2020 Election Live Updates: As Trump Pushes for In-Person Debate, Doctor Gives Him Green Light

Credit…Anna Moneymaker for The New York Times

President Trump’s doctor said on Thursday that he’s completed his treatments to alleviate the symptoms of the coronavirus and that he anticipates that the president will be able to resume “public engagements” on Saturday.

The forecast about Mr. Trump’s condition came from the White House physician, Dr. Sean Conley, in a note updating people on his health. Mr. Trump announced shortly before 1 a.m. on Friday, Oct. 2, that he and the first lady, Melania Trump, had tested positive for the virus; White House officials have declined to say when he last tested negative.

He was taken to Walter Reed National Military Medical Center Friday afternoon. Officials initially described the president’s symptoms as mild, but The Times and other news organizations reported Saturday that Mr. Trump had been administered supplemental oxygen because his blood oxygen dropped to a level that was concerning. His lung scans had “expected findings,” Dr. Conley said on Sunday, although he declined to say what that meant.

In the note on Thursday, Dr. Conley said that Mr. Trump has remained “stable” and “devoid” of symptoms that would suggest the illness was progressing.

“Saturday will be day 10 since Thursday’s diagnosis, and based on the trajectory of advanced diagnostics the team has been conducting, I fully anticipate the president’s safe return to public engagements at that time,” Dr. Conley said.

The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention says those who test positive for the coronavirus should isolate themselves from others for a minimum of 10 days after testing positive, or for at least 10 days after symptoms first appear. Some people with a moderate or severe case of the virus can stay infectious for 20 days or perhaps even longer, according to the C.D.C.

A person close to the White House said that Mr. Trump is discussing holding a public event with people on the White House grounds on Saturday.

Shortly after Dr. Conley’s memo, Mr. Trump’s re-election campaign released a statement calling for the second presidential debate to take place as originally scheduled. “There is therefore no medical reason why the Commission on Presidential Debates should shift the debate to a virtual setting, postpone it, or otherwise alter it in any way,” the statement said.

The campaigns of President Trump and Joseph R. Biden Jr. will meet again in a debate if their campaigns can agree on terms.
Credit…Ruth Fremson/The New York Times

Remote, or in-person? One more debate, or two? The Trump campaign, the Biden campaign and the Commission on Presidential Debates engaged in a head-snapping round of sparring on Thursday over when and how the next face-offs should be held, and how they could take place safely amid the health concerns raised since President Trump contracted the coronavirus.

The morning began with the commission announcing that the next debate, scheduled for Oct. 15 in Miami, would be held remotely “in order to protect the health and safety of all involved.” The Biden camp was open to the idea, but Mr. Trump rejected it as “ridiculous.”

That prompted Joseph R. Biden Jr.’s campaign to call for the debate to be pushed back a week, to Oct. 22, “so that the president is not able to evade accountability.”

“Joe Biden was prepared to accept the C.P.D.’s proposal for a virtual town hall, but the president has refused, as Donald Trump clearly does not want to face questions from the voters about his failures on Covid and the economy,” Mr. Biden’s deputy campaign manager, Kate Bedingfield, said in a statement.

The Trump campaign seemed open to that. Bill Stepien, Mr. Trump’s campaign manager, issued a statement agreeing to pushing the debate back a week — and suggesting without evidence that the commission was trying to help Mr. Biden.

“We agree that this should happen on Oct. 22, and accordingly, the third debate should then be shifted back one week to Oct. 29,” Mr. Stepien said.

Not so fast, the Biden campaign said. Ms. Bedingfield issued a new statement, suggesting that the Oct. 22 debate should be the last one of the campaign.

“Donald Trump doesn’t make the debate schedule; the Debate Commission does,” Ms. Bedingfield said in a statement. Trump’s erratic behavior does not allow him to rewrite the calendar, and pick new dates of his choosing.

But the tables turned again on Thursday night when the Trump campaign, on the tail of a notice by the White House physician, Dr. Sean Conley, that the president would we well enough for public appearances by Saturday, announced that Mr. Trump was ready to resume the debates as originally scheduled.

ABC News said in the afternoon that Mr. Biden had agreed to appear at a town hall, moderated by the anchor George Stephanopoulos, on Oct. 15, the night the second debate had been set to take place. Producers at ABC News finalized plans for the Biden town hall on Thursday after Mr. Trump withdrew from the debate, according to two people familiar with the deliberations.

