Trump, Biden to square off in final debate ahead of Nov. 3 election

President Donald Trump and his Democratic rival Joe Biden pleasantly greeted each other Thursday night as they took the stage for their final debate.

The night launched immediately into leading the country through the COVID-19 crisis, with Trump telling the crowd “we’re fighting it” and stressing that a vaccine is on the way.

“We have a vaccine that’s coming, it’s ready. it’s going to be announced within weeks,” said Trump, noting he “had it for a very short period of time and I got better very fast.”

“It will go away,” he said. “We’re rounding the corner, it’s going away,” said Trump, who noted that they expect to have “100 million vials as soon as we have a vaccine ready to go.”

Biden followed, saying there are over 1,000 deaths per day and over 70,000 new case per day and Trump, he said, “has no comprehensive plan.”

“The expectation is we’ll have another 200,000 Americans dead between now and the end of the year,” he said. “If we just wore these masks, as the president’s own advisers have told him, we could save lives.”

Biden said he’d implement rapid testing and have clear standards for opening up schools and business.

“I will take care of this, I will end this, I will make sure we have a plan,” Biden added. 

PGA golfer John Daly, left, and performer Kid Rock, right, take their seats before the start of the second and final presidential debate Thursday, Oct. 22, 2020, at Belmont University in Nashville, Tenn.

Trump, Biden to square off in final debate ahead of Nov. 3 election

President Donald Trump and Democratic challenger Joe Biden are set Thursday to face off in their final debate, less than two weeks ahead of the Nov. 3 election.

Biden stepped off the campaign trail to prepare for the match-up inside Belmont University in Nashville, Tenn., while Trump — trailing in the polls in some battle ground states — continued with stops in Pennsylvania and North Carolina. 

The debate, moderated by NBC’s Kristen Welker, is a final chance for both candidates to spar on the same stage before a national televised audience. 

Both campaigns have had a heavy presence in Michigan in recent days.

On Monday, Trump’s daughter, Ivanka Trump, made visits to Grand Rapids and Alto, while son Eric Trump visited Lansing and Willis. On Monday, former South Bend Mayor Pete Buttigieg made three stops across Michigan for Biden while the candidate’s wife, Jill Biden, made four stops on Tuesday, including three in Metro Detroit that ended with a Dearborn rally aimed at energizing Arab American voters. 

Vice President Mike Pence held earlier Thursday a rally in Oakland County, calling on Biden to give a “straight answer” ahead of the evening debate on whether he’ll expand the U.S. Supreme Court in Michigan. 

Speaking at a rally at Barnstormers near the Oakland County International Airport, Pence repeated his argument that an effort, floated by some Democrats, to add seats to the nine-member court and appoint liberal justices would be the biggest power grab in American history.

Biden has said he’s not a fan of “court packing” but hasn’t given a definitive answer on whether he would support such a move.

Pence also focused on the Supreme Court, predicting that Judge Amy Coney Barrett, the conservative appeals court judge whom Trump nominated to fill deceased Justice Ruth Bader Ginsburg’s seat, would join the high court next week.

President Donald Trump, left, and Democratic presidential candidate former Vice President Joe Biden, left, take the stage for the start of the second and final presidential debate Thursday, Oct. 22, 2020, at Belmont University in Nashville, Tenn.

New debate shutoff rule

The Supreme Court was among the key topics that Trump and Biden addressed in their first debate in late September, which featured frequent interruptions and snipes between the candidates.

Days later, Trump announced he had tested positive for the coronavirus and was subsequently hospitalized. 

The Commission on Presidential Debates ruled based on the circumstances that a second planned debate be held virtually. The president rejected the format, prompting the debate to be canceled. The two instead last week held dueling town halls. 

Trump tested negative for the virus on the plane ride to the debate, according to pool reports. 

To limit interruptions Thursday night, Trump and Biden each will have their microphones cut off while the other candidate delivers their opening statement as well as answers to each of the six debate topics. 

The mute button is among the changes implemented by the nonpartisan debate commission to help ensure a better sense of safety and order following the raucous opening debate 23 days ago.

Additionally, any audience member who refuses to wear a mask will be removed, organizers report. Last month, several members of the Trump family removed their masks once seated in the debate hall.

About 200 people will be inside the arena, including invited guests of the campaigns and the debate commission, students, security and health and safety staff. 

All audience members and support staff will be socially distanced and were required to undergo coronavirus testing onsite within three days of the event.

Preparations take place for the second Presidential debate between President Donald Trump and Democratic presidential candidate, former Vice President Joe Biden at Belmont University, Thursday, Oct. 22, 2020, in Nashville, Tenn.

Trump releases ’60 Minutes’ video

Trump on Thursday leaked footage from a not-yet-aired “60 Minutes” interview, which included his denial of saying he would lock up Michigan Gov. Gretchen Whitmer

Trump made the denial when asked about the “lock her up” chants at his rallies, usually directed at the Democratic former presidential nominee Hillary Clinton but most recently aimed at Whitmer during a Saturday rally in Muskegon.

The rally came not long after federal and state authorities charged multiple men in connection with an alleged kidnapping plot targeting Whitmer over her restrictive COVID-19 orders. 

Trump, in footage from an interview he leaked Thursday, denied claims he had ever advocated to have Whitmer locked up. 

“I never said lock up the governor of Michigan,” he said, arguing it was a “vicious thing” to suggest. “I would never say that. Why would I say that?”

Whitmer eased her strictest executive orders, a stay-home directive, in the late spring. The remainder of her orders were overturned by the Michigan Supreme Court Oct. 2.

Whitmer weighs in on muted mics

Whitmer, in a Thursday night interview with CNN’s Wolf Blitzer, said she was glad that mics will be muted for Biden and Trump’s latest debate.

“That first debate was just horrendous, the way that the president over-talked and it was hard to understand what the candidates were saying because of the president’s continuous talking,” she told Blitzer. 

Whitmer said Biden needs to just be himself to come out on top in the debate. 

“Joe Biden gets it and when he shows up and he is himself, people love him, people believe in him,” she said. 

Biden’s campaign says he’s ready for a confrontation with Trump during the debate over allegations of corruption against Biden’s son, Hunter Biden.

At rallies and in interviews before the debate, Trump has made clear that he intends to focus the forum on airing allegations that Hunter Biden engaged in corrupt practices in Ukraine and China.

Whitmer said Biden must respond to those attacks “like a dad.”

“I’m a mom. If someone attacked my child, I would have a strong reaction but it would be out of love. I think that people see that when he talks about his family. He is a family man. He is a true American leader who sees the humanity in others,” she said.

“When President Trump attacks him for his son, I think it will backfire because parents everywhere see the genuine concern of a parent and anyone who has a loved one who’s had addiction issues, which is the vast majority of us, including me, knows that it is support and it is love that helps keep families together,” Whitmer added. 

cferretti@detroitnews.com

Detroit News Staff Writers Beth LeBlanc and Craig Mauger contributed. The Associated Press contributed.