop:

Federal investigators are examining whether the emails allegedly describing activities by Joe Biden and his son Hunter and found on a laptop at a Delaware repair shop are linked to a foreign intelligence operation, two people familiar with the matter told NBC News.

The FBI seized the laptop and a hard drive through a grand jury subpoena. The subpoena was later published by the New York Post. The bureau has declined to comment.

George Mesires, attorney for Hunter Biden, said in a statement, “We have no idea where this came from, and certainly cannot credit anything that Rudy Giuliani provided to the New York Post, but what I do know for certain is that this purported meeting never happened.”

“The New York Post never asked the Biden campaign about the critical elements of this story,” said Biden campaign spokesman Andrew Bates. “They certainly never raised that Rudy Giuliani — whose discredited conspiracy theories and alliance with figures connected to Russian intelligence have been widely reported — claimed to have such materials.”

Bates added, “We have reviewed Joe Biden’s official schedules from the time and no meeting, as alleged by the New York Post, ever took place.”

Read more here: NBC News – Feds examining whether alleged Hunter Biden emails are linked to a foreign intel operation

10.06am BST

63,610 new coronavirus cases and 904 further deaths reported in US yesterday

There’s no sign that the spread of coronavirus in the US is slowing down. Yesterday, according to the Johns Hopkins university tracker, the US saw 63,610 new coronavirus cases reported. That’s higher than yesterday and at a level not seen since mid-August. There were 904 new deaths recorded.

There’s often criticism of the media having a focus on daily figures rather than the broader trend, but the trend in the US is definitely heading in the wrong direction. The level of new daily cases being reported is now around 25% higher than it was a fortnight ago.

Updated at 11.56am BST

9.55am BST

Our Politics Weekly podcast out this morning has a US election slant to it. Our columnists Jonathan Freedland and Rafael Behr look at how the election might affect America’s relationship with the rest of the world. You can listen to it here:

9.53am BST

You would not say it has been a vintage week for Rudy Giuliani, the former mayor of New York and personal lawyer to Donald Trump. Firstly, his staff managed somehow to upload to his YouTube channel by mistake a video where he mocked Asian people in a racist way.

Then, his daughter Caroline Rose Giuliani wrote a scathing piece for Vanity Fair in which she endorsed Joe Biden, described how she’d spent a lifetime trying to forge an identity separate from her last name, and said: “As a child, I saw firsthand the kind of cruel, selfish politics that Donald Trump has now inflicted on our country. It made me want to run as far away from them as possible. But trust me when I tell you: Running away does not solve the problem.”

And now this morning the Washington Post has come out with a story saying that the White House was warned that Giuliani was target of Russian intelligence operation to feed misinformation to Trump.

The Washington Post says:

US intelligence agencies warned the White House last year that President Trump’s personal lawyer Rudolph W. Giuliani was the target of an influence operation by Russian intelligence, according to four former officials familiar with the matter.

The warnings were based on multiple sources, including intercepted communications, that showed Giuliani was interacting with people tied to Russian intelligence during a December 2019 trip to Ukraine, where he was gathering information that he thought would expose corrupt acts by former vice president Joe Biden and his son Hunter.

The intelligence raised concerns that Giuliani was being used to feed Russian misinformation to the president, the former officials said, speaking on the condition of anonymity to discuss sensitive information and conversations.

Read it here: Washington Post – White House was warned Giuliani was target of Russian intelligence operation to feed misinformation to Trump

It’s a significant development, because as Mother Jones’ David Corn wrote on Wednesday, Giuliani is a key cog in the wheels of the New York Post’s Hunter Biden story this week.

On Wednesday, the New York Post released what it hailed as a bombshell: an unidentified computer repair store owner in Delaware had come to possess a laptop that contained Hunter Biden emails (and purportedly a sex tape), the hard drive and computer was seized by the FBI, the store owner at some point passed a copy of the hard drive to Rudy Giuliani.

The bad faith animating the Post story is demonstrated by its open embrace—in the first sentence—of a demonstrably false narrative and by its failure to report Giuliani’s association with a Russian intelligence agent who the Department of Treasury has accused of interfering in the 2020 election.

Read it here: Mother Jones – Giuliani and the New York Post Are Pushing Russian Disinformation. It’s a Big Test for the Media

9.41am BST

I’ve mentioned QAnon a few times this morning after it cropped up during Trump’s town hall. The president refused to disavow it. Lois Beckett has put together for us a timeline of the violence linked to QAnon.

QAnon adherents believe that Donald Trump is trying to save the world from a cabal of satanic pedophiles. The conspiracy theory’s narrative includes centuries-old antisemitic tropes, like the belief that the cabal is harvesting blood from abused children, and it names specific people, including Democratic politicians and Hollywood celebrities, as participants in a global plot. Experts call these extreme, baseless claims “an incitement to violence”.

