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Clashing Trump-Biden events highlight US divide

Donald Trump and Joe Biden attacked each other in split screen spectacle, as Kamala Harris cancels travel

Welcome to today’s US election briefing for Australia.

As far as metaphors go for our hyper-divided, siloed political age, the sight of two presidential candidates attacking each other simultaneously on rival networks was stark, to say the least.

Donald Trump and Joe Biden were supposed to be debating each other on Thursday evening, but Trump pulled out after the Commission on Presidential Debates ruled it would be a virtual event in the aftermath of Trump’s positive Covid test, leading to the headache-inducing split-screen spectacle.

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The contrast between candidates was predictably strong. Trump was bombastic and lively, delivering several WTF moments (refusing to denounce the baseless QAnon conspiracy theory) and claiming, absurdly, the US had “turned a corner” on defeating Covid (infections are rising amid fears of a looming third peak). NBC host Savannah Guthrie was a deft interlocutor, fact-checking the president in real time and showing Australians that commercial breakfast TV hosts need not be sycophantic dolts.

Shockingly (though also, you know, not shocking) Trump was evasive about whether he had been Covid-tested on the day of the first presidential debate, as was required: “possibly I did, possibly I didn’t”.

Biden’s town hall was languid by comparison – many of his answers came in the form of long, circuitous stories or were overly wonky. Substantially though, he appeared to suggest he was open to increasing the numbers on the supreme court, a major attack point for Republicans. He also admitted aspects of the Democrats’ controversial 1994 crime bill, now a byword for mass incarceration, were a “mistake”. You can read our full report here.

I must admit I spent more of the time watching Trump than Biden – it was like a Hollywood blockbuster versus a Merchant Ivory film. The Democrats are hoping the public is tired of actually living in the disaster movie though, and will vote for a reprieve.

The big stories
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2:42

Kamala Harris has cancelled travel for the coming days after it emerged both she and Biden travelled on flights that carried someone who later tested positive for Covid. Both candidates have since tested negative, but will continue to be tested.

As Congress remains deadlocked on a new stimulus package, two new studies show at least 6 million more people in the US are in poverty due to the effects of the pandemic. It’s unclear when a second stimulus package will be passed.

Republicans appear to have the votes to confirm Amy Coney Barrett, with the judiciary committee scheduling a vote on 22 October ahead of a full Senate ballot. “This goose appears to be cooked,” Democratic senator Cory Booker said.

Fourteen senior Trump political appointees have been cited for violations of the Hatch Act, which bars most federal officials from using their government posts to engage in various kinds of political activity.

Twitter has staged a partial u-turn on its policy of blocking a New York Post story about Joe Biden after a wave of criticism from Republicans and some non-conservative voices.

Quote of the day

The way he kisses dictators’ butts … I mean, the way he ignores that the Uighurs are in literal concentration camps in Xinjiang right now. He hasn’t lifted a finger on behalf of the Hong Kongers … The United States now regularly sells out our allies under his leadership, the way he treats women, spends like a drunken sailor … His family has treated the presidency like a business opportunity. He’s flirted with white supremacists.”

Republican senator Ben Sasse lists his myriad issues with Donald Trump in a leaked phone call with constituents.

Election views
Voters wait in line to cast their ballot early in Augusta, Georgia

“Americans must reckon with the fact that one of our two political parties increasingly sees representative democracy as either a hassle or a threat,” argues David Litt, in this piece exploring Republicans’ voter suppression tactics, including cutting polling places, leading to the extraordinarily long lines seen this week.

“The panicked response from the social media giants underlines the extent to which both companies … have scrambled to deal with the twists and turns of an American election that many fear is closer to tipping into violence than any in living memory,” writes Alex Hern, in his analysis of Facebook and Twitter’s move to stem the spread of Wednesday’s New York Post story.

Video of the day

Biden won the nomination on the shoulders of older Black voters in the south. But how do younger, progressive people of colour feel about his candidacy in the southern state of Georgia, in play for the first time in decades? And will a dangerous campaign of QAnon disinformation have any bearing on the outcome of the election?

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11:08
Around the web

The computer repair shop worker at the centre of the NY Post story, who supposedly handed material from a laptop belonging to Hunter Biden to the FBI and Trump consigliere Rudy Giuliani, has given a bizarre interview to the Daily Beast. As they write, he “appeared not to have a grasp on the timeline of the laptop arriving at his shop and its disappearance from it”.

Caroline Giuliani, daughter of the aforementioned Rudy, has become the latest political scion to sensationally enter the election fray, urging Americans to reject her father and Trump in Vanity Fair. “As a child, I saw firsthand the kind of cruel, selfish politics that Donald Trump has now inflicted on our country.”

Demi Lovato has released an anti-Trump protest song called Commander in Chief. My colleague Dorian Lynskey gave it a stellar review, calling it powerful. Personally, I’d rather Van Gogh my own ears than endure it again. As they say, you decide.

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What the numbers say: 4,667

The number of new positive Covid cases just in the state of Texas yesterday. Experts warn the US is heading for a third peak as infections soar in the midwest and south.

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