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Trump vs. Biden: A different approach to the pandemic

Yahoo Finance Editor-in-chief Andy Serwer, HuffPost Washington Bureau Chief Amanda Terkel, Yahoo News Editor-in-Chief Dan Klaidman, and Yahoo News National Politics Reporter Brittany Shepherd discuss how Donald Trump and Joe Biden differ on the U.S. handling of the coronavirus pandemic.

Video Transcript

ANDY SERWER: We're now joined by Brittany Shepherd of Yahoo News. Brittany, what is going to be the approach from each side tonight when the subject turns to the ongoing pandemic?

BRITTANY SHEPHERD: Well, Joe Biden is certainly going to make sure that every time an ancillary topic is brought up, it is always tied back to coronavirus. His advisors have told us this much. Every time Joe Biden speaks publicly about the president, always-- all roads, essentially, lead to what he believes to be the president's bungling of this coronavirus response.

As far as the president is concerned, his narratives about COVID have been a bit more far fetched. We know that, you know, he's been promising a vaccine any day now. I'm sure he'll bring that up again. I think the president, whenever he speaks about coronavirus, is a little bit more self reflective, I'll put it that way. Talks a lot about his and his administration's perceived accomplishments shutting down the border for travel from China, Europe, et cetera, et cetera. And you know, something about both of these septuganarians is that nothing new usually comes from them. They're-- the patterns that we hear out in the field are the patterns, I believe, that we're going to be hearing tonight.

AMANDA TERKEL: Hey, Brittany, I feel like, you know, what Trump is saying on the coronavirus just changes constantly, you know? There was-- first, there was no coronavirus really, and it would be gone right away. Then, it's like, well, it happened, and we conquered it, and it's over. Now it's like well, it's around, but it's not really hurting kids. You know, Trump was downplaying it, then he wasn't. You know, what seems to be the-- if there is one-- what seems to be the main approach and strategy the Trump campaign is taking on coronavirus these days? Have they settled on an approach and a talking point?

BRITTANY SHEPHERD: Well, Amanda, you're absolutely right. The president and his campaign have been all over the place. The targets seem to move and the goalposts seem to move, you know, miles and miles away each time. It's hard to try to understand what the objective might be. I think a lot of it is throwing stuff against the wall, it's seeing what sticks with voters, what can villainize Joe Biden in the most effective way for them, and what makes them look the best, obviously, with this Bob Woodward book coming out and audio being released of President Trump saying that he was intentionally downplaying or mischaracterizing the coronavirus threat to the public.

He-- there are a lot of arrows on the president and on the White House and the Trump campaign. And certainly, you know-- they know they're slipping, they know Joe Biden is lapping them in certain coronavirus hot spots. So I think that's why we're seeing stuff all over the map. And it's kind of difficult to understand where he might go next. But I think a good prediction is, perhaps, into the absurd.

DAN KLAIDMAN: Brittany what have you been able to learn about the Biden campaign's debate prep? We know that they've had a lid on the campaign for a few days as he prepares. We know he's got a very experienced debate team led by Ron Klain, who's been with Biden for a long time and I think actually played Donald Trump in some of the debate prep. But what did they-- how have they been getting him ready, and what do they think are the big opportunities for Biden, and what are the risks?

BRITTANY SHEPHERD: So Dan, Biden's debate prep is kind of extended from his daily coronavirus and economic prep, at least. Three or four times a week, he has an hour call with economic advisors and medical advisors on the state of play on the economy and on coronavirus. So Joe Biden has started with large pamphlets to go through, you know, all the subject matters that he wants to. And then from studying his books, he's moved on to mock debates, you're right, with Ron Klain, who used to wear a big baggy Trump suit and questioned Joe Biden.

I think the theatrics have gone down this year, but he's been in several days of extensive prep, different folks playing different parts of Trump's administration just to try to, you know, pin them against the wall and see what Joe Biden can do. I think, crucially, why he's called these really early things some days because Joe Biden takes things very personally, especially if you bring up his family. Or, I think you might hear from the Trump campaign, or from Joe Biden himself-- I mean, pardon me-- from Donald Trump himself, bringing up, you know, accusations of sexual assault by Tara Reade to Joe Biden.