The conspiracy theory’s claims have put ordinary people at risk. The FBI identified QAnon in 2019 as a potential domestic terror threat and the Combating Terrorism Center at West Point described it as a “novel challenge to public security”.

QAnon supporters believe that there will soon be mass arrests, and members of the cabal will be brought to justice. If supporters of the conspiracy theory begin to lose faith in Trump’s ability to stop the cabal of child abusers, said Travis View, one of the hosts of the QAnon Anonymous podcast, that might inspire them to begin taking more direct violent action themselves.

Beckett lists 12 incidents of violence since June 2018 that have been associated with the conspiracy theory. Read more here: QAnon – a timeline of violence linked to the conspiracy theory

9.37am BST

Here’s what our senior political reporter Daniel Strauss made of it all last night:

  1. Biden more at ease in a town hall setting. Whether he was more at ease or felt less restrained, Joe Biden was clearly more comfortable in the town-hall format than a debate setting.
  2. Trump still won’t disavow QAnon. Trump again refrained from condemning QAnon, the internet conspiracy theory that a massive cabal of high-profile figures are involved in a satanic pedophilia ring. The movement has no basis in fact.
  3. Biden open to court-packing. Biden didn’t commit to supporting adding seats to the supreme court, but he suggested more openness than he has in the past.
  4. Guthrie was on her game and did her homework. NBC host Savannah Guthrie came ready to press Trump. She had follow-up questions. She was ready for Trump’s false statements and incorrect claims.
  5. Trump was unclear on coronavirus testing. We still don’t know if he tested negative before the TV debate with Joe Biden that took place a couple of days before Trump’s positive test was announced.
  6. Trump won’t apologize for anything.

Read Daniel’s verdict in full here: Town hall takeaways – Biden at ease while Trump struggles under pressure

9.18am BST

Trump campaign raised 7.8m in September – 5.2m less than Biden did

Overnight the Donald Trump campaign released their September fund-raising figures. Trump, the Republican National Committee and affiliated joint fundraising committees raised 7.8 million last month. The campaign says it has 1.4 million cash on hand.

The figures compare poorly to those previously announced by his opponent Joe Biden. On Wednesday they announced that they raised a record 3 million in September, and have 2 million in reserves.

9.05am BST

Donald Trump’s campaign director of comms, Tim Murtaugh, has been vexed overnight that Joe Biden was not pressed on the recent reporting by the New York Post about his son Hunter Biden – declaring journalism to be dead.

It should be noted, if you’ve not been following the New York Post’s story, they claim to have produced an email which shows that Vadym Pozharskyi, an adviser to the board of Ukrainian energy firm Burisma, approached Hunter Biden about setting up a meeting with his father, contrary to Joe Biden’s claim that he has never spoken to his son about his business interests in Ukraine. The New York Post have yet to produce any evidence that Hunter Biden replied to the email, or that any such meeting between Pozharskyi and Biden Snr ever took place.

The Trump campaign have issued a statement from Murtaugh delivering his full verdict on last night’s dueling town halls:

Even though the commission canceled the in-person debate that could have happened tonight, one occurred anyway, and President Trump soundly defeated NBC’s Savannah Guthrie in her role as debate opponent and Joe Biden surrogate. President Trump masterfully handled Guthrie’s attacks and interacted warmly and effectively with the voters in the room. Over on ABC it was a completely different scene, as once again Biden was kept comfortable and away from any questions that might challenge him.

8.57am BST

Last night’s competing town halls have slightly over-shadowed the fact that yesterday also saw the close of the committee stage of nominating Amy Coney Barrett to the US supreme court.

Republican Senate majority leader Mitch McConnell has said that he has the votes to confirm the nomination of conservative Barrett as the upper chamber’s judiciary committee scheduled a vote for 22 October to advance the nomination towards a full Senate ballot shortly after.

Here are the highlights of the four days of hearings.

8.49am BST

Here’s what Aaron Blake and Eugene Scott at the Washington Post pulled out as their five key takeaways from last night:

  1. Trump’s smorgasbord of misinformation was deftly called out in real time. In the approximately 20 minutes before the town hall was turned over to audience questions, Guthrie thoroughly grilled him.
  2. Biden had the steady showing he needed with the clock ticking down. Biden didn’t make any glaring mistakes that would jeopardize his position.
  3. Trump steps into another non-denouncing minefield — on QAnon. In the span of less than a minute Trump sought to once and for all put to bed the denounce-white-supremacy issue that dogged him after the debate two weeks ago — then almost immediately created another not-denouncing issue.
  4. Biden opens the door further on court-packing and says he’ll confirm a stance soon. Biden has been cagey in his answers about this. He has said that if he gives an answer that will dominate the conversation, rather than the nomination of Amy Coney Barrett itself. Biden said he’ll take a firm position by election day.
  5. Trump’s last negative test before his coronavirus diagnosis: Still clear as mud. He said he was “probably” tested the day of the debate. Then added, “Possibly I did, possibly I didn’t.”

