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Biden aides say he’s ready for Trump debate attacks on Hunter

Mario Parker and Jennifer Epstein
Bloomberg

Democratic presidential nominee Joe Biden’s campaign said he’s ready for a confrontation at Thursday’s debate with President Donald Trump as the incumbent says he will attempt to steer the discussion to allegations of corruption against Hunter Biden.

“Every time he does that all he’s doing is reinforcing what we’ve said all along: He’s acknowledging he has no case for a second term; he has no answers to the failures of the last four years and no plans or vision for the next four,” Biden’s deputy campaign manager, Kate Bedingfield, said in a phone call with reporters.

The Trump campaign planned a similar call with reporters later Thursday.

Democratic candidate former Vice President Joe Biden arrives at Nashville International Airport Thursday, Oct. 22, 2020, in Nashville, Tenn., en route to the final presidential debate against Republican candidate President Donald Trump.

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 – claims that the president says the media is ignoring.

The 90-minute debate will be one of the last potential turning points of the 2020 election, as Biden and Trump seek to improve their performances at 9 p.m. New York time after what political consultants from both parties say was a disastrous first meeting.

The topics for Thursday’s debate are: the coronavirus, “American families,” racial issues, climate change, national security and leadership, according to the commission.

Trump will need to tamp down his aggressive posture from the first encounter, which cost him some support, and make the case for a second term, a line of argument he has struggled with in the past.

Biden, who is ahead by nearly 8 percentage points in the RealClearPolitics average of polls, has to avoid any debate-defining gaffes that change the status quo. And he needs to minimize reactions to Trump’s provocations.

As he left Wilmington for the debate site in Nashville, Biden said he hoped that the encounter wouldn’t be a repeat of the chaotic first debate in late September and that Trump would follow guidelines for preventing the spread of Covid-19.

“Hopefully he’s going to play by the rules. Hopefully everybody’s been tested. Hopefully it’s all been worked out what the rules are. We’re looking forward to it,” Biden said.

The debate at Belmont University, will have one twist after Trump talked over Biden repeatedly during the last face-off, in Cleveland. Moderators will now mute the candidates while the other gives his initial two-minute response on each topic.

Presidential campaigns usually have three general election debates but Thursday’s will be the second and final. After Trump’s hospitalization for Covid-19 and with the next debate only 14 days after his positive test result, the commission decided to make the Oct. 15 forum virtual. Trump refused to participate and the two candidates instead held dueling televised town halls from different cities. The combined ratings for the two programs drew a fraction of the viewership that a debate normally attracts.

“You have one more debate that’s been heightened because the second one didn’t occur. Debates matter,” said David Winston, a veteran Republican strategist.

The Trump team said earlier this week it believed the debate would focus on foreign policy, something that neither the commission nor moderator Kristen Welker of NBC had ever committed to publicly.

The Trump campaign said it would force Biden to account for his nearly five decades of foreign policy positions.

Trump has long downplayed the threat posed by the virus and has only intensified that message since his recovery.

Biden has hammered Trump for what he considers a cavalier approach toward the pandemic that has killed more than 200,000 people in the U.S.

The Trump campaign has indicated that he is especially eager to attack Biden on a recent report in the New York Post that purports to cite emails between Hunter Biden and leaders of the Ukrainian energy firm whose board he sat on.

Unverified emails the paper published after obtaining them from Trump lawyer Rudy Giuliani show a Ukrainian businessman thanking Hunter Biden “for the opportunity” to meet Joe Biden, who was vice president at the time.

The Biden campaign said a review of the vice president’s calendars shows no such meeting.

It has also repeatedly stressed that policy positions taken by the U.S. government and key allies were not influenced by Hunter Biden’s work.

Another purported email says that Hunter Biden was receiving $10 million annually from a Chinese billionaire for “introductions alone,” though it is unclear who was involved in the introductions.

Trump has long sought to cast Biden as soft on China, believing it a winning message with voters even as his own record includes plenty of praise for Chinese President Xi Jinping.