The National  Memo Logo

Smart. Sharp. Funny. Fearless.

Monday, December 09, 2019 {{ new Date().getDay() }}

Tag: 2020 presidential debates

Book Excerpt: The Day Bernie Backed Off From Attacking Biden

Excerpted with permission from The Fighting Soul: On The Road With Bernie Sanders, available here.

I look at September 2019 as a month where I missed something. We began with a trip to New York to do Seth Meyers’s and Dr. Oz’s shows. Why would we go on The Dr. Oz Show? For the same reason we had gone on Joe Rogan’s podcast in August: We could reach a vast audience that wasn’t paying attention to the standard political media. On Dr. Oz, Bernie could talk about Medicare for All and his own physical fitness. While at the time we believed Bernie was uncommonly healthy for his age, he was still 78. Questions would be raised related to his age, and we needed to begin building up the case that he was completely healthy and fit. It turned out to be a spectacular interview, ending with the two of them playing basketball on a makeshift court in the studio. Bernie appeared to be on top of the world.

Yet in retrospect, I should have seen Bernie growing more fatigued. After New York, with the school year starting, we did a series of rallies at colleges and universities in Iowa; this was the kickoff of our campus organizing program in the state. We would then fly to Colorado for a large rally in Denver before heading to Boulder to prep for the third debate, to take place in Houston on September 12. In Iowa, Bernie’s voice was a little hoarse. After the rally in Denver, he had completely blown it out. He sounded terrible.

One of Bernie’s few previous health problems had been a cyst on his vocal cords years before his first run for president. Now he was again experiencing problems with his voice at the worst possible moment. Elizabeth Warren had moved into second place in the polls. She, Joe Biden, and Bernie would all be on the stage together for the first time at the debate in Houston. Not only was his voice a problem, but he seemed to be getting progressively more tired.

During debate prep, the staff had a mission. Because Warren and Biden were polling at one and two, respectively, they would be at the center of the stage. Bernie would be shuffled to the side, an unusual place for him. He needed to put himself at the center of the action. If you want a crowd, pick a fight. There was general agreement among the staff that he should begin the debate with an attack on Biden. He should go after him on an assortment of issues, from his previous advocacy for Social Security cuts, to his vote for the Iraq War, to trade treaties he had backed that had cost our country millions of jobs.

We pitched the strategy to Bernie throughout the day. It was reinforced by two additional staff members who showed up at debate prep to deliver a memo making this point. He seemed to agree with it. Campaign adviser Jeff Weaver wrote an opening statement that we all signed onto. Bernie made some alterations and practiced it several times. While he was behind it, he seemed a bit hesitant. Bernie was very particular about one thing: that the attack not be personal. It would be about policy. At the same time, he knew that he needed to do something to take command of the stage.

We arrived in Houston with Bernie still saying he was sticking to the plan, but something was off. With campaign manager Faiz Shakir, myself, and Jane Sanders in the greenroom, Bernie practiced his opening, jotting it down on his ever-present yellow legal pad. What we saw as Biden’s prior missteps would be framed not just as policy disputes, but as an argument about electability. Bernie would make the case that Biden’s repeated errors in judgment over a long career made him a weak candidate to take on Donald Trump in the general election.

In the greenroom, Bernie read the statement with a perfect delivery. Jane listened carefully, clearly sensed his discomfort, and said, “Talk about your issues, don’t attack Joe.” Jane’s words were all he needed. He would not take the road he never wanted to travel down in the first place. This was not a candidate’s spouse making a political judgment. It was Jane performing one of her most important duties on the campaign—making sure Bernie stayed true to himself.

After Jane left the greenroom to take her seat in the audience, Faiz and I, committed to the strategy we had agreed to in debate prep, encouraged Bernie to go onstage and deliver the statement as prepared. There was even more discomfort in his voice. We made one last attempt to pump him up. At the prior debate, he had left the greenroom dancing and ready for a brawl. He left the green room in Houston with a burden on his shoulders. When it came time for his opening statement, I turned to Faiz and said, “Is he going to do it?”

“I don’t know.”

Instead of the practiced opening, Bernie delivered his Bernifesto, the list of the policies he supports: Medicare for All, College for All, and a Green New Deal. Faiz and I looked at each other. We didn’t need to speak. We could tell what the other was thinking: fuck.

While Bernie performed well enough for the rest of the debate, much of the staff saw it as a wasted opportunity. What made us nervous was that Bernie had seemed to relish counterpunching against John Delaney and other moderate Democrats during the July debate, but he now seemed very hesitant to attack Joe Biden.


Excerpted from The Fighting Soul: On the Road with Bernie Sanders by Ari Rabin-Havt. Copyright © 2022 by Ari Rabin-Havt. Used with permission of the publisher, Liveright Publishing Corporation, a division of W. W. Norton & Company, Inc. All rights reserved.

