OK, THAT WAS NORMAL. Right? That made sense. That felt somewhat right. We learned things. There was not much shouting. We didn’t go to bed gnashing our teeth, or smashing our fists into walls.
THE FINAL TILT between JOE BIDEN and President DONALD TRUMP was refreshingly standard — and that was good. The two men were forced to talk in turn, and the moderator, KRISTEN WELKER, did a bang-up job on the largest stage of any political journalist’s career. And, for that, she got well-deserved plaudits.
OF COURSE, the bar for BIDEN and TRUMP was low. It might have been skimming the floor.
FOR TRUMP, that meant not acting completely and embarrassingly out of control, interrupting at every turn and disrespecting the debate rules. He reminded us that he was not a typical politician — but at times, he almost looked like one, which was OK for the moment, because we know he isn’t and don’t need to be reminded with a bullhorn every three seconds, as we have been for five years. Sometimes people want to hear information, not static. For Phish fans, sometimes “Fast Enough for You” is good, and for Dead Heads, when “Space” turns into “Stella Blue,” it’s occasionally centering.
NYT’S MATT FLEGENHEIMER and MAGGIE HABERMAN put it this way: “Before the president’s last, best chance to change the trajectory of his re-election bid, his mandate on Thursday evening was at once clear and complicated: Be less like Donald J. Trump. It can be said that he tried, by his standard.”
FOR BIDEN, that meant delivering cogent arguments, tripping up only once (saying he wants to get rid of the oil industry, rather than just cutting subsidies) and not getting sucked into TRUMP’S vortex.
THEY ABLY CONTRASTED their general governing and substantive theories. This is what we wanted here. Right?
MORE THAN 45 MILLION AMERICANS have already voted — so, for them, watching the Giants-Eagles game may have been a better use of time.
THE BIG QUESTION … DAVID SIDERS: “Trump comes out strong. But is it too late?”
HOW IT PLAYED … NATIONAL FRONTS … NYT, two columns, with photos by the great ERIN SCHAFF: “TRUMP AND BIDEN DIVERGE SHARPLY IN VISIONS FOR U.S.” … WAPO: “Contentious and broad final faceoff” … WSJ: “Debate Intensifies Race to Finish as Trump, Biden Clash”
JOHN HARRIS column: “This Was a Pretty Good Debate. Who Cares?”: “There was a rough consensus in the political class before Thursday night’s presidential debate about what both candidates and the moderator needed to do to avoid a disaster. Defying precedent, both candidates and the moderator did those things.
“The result: No disaster. No national embarrassment with a debate that hurtled off the rails. And likely no big alterations in a race that has stayed basically stable even through 2020’s twin traumas of pandemic and racial unrest and will finally end just eleven days from now.
“Instead, the final presidential debate seemed to carry a vague whiff of normal. Was that for real? Or have expectations corroded so comprehensively that anything that doesn’t reek as acridly abnormal now seems inoffensive, or even the slightest bit pleasant?”
RYAN LIZZA’S TAKE: “Hunter Biden wins the debate”
CONTOURS OF THE RACE REMAIN THE SAME … WAPO’S DAN BALZ: “Trump did what he came to do in Nashville, but Biden was ready for what came at him”: “With time running out and trailing in the polls, President Trump needed the strongest possible showing in his final debate against Joe Biden. But in the face of a series of attacks, the former vice president parried the president with a strong performance that is likely to leave the presidential campaign little changed from where it was at the start.” WaPo
WSJ EDITORIAL BOARD: “Mr. Trump was both better prepared and more disciplined than in the first debate, and if he loses on Nov. 3 he will wish he had done that the first time. He offered the best defense we’ve heard him make of his coronavirus effort, focusing on the vaccines in development, his mobilization of resources in the spring, and the need to balance protection of the vulnerable with reopening the country.”
DAY 95: Speaker NANCY PELOSI told her leadership team on a private conference call Thursday afternoon that Democratic lawmakers have been telling her they don’t want to vote on a Covid relief bill before the election unless Senate Majority Leader MITCH MCCONNELL was going to put it on the floor of the Senate before Nov. 3. This is a new insight into what’s driving PELOSI in these final days.