Read it in full here: Washington Post – 5 takeaways from the dueling Trump and Biden town halls

8.38am BST

It was this exchange between NBC host Savannah Guthrie and Donald Trump that prompted what was probably the most cutting social media interjection of the night. As Adam Gabbatt noted for us:

Guthrie challenged Trump over QAnon, a baseless online conspiracy theory that the FBI believes is a potential domestic terror threat. Asked by Guthrie if he would denounce the QAnon theory and “just say it’s crazy and not true”, Trump responded: “I don’t know about QAnon.”

“What I do hear about it, they are very strongly against pedophilia,” Trump said.

Trump then seemingly offered a tacit defense of QAnon, whose adherents believe that a cabal of Satan-worshipping Democrats, Hollywood celebrities and billionaires runs the world while engaging in pedophilia.

This week Trump shared a post from a QAnon Twitter account which claimed, baselessly, that Joe Biden had had a navy Seal team killed. Guthrie asked Trump why he had done so.

“That was a retweet! People can decide for themselves!” Trump said.

Guthrie responded: “I don’t get that. You’re the president, not someone’s crazy uncle.”

On Twitter, Trump’s niece, who wrote the book Too Much and Never Enough documenting her experiences with her uncle, appeared to suggest Guthrie could be mistaken.

Read more here: Moderator Savannah Guthrie hailed for keeping Trump in check at town hall

8.28am BST

America is often described as a “split screen nation”, bitterly divided between two political tribes dwelling in echo chambers. But Thursday night at 8pm was a bit too on the nose.

The NBC network hosted a town hall event with Donald Trump. ABC hosted a simultaneous town hall event with his Democratic challenger, Joe Biden. It was a fitting battle for a ratings-obsessed US president who made himself a reality TV star on The Apprentice.

For political geeks, it required a nimble finger on the remote control, like toggling between two unmissable sports games. Anyone who took that trouble discovered, not entirely unexpectedly, that the candidates for the American presidency are not merely from different parties but apparently also from different planets.

The president perched awkwardly on a stool, sweating under studio lights, and rambled feverishly like “someone’s crazy uncle”, as host Savannah Guthrie put it. Biden, by contrast, looked relaxed in a white armchair like a grandfather with pipe, slippers and twinkle in his eye.

Guthrie delivered a better performance than the moderators of the first presidential debate or last week’s vice-presidential debate. She pushed Trump hard on whether he had taken a Covid-19 test on the day of the first debate. He stumbled through a variety of answers: possibly, probably and don’t know. Guthrie also challenged Trump over his longtime refusal to wear a mask and America’s high death rate. The president became defensive.

What was happening in Bidenworld over on ABC? He was reminding host George Stephanopoulos that Trump had advocated “crazy stuff” like injecting bleach in your body.

Switching back to NBC, Trump was saying of the virus: “It should’ve never happened because of China. It happened because of China. And you have to get that and understand that. But it shouldn’t have happened.”

By 8.13pm, the president was being asked about white supremacy.

Read more here: David Smith – Trump and Biden town halls: two channels, two candidates, two planets

8.21am BST

Here are some quick clips of the two performances last night. US president Donald Trump refused to denounce right wing conspiracy theory QAnon during a town hall-style event, claiming he didn’t know about it, despite retweeting QAnon accounts.

In heated exchanges with NBC host Savannah Guthrie, Trump was pressed to denounce white supremacy before being asked about QAnon and a baseless conspiracy theory about Joe Biden.

Democratic presidential candidate Joe Biden meanwhile took to the stage in Pennsylvania in a modified town hall event, following the cancellation of the second debate. Biden gave detailed answers about his proposals on everything from the coronavirus pandemic to tax reform – but he wasn’t asked about the recent New York Post article featuring his son Hunter Biden which has caused quite a stir in Republican circles.

8.13am BST

Good morning, and welcome to our live coverage of US politics for Friday. Debates are usually seen as a chance to potentially sway the minds of a few undecided voters. Whether anybody was persuaded to change their view by yesterday’s competing presidential town halls on different networks remains to be seen.

The day is sure to be dominated by the fall-out from the events. Here’s a catch up on where we are, and a little of what we might expect today…

I’m Martin Belam – you can email me at martin.belam@theguardian.com if you want to get in touch.

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