10 things you need to know today: October 23, 2020

Trump and Biden differ sharply on pandemic in their final debate, Republicans advance Barrett's Supreme Court nomination, and more

Trump and Biden at the final debate
(Image credit: Chip Somodevilla/Getty Images)

1. Trump, Biden differ sharply on coronavirus, climate change in final debate

President Trump and Democratic presidential nominee Joe Biden clashed on a broad range of issues in their second and final debate on Thursday, avoiding the chaos that plagued their first debate. Trump said that the pandemic was "going away," despite rising cases around the country. Biden warned the nation faced a "dark winter" as infections neared a record with more than 75,000 new cases on Thursday. He called for more aggressive federal government action to protect people and curb the spread of COVID-19. In a forum that covered everything from the economy to immigration to climate change, Trump repeatedly tried to cast Biden as a career politician who is "all talk and no action." Biden hammered his central campaign message that Trump is a divisive and unethical leader who bungled the response to the coronavirus crisis.

The New York Times

2. Republicans on Senate panel advance Barrett nomination

Republicans on the Senate Judiciary Committee advanced Judge Amy Coney Barrett's nomination to the Supreme Court on Thursday. Democrats boycotted the vote, arguing that the winner of the presidential election, in which tens of millions of Americans have already voted, should pick the justice to fill the late liberal icon Ruth Bader Ginsburg's seat. Democrats also said that Republicans were rushing Barrett's confirmation because she will give conservatives a 6-3 majority and pave the way to dismantle "health care, reproductive freedoms, the ability to vote, and other core rights that Americans cherish." Judiciary Committee Chairman Lindsey Graham (R-S.C.) rejected Democrats' argument that committee rules required two Democrats to be present to proceed, saying, Barrett "deserves a vote."

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3. Biden promises commission to study courts

Democratic presidential nominee Joe Biden on Thursday said that if elected, he would set up a bipartisan commission to study possible changes to the courts. Republican senators are rushing to approve President Trump's nomination of Amy Coney Barrett to the Supreme Court, which would increase conservatives' majority to 6-3, and Biden is under pressure from progressives to turn the tables by expanding the high court with two more liberal justices. Biden opposed court packing during the primaries but sidestepped the issue as Republicans pushed for confirming Barrett before Election Day. Biden said he would ask the commission to spend 180 days reviewing the system and "come back to me with recommendations as to how to reform the court system, because it's getting out of whack," Biden told CBS News' Norah O'Donnell in an excerpt released Thursday from a 60 Minutes interview scheduled to be broadcast Sunday.

The New York Times

4. Trump posts footage of 60 Minutes interview he abruptly ended

President Trump, unhappy about an interview with Lesley Stahl of 60 Minutes this week, followed through Thursday on a threat to release his own footage of the conversation before CBS could air it. The 37-minute video shows Stahl asking Trump, "You're okay with some tough questions?" Trump responds, "No, I'm not." Stahl also repeatedly pressed Trump to explain how he'll protect pre-existing conditions if the Supreme Court ends ObamaCare, as Trump says he's hoping for, but he provided no details on the "fully developed" health-care plan he claimed will be "announced very soon." Trump abruptly ended the interview, declaring "I think we have enough" before walking out. Trump's early release violated an agreement the White House made with CBS to film the conversation for archival purposes. The move "will not deter 60 Minutes from providing its full, fair, and contextual reporting," CBS News said.

Facebook The Washington Post

5. Weekly new jobless claims fall below 800,000

The number of Americans filing new jobless claims has declined to less than 800,000 for the first time in seven months. The Labor Department on Thursday said that 787,000 Americans filed new jobless claims last week, a decline of 55,000 from the previous week's revised level and significantly below the expected 875,000 claims. It was the first time since the middle of March that the number of claims was below 800,000. Additionally, the number of continuing claims declined by about 1 million to 8.37 million claims. Last week, the number of new jobless claims unexpectedly rose to the highest level in almost two months. At the same time, CNN notes that "23.2 million Americans received some form of government jobless benefits in the week ended October 3."


