September 30, 2020

In an attempt to clarify comments he made during Tuesday night's president debate, President Trump said Wednesday at the White House that he doesn't know who the Proud Boys are, but added that they should "stand down" and let law enforcement do their jobs.

Trump sparked bipartisan criticism during the debate when moderator Chris Wallace asked him if he was willing to denounce far-right and white supremacist groups. Trump asked who he should specifically address, and when the Proud Boys — a far-right group designated as a hate group by the Southern Poverty Law Center — were suggested, he told them "to stand down and stand by," which members quickly adopted as a rallying cry.

The president's aides argued he didn't need to clarify anything since he was trying to tell the group to "get out of the way," but Trump added a new wrinkle to the situation by claiming ignorance. His critics aren't taking him for his word since he has a history of saying he doesn't know who people are when his connections to them are called into question, like David Duke in 2016, and because he didn't need any clarification about the group before telling them what to do, which suggests awareness. But regardless of whether Trump knows who the Proud Boys are, he seems to have deliberately dropped "stand by" from his rhetoric. Tim O'Donnell

5:03 a.m.

CNN's Gary Tuchman watched Thursday's final debate between President Trump and Democratic nominee Joe Biden with 11 uncommitted voters in Davidson, North Carolina. Among these voters, it was not a good night for Trump.

Trump did have one high moment among the undecided voters. His plea for reopening the economy and Biden's case that the coronavirus is hitting the United States, not red states or blue states, "were the highest-rated comments by each candidate, according to our panel here of undecided voters," Tuchman told Wolf Blitzer. "The second-biggest moment" was Biden's closing remarks on what he would say to people who didn't vote for him. The lowest moment? Trump's claim to be "the least racist person in this room."

"Yeah, it wasn't a positive reaction, Wolf, as you saw," Tuchman said. "At the very least, it was a bit presumptuous to say something like that."

When he took a head count, zero of the people said Trump won, nine said Biden was the winner, and two called it a draw. And worse for Trump, seven of them said they are now ready to cast their ballots for Biden, versus none for him.

The four still-undecided voters mostly said they want to see if any more information emerges about either candidate before Nov. 3, but one voter had a very specific event in mind involving the Supreme Court and Trump's nominee for the open seat. "Well, I'm pro-life, so I'd like to see, you know, whether Judge [Amy Coney] Barrett gets on the court," he said. If she does, "I'll probably vote for Biden," because "I think that he is a stronger leader who is more willing to support fair elections and lead both parties more back toward the center and away from extremism." But if she doesn't get on the court, he'll probably choose Trump. Tuchman thanked him for being interesting. Peter Weber

3:58 a.m.

The final presidential debate between President Trump and Joe Biden was in Nashville on Thursday night, and The Late Show kicked it off with a musical number.

"Tonight was Donald Trump's very last chance to make his closing argument: Please ignore what he's like and everything he's ever done," Stephen Colbert said on Thursday's live post-debate Late Show. "Moderator Kristen Welker did a great job" and "kept them on subject, admirably," starting with "Trump's catastrophic COVID response — which of course was a subject he didn't want to touch."

Biden and Trump also clashed on climate policy, corruption, racism, and personal taxes, and when "Welker turned to the tragedy of the 545 children who the Trump administration took from their parents at the southern border," Trump "did an insane thing and tried to defend the border detention centers for kids," Colbert said. "Trump seemed to get spooked as the night went on and started playing some of the classics," like "immigrants are murderers and rapists. Trump's closing with the line he opened this entire nightmare with." He reminded voters: "The ultimate mute button is in your hands."

The mute button "seemed like it worked pretty well — I'm thinking of getting one for Thanksgiving," Jimmy Fallon joked at The Tonight Show. In fact, it was so "much calmer, at one point they almost cut to Jeffrey Toobin to liven things up."

"Everyone was impressed by Trump not interrupting or yelling," though "I'm not sure it's a great sign that we talk about the president like we talk about a 4-year-old at a puppet show," Fallon said. And when Trump claimed he wasn't racist, "instead of the mute button, someone hit the laugh track. It's a little weird to say 'I'm the least racist person in the room' when half the room are your friends and family."

"Only Donald Trump can look at a half-Black, half-Native American moderator and say 'I'm the least racist person in this room,'" Jimmy Kimmel agreed on Kimmel Live. "The Thrilla in Nasvhilla" was "not the WrestleMania event most people were expecting," and Trump did get "marks for good behavior, like when you bring a 2-year-old on a plane." There were high points, like Trump "almost kinda" taking responsibility for America's pandemic response," but "there was so much nonsense," Kimmel said. "Trump, his defense of putting children in cages is 'You should see how nice these cages are.' Honestly." He ended with a very personal plea for protecting people with pre-existing conditions. Watch below. Peter Weber

1:58 a.m.

Just minutes after President Trump declared during Thursday night's debate that migrant kids separated from their parents are "so well taken care of" inside U.S. facilities, the Lincoln Project released a searing four-second ad combining his words with the wails of children.

This week, lawyers tasked with reuniting migrant kids with their families told a court they haven't been able to track down the parents of 545 children. They were separated under the Trump administration's zero-tolerance policy, and when asked about this by moderator Kristen Welker, Trump claimed the government is working to find the parents, but added that many are smuggled into the country by coyotes and when kids are placed in U.S. facilities, they are "so well taken care of."

