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Trump and Biden Hold Dueling Town Halls, After the President Rejected a Debate

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People watched the first debate between President Trump and Joseph R. Biden Jr. in West Hollywood, California. A second debate set for Thursday night was canceled after Mr. Trump refused to participate virtually.
Credit…Mario Tama/Getty Images

The presidential candidates will respond to questions from voters in prime time on Thursday at two live, nationally televised town-hall-style events. Unusually, the programs will be broadcast at the same time on rival networks, although recordings of each event will be available afterward.

Joseph R. Biden Jr. will appear at an ABC News forum held at the National Constitution Center in Philadelphia and moderated by the ABC anchor George Stephanopoulos. The 90-minute event begins at 8 p.m. Eastern time and will be followed by a 30-minute wrap-up featuring analysis from ABC political reporters and pundits.

About 20 voters from across Pennsylvania, of varying political views, will be on hand to ask Mr. Biden questions. Mr. Stephanopoulos will guide the discussion and ask follow up questions.

Mr. Biden’s town hall can be seen on ABC television stations and on ABC News Live, an online service that can be watched on Hulu, YouTube TV, Sling TV and other streaming platforms, as well as on the ABC News website.

President Trump’s NBC News event will be held outdoors at the Pérez Art Museum in Miami and will be moderated by the “Today” show host Savannah Guthrie. The broadcast starts at 8 p.m. Eastern and is expected to last for about an hour.

About 60 Florida voters will be in the audience to ask the president questions; some of the voters are undecided, and some are leaning toward supporting one of the candidates. NBC said it was not discussing the question topics in advance.

The Trump town hall will air on NBC broadcast affiliates and the cable channels CNBC and MSNBC. It will also be streamed on NBC News NOW, an online service available on numerous streaming platforms, and available to watch on demand after the broadcast on Peacock, the NBCUniversal streaming service.

The event will also be available in Spanish on the digital sites of Telemundo, the Spanish-language television network.

The New York Times will cover the simultaneous events live, with real-time analysis from teams of reporters watching both candidates, on nytimes.com.

 Rachel Maddow, the MSNBC anchor, was among those assailing NBC News for airing a town hall event with President Trump at the same time as one with Joseph R. Biden Jr.
Credit…Doug Mills/The New York Times

After a day of social-media blowback, the criticism is now coming from inside the network.

Stars and producers of hit NBC series — along with Rachel Maddow, the highest-rated anchor on MSNBC — have joined those assailing NBC News over its decision to air a town hall event with President Trump at 8 p.m. on Thursday, the same time ABC will offer a forum with his opponent, Joseph R. Biden Jr.

Ms. Maddow, one of the few NBC News anchors with the clout to publicly chastise the network’s executives, raised the issue on her Wednesday show, asking Mr. Biden’s running mate, Senator Kamala Harris, if she “was as mad as everybody else is that NBC is doing a town hall with President Trump tomorrow.” (Ms. Harris demurred.)

The anchor also called NBC’s scheduling decision “as odd as you think it is” alongside a graphic that said, “Apparently They Are Not Kidding.”

On Thursday, more than 100 actors and producers — including Sterling K. Brown and Mandy Moore, both of the NBC hit “This Is Us,” and Mariska Hargitay of the NBC staple “Law & Order: SVU” — sent a letter to NBC management calling the scheduling of the forum “a disservice to the American public.”

Four years ago the news division faced criticism for allowing The Washington Post to scoop it on the notorious “Access Hollywood” tape that showed Mr. Trump bragging about sexually assaulting women; NBC News had obtained a copy of the video days before it was made public.

The division’s current leader, Cesar Conde, previously ran Telemundo and Univision. Mr. Conde, who has limited experience with the rough-and-tumble of political coverage, issued a statement on Thursday addressing the criticism.

“We share in the frustration that our event will initially air alongside the first half of ABC’s broadcast with Vice President Biden. Our decision is motivated only by fairness, not business considerations,” he wrote. “We aired a town hall with Vice President Biden on Oct. 5 at 8 p.m. If we were to move our town hall with President Trump to a later time slot, we would be violating our commitment to offer both campaigns access to the same audience and the same forum.”