It was another sign of how the coronavirus, which sent Mr. Trump to the hospital and has spread through the White House and official Washington, has upended the last month of the campaign. The debate commission has the power to set rules and safety protocols, and Mr. Trump’s diagnosis and the spreading outbreak complicated its task considerably. The Biden campaign announced that Mr. Biden had again tested negative for the coronavirus on Thursday; the Trump administration has declined to provide key details about his health since he was hospitalized.

Mr. Trump had immediately objected to the concept of a virtual debate in an interview with Fox Business, saying: “I’m not going to waste my time on a virtual debate, that’s not what debating is all about. You sit behind a computer and do a debate — it’s ridiculous.”

His campaign has sought to shift attention away from his response to the pandemic, and a virtual debate would call attention to the degree to which the virus has upended the country. The president’s opposition to virtual debates apparently does not extend to virtual rallies: the president said that he planned to join Rush Limbaugh, the conservative talk show host, Friday for what Mr. Limbaugh called “the largest virtual rally in radio history.”

But Mr. Trump’s resistance to the virtual debate, which would have drawn a much larger audience and more of the independent voters he will need to persuade in order to arrest his slide in the polls, put his campaign in a difficult position: Mr. Trump’s first debate outing, last week in Cleveland, got poor reviews, as he repeatedly interrupted and heckled Mr. Biden and the moderator, Chris Wallace of Fox News. The campaign was anxious for a second chance.

Mr. Biden, speaking briefly to reporters before boarding a plane to Arizona on Thursday, suggested that he would be open to following the commission’s recommendations for a virtual debate, and said that Mr. Trump had once again shown himself to be impulsive and unpredictable.

“We don’t know what the president is going to do,” Mr. Biden said. “He changes his mind every second.”

President Trump gave an hourlong telephone interview on Fox Business Channel.
Credit…Doug Mills/The New York Times

Amid a cascade of daunting poll numbers and an ill-timed bout with the coronavirus that has kept him confined to the White House just weeks before the election, President Trump gave vent to his grievances Thursday in a television interview in which he chastised his own cabinet for failing to prosecute his political enemies.

In his first extended public comments since being diagnosed with the virus last week, Mr. Trump called for the indictment of his predecessor, President Obama, and his current opponent, Joseph R. Biden Jr., as he revisited events of the 2016 campaign in a meandering, hourlong telephone interview on Fox Business Channel.

He assailed his secretary of state, attorney general, F.B.I. director and a senior Justice Department prosecutor because they have not charged Democrats or released politically damaging information about them. “These people should be indicted,” he said.

The president’s comments came during an interview that, even for him, was a scattershot and manic performance, one that advisers said reflected increasing frustration over his political fortunes just 26 days before an election that surveys show him losing by double digits. In focusing his ire on his own team, he seemed to indicate that he saw October prosecutions as his best chance to rebound.

Mr. Trump called Senator Kamala Harris, the Democratic vice-presidential nominee and the first woman of color on a major national ticket, a “monster.” He said the F.B.I. director, Christopher A. Wray, was “disappointing.” He posited that he might have contracted the coronavirus from a member of a military family. He maintained that he is almost off medical treatments for the virus. And he complained about not being allowed to hold rallies while he remains in isolation.

“I don’t think I’m contagious at all,” Mr. Trump said, although his positive diagnosis was revealed last Friday and people with the virus are typically contagious for at least a week and often longer. Of his treatments, he insisted, “I think I’m taking almost nothing.” His doctor has not said how long he will remain on steroids.

The president’s circuitous conversation with the host Maria Bartiromo came as he has been eager to dispel questions about his health after spending four days at Walter Reed military hospital and suffering a drop in his oxygen levels and a fever, chills and a cough related to the virus.

Mr. Trump criticized both Attorney General Bill Barr and Secretary of State Mike Pompeo, two cabinet members often described as among his closest aides.

Mr. Trump said of investigations into the origins of the inquiry into his 2016 campaign and whether it conspired with Russian officials, “Bill Barr is going to go down either as the greatest attorney general in the history of the country or he’s going to go down as a very sad, sad situation. I mean, I’ll be honest with you. He’s got all the information he needs.”

At another point, Mr. Trump took aim at Mr. Pompeo for not releasing documents related to Hillary Clinton, who was secretary of state under President Obama.

