The Morning Jolt


Grueling Dueling Town Halls

The dual town halls of Democratic presidential candidate Joe Biden and President Donald Trump are seen on television monitors at a restaurant ahead of the election in Tampa, Fla., October 15, 2020. (Octavio Jones/Reuters)

On the menu today: a whole lot from last night’s dueling network town halls, where Biden said he’ll reveal his position on Court-packing later; Kamala Harris insists that confirming judges she opposes constitutes Court-packing; and Donald Trump says he has “no position” on the conspiracy theory that Joe Biden orchestrated to have the U.S. Navy’s SEAL Team Six killed to cover up the fake death of Bin Laden.

Biden: Voters ‘Will Have a Right to Know Where I Stand Before They Vote’

Maybe the dueling network town halls last night were almost as informative as a debate between President Trump and Joe Biden. We got one genuine bit of news out of Biden last night.

BIDEN: It is, but, George, if I — if I say — no matter what answer I gave you, if I say it, that’s the headline tomorrow. It won’t be about what’s going on now, the improper way they’re proceeding.

STEPHANOPOULOS: But don’t voters have a right to know where you stand?

BIDEN: They do have a right to know where I stand. And they will have a right to know where I stand before they vote.

STEPHANOPOULOS: So, you will come out with a clear position before Election Day?

BIDEN: Yes, depending on how they handle this. But, look, what you should do is, you got to make sure you vote, and vote for a senator who, in fact, thinks — reflects your general view on constitutional interpretation. And vote for a president who you think is more in line with you. And if you oppose the position that I — I would not have appointed her. But if you oppose my position, vote for Trump. Vote for a Republican who shares that view. But that’s your opportunity to get involved in lifetime appointments that a — presidents come and go. Justices stay and stay and stay.

Remember, one of the Democrats’ arguments against Barrett’s confirmation is that people are currently voting, and in their minds, the Senate should not vote to confirm a justice while people are voting. But nearly 20 million Americans have already voted, and Biden says Americans “will have a right to know where I stand before they vote.” By his own standard, he should have revealed his position weeks ago.

Later in the evening, Kamala Harris did an interview with CNN anchor Don Lemon. Lemon cannot be characterized as a hostile interviewer of Harris. Lemon himself said he believed the issue of Court-packing in this presidential campaign is a “distraction.” Lemon himself suggested that the media’s coverage of Hillary Clinton’s email scandal in 2016 was somehow illegitimate or an error. But even Don Lemon could recognize that a presidential candidate not willing to say whether he believes the court should be expanded beyond the nine-justice size that has been in place for 150 years was news, and he pressed Harris to expand upon it.

And Harris dodged the question, responding that the confirmation of justices she opposes constitutes “Court-packing,” and that none of Trump’s appellate-court nominees have been black. (This is true of appellate-court nominees, but not for all of Trump’s judicial nominees. None of his 53 appellate appointments are black; eleven of his 161 district-court appointees are black, according to Federal Judicial Center data. On September 23, Roderick C. Young was confirmed 93-2 to the U.S. District Court for the Eastern District of Virginia where he is currently a magistrate judge. Kamala Harris missed the vote.)

LEMON: But this whole idea — were you surprised to hear the former vice president say that he’s going to have — take a stance or give his position on this court packing before the people vote?

HARRIS: I think that Joe Biden has been consistent about saying that this is not the time right now to have this discussion.  And, frankly, to be honest with you, Don, and just to be very straightforward, if we’re going to talk about court packing, which is something that all of a sudden has become a big point of discussion, I think . . .

LEMON: Right.

HARRIS: . . . because our opponents are trying to create a distraction.

LEMON: The only reason I’m bringing it up is just because I want to — I actually think it is a distraction.

HARRIS: But — but . . .

LEMON: And I just wanted to get you on the record.


LEMON: So — because maybe, if you — if you guys answer it, you will get it behind you, and it doesn’t become her e-mails. And that’s up to the media, too, to not make it her e-mails.

HARRIS: But I’m not — and not fall into the trap, because, look if we want to — seriously, if we want to talk about court packing, can we please talk about — and I have witnessed this firsthand on the Senate Judiciary Committee. They have been, one after another, nominating people who are unqualified, people who refuse to say that Brown vs. Board of Education is precedent. Do you know that they put 50 people on the lifetime court of a federal court of appeal, and not one is black? I mean, I just — I’m sorry, but I can’t have a conversation about court packing around something . . .


HARRIS: . . . that has not even happened yet, which is who is going to be the next president, without dealing with what they have been doing for the last few years.

This reminds me of when Hillary Clinton would say she refused to answer any hypothetical questions. When you’re running for president and you haven’t been elected yet, every question about what you would do as president is a hypothetical question.

With no president to interrupt him, and George Stephanopoulos and the town-hall participants too polite to interrupt the lengthy monologues, Biden talked, and talked, and talked. No, Biden isn’t drooling on himself or utterly senile. But viewers were treated to a combination of Biden’s old lengthy Senate soliloquies and story time with grandpa.