Savannah Guthrie, an anchor on “Today,” will be the moderator, overseeing a group of inquisitive Florida voters while keeping tabs on a president who regularly lobs falsehoods and smears.

As Ms. Guthrie prepared for her hot-seat moment, one of her “Today” predecessors declared that NBC had made the wrong call. “Having dueling town halls is bad for democracy — voters should be able to watch both and I don’t think many will,” Katie Couric wrote on Twitter.

President Trump and Joseph R. Biden Jr. during the first presidential debate late last month. 
Credit…Doug Mills/The New York Times

President Trump and Joseph R. Biden Jr. were supposed to debate tonight. But Mr. Trump backed out after the Commission on Presidential Debates ruled that the event could be held only virtually, given the president’s coronavirus diagnosis.

The two men will instead engage in a Battle of the Town Halls, appearing in rival events on different networks. That’s a far cry from a debate, and most analysts assume that it’s unlikely to change minds. Mr. Trump’s supporters will presumably tune in to the president on NBC, while Mr. Biden’s supporters will check out their candidate on ABC. Since the appearances are at the same time, 8 p.m. Eastern, it will take a dedicated voter to attempt a compare-and-contrast.

What that means is that the third debate, in Nashville on Oct. 22, may be Mr. Trump’s last, best chance to change the course of a campaign that is moving against him. It is the final scheduled set piece, all but guaranteed to draw a huge audience and extensive coverage. Unlike, say, tonight.

Mr. Trump’s performance at the first debate was marked by his hectoring of Mr. Biden and the moderator, Chris Wallace, and was widely criticized. Polls suggest it cost him some support. From that perspective, Mr. Trump’s decision to pull out of the next one, rather than just engage Mr. Biden virtually, mystified members of both parties, particularly because Mr. Biden, given his polling lead, has little incentive to debate again.

Republicans had been hoping that tonight could be a mulligan. Now it’s down to Nashville.

“He needs a good debate, practicing common courtesy and restraint, and allowing Biden to speak,” said Charlie Black, a Republican consultant and veteran of presidential campaigns.

This not ideal for Mr. Trump. Historically, third debates do not have a major influence on the course of a campaign. By the time this one happens, Election Day will be less than two weeks away. Millions of people will already have voted.

Even if Mr. Trump heeds the advice of Republicans on changing his debate tone, there might not be enough undecided people in even that huge audience to make a difference.

Senator Kamala Harris was scheduled to hold three events in North Carolina on Thursday but has canceled them.
Credit…Hilary Swift for The New York Times

The Biden campaign halted Senator Kamala Harris’s in-person campaigning through Sunday after two people who had traveled with her tested positive for the coronavirus, the campaign announced Thursday morning.

The communications director for Ms. Harris’s vice-presidential bid, Liz Allen, and a flight crew member tested positive, the campaign said. Ms. Harris herself tested negative on Wednesday, and the campaign said on Thursday afternoon that Ms. Harris had tested negative on Thursday as well, as had her husband, Douglas Emhoff.

“Senator Harris was not in close contact, as defined by the C.D.C., with either of these individuals during the two days prior to their positive tests; as such, there is no requirement for quarantine,” the Biden campaign manager, Jennifer O’Malley Dillon, said in a statement announcing the positive tests.

“Regardless, out of an abundance of caution and in line with our campaign’s commitment to the highest levels of precaution, we are canceling Senator Harris’s travel through Sunday.”

Ms. Harris had been scheduled to campaign in North Carolina on Thursday and in Ohio on Friday. She will return to the campaign trail Monday, the statement said.

“I will be transparent with you about any test results that I do receive,” Ms. Harris wrote on Twitter. “In the meantime, remember: wear a mask, practice social distancing, and wash your hands regularly. It is possible to stop the spread.”

The campaign also canceled travel on Thursday for Mr. Emhoff, but said he would resume campaigning on Friday.

In a conference call with reporters, Ms. O’Malley Dillon said Joseph R. Biden Jr. would proceed with his schedule. He is slated to appear at a town hall event in Philadelphia that will be broadcast on ABC on Thursday night.

“He was not in close contact with either of these individuals,” Ms. O’Malley Dillon said.

The campaign said on Thursday afternoon that Mr. Biden had been tested for the virus on Wednesday night, and the results were negative.