6. France extends curfew as coronavirus surges across Europe

France on Thursday extended an overnight curfew to 46 million of the country's 67 million people as a new wave of coronavirus infections swept across Europe. Just after the announcement, French public health authorities said the country had a record 41,622 new confirmed cases. The curfew was imposed last week on Paris and eight other cities, but French Prime Minister Jean Castex said it now will be imposed in 38 more departments. "A second wave of the coronavirus epidemic is now under way in France and Europe. The situation is very serious," Castex said. On Wednesday, there were 422,835 new infections worldwide, the most in a single day since the pandemic began. Belgium's foreign minister was hospitalized in intensive care with COVID-19, and Spain this week became the first European country to reach 1 million cases.


7. Explosive fire forces closure of Rocky Mountain National Park

Authorities closed Colorado's Rocky Mountain National Park on Thursday after an explosive wildfire forced the evacuation of part of Estes Park, a town of 6,000 that serves as a base for people visiting the park. The blaze, known as the East Troublesome Fire, burned across 100,000 acres on Wednesday. It started a week ago, and by Thursday had covered more than 125,000 acres, driven by hot, windy weather, and fueled by trees that have been killed or damaged by pine beetles. Firefighting officials said they expected another day of possible rapid growth. "Today has been an extremely, extremely challenging day," said Grand County Sheriff Brett Schroetlin. "We never expected 6,000 acres per hour to come upon our community."

NBC News

8. Officials warn that Russian hackers targeted state and local governments

U.S. cybersecurity officials said Thursday that Russian hackers have tried to steal data from dozens of U.S. state and local governments in recent days, stoking fears of foreign interference in the looming November election. The warning was issued by the FBI and the Department of Homeland Security's cybersecurity agency. The warning about Russia's efforts came a day after Trump administration officials said that Iran had sent out phony emails attributed to the right-wing, pro-Trump Proud Boys group threatening to harm people if they didn't vote for President Trump. Some intelligence officials said they were concerned that the Trump administration was focusing on Iran because Russia poses a bigger threat to trust in the U.S. election results.

The Associated Press

9. FDA approves remdesivir for COVID-19 treatment

The Food and Drug Administration on Thursday approved remdesivir to treat COVID-19, making Gilead Science's antiviral drug the first and only coronavirus treatment with full federal approval. The FDA gave remdesivir emergency-use authorization in May, giving doctors the option of administering the drug to hospitalized COVID-19 patients after an extensive consent process. Full approval required further evidence of the drug's safety and effectiveness, which came through three clinical trials. A National Institutes of Health-funded trial found that remdesivir reduced hospital stays for moderately ill patients by four days, from 15 to 11. The drug has not been shown to significantly reduce mortality, and a multi-country trial backed by the World Health Organization found the drug had "little to no effect."

NBC News Politico

10. 2nd federal court rules against Trump push to change reapportionment count

A second federal court on Thursday blocked the Trump administration's attempt to change census numbers used to divvy up congressional seats by excluding undocumented immigrants. A three-judge panel in California ordered the Census Bureau to deliver a full count of population totals for reapportionment without breaking out numbers on undocumented immigrants. Last month, a lower court in New York ruled that President Trump had overstepped his authority by calling for excluding unauthorized immigrants from the numbers to be used for reapportioning seats in the House of Representatives, which by law must include the whole numbers of people in a state. The Supreme Court has decided to speed up its review of the administration's push, and is scheduled to start hearing oral arguments Nov. 30.

The New York Times

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Harold Maass

Harold Maass is a contributing editor at TheWeek.com. He has been writing for The Week since the 2001 launch of the U.S. print edition. Harold has worked for a variety of news outlets, including The Miami Herald, Fox News, and ABC News. For several years, he wrote a daily round-up of financial news for The Week and Yahoo Finance. He lives in North Carolina with his wife and two sons.