Democratic presidential nominee Joe Biden pushed back, saying the children in question were ripped away from their parents, not smugglers, and called the act "criminal." On Twitter, PBS NewsHour reporter Amna Nawaz said that she has "been inside the border processing centers where many kids and families were held. They were under resourced. Crowded. Staff overwhelmed. Groups of young kids crammed into windowless rooms."

The Lincoln Project wasted no time bringing attention to Trump's claim. Their video uses footage from facilities, showing young children wrapped up in mylar blankets inside cages, and the audio is Trump's claim that "they're in facilities that were so clean ... so well taken care of," mixed with the sounds of kids crying. Watch the ad below. Catherine Garcia

1:14 a.m.

For what it's worth, Democratic presidential nominee pretty consistently won his final debate against President Trump, according to most reputable snap polls conducted after the Thursday night showdown in Nashville.

There was also "the unscientific CNN North Carolina 'undecided voter' panel" that had "Biden 9, Trump 0, a Draw 2," notes Josh Jordan. But on Fox News, Sean Hannity posted an online poll that found Trump to be the overwhelming victor of the night — as Eric Trump highlighted.

Debates can matter. Trump's performance in his first face-off against Biden was so bad, by the next day Jared Kushner was "imploring friendly media personalities and other allies to level with his father-in-law about the angry and aggressive debate style he had displayed," The Wall Street Journal reports. "Polls would soon show the performance had cost the president support." Trump's snap numbers are actually relatively good after his final, more disciplined debate performance, FiveThirtyEight's Nate Silver notes. Trump has now lost all five of his presidential debates, Silver added, and it didn't seem to matter that much in 2016. Peter Weber

12:54 a.m.

Pete Buttigieg gave President Trump a quick history lesson during Thursday night's debate.

Moderator Kristen Welker asked both Trump and Democratic presidential nominee Joe Biden about Black families having to specifically talk with their children about interacting with police. Trump was quick to respond, saying, "Nobody has done more for the Black community than Donald Trump. And if you look, with the exception of Abraham Lincoln ... I'm the least racist person in this room."

Buttigieg, the former mayor of South Bend, Indiana, and one of Biden's rivals during the Democratic primaries, didn't like Trump glossing over more than 150 years of history, and pointed out on Twitter that a president who came before Trump ushered into law some very important legislature. "The Civil Rights Act was signed in 1964 by President Johnson," Buttigieg tweeted. "Show some goddamned respect."

Back in June, Trump claimed that his "administration has done more for the Black community than any president since Abraham Lincoln," touting the passage of criminal justice reform and guaranteed funding for historically Black colleges and universities. Vox's Fabiola Cineas points out that many presidents between Lincoln and Trump have helped Black Americans, whether it's Ulysses S. Grant creating the Department of Justice and pushing to prosecute the Ku Klux Klan or Barack Obama passing the Affordable Care Act, "which has reduced racial disparities in health care." Catherine Garcia

12:16 a.m.

The final 2020 presidential debate spent a good deal of time on climate policy, and President Trump added some color with a few out-of-left-field claims. Democratic nominee Joe Biden's climate policy, Trump claimed, was really written by "AOC-plus-three," a reference to Rep. Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez (D-N.Y) and the three other congresswomen in "the Squad."

Under their collective plan, Trump said, "they want to take buildings down because they want to make bigger windows into smaller windows. As far as they're concerned, if you had no window it would be a lovely thing." He continued: "They want to knock down buildings and build new buildings with little, tiny, small widows, and many other things." Biden laughed and said Trump was making stuff up. The fastest-growing industries in America are solar and wind energy, he added, and Trump "thinks wind causes cancer, windmills." Trump did not dispute that, but he did tell Biden, "I know more about wind than you do. It's extremely expensive. Kills all the birds."

The Squad had some fun with Trump's bizarre claim about tiny windows, something not mentioned in their Green New Deal framework, much less Biden's proposals.

But if Trump were really concerned about the fate of the birds, reducing the size of windows would be the best policy short of banning cats. Peter Weber

Opinion
12:10 a.m.

The second and final presidential debate was supposed to have a section devoted to national security, and perhaps that's what a few unilluminating questions about North Korea and foreign election meddling were intended to be. Or perhaps, as I first assumed given the topical order, that section was cut for time. Either way, this bare minimum of attention to foreign policy is inexcusable for an examination of the two candidates running to be commander-in-chief in a country addicted to perpetual war.

Our Constitution assigns power to initiate military conflict to Congress, and Congress, as a matter of habit, does its best to abdicate that responsibility in favor of unaccountable executive war-making. The Constitution also gives the president authority to prosecute wars already underway. As it happens, we have several.

The war in Afghanistan is our nation's longest ever, now in its 19th year and long since lost to any sort of American "victory." It was given no substantive attention tonight, nor was it discussed in the first debate.

The war in Iraq was also not addressed. That failed regime change project has cost us about $2 trillion, created the power vacuum that led to the rise of the Islamic State, and has a civilian death toll estimated in the hundreds of thousands. Too boring for a debate, perhaps?

Yemen, where the United States is enabling the world's worst humanitarian crisis, was ignored. So too recent (and in some cases ongoing) U.S. military interventions in Syria, Libya, Somalia, and more than two dozen locations in North and Sub-Saharan Africa.

These are literally matters of war and peace, life and death. They are also matters in which one of these men soon will have considerable discretion to leave or stay the course of two decades of inhumane and counterproductive foreign policy. That discretion requires interrogation. It didn't get it tonight. Bonnie Kristian

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