President Trump refused to categorically denounce white supremacists on Tuesday night, diverting a question about right-wing extremist violence in Charlottesville, Va., and Portland, Ore., into an attack on “left-wing” protesters.
“Are you willing, tonight, to condemn white supremacists and militia groups and to say that they need to stand down and not add to the violence in a number of these cities as we saw in Kenosha and as we’ve seen in Portland?” Chris Wallace, the moderator, asked the president.
“Sure. I’m willing to do that,” said Mr. Trump, but quickly added, “Almost everything I see is from the left wing. Not from the right wing.”
When Mr. Wallace pressed on, the president asked, “What do you want to call them?”
“White supremacists and right-wing militias,” the moderator replied, as Joseph R. Biden Jr. mentioned the Proud Boys, a far-right group that has endorsed violence.
“Proud Boys, stand back and stand by,” Mr. Trump said. “But I’ll tell you what. I’ll tell you what. Somebody’s got to do something about antifa and the left because this is not a right-wing problem. This is a left-wing problem.”
When Mr. Biden pointed out that Mr. Trump’s own F.B.I. director, Christopher A. Wray, had said that antifa was an idea, not an organization, the president replied, “Oh, you’ve got to be kidding.” (The director also said this month that “racially motivated violent extremism,” mostly from white supremacists, had made up a majority of domestic terrorism threats.)
The president’s comments prompted celebration by members of the Proud Boys. Within minutes, they were posting in private social media channels, calling the president’s comments “historic.” In one channel dedicated to the Proud Boys on Telegram, a private messaging app, group members called the president’s comment a tacit endorsement of their violent tactics.
In another message, a member commented that the group was already seeing a spike in “new recruits.”
Mr. Biden noted that the group was celebrating Mr. Trump’s remark, pointing in a retweet to some of the comments being made.
Twitter suspended the Proud Boys from its platform in August 2018, and Facebook followed with a similar ban in October 2018. In the years since, the group has continued to expand its numbers on other social media platforms, and has become more visible at protests.
President Trump dramatically escalated his effort to undermine public confidence in the integrity of the election at the first presidential debate, urging his supporters to “go into the polls” to shadow Democrats — while suggesting he was “counting” on a conservative Supreme Court to determine the victor.
Mr. Trump’s statements came at the end of an ugly 90-minute debate, and at the end of a rambling string of false and familiar claims that Democrats are using voting-by-mail procedures as a way of stealing the election from him.
The high court needs to “look at the ballots” in the presidential election, Mr. Trump said.
The extraordinary request came before most of the voting has even taken place. The president even revived his 2016 rally cry that the election was already “rigged,” despite the absence of evidence of widespread, or even sporadic, wrongdoing.
“This is going to be a fraud like you’ve never seen,” Mr. Trump said. “We might not know for months because these ballots are going to be all over.”
Mr. Biden, who had previously delivered a plea to voters that Mr. Trump “cannot stop you from being able to determine the outcome of this election,” turned to the camera and said: “He’s just afraid of counting the votes.”
Mr. Trump’s comments come just days after he told reporters at the White House that he would not commit to a peaceful transfer of power if he is to lose the election, and were followed by Mr. Biden’s assurance he would abide by the results of the election once all the votes were counted.
Later, Mr. Trump touted his support for efforts by conservative groups to congregate at polling places frequented by Democrats — a move that has been denounced as a campaign of voter intimidation at a time when Mr. Biden seems to be widening his lead in several key battleground states.
“I’m urging supporters to go into the polls and watch very carefully. Because that is what has to happen. I’m urging them to do it,” said Mr. Trump.
He went on to falsely accuse officials in Philadelphia of preventing his supporters from monitoring electoral activities this week; In fact, the officials turned some of Mr. Trump’s backers away because they had not registered as poll workers.
”There was a big problem today in Philadelphia they went in to watch. Poll watchers. A safe thing. They were thrown out. They weren’t allowed to watch,” he said. “Bad things happen in Philadelphia.”
The exchange was merely the latest effort by Mr. Trump to cast doubt upon election results. He has for years made false claims about voter fraud. Even after he won the 2016 election, he said without evidence that millions of illegal votes were cast for Hillary Clinton. Mr. Trump even convened a White House commission on voter fraud, which disbanded in 2018 without having uncovered evidence of illegal votes.
In recent months, as his standing in the polls has fallen, Mr. Trump has pre-emptively argued that Democratic elections officials are orchestrating a scheme to send extra mail ballots to like-minded voters. There is no evidence of this.
CLEVELAND — A day after a staggeringly contentious first debate, Joseph R. Biden Jr. sought again to put President Trump on the defensive on Wednesday by courting some of the voters who propelled him to the White House in 2016.
In his most vigorous day of campaigning in months, Mr. Biden is scheduled to embark on a seven-stop train tour through the Democratic strongholds of Cleveland and Pittsburgh, as well as a host of smaller towns in eastern Ohio and western Pennsylvania where Mr. Trump demonstrated strength in 2016, winning over working-class white voters who had traditionally voted for Democrats.
