Takeaways: Four things to watch for in the Trump-Biden debate

(Reuters) – Trailing in opinion polls with the Nov. 3 election fast approaching, President Donald Trump is under pressure to revive his flagging campaign in Thursday’s final presidential debate with Democratic rival Joe Biden.

FILE PHOTO: U.S. President Donald Trump and Democratic presidential candidate, former Vice President Joe Biden participate in the first presidential debate at Case Western University and Cleveland Clinic, in Cleveland, Ohio, U.S., September 29, 2020. Picture taken September 29, 2020. Olivier Douliery/Pool via REUTERS

Here are some things to watch for in the debate, which is due to start at 9 p.m. EDT (0100 GMT Friday):

WIELDING THE ‘MUTE’ BUTTON

Moderators say they will mute each candidate’s microphone to allow the other to speak without interruption for two minutes at the outset of each 15-minute debate segment. It is an attempt to impose some sort of order after the first Trump-Biden debate in September devolved into a chaotic shouting match.

The mute button will not be used, however, for the remaining 11 minutes of each segment, so there is still plenty of opportunity for the candidates to mix it up.

Viewers largely panned Trump’s performance in the first debate, but his advisers are signaling that he will also approach this matchup aggressively. It remains to be seen whether he will interrupt Biden again and whether Biden will respond with insults, as he did last time.

THE PANDEMIC

Shortly after the last debate, Trump contracted COVID-19 and spent three days in a hospital. The pandemic, which has killed more than 222,000 people in the United States, remains the top issue for voters and Biden has repeatedly accused Trump of mismanaging the crisis.

Organizers had planned to install a plexiglass barrier between the two candidates to reduce the risk of infection, but they took it down after Trump tested negative for the virus.

Members of the Trump family attended the last debate without wearing masks, but White House Chief of Staff Mark Meadows told reporters on Thursday that Trump’s delegation would wear masks at this debate.

THE COURTS

While it is not listed as one of the debate’s official topics, the Supreme Court could become a flash point.

Trump’s third nominee, Amy Coney Barrett, is on track to win Senate confirmation to the high court next week, likely locking in a 6-3 conservative majority for years to come.

Biden has been under pressure to explain whether he supports a proposal by some Democrats to expand the nine seats on the court to dilute the influence of those conservatives.

Biden said earlier on Thursday he would support a bipartisan commission to consider the issue.

BIDEN’S SON

Trump has sought since last year to portray Biden as corruptly involved with his son Hunter’s business dealings in Ukraine and China, although an investigation by the Republican-led Senate Intelligence Committee turned up no evidence to support that allegation.

In fact, the only result has been Trump’s impeachment last year by the House of Representatives for pressuring Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelenskiy to investigate Biden.

Trump is still at it. Before the debate, Trump’s campaign introduced a former business associate of Hunter Biden named Tony Bobulinski, who has agreed to cooperate in a Senate investigation of the Bidens.

Look for Trump to bring that up during the debate in an attempt to rattle Biden. He did not have much success last time: When he mentioned Hunter’s illegal drug use, Biden said he was proud of his son’s efforts to overcome addiction.

Trump and his children have been accused of conflicts of interest of their own since he entered the White House, most involving the family’s real estate and hotel businesses in the United States and abroad.

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