The problem with Joe Biden is not that he’s no longer capable of putting two thoughts together. The problem is he keeps grabbing two handfuls of dozens of thoughts and mushes them all together in one long, meandering, twisting-and-turning, Mississippi River-like stream.

Joe Biden Sort-Of, Kind-Of Remembers What It Takes 

Biden was asked, “As president, how will you avoid the temptation to exact revenge and instead take the high road and attempt to restore bipartisanship, civility, and honor to our democracy?”

Biden chucked and answered, “And as written by a fellow who won the Pulitzer Prize for a book he wrote about the presidency, he said, ‘You know, I doubt whether Biden is really Irish. He doesn’t hold a grudge.’”

My first thought was that Biden was referring to Richard Ben Cramer’s What It Takes, a series of extraordinarily detailed profiles of eight men running for president in 1988, which has a section on Biden’s first campaign for the Oval Office. Cramer didn’t win the Pulitzer Prize for that book, but he did win a Pulitzer for his international reporting in 1979, and he was nominated for the prize again in 1981. And I didn’t remember that quote in the book. It does not appear in the book. As far as I can tell from Google searching, no one has ever been quoted in a news article, magazine profile, op-ed, or letter to the editor, “I doubt whether Biden is really Irish. He doesn’t hold a grudge.’

Cramer did say something sort of along those lines in a 1992 interview with the Washington Post:

As Cramer wrote, he did an unusual thing. He sent out sections of his book to his subjects. “No surprises” had been a promise to the candidates. “And I wanted to be corrected,” he says, “if anything was inaccurate.”

The reactions were mixed. Mrs. Bush, who received the sections about herself and her husband, stopped reading them after a while, because she said it was “too painful, too hurtful,” according to Cramer. He turned to the president’s sister for help on details.

“Joey Biden,” says Cramer, “read the stuff, had lots of corrections about his mansion, but his reaction to the book was of such wonderful largeness and humanity.”

(By the way, if you haven’t read What It Takes, do so. The portrait of Biden alone is worth the price.)

If all you want out of the 2020 election is for the Trump presidency to end, Biden can do that for you. Beyond that, everything’s a little iffy.

Trump on QAnon: ‘I Do Know They Are Very Much Against Pedophilia’

Meanwhile, over on NBC, President Trump proved, for what seems like the millionth time, that he cannot bring himself to utter a critical word about any group that likes him, no matter what else they believe:

SAVANNAH GUTHRIE: All right, while we’re denouncing, let me ask you about QAnon. It is this theory that Democrats are a satanic pedophile ring and that you are the savior, of that. Now can you just, once and for all, state that that is completely not true, and-


GUTHRIE: — disavow QAnon-

TRUMP: Yeah.

GUTHRIE: — in its entirety?

TRUMP: I know nothing about QAnon.

GUTHRIE: I just told you.

TRUMP: I know very little. You told me, but what you tell me, doesn’t necessarily make it fact. I hate to say that. I know nothing about it. I do know they are very much against pedophilia. They fight it very hard. But I know nothing about it. If you’d like me to-

GUTHRIE: They believe that it is a Satanic cult run by the deep state.

TRUMP: —study the subject.

And then on to a nutty conspiracy theory he retweeted last week:

GUTHRIE: Just this week, you retweeted to your 87 million followers, a conspiracy theory that Joe Biden orchestrated to have SEAL Team Six, the Navy SEAL Team Six, killed to cover up the fake death of Bin Laden. Now, why would you send a lie like that to your followers?

TRUMP: I know nothing about it, can I–

GUTHRIE: You retweeted it.

TRUMP: That was a retweet. That was an opinion of somebody-


TRUMP: –and that was a retweet. I’ll put it out there. People can decide for themselves. I don’t take a position.

GUTHRIE: I don’t get that, you’re the President. You’re not like, someone’s crazy uncle who can just–

TRUMP: No, no. No, no.

GUTHRIE: –retweet, whatever.

TRUMP: That was a retweet. And I do a lot of retweets. And frankly, because the media is so fake, and so corrupt, if I didn’t have social media… I don’t call it Twitter, I call it social media. I wouldn’t be able to get the word out. And the word is-

GUTHRIE: Well, the word is false.

TRUMP: –and you know what the word is? The word is very simple. We’re building our country, stronger and better than it’s ever been before.

It’s not surprising, but it’s now explicit: Trump doesn’t believe he has any responsibility, duty, or obligation to ensure what he shares with his 87 million followers is true. In the end, he doesn’t really care whether what he’s telling the world is true or not.

And thus he “doesn’t have a position” on whether or not Joe Biden orchestrated to have the U.S. Navy’s SEAL Team Six killed to cover up the fake death of Bin Laden.

ADDENDUM: I must attribute this next astute observation to our Jack Butler: Did you notice that with the U.S. Capitol’s pandemic social-distancing restrictions in place, there were no protesters interrupting the confirmation hearings? No Code Pink members screaming and being dragged out by U.S. Capitol Police as the proceedings get started? No one in a Handmaid’s Tale costume trying to run in front of the cameras?

It was kind of nice, wasn’t it?


The Latest