“They’re in the State Department, but Mike Pompeo has been unable to get them out, which is very sad, actually. I’m not happy about him for that reason,” Mr. Trump said. The president has been tweeting this week about documents that purportedly show that Mrs. Clinton planned to gin up a scandal tying Mr. Trump to Russia. Democrats say the documents that the administration released are misleading.

“These people should be indicted — this was the greatest political crime in the history of our country,” Mr. Trump said. “And that includes Obama, and it includes Biden.”

Mr. Trump also criticized Mr. Wray, the F.B.I. director, for not backing up Mr. Trump’s baseless allegations that voting by mail was rife with fraud, and he declined to commit to keeping Mr. Wray in a second term.

And he referred to Ms. Harris, Mr. Biden’s running mate, as a “monster” twice and a “communist” four times.

And he theorized that he could have caught the virus from a relative of a fallen service member at a ceremony he hosted for Gold Star families.

Mr. Trump said those relatives insisted on hugging him or thanking him. “I can’t back up, Maria, and say, ‘Give me room, I want room, give me 12 feet, stay 12 feet away.’ They come within an inch of my face sometimes,” he said. “They want to hug me and they want to kiss me. And they do. And frankly, I’m not telling them to back up.”

President Trump departing the Walter Reed National Military Medical Center on Monday. He has received Regeneron’s cocktail of monoclonal antibodies, among other treatments for Covid-19
Credit…Doug Mills/The New York Times

The antibody cocktail for Covid-19 that President Trump touted on Wednesday afternoon was developed with cells originally derived from fetal tissue, a practice that his administration has moved to restrict.

In June 2019, the Trump administration suspended federal funding for most new scientific research involving fetal tissue derived from abortions.

“Promoting the dignity of human life from conception to natural death is one of the very top priorities of President Trump’s administration,” the Department of Health and Human Services said in a statement in 2019, around the time of the ban.

“Intramural research that requires new acquisition of fetal tissue from elective abortions will not be conducted,” the statement added.

Mr. Trump last week received Regeneron’s cocktail of monoclonal antibodies — essentially, antibodies synthesized in living cells and administered to help the body fight off the infection.

To develop the antibodies, Regeneron relied on 293T, a cell line derived from the kidney tissue of an aborted fetus in the 1970s. At least two companies racing to produce vaccines against the coronavirus, Moderna and AstraZeneca, are also using the cell line.

Remdesivir, an antiviral drug Mr. Trump received, also was tested using these cells.

“293Ts were used in testing the antibodies’ ability to neutralize the virus,” said Alexandra Bowie, a spokeswoman for Regeneron. “They weren’t used in any other way, and fetal tissue was not used in the research.”

In a video released Wednesday, Mr. Trump praised Regeneron’s treatment, calling it a “cure” for Covid-19 and promising to provide it free to any patient who needed it. The company said on Wednesday that it had applied to the Food and Drug Administration for emergency use authorization.

Scientists noted that the trials of the antibody cocktail are far from complete, and that Mr. Trump is taking a variety of drugs that may have explained why he said he felt better.

Representative Jamie Raskin, Democrat of Maryland, wrote the bill.
Credit…Kevin Dietsch/Agence France-Presse — Getty Images

Amplifying questions about President Trump’s fitness to serve, House Democrats on Friday plan to introduce a measure that would create a bipartisan group of experts to evaluate the president’s mental and physical health and advise Congress whether his powers should be forcibly removed under the 25th Amendment.

A version of the bill predates Mr. Trump’s recent hospitalization for coronavirus, but Speaker Nancy Pelosi of California, who has wondered aloud in recent days about whether the drugs the president has received to treat the virus have impaired his mental state, elected to push it to the forefront amid unanswered questions about his condition.

The legislation has no chance of enactment this year given that it would require a presidential signature, but Democrats will use a news conference on Friday to call attention to the question of Mr. Trump’s fitness and his refusal to answer basic questions about his health.

Congress has had the power to assemble a group like the one being proposed since the 25th Amendment was ratified in 1967 to prepare the country for emergency presidential succession or illness, but it has never been used. Under the amendment, the group is to work with the vice president to determine whether the president was “unable to discharge the powers and duties of his office,” and could forcibly transfer those powers to the vice president until the president recovered.