— WAPO’S ERICA WERNER and JEFF STEIN catalogue angst about Washington’s Most Eager Man, Treasury Secretary STEVEN MNUCHIN.
11 DAYS until ELECTION DAY.
Good Friday morning. ICYMI: The first edition of Transition Playbook is here.
WSJ VS. WSJ … WAPO’S @mattviser: “Hard to imagine as stark of a difference between the news side and opinion side of the Wall Street Journal than the two pieces that will run tomorrow on Hunter Biden’s venture in China. Read them in this order:”
— NEWS: “Hunter Biden’s Ex-Business Partner Alleges Father Knew About Venture,” by Andrew Duehren and James Areddy: “The venture—set up in 2017 after Mr. Biden left the vice presidency and before his presidential campaign—never received proposed funds from the Chinese company or completed any deals, according to people familiar with the matter. Corporate records reviewed by The Wall Street Journal show no role for Joe Biden.”
— OPINION: “The Biden ‘Family Legacy,’” by Kimberley Strassel: “[A] former business partner of Hunter Biden’s has come forward to provide the ugly details of the ‘family brand.’ Tony Bobulinski, a Navy veteran and institutional investor, has provided the Journal emails and text messages associated with his time as CEO of Sinohawk Holdings, a venture between the Bidens and CEFC China Energy, a Shanghai-based conglomerate. That correspondence corroborates and expands on emails recently published by the New York Post, which says they come from a Hunter laptop.”
IN MARK MEADOWS’ OLD CONGRESSIONAL SEAT … THE BULWARK: “Madison Cawthorn’s Racist Website: GOP wunderkind attacks opponent’s attempt to ‘ruin white males,’” by Tim Miller: “A new attack website put up by the Madison Cawthorn campaign includes an explicitly racist broadside against his opponent, Moe Davis (D-N.C.), for associating himself with people who want to ‘ruin white males.’
“For real. The website, MoeTaxes.com, takes aim at Davis over his purported association with a local journalist, Tom Fiedler. It says that Fiedler ‘quit his academia job in Boston to work for non-white males, like Cory Booker who aims to ruin white males.’”
— CAWTHORN previously took smiling selfies at Hitler’s bunker.
ON THE GROUND — “Trump Campaign Draws Rebuke for Surveilling Philadelphia Voters,” by NYT’s Danny Hakim and Nick Corasaniti in Philadelphia: “The Trump campaign has been videotaping Philadelphia voters while they deposit their ballots in drop boxes, leading Pennsylvania’s attorney general to warn this week that the campaign’s actions fall outside of permitted poll watching practices and could amount to illegal voter intimidation.
“The campaign made a formal complaint to city officials on Oct. 16, saying a campaign representative had surveilled voters depositing two or three ballots at drop boxes, instead of only their own. The campaign called the conduct ‘blatant violations of the Pennsylvania election code,’ according to a letter from a lawyer representing the Trump campaign that was reviewed by The New York Times. The campaign included photos of three voters who it claimed were dropping off multiple ballots.” NYT
— “‘Warning flare’: New swing-state data shows massive Democratic early-vote lead,” by Marc Caputo and Zach Montellaro: “Democrats have opened up a yawning gap in early voting over Republicans in six of the most crucial battleground states — but that only begins to tell the story of their advantage heading into Election Day.
“In a more worrisome sign for Republicans, Democrats are also turning out more low-frequency and newly registered voters than the GOP, according to internal data shared with POLITICO by Hawkfish, a new Democratic research firm, which was reviewed by Republicans and independent experts.
“The turnout data does not mean Donald Trump will lose to Joe Biden. Both sides are bracing for a close race and a giant wave of Republicans to vote in person on Nov. 3. Yet the turnout disparity with new and less-reliable voters has forced Republican political operatives to take notice. ‘It’s a warning flare,’ said veteran Republican strategist Scott Reed.” POLITICO
YOWZA … TRUMP’S LEAD in KANSAS in the new NYT/Siena poll is 7 points. He won Kansas by 20 in 2016. Democratic Senate candidate BARBARA BOLLIER is losing to Kansas GOP Rep. ROGER MARSHALL 46-42. The poll
GREEN WAVE — “Biden carries big cash advantage into final weeks of election,” by Zach Montellaro: “Former Vice President Joe Biden is carrying a cash advantage of more than $100 million over President Donald Trump into the final weeks of the election, according to newly filed campaign finance reports.