Mr. Biden has been open in his ambition to win over voters who supported President Barack Obama and himself before flipping to back Mr. Trump, honing a populist economic message that casts the contest as a choice between his hometown of Scranton and Park Avenue. His campaign said that on Wednesday Mr. Biden “will highlight how he will build our economy back better for working families, not the super wealthy and corporations.”
There are limits to that goal: According to a recent New York Times/Siena College poll of Pennsylvania, Mr. Trump has double-digit leads over Mr. Biden among white voters without four-year college degrees, and among rural voters.
But the same poll showed why the Biden team sees an opportunity: Mr. Trump, who won Pennsylvania by less than a percentage point in 2016, is underperforming with those voters now, and Mr. Biden has a chance to cut further into his margins.
How much time he intends to devote to that effort, though, remains an open question: Amid the pandemic, Mr. Biden has been deeply cautious about campaign travel, causing some concerns among Democrats in both Ohio and Pennsylvania. But in recent weeks he has intensified the pace of his schedule.
A longer-shot victory in Ohio, which Mr. Trump carried by 8 points in 2016, is the stuff of Democratic dreams, while the surprise defeat Mr. Trump dealt Hillary Clinton in Pennsylvania is a source of nightmares for many Democrats who are still wary of believing polls showing Mr. Biden with a stable lead.
The first presidential debate between President Trump and Joseph R. Biden Jr. unraveled into an ugly melee on Tuesday, as Mr. Trump hectored and interrupted Mr. Biden nearly every time he spoke and the former vice president denounced the president as a “clown” and told him to “shut up.”
In a chaotic, 90-minute back-and-forth, the two major party nominees expressed a level of acrid contempt for each other unheard-of in modern American politics.
Mr. Trump, trailing in the polls and urgently hoping to revive his campaign, was plainly attempting to be the aggressor. But he interjected so insistently that Mr. Biden could scarcely answer the questions posed to him, forcing the moderator, Chris Wallace of Fox News, to repeatedly urge the president to let his opponent speak.
“Will you shut up, man?” Mr. Biden demanded of Mr. Trump at one point in obvious exasperation. “This is so unpresidential.”
Yet Mr. Biden also lobbed a series of bitingly personal attacks of his own.
“You’re the worst president America has ever had,” he said to Mr. Trump.
The president’s bulldozer-style tactics represented a significant risk for an incumbent who’s trailing Mr. Biden because voters, including some who supported him in 2016, are so fatigued by his near-daily attacks and outbursts. Yet the former vice president veered between trying to ignore Mr. Trump by speaking directly into the camera to the voters, and giving in to temptation by hurling insults at the president. Mr. Biden called Mr. Trump a liar and a racist.
Mr. Trump peppered his remarks with misleading claims and outright lies, predicting that a coronavirus vaccine was imminent when his own chief health advisers say otherwise, claiming that his rollback of fuel-efficiency standards would not increase pollution and insisting that a political adviser, Kellyanne Conway, had not described riots as useful to Mr. Trump’s campaign, even though she did so on television.
And even as he went on the offensive against Mr. Biden on matters of law and order, Mr. Trump declined to condemn white supremacy and right-wing extremist groups when prompted by Mr. Wallace and Mr. Biden. When Mr. Wallace asked him whether he would be willing to do so, Mr. Trump replied, “Sure,” and asked the two men to name a group they would like him to denounce.
Judge Amy Coney Barrett, President Trump’s Supreme Court nominee, continued meeting with senators on Wednesday, sitting down with Republicans eager to approve her confirmation before the general election on Nov. 3.
It marked the second day of private meetings for Judge Barrett, who received unanimous praise from the handful of Republican senators she met with on Capitol Hill on Tuesday. The effusive support for Judge Barrett, who was confirmed to the appeals court in Chicago in 2017, underscored the likelihood that Senate Republicans would be successful in completing the confirmation process in about a month.
Senator Mitt Romney, Republican of Utah, was the first senator to meet with Judge Barrett Wednesday morning, joking that after being quizzed in college he was “looking forward to the opportunity to return the fire — to turn the tables, if you will — to ask a question or two of a former law professor.”
“I’m really looking forward to our chance to speak,” he added. “I’m sure we’ll have a very interesting and informative opportunity to speak with each other.”
Mr. Romney, like several senators on Tuesday, declined to answer a question about whether Judge Barrett should recuse herself from any election-related cases that appear before the Supreme Court if she is confirmed.
Judge Barrett is also scheduled to meet with Senators Tim Scott of South Carolina, Todd Young and Mike Braun of Indiana, David Perdue and Kelly Loeffler of Georgia, Shelley Moore Capito of West Virginia, Thom Tillis of North Carolina, John Cornyn of Texas and Cindy Hyde-Smith of Mississippi.
