By LIBBY CATHEY, ABC News
(CLEVELAND) — President Donald Trump and Democratic nominee for president Joe Biden will face off from a social distance in the first presidential debate of 2020 on Tuesday night in Cleveland, just five weeks out from Election Day.
The first presidential debate at Case Western Reserve University and the Cleveland Clinic comes on the heels of bombshell reporting from The New York Times on two decades of Trump’s tax records, ahead of a contentious Supreme Court confirmation process in the Senate and as the latest ABC News/Washington Post poll shows Biden maintains a 10-point edge among both registered and likely voters.
The coronavirus pandemic’s impact on the race will also be on display as the two candidates won’t partake in a handshake, customary at the top of such events. The size of the audience will also be limited and everyone attending the debate must undergo COVID-19 testing and follow other public health protocols.
The debate’s moderator, Chris Wallace of Fox News Sunday, selected six topics for Tuesday with each segment expected to get approximately 15 minutes: Trump’s and Biden’s records, the Supreme Court, COVID-19, the economy, race and violence in U.S. cities, and the integrity of the election — the final topic coming as Trump over the weekend wouldn’t commit to a peaceful transfer of power.
The 90-minute debate will air commercial-free from 9 to 10:30 p.m. ET on ABC and stream on ABC News Live. Pre-show coverage will begin on ABC News Live at 7 p.m. and on the network at 8 p.m. Following the debate, there will be additional analysis on ABC and ABC News Live.
Here’s the news leading up to Tuesday’s debate. All times Eastern:
Sep 29, 10:53 am
Trump vs. Biden on the issues: Election security and integrity
Russia’s ongoing brazen efforts to interfere in the presidential election — as they did four years ago — remains a principal concern among national security officials, along with other adversaries including China. But unlike in 2016, the rapid and sweeping embrace of vote-by-mail in response to the coronavirus pandemic injects new uncertainty about election security, as millions prepare to vote in an alternative way.
Fueling those anxieties over mail voting, which is underway in several states, is President Trump’s unsubstantiated allegations of rampant fraud, even as dozens of state election officials tell ABC News that they have confidence in the system. His campaign against vote-by-mail throughout the cycle exceeds similar efforts he made in 2016, when he argued, without evidence, that voter fraud was the only reason Hillary Clinton won the popular vote. His own voting integrity commission found no evidence of that.
The integrity of this year’s matchup between Trump and former Vice President Joe Biden has taken on an outsized role in the increasingly competitive political environment, as attempts to undermine confidence in the democratic process mount both from outside the country’s borders and from inside the Oval Office.
Biden has attempted to combat Trump’s onslaught by pointing out that Trump himself has voted-by-mail in Florida from the White House.
Some elections experts argue Trump’s offensive against mail-in voting is a voter suppression tool, which could lay the “groundwork for contesting a close election if he loses, ” wrote Rick Hasen, a professor of law and political science at the University of California, Irvine, and the author of “Election Meltdown: Dirty Tricks, Distrust and the Threat to American Democracy.”
“The most benign explanation for Mr. Trump’s obsessive focus on mail-in balloting is that he is looking for an excuse for a possible loss to his Democratic opponent, Joe Biden, in November. The less benign explanation is that he is seeking to sow chaos to drive down turnout and undermine the legitimacy of the election,” wrote Hasen.
At the first presidential debate on Tuesday at Case Western Reserve University in Cleveland, Ohio, the two rivals are set to spar over the integrity of the election, one of the topics previewed by the Commission on Presidential Debates.
Here’s what we know about the candidates’ histories with and stances on the issues.
-ABC News’ Kendall Karson and Quinn Scanlan
Sep 29, 10:15 am
Biden preps for personal attacks from Trump ahead of Tuesday’s debate
A tale of two campaigns is emerging ahead of the first face-to-face meeting in the general election between President Donald Trump and former Vice President Joe Biden Tuesday night on the presidential debate stage.
While President Trump has hit the campaign trail hard, holding eight events in the last week, Biden has taken a decidedly different approach, keeping a light schedule in order to prepare for their upcoming meeting.
The former vice president has hunkered down for debate preparations, which are being overseen by Democratic debate guru and Biden’s former chief of staff, Ron Klain, according to sources familiar with the preparation.
The preparations also includes Bob Bauer, a senior Biden adviser and former White House general counsel, stepping into the role of Donald Trump to help the former vice president get ready for Tuesday according to a source familiar with the process.
“Joe Biden is very big on preparing,” said Patti Solis Doyle, a Democratic strategist and former adviser to Biden, who took part in his 2008 vice presidential debate preparations.
“He understands that this is an opportunity to really speak directly to the American people. And so he wants to make sure he’s ready and prepared,” she added, noting his fondness for briefing books and discussion of strategy.