And the campaign knows that Joe Biden can bungle. He can speak for a very long time. He can go off topic. He wasn't the strongest debater in Democratic primaries. And so Joe Biden has allotted a lot of time trying to stay on message, keep it tight, and keep it right. I think the question is, can he do that? Can he clear the low bar that Donald Trump has given him without, you know, getting in his own way? And I'm not really sure what's going to happen tonight, like I said, especially if Beau Biden comes up or Tara Reade comes up.

ANDY SERWER: Brittany, we've been talking about COVID-19 all evening here and, of course, really since March. And you wonder if there's any fatigue setting in. And you know, that's an issue I think that even Joe Biden was-- was wondering about. Here's what he had to say about that.

JOE BIDEN: What worries me now is we've been living with this pandemic for so long I worry we're risking becoming numb to the toll it has taken on us, and our country, and communities like this. We can't let that happen. We can't lose the ability to feel the sorrow, and the loss, and the anger for so many lives lost. We can't let the numbers become statistics of background noise, just a blur that we see on the nightly news.

ANDY SERWER: And Brittany, you know, it sort of speaks to this-- this question that I think a lot of us have, which is, hasn't everyone already made up their minds? And is there a way that actually either candidate can move the needle? And who do you think can best do that tonight?

BRITTANY SHEPHERD: Well, that's the $1 million question. I mean, we're in debate-- I mean, excuse me-- election season. There's no longer an Election Day. Over a million Americans have already voted, right? I think, this time in 2016, I think it was 10,000. Just-- that number is such a stark increase how many people are voting absentee, voting by mail.

There's not a lot of folks left to convince. I think the number of vulnerable swing state is under 10% of all voters. You know, I think that Donald Trump has a lot to prove to those 10% of voters that the last couple of weeks of the campaign is not a referendum on his presidency, right? A lot of times he's going to be having to play defense. He knows that Joe Biden has more money than him right now. He knows that Joe Biden is lapping him in polls in crucial states right now.

So I think a lot of what tonight means is for the candidates to prove things to themselves and to their base. Because like I said, so many people have already voted. And a lot of folks who I talked to feel like they have fatigue because so many folks have already died-- 200,000 Americans have died. Many, many more are sick. Look at a state like Florida that has essentially said, you know, no more lockdown, folks. Go out and do what you can, when you want.

You know, people kind of forget that's something that's affecting the entire country. And they vote with, you know, their own gut and they vote against their single issue. So if tonight's going to move the needle for anyone, it's for folks with fat pocketbooks who can donate more money in the 11th hour to push more ads, to get more space, to hit that really narrow target of, what, like, 10% of the voters who haven't made up their mind yet in order to kind of cross that finish line.

AMANDA TERKEL: Brittany one topic we haven't talked about yet that we've been told will come up tonight is race and violence-- it's not my words, it's what's been billed. You know, how do you think that will play out? And you know, who-- which candidate do you see having an advantage on those issues?

BRITTANY SHEPHERD: Well, I mean, I think it's going to play out one of two ways. From the Trump campaign and from Trump himself, we're going to hear a lot of talk of law and order when he goes to cities affected by racial-- all cities are affected by racism and police brutality. But when he goes to cities of those, like, high profile, he meets with law enforcement because that plays to his base.

And you know, honestly the president has said many questionable things about folks who aren't white. And the internet's memory is long, and so is the moderator. So like I said, before, I think he has a lot to play defensive on. One of his guests tonight is Alice Marie Johnson she's a Black woman, a nonviolent drug offender who he and Kim Kardashian and Kanye West, funny enough, helped get out of prison and commute her sentence.

So if he's asked by Chris Wallace, well, you said this, that, and the other, you know, racially insensitive thing, he could point to his audience and say, well, look all this good I did for criminal justice. And that, him and his campaign like to repeat again, and again, and again. Joe Biden, of course, likes talk a little bit about how he actually doesn't want to fund the police-- something Donald Trump will very likely bring up-- and say, actually, he's a friend of law enforcement. He wants to give more money to those folks, though he also tries to do a job of being empathetic towards Black pain, though there are lots of progressive who say that Joe Biden does not go anywhere far enough.

ANDY SERWER: And so many points to be looking for this evening, Brittany. Thank you so much for joining us and for pointing them out to us.