Ms. Allen and the flight crew member were on a flight with Ms. Harris on Oct. 8, the day after the vice-presidential debate, Ms. O’Malley Dillon said in her statement. Mr. Biden and Ms. Harris campaigned together in Arizona that day.

Ms. Allen and the flight crew member tested negative before the flight as well as after it, Ms. O’Malley Dillon said. In the past week, they “attended personal, non-campaign events,” she said, and were subsequently required to be tested. All other campaign staff members who were on the flight with them have tested negative multiple times since Oct. 8, she said.

Mr. Biden’s campaign has emphasized the importance of following health precautions, and it is rigorous about safety measures at its in-person events.

While the campaign has been opaque in the past about the specifics of its testing protocols, its detailed announcement on Thursday was a noticeably different approach compared with how President Trump and his aides communicated with the public during the coronavirus outbreak at the White House. After Mr. Trump tested positive for the virus, his team offered contradictory and incomplete information about the state of his health even as he was hospitalized and the number of positive cases among his aides grew.

Senate Judiciary Committee Chairman Lindsey Graham at the fourth day of the confirmation hearing for Judge Amy Coney Barrett.
Credit…Anna Moneymaker for The New York Times

President Trump and Senator Lindsey Graham have established clear but not overwhelming advantages in South Carolina, a heavily Republican state that is showing signs of competitiveness this year, according to a new New York Times/Siena College poll.

Mr. Trump leads Joseph R. Biden Jr., 49 percentage points to 41, while Mr. Graham, who is facing the most serious challenge of his career, is winning 46 percent of the vote compared with 40 percent for his Democratic rival, Jaime Harrison.

The New York Times /
Siena College poll

Donald Trump holds a clear lead over Joe Biden in South Carolina.

+14 Trump 55-41

+8 Trump 49-41

Based on a New York Times/Siena College poll of 605 likely voters in South Carolina from Oct. 9 to Oct. 15.

The Senate race, though, may be even more competitive because the survey finds that 12 percent of Black voters are undecided, which could favor Mr. Harrison, who is African-American. The poll has a margin of error of 4.5 percentage points.

No Democratic presidential candidate has carried South Carolina since Jimmy Carter in 1976, a streak that appears unlikely to be broken this year. But the combination of Black voters and white transplants there is poised to make the state more of a battleground than an afterthought going forward.

It’s this coalition of voters that’s pushing Mr. Trump’s advantage into single digits, four years after he carried South Carolina by 14 points, and that has made the race between Mr. Graham and Mr. Harrison perhaps the most surprisingly close Senate matchup of 2020.

The New York Times /
Siena College poll

Republican incumbent Lindsey Graham polls ahead of his Democratic challenger in this surprisingly competitive Senate race.

Dem. Rep. Margin
NYT/Siena NYT/Siena 605, Oct. 9–15)

40%

Jaime Harrison

46%

Lindsey Graham

+ 6 Rep.

8% undecided

Data for Progress Data for Progress 801, Oct. 8–11)
Dem pollster
801, Oct. 8–11) Dem pollster

47%

46%

+ 1 Dem.

Morning Consult Morning Consult 903, Oct. 2–11)

42%

48%

+ 6 Rep.

ALG Research ALG Research 1,011, Sept. 29–Oct. 5)
Dem pollster
1,011, Sept. 29–Oct. 5) Dem pollster

46%

46%

Tied

GBAO GBAO 800, Sept. 24–28)
Dem pollster
800, Sept. 24–28) Dem pollster

48%

47%

+ 1 Dem.

Quinnipiac University Quinnipiac 1,123, Sept. 23–27)

48%

48%

Tied

Still, South Carolina remains more conservative than its fast-changing neighbors, Georgia and North Carolina, and quite forbidding for Democrats. The state hasn’t elected a Democratic governor or senator since 1998.

While college-educated white voters in other Sun Belt states favor Mr. Biden or break even between the two presidential contenders, they favor Mr. Trump 50 percent to 38 percent in South Carolina. Even more stark, and for Democrats downright daunting, is the gap among white voters without a college degree: 77 percent favor Mr. Trump while just 18 percent support Mr. Biden.