How Biden Wiped The Floor With Trump In Final Debate

Reprinted with permission from Alternet

In the second and final one-on-one presidential debate of the 2020 race, President Donald Trump and former Vice President Joe Biden both turned in stronger performances than they had in their first, thanks in part to the impressive moderation of NBC News reporter Kristen Welker. Trump, perhaps because of new rules and advice he'd received, was much less inclined to interrupt Biden and marginally less combative. Biden, perhaps because he wasn't interrupted constantly, was able to get to many of his key talking point and directly connect with voters on matters that are important to them.

Read Now Show less

Rebutting Accusations, Biden Asks Why Trump Is ‘Hiding’ Tax Returns

In Thursday night's debate, Donald Trump repeatedly leveled accusations of financial corruption at Democratic presidential nominee Joe Biden, among them unverified claims of Biden's son Hunter receiving $3.5 million from the Russian government.

Biden categorically denied Trump's vague and unspecific claims that he has taken money from foreign entities.

"I have not taken a penny from any foreign source ever in my life," he said.

Biden immediately pointed out the hypocrisy of Trump's attacks, given Trump's ever-growing laundry list of financial scandals.

He noted the recent revelation that Trump paid more taxes to China than to the U.S. government in recent years — $188,561 between 2013 and 2015 in total.

Biden also noted that he himself has released 22 years of his tax returns and slammed Trump for his refusal to release his.

"What's going on here?" Biden demanded. "Why not release your tax returns or stop talking about corruption?"


JOE BIDEN: I have not taken a penny from any foreign source ever in my life. We learned this president paid 50 times the tax in China as a secret bank account with China, does business in China, and in fact is talking about me taking money. I've not taken a single penny from any country whatsoever, ever, number one.
Number two, this is a president, I have released all of my tax returns, 22 years, go look at them, 22 years of my tax returns. You have not released a single, solitary year of your tax returns. What are you hiding? Why are you unwilling?
The foreign countries are paying you a lot. Russia's paying you a lot. China's paying you a lot. And your hotels and all your businesses al around the country, all around the world, and China's building a new road ... to a golf course you have overseas. So what's going on here? Why not release your tax returns or stop talking about corruption?

Published with permission of The American Independent Foundation.

Trump Says Immigrant Children He Orphaned Are ’So Well Taken Care Of’

Donald Trump on Thursday night defended his administration's policy of separating immigrant children from their families with no way of reuniting them, claiming they are "so well taken care of."

Asked at the final presidential debate about the 545 detained immigrant kids taken forcibly from their parents at the southern U.S. border under his administration's zero-tolerance policy, whose families the Trump administration has been unable to locate, Trump first suggested without proof that some had been brought into the country by "coyotes."

Former Vice President Joe Biden quickly refuted that argument, noting that the kids in question had come over with their families before being separated by border officials.

"Let's talk about what we're talking about, what happened. Parents, their kids were ripped from their arms and separated. And now they cannot find over 500 sets of those parents and those kids are alone, nowhere to go," Biden noted. "It's criminal."

Trump then falsely claimed that the children were being kept in great facilities.

"I will say this. They went down. We brought reporters, everything. They are so well taken care of. They're in facilities were so clean and have gotten such good..." he bragged.


In reality, the Department Health and Human Services' own inspector general has documented widespread trauma among those children, many of whom have been held in facilities with histories of abuse and misconduct. A September 2019 investigation found "some separated children expressed acute grief that caused them to cry inconsolably."

A separate 2018 report by the Department of Homeland Security's inspector general found that hundreds of children were also unlawfully detained for more than three days — often in cages, without beds or showers — and that the Border Patrol failed to even keep track of which of the nonverbal young kids were which.

Thursday night's question about the 545 separated children stemmed from a New York Times report published on Wednesday, which revealed that the Trump administration's poor record keeping had made it difficult to impossible to decipher the parents' whereabouts. And though in some cases, parents said they had left their children with friends after being deported, they only did so because they felt forced or were concerned for their children's safety if they came with them.

"The Trump administration had no plans to keep track of the families or ever reunite them and so that's why we're in the situation we're in now, to try to account for each family," Justice in Motion's Nan Schivone, who is working with other advocates to help find the parents, told the Times.

Published with permission of The American Independent Foundation.

Is Trump Camp Complaining About Rules So They Can Ditch Final Debate?

Reprinted with permission from DailyKos

Donald Trump is claiming that he will still debate despite the rule change that will cut off the candidates' microphones while their opponent delivers his initial two-minute response to each of the debate's topics. But everything else Trump and his campaign are saying sounds like they're laying the groundwork to back out.

"I will participate," Trump told reporters Monday night. "But it's very unfair that they changed the topics and it's very unfair that again we have an anchor who's totally biased." At his Arizona rally Monday, Trump attacked moderator Kristen Welker as a "radical Democrat" and claimed she had "deleted her entire account," which is false. Trump's campaign manager, Bill Stepien, went further in his whining about the debate.