“Reports filed with the Federal Election Commission on Thursday revealed that Biden, the Democratic National Committee and two affiliated committees had $331.2 million in the bank as of Oct. 14, while Trump, the Republican National Committee and two of their fundraising affiliates had $223.6 million in reserve.”
TRUMP’S FRIDAY — The president will leave the White House at 1:30 p.m. en route to Ocala, Fla. He will travel to The Villages, Fla., and speak at a campaign rally at 4:30 p.m. Trump will leave at 6:10 p.m. and travel to Pensacola, Fla. He will arrive at Pensacola International Airport at 6:50 p.m. CDT and speak at a campaign rally. Afterward, he will travel to West Palm Beach. He will arrive at Mar-a-Lago at 11:30 p.m.
ON THE TRAIL … BIDEN will deliver remarks on Covid-19 and the economy in Wilmington, Del.
SEN. KAMALA HARRIS (D-Calif.)will travel to Atlanta. She will participate in virtual fundraisers in the afternoon. She will also participate in an early vote mobilization launch in the evening.
TV TONIGHT — PBS’ “Washington Week” with Bob Costa: Asma Khalid, Susan Page and Toluse Olorunnipa.
SUNDAY SO FAR …
- FOX“Fox News Sunday”: RNC Chair Ronna McDaniel. Panel: Jonathan Swan, Kimberley Strassel and Mo Elleithee. Power Player: Ice Cube.
- Gray TV“Full Court Press with Greta Van Susteren”: Sen. John Thune (R-S.D.) … Rep. Cedric Richmond (D-La.).
- CBS“Face the Nation”: Ohio Gov. Mike DeWine … Atlanta Mayor Keisha Lance Bottoms … Scott Gottlieb … new polling with Anthony Salvanto.
- ABC“This Week” (Martha Raddatz co-anchoring from Philadelphia): Chris Christie and Rahm Emanuel … Jen Ashton and Tom Bossert. Panel: Rick Klein, Matt Dowd and Tamala Edwards.
- NBC“Meet the Press”: Panel: Yamiche Alcindor, Mark Murray, Anna Palmer and Amy Walter.
THE TRUMP ADMINISTRATION — “Trump issues sweeping order for tens of thousands of career federal employees to lose civil service protections,” by WaPo’s Lisa Rein and Eric Yoder: “President Trump this week fired his biggest broadside yet against the federal bureaucracy by issuing an executive order that would remove job security from an estimated tens of thousands of civil servants and dramatically remake the government.
“The directive, issued late Wednesday, strips long-held civil service protections from employees whose work involves policymaking, allowing them to be dismissed with little cause or recourse, much like the political appointees who come and go with each administration.
“Federal scientists, attorneys, regulators, public health experts and many others in senior roles would lose rights to due process and in some cases, union representation, at agencies across the government. The White House declined to say how many jobs would be swept into a class of employees with fewer civil service rights, but civil service experts and union leaders estimated anywhere from tens of thousands to hundreds of thousands in a workforce of 2.1 million.” WaPo
DEEP DIVE — “Inside the campaign to ‘pizzagate’ Hunter Biden,” by NBC’s Ben Collins and Brandy Zadrozny
RUSSIA WATCH — “Russia Poses Greater Election Threat Than Iran, Many U.S. Officials Say,” by NYT’s Julian Barnes, Nicole Perlroth and David Sanger: “While senior Trump administration officials said this week that Iran has been actively interfering in the presidential election, many intelligence officials said they remained far more concerned about Russia, which in recent days has hacked into state and local computer networks in breaches that could allow Moscow broader access to American voting infrastructure.
“The discovery of the hacks came as American intelligence agencies, infiltrating Russian networks themselves, have pieced together details of what they believe are Russia’s plans to interfere in the presidential race in its final days or immediately after the election on Nov. 3. Officials did not make clear what Russia planned to do, but they said its operations would be intended to help President Trump, potentially by exacerbating disputes around the results, especially if the race is too close to call.