“You just knock it out of the park as a law professor, as a lawyer, and I think you’re just an outstanding judge, ready for a good promotion,” Senator Lindsey Graham, Republican of South Carolina and chairman of the Senate Judiciary Committee, said to Judge Barrett after their meeting on Tuesday. “The question for the country is, is this lady ready to be promoted? I think the answer is yes.”
Senator John Thune of South Dakota, the No. 2 Republican, said Judge Barrett had “described herself as somebody who’s in the tradition of Justice Scalia,” the conservative legal icon whose opinions were critical of abortion rights, and for whom Judge Barrett had clerked. After their meeting on Tuesday, the senator said he would support her nomination.
A few Democratic senators, including Senators Amy Klobuchar of Minnesota and Cory Booker of New Jersey, have indicated that they will speak with Judge Barrett before hearings begin next month, even as several of their colleagues have said they plan to boycott the usual courtesy meeting. They are fiercely opposed to filling the seat when voting is underway in many states, accusing Republicans who refused to consider President Barack Obama’s Supreme Court nominee in 2016 of rank hypocrisy.
“The best thing we can do is basically expose this process for what it is,” Ms. Klobuchar told reporters on Tuesday.
With little power to block the nomination, Democrats have sought to frame the confirmation battle as a referendum on health care, given that the Supreme Court is set to hear a case that could overturn the Affordable Care Act in the days after the election.
Senator Chuck Schumer of New York, the minority leader, on Tuesday successfully set up votes on legislation that would prevent the Justice Department from moving to strike down the Affordable Care Act, ensuring that Senate Republicans would have to vote on health care legislation before the election.
The unedifying spectacle of Tuesday night’s presidential debate produced some shock, some sadness and some weariness among both America’s allies and its rivals on Wednesday.
As President Trump bellowed, blustered and shouted down both the moderator, Chris Wallace, and his opponent, former Vice President Joseph R. Biden Jr., and as Mr. Biden responded by calling Mr. Trump a “clown,” many wondered if the chaos and tenor of the event said something more fundamental about the state of American democracy.
“Of course, the ultimate arbiter will be the American voter,” said Ulrich Speck, an analyst with the German Marshall Fund in Berlin. “But there is a consensus in Europe that this is getting out of hand, and this debate is an indicator of the bad shape of the American democracy.’’
There was always a sense among allies that in America, despite political disagreement, “there is one republic, and conflict will be solved by debate and compromise,” and “that power was married to some kind of morality,” Mr. Speck said.
But that view is being questioned now, he said: “The debate was really no debate at all, but two people pursuing their strategies.”
John Sawers, a former British diplomat and head of a risk analysis firm, said simply: “My own response is that it makes me despondent about America. The country we have looked to for leadership has descended into an ugly brawl.”
As little as anyone can seem to agree on these days, one thing that liberals, conservatives and independent observers alike said was abundantly clear after the first presidential debate on Tuesday night was that there were no winners. America lost, they said.
On NBC, Lester Holt called the evening “a low point in political discourse.”
A top Republican strategist, Russ Schriefer, asked: “Seriously — if there weren’t any more debates, would that be a problem? Anyone served by this mess?”
Pete Buttigieg, the former mayor of South Bend, Ind., and a former candidate for the Democratic presidential nomination, sounded despondent in his assessment: “America was the world’s leading democracy. Then this happened. Now what?”
Most of the political professionals and pundits watching said the 90 minutes of bickering, interrupting and shouting was an unbearable affair that had further exhausted the patience of a weary and beleaguered nation.
The near-unanimity of the sentiment about the debate over all did not entirely extend to judgments about the performances of the two candidates, President Trump and former Vice President Joseph R. Biden Jr. Though there were critics of the president’s domineering behavior among some of his usual defenders on the right, others insisted that his low blows against his opponent’s family were just what the Republican base wanted to hear.
On a night of trash-talking and bile, one of the most memorable lines in the first presidential debate came after President Trump interrupted Joseph R. Biden Jr. for the umpteenth time, and Mr. Biden shot back: “Will you shut up, man?”
Now the Biden campaign is seeking to monetize the retort. The campaign started selling T-shirts emblazoned with the phrase, over a photo of Mr. Trump’s frowning face, for $30 to $33, shortly after the debate.
The debate, the first of three scheduled between Mr. Trump and Mr. Biden, brought to a boil months of hostilities over the coronavirus pandemic, the unrest over racism and police brutality and Mr. Trump’s haste to fill the Supreme seat of Justice Ruth Bader Ginsburg.
Mr. Biden’s comment came early on, as Mr. Trump, blurring the lines between candidate and moderator, hectored Mr. Biden over whether he would expand the number of justices on the nine-member court, as some Democrats have urged. Mr. Trump further pressed Mr. Biden to name the judges whom he would nominate to the court.
“Will you shut up, man,” Mr. Biden said. “This is so — this is so unpresidential.”