“The framers of the 25th Amendment wanted to guarantee the continuity and stability of the executive branch of government,” said Representative Jamie Raskin, Democrat of Maryland and the bill’s author. “Recent events underscore the importance of making sure that the entire apparatus of the 25th Amendment is available and ready.”

Mr. Raskin’s measure would allow for the creation of an 11-member commission composed of health experts, doctors, and former senior executive branch officials, such as a former president. Top Democratic and Republican leaders of the House and Senate would each select members, who would in turn prepare a report for each chamber on the president’s fitness.

“The determination,” the bill says, “shall be made if the commission finds that the president is temporarily or permanently impaired by physical illness or disability, mental illness, mental deficiency, or alcohol or drug use to the extent that the person lacks sufficient understanding or capacity to execute the powers and duties of the office of president.”

Senator Kamala Harris at the vice-presidential debate Wednesday. On Thursday President Trump said she was a “monster.”
Credit…Erin Schaff/The New York Times

Former Vice President Joseph R. Biden Jr. denounced President Trump on Thursday for describing Senator Kamala Harris as a “monster,” charging that Mr. Trump “has great difficulty dealing with strong women.”

In a telephone interview Thursday on the Fox Business Channel about the vice-presidential debate, Mr. Trump referred to Ms. Harris as “this monster that was onstage with Mike Pence, who destroyed her last night, by the way.”

Ms. Harris declined to respond when asked about the comments at a news conference at the Phoenix airport on Thursday, but Mr. Biden did not hold back.

“It’s despicable,” he said. “It’s so beneath the office of the presidency, and the American people are sick and tired of it.”

Mr. Biden noted the sexist nature of Mr. Trump’s criticism, which also included descriptions of Ms. Harris as “totally unlikable,” a common double standard for women in politics.

“It’s obvious he cannot — he has great difficulty dealing with strong women,” Mr. Biden said of the president, calling Ms. Harris “a person who is ready on Day 1 to be president of the United States of America” and “a person who has more integrity in her little finger than most people have in their entire body.”

Joseph R. Biden Jr. in Phoenix on Thursday. 
Credit…Hilary Swift for The New York Times

Joseph R. Biden Jr. refused to say whether he supported expanding the Supreme Court, an issue that some Democrats support as a countermeasure if Republicans rush through the confirmation of President Trump’s latest nominee to the court.

Speaking to reporters at the Phoenix airport before campaign stops in Arizona, Mr. Biden said he would not discuss the matter. “They’ll know my opinion on court-packing when the election is over.

“The moment I answer that question, the headline in every one of your papers will be about that other than focusing on what’s happening now,” he said. “This election has begun. There’s never been a court appointment once the election has begun.” He was referring to the president’s nomination of Amy Coney Barrett last month, eight days after the death of Justice Ruth Bader Ginsburg.

Mr. Biden’s refusal to engage on an issue important to some Democrats reflected the caution he has exercised about the issue since Justice Ginsburg’s death last month. He has repeatedly avoided answering the question about expanding the court.

His remarks came a day after his running mate, Senator Kamala Harris, and Vice President Mike Pence tussled over the issue during the vice-presidential debate on Wednesday.

“The American people deserve a straight answer,” Mr. Pence said.

Ms. Harris, in keeping with Mr. Biden’s strategy, declined to reply. In the past, Mr. Biden has said he did not favor adding justices, while Ms. Harris said during the Democratic primary campaign that she was open to the idea.

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McConnell Says He’s Avoided White House Over Lack of Virus Measures

Senator Mitch McConnell said he had not been to the White House since August.

Well, I’ve been following, following the advice of the C.D.C. and the Capitol physician. I can tell you, I haven’t been to the White House since Aug. 6. And I personally didn’t feel that they were approaching protection from this illness in the same way that I thought was appropriate for the Senate. And the Senate has been operating in a way that I think has largely prevented contraction of this disease.

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Senator Mitch McConnell said he had not been to the White House since August.CreditCredit…Anna Moneymaker for The New York Times

Senator Mitch McConnell, Republican of Kentucky and the majority leader, said on Thursday that he had been avoiding the White House since midsummer over concerns that officials there were not taking proper precautions against the coronavirus.

“My impression was that their approach to how to handle this was different from mine and what I insisted that we do in the Senate, which is to wear a mask and practice social distancing,” Mr. McConnell told reporters in Hebron, Ky.