Stepien touted a letter to the Commission on Presidential Debates as "Our letter to the BDC (Biden Debate Commission)." That letter came before the CPD announced that it would mute microphones for portions of the debate in response to Trump's constant interruptions at the first debate, though Stepien knew such a decision was likely coming, writing, "It is our understanding from media reports that you will soon be holding an internal meeting to discuss other possible rule changes, such as granting an unnamed person the ability to shut off a candidate's microphone. It is completely unacceptable for anyone to wield such power, and a decision to proceed with that change amounts to turning further editorial control of the debate over to the Commission which has already demonstrated its partiality to Biden."

Shooooot, here I thought it was generous to Trump that the microphones will only be cut to give each candidate two uninterrupted minutes, leaving Trump the remainder of each 15-minute debate segment to interrupt.

But what did Stepien mean by "other possible rule changes," you ask? What was the first rule change? Well, it wasn't one. Stepien wrote to strongly complain that "We write with great concern over the announced topics for what was always billed as the 'Foreign Policy Debate' in the series of events agreed to by both the Trump campaign and the Biden campaign many months ago." Welker's announced topics include "Fighting COVID-19, American families, Race in America, Climate Change, National Security, and Leadership," Stepien complained, using this as a launching pad to attack Biden on foreign policy.

Except this debate was never billed as a foreign policy debate. It's true that in past years, the third debate has sometimes focused on foreign policy, but here in 2020, the CPD's original announcement of debate formats and moderators said of the third debate, "The format for the debate will be identical to the first presidential debate," and the first debate "will be divided into six segments of approximately 15 minutes each on major topics to be selected by the moderator."

So even before the CPD finalized the decision to prevent Trump from interrupting for two minutes in each of six segments, so 12 minutes out of a 90-minute debate, Team Trump was falsely complaining that the debate was rigged. No wonder—as a Biden campaign spokesman noted, the Trump campaign is upset "because Donald Trump is afraid to face more questions about his disastrous Covid response."

Trump has lost one debate and backed out of one debate. If he goes into this one with the attitude he's showing now—attacking the moderator, attacking the topics, enraged that he can't interrupt for two entire minutes at a time—he's going to lose this one, badly, once again hurting his already weak reelection prospects. So which will it be? Back out and have that be the story, or alienate one of the largest audiences of the entire presidential campaign by showing what kind of person he is?

Commission Mandates Virtual Debate: Trump Quits, Biden Will Be There

Reprinted with permission from DailyKos

Moments after The Presidential Commission on Debates announced that "in order to protect the health and safety of all involved," the next presidential debate will be held virtually, candidate Joe Biden and COVID-19 patient Donald Trump's campaigns reacted.

Joe Biden's campaign said, "Vice President Biden looks forward to speaking directly to the American people and comparing his plan for bringing the country together and building back better with Donald Trump's failed leadership on the coronavirus."

And Trump's campaign? They're opting for another superspreader event:

That's not what debates are about or how they're done. Here are the facts: President Trump will have posted multiple negative tests prior to the debate, so there is no need for this unilateral declaration. The safety of all involved can easily be achieved without canceling a chance for voters to see both candidates go head to head. We'll pass on this sad excuse to bail out Joe Biden and do a rally instead."

No word on if those "posted multiple negative tests" will include one that proves that Trump hasn't been lying through his teeth since last Friday, and knowingly exposed Joe Biden to COVID-19 at the first presidential debate, along with those at his ensuing press events, fundraisers, campaign rallies, along with everyone at the White House.

Vowing To Join Miami Debate On Oct. 15, Trump May Remain Contagious

A day after he was released from Walter Reed Medical Center after being diagnosed with the coronavirus, Donald Trump pledged to take part in the next presidential debate.

"I am looking forward to the debate on the evening of Thursday, October 15th in Miami. It will be great!" Trump tweeted.

As Jennifer Jacobs, White House reporter for Bloomberg News, pointed out, Trump would not yet be considered beyond the risk of being contagious and spreading the coronavirus by Oct. 15. "Trump says he's planning to debate in 9 days," Jacobs tweeted. "Dr. Conley said it would be 10 days plus or minus before it would be safe for the president to be out and about."

Read Now Show less

WATCH: SNL Opener Features Baldwin, Carrey, And Rudolph In Presidential 'Debate'

Saturday Night Live's new season began last night, and the show's first "cold open" of fall 2020 harks back to that night so long ago -- at the beginning of the week -- when we watched the worst presidential debate in American history.

It begins with moderator Chris Wallace (Beck Bennett) asking President Trump (Alec Baldwin, of course) whether he has taken a Covid-19 test. "Scout's honor," he replies, fingers crossed. Following his dramatic entrance, Democratic nominee Joe Biden (Jim Carrey!) is mercilessly heckled by Trump and struggles to contain his fury. Until he doesn't, and unleashes the tirade that was bursting inside him.

Sen. Kamala Harris (Maya Rudolph) materializes onstage to take over, letting us know that "America needs a WAP – woman as president." But after "Momala" heads offstage for a martini, Biden finally finds a way to shut Trump up. And then he brings the sketch fully up to date.