Donald Trump and Joe Biden face off this evening in Nashville, Tennessee, for their second and final debate. The Commission on Presidential Debates says it will mute the microphones of both candidates during parts of tonight’s 90-minute program — after Donald Trump interrupted Biden at least 128 times during their first debate. The debate will also feature plexiglass barriers separating the candidates, after President Trump held the last debate while he was likely infected with coronavirus. On Wednesday, former President Barack Obama headlined a drive-in rally for Biden in Philadelphia, where he blasted Trump for failing as president.
Barack Obama: “I did hope, for the sake of the country, that he might show some interest in taking the job seriously. But it hasn’t happened. He hasn’t shown any interest in doing the work or helping anybody but himself and his friends or treating the presidency like a reality show that he can use to get attention.”
On Wednesday, President Trump spoke to an estimated 15,000 people at a campaign rally in Gastonia, North Carolina, where few wore masks and no one practiced social distancing. The rally came amid a surge of COVID-19 cases in North Carolina, with hospitalizations rapidly approaching a previous record high set in July.
The New York Times reports President Trump has secretly maintained a bank account in China for years, even as he bashed Joe Biden for being “weak on China.” The Times reveals Trump paid nearly $200,000 in taxes to China while pursuing licensing deals there from 2013 to 2015. Around the same time, Trump paid little or no U.S. income tax.
In other election news, Director of National Intelligence John Ratcliffe accused Russia and Iran of taking actions to interfere in the U.S. election, in a hastily arranged evening press briefing where no questions were allowed. FBI Director Christopher Wray, whom President Trump is reportedly considering firing, also spoke. Ratcliffe claimed Russia and Iran had obtained some voter registration information — information which is often available publicly.
John Ratcliffe: “This data can be used by foreign actors to attempt to communicate false information to registered voters that they hope will cause confusion, sow chaos and undermine your confidence in American democracy. To that end, we have already seen Iran sending spoofed emails designed to intimidate voters, incite social unrest and damage President Trump.”
While Ratcliffe claimed Iran was trying to damage Trump, he offered no details backing up that claim. The one example he cited appeared to show intimidation of Democratic voters. Ratcliffe accused Iran of sending threatening fake emails to some Democrats that were designed to look as if they were sent by the far-right Proud Boys.
Iran called the charges baseless and absurd and denied being behind the emails. Intelligence sources told Reuters it is still unclear who sent them.
Democrats on the Homeland Security Committee questioned the allegations. The committee initially tweeted, “DO NOT listen to Ratcliffe. Partisan hack.” That tweet was later deleted. The committee also tweeted, “TO CLARIFY: These election interference operations are clearly not meant to harm President Trump.”
The Senate Judiciary Committee is set to vote today on Judge Amy Coney Barrett’s confirmation to the U.S. Supreme Court. Democrats are boycotting the proceedings, which they say will deny the committee its required quorum; they’re planning to fill their empty seats with photos of people impacted by the Affordable Care Act. Republican committee chair Lindsey Graham says he’ll hold a vote anyway, and Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell has promised a full Senate vote on Barrett’s confirmation on Monday. If confirmed, Barrett would likely rule on the fate of the Affordable Care Act — and could help settle any potential challenge to November’s election results before the Supreme Court.
Purdue Pharma has agreed to an $8 billion settlement with the Justice Department over its illegal marketing of the powerful opioid OxyContin. Under the deal, the Purdue corporation will plead guilty to three criminal counts, but no one — not even members of the billionaire Sackler family who own Purdue — will face any jail time. Purdue Pharma is in bankruptcy proceedings, making it likely the company will pay just a fraction of the $8 billion settlement.
As opioid abuse surged across the U.S., drug overdoses became the leading cause of death for Americans under the age of 50 — with more than 67,000 such deaths in 2018 alone.
In a statement, the advocacy group P.A.I.N. Sackler wrote, “This proves that there are two justice systems in America — one for billionaires and one for the rest of us. The Sacklers’ walking away from Purdue is a retirement, not a punishment.”
In a shift for the Catholic Church, Pope Francis has endorsed civil unions for same-sex couples. In a new documentary, Pope Francis says, “Homosexuals have a right to be a part of the family. They are children of God and have a right to a family. What we have to create is a civil union law.” In the film, Pope Francis also criticizes the Trump administration’s family separation policy at the border, saying, “It’s cruelty, and separating kids from parents goes against natural rights.”
In Mexico, protesters marched near the U.S. border in Tijuana Wednesday demanding the Trump administration end its “Remain in Mexico” policy for people seeking asylum in the United States. Immigration activist Paulina Olvera says the policy has been especially cruel for asylum seekers during the pandemic.
Paulina Olvera: “Because many of them have spent months here, some even a year waiting, and since the pandemic, the border has been closed completely to asylum seekers, and they’re in legal limbo. They don’t know when they’re going to have their next hearing. They have no protection from Mexico and the United States. And I believe many of them are struggling even to just eat. It affects everything, including mental health.”
In Colombia, thousands of trade unionists, teachers and students joined an Indigenous-led national strike Wednesday demanding an end to the killings of social movement leaders and to police violence. Colombia’s right-wing President Iván Duque has refused protesters’ demands that he meet publicly with protest leaders, saying without evidence that they’ve been infiltrated by “terrorists.” This is protester Harold Arias.
Harold Arias: “We’re scared of going back to our territories without getting in dialogue with the president, because there is the uncertainty that Indigenous leaders are being murdered by a national government that does not want to respect our rights.”
Here in New York, a federal judge has announced he will decide without hearing oral arguments whether President Trump can be privately sued for defamation for comments he made as president against E. Jean Carroll, who accused Trump of raping her in the 1990s. The Justice Department wants to crush the case by switching the defendant from Trump to the United States government, arguing that Trump’s denial of a rape accusation was done in his official capacity as president. Oral arguments were scheduled for Wednesday, but the Justice Department’s lawyer, who traveled from Virginia, was denied entry to the New York courtroom due to the state’s quarantine rules. The Justice Department then opted not to do oral arguments by phone. Jean Carroll criticized the government’s handling of the case.
E. Jean Carroll: “It was a stunning and shocking day. … A woman who makes a complaint against a powerful man — women in this country must be assured that her case will not be tossed off to the DOJ.”