He said he had not visited the White House since Aug. 6, when he met with President Trump to discuss negotiations over additional stimulus legislation.

The decision appears to have been a prudent one now that the White House has become a virus hot spot, with Mr. Trump the most prominent to contract the disease.

More than a dozen White House guests and employees, including two of Mr. McConnell’s fellow Senate Republicans, were infected after attending an event Mr. Trump held last month to announce his Supreme Court nominee, Judge Amy Coney Barrett. Mr. McConnell, who is leading the drive to confirm Judge Barrett, had been noticeably absent from the largely maskless gathering.

Mr. McConnell did not specifically comment on Judge Barrett’s nomination ceremony.

Though he has closely aligned himself with Mr. Trump politically, Mr. McConnell, who is 78 and suffered from polio as a child, has consistently struck a different, more sobering tone when discussing the virus. He has publicly urged Americans to wear masks, repeatedly warned that the pandemic’s grip will be long and stated that he believes a vaccine will not be widely available until next year.

“This is not over,” Mr. McConnell said. “We are going to have to work through it.”

President Trump said he had “figured there would be a chance” he would become infected at an event for Gold Star families because they “come within an inch of my face sometimes.”
Credit…Anna Moneymaker for The New York Times

Even as he scrambles to shore up support from his base, President Trump on Thursday again suggested that military families had spread the coronavirus at the White House, floating the idea that a meeting with the loved ones of fallen service members might have been the source of his own infection.

He said in a telephone interview with Fox Business that he had “figured there would be a chance” he would become infected at an event for Gold Star families because they “come within an inch of my face sometimes.”

“They want to hug me and they want to kiss me,” he added. “And they do. And frankly, I’m not telling them to back up. I’m not doing it. But I did say it’s obviously dangerous.” The president, who rarely wears a mask, has played down the risks of the virus since the new first broke.

His remarks came weeks after a report in The Atlantic that Mr. Trump — whose relationship with military leaders and prominent veterans has been a complex political brew of admiration and disdain — had disparaged American troops who died in wars as “losers” and “suckers.”

Mr. Trump has counted on veterans as well as active-duty service members as a key slice of his political base; in 2016, about 60 percent voted for him, according to exit polls, and swing-state counties with especially high numbers of veterans helped him win. But that support appears to have slipped.

Moreover, a large group of Republican former national security officials, including several retired generals, have thrown their support behind the president’s Democratic opponent, Joseph R. Biden Jr., as have a large number of former cabinet officials from both Bush administrations; and many prominent veterans.

Mark Meadows, the White House chief of staff, and his wife, Debbie, at their daughter’s wedding in Georgia in May.
Credit…Ember Studio

Mark Meadows, the White House chief of staff, hosted his daughter’s Atlanta wedding indoors in defiance of state and municipal guidelines that at the time limited gatherings to 10 people or less.

The wedding, held at Atlanta’s Biltmore Ballrooms in May, was first reported Thursday by The Atlanta Journal-Constitution. It took place early in the coronavirus pandemic, as Americans were canceling or postponing their own weddings and other long-planned gatherings to comply with public health restrictions aimed at slowing the spread of the virus.

Photographs from the May 31 event, posted online, show no masks or distancing among the crowd of several dozen tuxedo-clad attendees.

In one image, Mr. Meadows can be seen delivering a father-of-the-bride speech before a band with at least eight members. Another shows a 21-member wedding party posing with the newly married couple. Mr. Meadows and his wife, Debbie, are shown during the recessional walking together down a flower petal-strewn aisle while 50 people seated closely together watch.

Mr. Meadows declined to comment on the wedding.

Mike Moon, a photographer for Ember Studio, which photographed the event, said during an interview Thursday that people who worked to put the wedding on wore masks but most of the guests did not. Matt Trivett, who owns Ember Studio, said he did not wish to comment about whether he and his staff felt safe at the event.

“Vendors wore masks and so did some of the guests off and on when they wanted to,” Mr. Moon said.

Other photographs show Mr. Meadows dancing with his daughter, Haley, various groomsmen shaking hands and much dancing and mingling. The event would not have appeared out of the ordinary in pre-pandemic times.

None of the photographs posted in the online wedding album show any guests wearing masks. Although the photos were publicly accessible throughout the day on Thursday, by Thursday evening the digital album appeared to have been taken down.

More than 7,000 Georgians have died from the coronavirus. The death toll nationwide is now more than 212,000.