“F.B.I. and Homeland Security officials also announced on Thursday that Russia’s state hackers had targeted dozens of state and local governments and aviation networks starting in September. They stole data from the computer servers of at least two unidentified targets and continued to crawl through some of the affected networks, the agencies said. Other officials said that the targets included some voting-related systems, and that they may have been collateral damage in the attacks.” NYT
SPOTTED at a virtual cocktail reception hosted by the Meridian International Center on Thursday night to kick off the Meridian Summit on the Rise of Global Health Diplomacy, featuring violinist Joshua Bell and the American Pops Orchestra: Reps. Neal Dunn (R-Fla.) and Don Beyer (D-Va.) and Megan Beyer, Richard Jonas and Katherine Vernot-Jonas, John and Mary Walsh, Carlos Diaz-Rosillo, Patrick Steel and Lee Satterfield, Stuart and Gwen Holliday, Ann Stock, Robert and Marsha Jones, Randi Levine, Brad Knox, Michael Allen and Ken Staley.
WHITE HOUSE DEPARTURE LOUNGE — Pranay Udutha is leaving the White House, where he’s been Kellyanne Conway’s senior advisor since 2018. He will be joining ARPA-E at the Energy Department, focusing on venture capital partnerships and engagement. He’s also a Senate Finance and Bill Cassidy alum.
BIRTHWEEK (was Thursday): Sister Simone Campbell turned 75 (h/t Jeff Solnet)
BIRTHDAY OF THE DAY: Caroline Kitchens, director of government affairs at the R Street Institute. A trend she thinks doesn’t get enough attention: “One positive thing to come out of the pandemic is that we’ve seen many U.S. states easing or temporarily suspending occupational licensing laws. This is a great way to remove barriers to employment and give people more opportunity, both in normal times and pandemic times. A lot of people don’t realize that medical professionals can’t work across state lines or that some states even require licenses for people that arrange flowers!” Playbook Q&A
BIRTHDAYS: Rep. Fred Keller (R-Pa.) is 55 … Martin Luther King III is 63 … former Sen. Mel Martinez (R-Fla.) is 74 … Joanna Miller of the White House is 24 … POLITICO’s Lauren Morello and Jackie Heinz … Brian Ross … The Hill’s Ellen Mitchell … Rick Robinson … Rachel Shabad of the Biden campaign … Ani Chkhikvadze … USAID’s Sally Rey Parkinson … Corey Wilson, VP and head of comms at Condé Nast … Anne Filipic, chief program officer at the Obama Foundation … Karen Hobert Flynn, president of Common Cause (h/t Stephen Spaulding) … Nicole Streeter, general counsel for the D.C. Council (h/ts Jon Haber) … Jason Neal … Hayden Haynes, COS for Rep. Mike Johnson (R-La.) … Malia Rulon Herman … Sandy Maisel, political scientist at Colby College, is 75 (h/t Robert Hoopes) … Simon Rosenberg, founder of New Democrat Network, is 57 … Carmela Isabella (h/ts Teresa Vilmain) … Vikrum Aiyer, VP of global public policy at Postmates (h/ts Tim Burger and Gary Stier) …
… Leif Noren, chair of CRC Public Relations … Benjamin Haddad … Allison Preiss, VP of comms at the Center for American Progress … Sarah Smith … Arielle Tait … Vanity Fair’s Caleb Ecarma … Emma Racila … NYT’s John Koblin … Herbert Simon is 86 … Thumbtack’s Kellyn Blossom … Jennifer Paolino Romano … Peter Benton-Sullivan, director of government relations at the Glover Park Group … Gerald Sorin is 8-0 … Sheena Tahilramani, principal at SVN PR … Carole Brand … Amazon’s Linda Thomas … James Kotecki … Kinsey Casey … Meghan Mitchum of Proxy … Rwandan President Paul Kagame is 63 … Matthew Barzun is 5-0 … Ken Feinberg is 75 … Conrad Lucas … Pat Cleary … The National Law Journal’s Ryan Barber … Darcy Spencer … Ken Kurson … Jacob Alperin-Sheriff … Jessica Hoy … Moe Vela … POLITICO Europe’s Saim Saeed … Jesus Martinez … Halli Casser-Jayne … Annika Lichtenbaum … UNHCR’s Matthew Reynolds … Bobby Burchfield