Senator Ted Cruz said he planned to subpoena Twitter’s chief executive, Jack Dorsey, to discuss the company’s decision to block the distribution of an unsubstantiated New York Post article.
Credit…Hilary Swift for The New York Times

The backlash from prominent Republicans against Facebook and Twitter for limiting or blocking the distribution of an unsubstantiated New York Post story on Hunter Biden grew on Thursday, as the Trump campaign said that Twitter had locked its account for trying to promote the article.

President Trump and several Republican senators condemned the social media companies’ decision to rein in distribution of the article, which discussed emails it claimed were obtained from a laptop that purportedly showed the business dealings of Joseph R. Biden Jr.’s son Hunter in Ukraine. The claims have not been verified.

Republican lawmakers were quick to call for investigations into why Twitter and Facebook had limited the spread of the article, with some calling it censorship. Senator Ted Cruz, a Republican of Texas, said that he planned to subpoena Twitter’s chief executive, Jack Dorsey, to discuss the decision.

“This is election interference and we’re 19 days out from an election,” Mr. Cruz said.

The Trump campaign said that Twitter had locked its official account after it attempted to promote the article. The campaign’s Twitter account, which uses the handle @TeamTrump and has 2.2 million followers, is separate from Mr. Trump’s personal account, which has more than 87 million followers. By Thursday afternoon, the account was restored, with the campaign tweeting a link to a livestream of Mr. Trump’s rally in North Carolina.

A Trump campaign spokesman, Tim Murtaugh, also accused Twitter of “election interference.”

A Twitter spokesperson on Thursday referred to a previous company response that said that the images in the Post’s article contained email addresses and phones, as well as hacked materials that violated Twitter’s rules for posting.

In an interview on Thursday with Fox Business, Mr. Trump said that he had not heard about Twitter’s actions involving his campaign. Then he said he was considering unspecified regulatory actions against social media companies and suggested he would go to court to force Twitter to reverse its actions.

“It’s going to all end up in a big lawsuit,” he said.

Mr. Trump spent Thursday morning retweeting supporters who decried the tech companies as censors.

In defiance of Twitter’s policy to prevent users from sharing the Post article, Republicans on the House Judiciary Committee also reproduced the article on its website on Wednesday and shared the link on Twitter. Twitter responded by blocking users from sharing the link, but then reversed the decision on Thursday, saying it had been an error.

“That decision has been reversed and the link is now unblocked,” a Twitter spokesman said.

On Thursday morning, the New York Post published a second story about Hunter Biden, including more images of emails. Twitter also blocked that link on its service, a company spokesman said.

The C-SPAN network on Thursday suspended the producer and politics editor Steve Scully, who had been set to moderate the second presidential debate before it was scrapped, after he said he had lied about his Twitter account being hacked.

In a statement, Mr. Scully said that he had “falsely claimed” he was not responsible for a tweet he sent Oct. 8 that was addressed to the former White House communications director Anthony Scaramucci.

Mr. Scully said that, prior to the tweet, President Trump had publicly accused him of partisan leanings. This came, he said, after several weeks in which he was “subjected to relentless criticism on social media and in conservative news outlets regarding my role as moderator for the second presidential debate, including attacks aimed directly at my family.”

Mr. Scully said that he was acting “out of frustration” when he posted “@Scaramucci should I respond to trump” to Twitter. The next day, Oct. 9, when he saw “that this tweet had created a new controversy,” he claimed that his Twitter account had been hacked, he said in his apology.

“These were both errors in judgement for which I am totally responsible,” Mr. Scully said. “These actions have let down a lot of people, including my colleagues at C-SPAN, where I have worked for the past 30 years, professional colleagues in the media, and the team at the Commission on Presidential Debates. I ask for their forgiveness as I try to move forward in a moment of reflection and disappointment in myself.”

Soon after C-SPAN suspended Mr. Scully, Mr. Trump took to Twitter to commend himself for showing “good instincts in being the first to know” and declaring that “the debate was rigged.”

In a statement, C-SPAN said that Mr. Scully confessed to the network and the debate commission late Wednesday. The network said that it had placed him on administrative leave and was “very saddened by this news and do not condone his actions.”

But the network said that “after some distance from this episode, we believe in his ability to continue to contribute to C-SPAN.”

“He has built a reservoir of goodwill among those he has interviewed, fellow journalists, our viewers, and with us,” the network said.

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