Mr. Meadows has overseen a White House staff that in recent weeks has become a hot spot for the virus. President Trump was given supplemental oxygen and hospitalized last weekend, and more than 20 other high-ranking administration officials, top campaign aides and Republican senators who have attended White House events have tested positive in the last two weeks.

During a mid-September briefing with reporters outside the White House, Mr. Meadows suggested there was little use in wearing masks — a position at odds with the administration’s own public health guidance.

“If masks is the panacea for everything,” Mr. Meadows said, “if that’s the way that we open back our economy and get everybody back to work, I will gladly wear my mask each and every day if that’s what makes the difference. And it doesn’t.”

Mr. Trump also has ignored public health guidance on masks and gatherings, continuing to hold large rallies with supporters crammed together during the pandemic. Most of these events have been outdoors, though he also held an indoor arena rally in June in Tulsa, Okla., that officials later said was the likely the source of a local outbreak of the virus.

Maggie Haberman contributed reporting.

“It was like he claimed me — that’s how it felt,” said Amy Dorris, who was a model and aspiring actress when she was introduced to Donald J. Trump.
Credit…Eve Edelheit for The New York Times

Three weeks ago, a news story caught the attention of Dawn Capp, a Texas math teacher. A former model had accused President Trump of assault, the latest in a long line of sexual misconduct complaints against him. At the United States Open tennis tournament in 1997, the woman told The Guardian, he groped and forcibly kissed her.

Ms. Capp voted for Mr. Trump in 2016. But she immediately believed the story, she said, because she had heard it more than two decades ago from Amy Dorris, the woman making the allegation and one of Ms. Capp’s oldest friends.

The Trump campaign has called Ms. Dorris’s account “totally false.” “This is just another pathetic attempt to attack President Trump right before the election,” said Jenna Ellis, a legal adviser to the Trump campaign.

In interviews with The Times, Ms. Dorris recounted meeting Mr. Trump nearly a quarter-century ago, when she was 24 and her boyfriend Jason Binn whisked her off to New York for a long weekend.

Mr. Binn had a network of celebrity friends, but he and Mr. Trump, then 51, seemed especially close. As the couple spent time with the real-estate developer in his box at the U.S. Open, at Trump Tower and in limousines, he wouldn’t leave her alone, and his hands wandered repeatedly to her waist and her legs, Ms. Dorris said.

“It was like he claimed me — that’s how it felt,” she said.

On a Friday afternoon, Ms. Dorris said, she excused herself to use a bathroom behind the box’s private seating area. When she emerged, Mr. Trump was waiting, she said. He told her that she belonged with him and moved toward her.

“It started as him trying to kiss me,” she said. She said she had told him to stop, first with giggles, and then in a more serious tone. He had “a tiger grip — he wasn’t letting me go,” she said. Mr. Trump shoved his tongue into her mouth, she said. “I couldn’t get loose from him,” she said. “His hands were all over me.”

She returned to her seat, embarrassed, and pretended nothing had happened, but soon phoned her mother and a friend for counsel. (Both confirmed Ms. Dorris’s account of the calls.)

In 2016, other women began to publicly tell stories about Mr. Trump, some of them similar. The disclosure of the “Access Hollywood” tape, which captured Mr. Trump making crude remarks about sexually assaulting women, provoked widespread outrage, and recognition among Ms. Dorris and the friends in whom she had confided.

After more than a year of speaking privately with The Guardian, Ms. Dorris said, she decided to go public. A registered independent who once served as a campaign volunteer for Jeb Bush, the Republican former Florida governor, she said she wanted to speak out about Mr. Trump’s character.

“It’s the person, not the party,” she said. “This man should not be the president.”

The ratings of Wednesday night’s vice-presidential debate, between Vice President Mike Pence and Senator Kamala Harris, easily bested the viewership totals of the 2016 match-up.
Credit…Anna Moneymaker for The New York Times

An estimated 57.9 million viewers watched Wednesday night’s vice-presidential debate across the major broadcast networks, cable news channels and on TV streams, easily besting the results of the 2016 vice-presidential debate, it was the second biggest total ever for a vice-presidential debate, according to Nielsen.

Only 37 million people tuned into the 2016 debate between Mr. Pence and Tim Kaine, one of the least-watched debates since Nielsen started tracking the ratings in 1976.