Biden aides expect the former vice president to focus on making the case for his own presidency in his time on the stage, with Biden expected to contrast his vision with Trump’s record — particularly his response to the coronavirus pandemic.
More on Biden’s debate prep can be found here.
-ABC News’ Molly Nagle
Sep 29, 9:37 am
Suburban women in key battlegrounds are ‘critical’ debate audience
When President Donald Trump and former Vice President Joe Biden share a debate stage for the first time Tuesday night, a key audience for both candidates will be suburban women voters in a handful of critical election battlegrounds.
ABC News Live recently met with five women voters from diverse backgrounds and political views in the suburbs around Minneapolis to discuss the 2020 campaign and issues important to mothers, young female professionals and retirees across the state.
They described anxiety over a year of cascading crises for their families, from the pandemic and recession, to protests for racial justice, a spike in violent crime and looting and a sudden vacancy on the U.S. Supreme Court.
Sep 29, 8:35 am
Some Trump top advisers expect a dominant performance by president
President Donald Trump is set to enter the first presidential debate on Tuesday down in the polls, but coming off the high of nominating his third Supreme Court justice. Some top advisers expect a dominant performance by the president, despite the opposing narratives of attacks on Joe Biden’s mental state and the Trump campaign’s work to raise expectations for the Democrat ahead of the showdown.
With days to go the debate, Trump has carried out conflicting and confounding strategies both repeatedly targeting Biden’s mental acuity, claiming at a recent rally he doesn’t know he’s alive, while also making passing attempts to boost the former vice president as a seasoned debater who could outshine him.
“This guy doesn’t have a clue. He doesn’t know where the hell he is,” Trump told his supporters in Pittsburgh a week to the day before the first debate. “This guy doesn’t know he’s alive.”
At a campaign rally Saturday night in Pennsylvania, the president both attacked Biden as “dumb” before immediately lauding him as an experienced debater.
“He’s a dumb guy. Always known as a dumb guy. But we look forward to seeing him in the debate. He’s got a lot more experience. He’s got 47 years. I’ve got 3 1/2 years. So we’ll see. But he’s got 47 years of experience,” Trump said.
Biden has brushed off Trump’s onslaught of attacks on his mental fitness.
“Watch me, Mr. President. Watch me. Look at us both, what we say, what we do, what we control, what we know, what kind of shape we’re in,” the former vice president said when asked by ABC News about the president’s attacks on his cognitive ability.
While some advisers tell ABC News they’re nervous as the president enters his first debate since his encounters with Hillary Clinton four years ago — with Biden having participated in nearly a dozen debates leading up to clinching the Democratic nomination — others are anticipating a knockout performance by the president and expect the debate to help highlight the former vice president’s gaffes, sources familiar said.
Sep 29, 8:07 am
Topics for Tuesday’s debate
The debate between Trump and Biden will run from 9 p.m. to 10:30 p.m. with no breaks for commercials.
The program will be divided into six segments of 15 minutes each, according to the Commission on Presidential Debates, with topics decided by the moderator.
Topics for Tuesday night’s debate are:
- Trump and Biden records
- The Supreme Court
- Race and violence
- Integrity of election
Sep 29, 7:15 am
Commission on Presidential Debates: Don’t expect moderators to be ‘fact checkers’
Viewers tuning in Tuesday night may anticipate moderator Chris Wallace to fact check the candidates in real time, but the Commission on Presidential Debates (CPD) attempted to manage those expectations over the weekend.
“There’s a vast difference between being a moderator in a debate and being a reporter who is interviewing someone,” CPD co-chair Frank J. Fahrenkopf Jr. said Sunday on CNN. “We don’t expect Chris or our other moderators to be fact checkers. The minute the TV is off, there are going to be plenty of fact checkers in every newspaper and every television station in the world. That’s not the role, the main role, of our moderators.”
Wallace — who received widespread praise for moderating the third and final 2016 debate between Trump and Hillary Clinton — also said Sunday on Fox News that his job as a moderator is “to be as invisible as possible.”
“I’m trying to get them to engage, to focus on the key issues, to give people at home a sense of, ‘why I want to vote for one versus the other,"” Wallace said.
Sep 29, 5:16 am
ABC News outlines three-hour primetime coverage of first debate
ABC will offer three hours of primetime coverage for the first presidential debate of 2020 on Tuesday evening with ABC News Chief Anchor George Stephanopoulos leading coverage from New York City joined by World News Tonight Anchor David Muir and ABC News Live Prime Anchor Linsey Davis.
A one-hour special, Trump vs. Biden: The Main Event – A Special Edition of 20/20, kicks off network coverage at 8 p.m. ET. The program will set the stage for the critical night for both candidates, reporting on the latest developments from the campaign trail, the stakes for both campaigns and the most important issues to voters across the country.
Pre-show coverage will begin at 7 p.m. on ABC News Live.
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