The most viewed vice-presidential debate ever was between Joseph R. Biden Jr. and Sarah Palin in 2008. That match-up logged nearly 70 million viewers.

The number of viewers for vice-presidential contests usually lags far behind the audience for presidential showdowns — though there have been notable exceptions. In 2008, nearly 70 million witnessed Ms. Palin’s debate-stage debut against Mr. Biden. And 56.7 million watched the 1984 contest between George H.W. Bush and Geraldine Ferraro, the first time a woman had taken the vice-presidential debate stage.

With Wednesday’s numbers in the Nielsen books, the top three most-watched vice-presidential debates have featured female candidates. Nielsen’s count does not include people who watched solely on a digital device.

President Trump called into Sean Hannity’s Fox news show Thursday night.
Credit…FOX

President Trump called into Sean Hannity’s show on Thursday night and, while giving vague answers to questions about his health, suggested a rapid return to the campaign trail that could violate public health guidelines.

Mr. Trump said he wanted to hold a rally in Florida on Saturday — just two days away — and another rally the following night in Pennsylvania. He went on to say he was in “great shape” — even as he paused on a few occasions and seemed to cough or clear his throat — and again presented the monoclonal antibody treatment he received as a miracle cure, even though there is no clinical trial data to evaluate its effectiveness.

He did not give a clear answer when Mr. Hannity asked if he had tested negative for the coronavirus: He first said he wouldn’t get an “actual test” until Friday, then suggested that he had already had a test and that it had found “very little infection or virus, if any,” and then said, “I don’t know if they found any. I didn’t go into it greatly with the doctors.”

Mr. Hannity also pushed the president to denounce the commission organizing this year’s debates for its decision to make next week’s forum virtual — a decision that prompted Mr. Trump to withdraw earlier in the day. At one point, Mr. Hannity suggested that Mr. Trump should organize his own debate.

“Well, I might,” Mr. Trump said, adding that he would want a “fair anchor” — perhaps, he said, Sean Hannity.

Michigan Governor Gretchen Whitmer at a campaign event for Joe Biden in September.
Credit…Amr Alfiky/The New York Times

President Trump and former Vice President Joseph R. Biden Jr. engaged in a Twitter spat on Thursday over foiled plots by right-wing extremists to instigate a civil war in the United States and abduct the governor of Michigan.

Six men were arrested and accused of plotting with a militia group to kidnap Gov. Gretchen Whitmer of Michigan, the authorities announced on Thursday.

The men, who the F.B.I. said espoused anti-government views, had talked about taking Ms. Whitmer, a Democrat, hostage since at least the summer, according to a criminal complaint filed in federal court and unsealed on Thursday. They had surveilled Ms. Whitmer’s vacation home in August and September and indicated that they wanted to take her hostage before the presidential election in November, the F.B.I. said.

“When our leaders speak, their words matter. They carry weight,” Ms. Whitmer told reporters on Thursday. “When our leaders meet, encourage or fraternize with domestic terrorists, they legitimize their actions and they are complicit.”

Late Thursday night, President Trump said on Twitter that Gov. Whitmer had done “a terrible job” handling the outbreak in her state, and suggested that she was ungrateful for the F.B.I.’s efforts to foil the extremist plot.

“Rather than say thank you, she calls me a White Supremacist — while Biden and Democrats refuse to condemn Antifa, Anarchists, Looters and Mobs that burn down Democrat run cities,” he wrote.

Mr. Biden, the Democratic presidential nominee, fired back about an hour later, writing on Twitter that Mr. Trump was “giving oxygen to the bigotry and hate we see on the march in our country.”

In his tweet, Mr. Biden called attention to one from April in which the president encouraged the thousands of people who had gathered at the Michigan State Capitol to protest Gov. Whitmer’s executive orders by writing, “LIBERATE MICHIGAN!”

“That call was heard,” Mr. Biden wrote on Thursday.

The six men involved in the kidnapping plot — five of whom live in Michigan and one of whom lives in Delaware — were charged with conspiracy to commit kidnapping, which can carry a life sentence. The F.B.I. said it had learned much about the group by intercepting encrypted messages and because it had infiltrated it with undercover agents and confidential informants.

Hours before his late-night spat with Mr. Trump, Mr. Biden told reporters in Phoenix that he believed Mr. Trump’s “LIBERATE” tweet had encouraged militias.

“Why can’t the president just say, ‘stop, stop, stop, stop, and we will pursue you if you don’t, so, stop’?” he asked.

Poll workers help residents  register to vote at Tenney Park in Madison, Wis., on Saturday. 
Credit…Lauren Justice for The New York Times

Wisconsin, a battleground state that President Trump is in danger of losing after carrying it by a slim margin in 2016, was blocked by an appeals court panel on Thursday from extending its deadline to return mail-in ballots to six days after the election.

Siding with Republicans, the U.S. Court of Appeals for the Seventh Circuit panel in Chicago restored the state’s hard deadline for accepting absentee ballots to 8 p.m. on Nov. 3, when in-person polls close in the state.

The panel’s 2-to-1 decision came just over two weeks after a district court judge ordered election officials to accept absentee ballots until Nov. 9. Democrats had sued to extend the deadline for ballots to arrive.

More than one million voters in Wisconsin, many of them seeking to avoid voting in person during the coronavirus pandemic, have requested absentee ballots. Wisconsin is one of several swing states where the Trump campaign is tussling with Democrats over mail-in voting, which Mr. Trump has falsely claimed is rife with fraud.

In the majority opinion, Judges Frank H. Easterbrook and Amy J. St. Eve wrote that it was too late to move back the deadline and asserted that elected officials, not the courts, should decide how best to cope with difficulties caused by the coronavirus.

“Voters have had many months since March to register or obtain absentee ballots; reading the Constitution to extend deadlines near the election is difficult to justify when the voters have had a long time to cast ballots while preserving social distancing,” the judges wrote.

Judge Amy Coney Barrett, who was appointed to the Seventh Circuit Court by Mr. Trump and was recently nominated by him to serve on the Supreme Court, was not on the panel of judges who heard the case. It was not immediately clear if Democrats would try to get the full court to take up the case.

In her dissenting opinion, Judge Ilana D. Rovner wrote that “no citizen should have to choose between her health and her right to vote.”

“The inevitable result of the court’s decision today will be that many thousands of Wisconsin citizens will lose their right to vote despite doing everything they reasonably can to exercise it,” Judge Rovner wrote. “This is a travesty.”

Ad Watch

Amid the chaotic news cycle of the election, there has been some groundbreaking reporting from Bloomberg News about what Exxon and other oil companies knew about climate change, and how they spent billions to bury the information. Now the L.C.V. Victory Fund, the super PAC allied with the League of Conservation Voters, an environmental group, is taking the issue to the presidential stage, to Big Oil, and to President Trump.

It’s a familiar, and potent, attack often levied against corporations that profit while damaging public health: Wealthy executives are never made to feel the true repercussions of their actions.

The ad features actors playing oil moguls lounging in mansions and acknowledging that they know that “the world is on fire” but that “this climate thing is your problem.”

One faux executive explains how oil companies “invested in political campaigns” as the screen shows President Trump calling human-caused climate change “a hoax.” He lauds the president for “rolling back all those fossil fuel regulations.”

The ad ends with a nod to future generations, as one executive turns to the camera says, “You got a lot of work to do, because your kids are going to need it,” then toasts Mr. Trump.

Mr. Trump did indeed call global warming a hoax on the campaign trail in 2015. And his administration has rolled back more than five dozen environmental regulations, according to a tally kept by The Times.

In 2015, Inside Climate News reported that Exxon’s own internal research and data showed that the company was aware of the impact of fossil fuels on global warming for decades, and that it played down studies on climate change by sowing uncertainty.

This week, Bloomberg News reported that “Exxon Mobil Corp. had plans to increase annual carbon-dioxide emissions by as much as the output of the entire nation of Greece,” with an internal assessment of its investment strategy showing “yearly emissions rising 17 percent by 2025.” (The company said in a statement to Bloomberg that the assessment was preliminary and that its projections had since changed.)

A $2 million campaign on national cable, as well as digitally in Arizona, a swing state that Mr. Trump won in 2016 but where Joseph R. Biden is now leading in polls.

Climate change is among the most important issues to young voters, and the threat to the global climate, with the daily reminders of vast wildfires and powerful hurricanes, is a galvanizing force this election cycle. Directing that energy in the electorate at villainous wealthy executives and tying them to Mr. Trump directly injects the president into a situation most voters recoil at: the wealthy taking advantage of the rest.


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