Return to Transcripts main page

CNN LIVE EVENT/SPECIAL

Trump, Biden Face off in Final Presidential Debate. Aired 12-1a ET

Aired October 23, 2020 - 00:00   ET

THIS IS A RUSH TRANSCRIPT. THIS COPY MAY NOT BE IN ITS FINAL FORM AND MAY BE UPDATED.


(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

WOLF BLITZER, CNN ANCHOR: Welcome back to CNN's debate night in America. It's now midnight here on the East Coast. That means it's 11 days until election day here in the United States.

[00:00:34]

And we're breaking down the final presidential debate of 2020, a very different exchange than the first chaotic Trump Biden face-off. There was far less interrupting by the president, and there was actually more debating. Both candidates scoring points and taking shots. Voters got a better opportunity to compare the stark divisions in their policies.

Let's check in with CNN's Arlette Saenz. Arlette, first of all, what are you hearing from the Biden campaign about the former vice president's performance tonight?

ARLETTE SAENZ, CNN CORRESPONDENT: Well, Wolf, Joe Biden's advisers, not surprisingly, feel that the former vice president won this debate and that President Trump did little to change the trajectory of the race. Senior adviser Symone Sanders argued that this is an election that is a referendum on Donald Trump.

Now, a few of the moments that they thought were shining moments for the former vice president in this debate were his response when it came to the coronavirus pandemic. And also that message that Biden would be a president for all Americans. That's just one of those unifying messages that we've heard Biden consistently deliver out on the campaign trail that they thought he forcefully delivered tonight.

Now, Biden's advisers did acknowledge that the president had a bit of a calmer tone. He didn't interrupt as much. But they still felt the president was on the attack and had lies throughout the debate.

Now, one area that the Biden campaign did have to clarify a little bit is when Biden talked about the oil industry. They said that he was talking about oil subsidies. This is something that we have seen the Biden campaign sometimes do after these debates, explaining what the vice president meant to say when he was on that debate stage.

Now, as for where Joe Biden goes in the coming days, tomorrow he will be in Delaware giving a speech about the coronavirus pandemic and the economy. Those two issues that they really believe will be the defining issues in these waning days of the election.

On Saturday, he heads to Pennsylvania to campaign with his wife. We'll also be seeing President Obama returning to the campaign trail, potentially delivering one of those forceful rebukes, again, of President Trump when he campaigns down in Miami on Saturday.

The Biden campaign insists that he -- that the former vice president will aggressively campaign in these final days in a way that is safe to do so as the coronavirus pandemic continues to play out across the country. But Biden will continue to make this case on those issues, coronavirus and the economy, in these closing days of the election -- Wolf.

BLITZER: The former vice president clearly on the offense when it came to coronavirus. The president pretty much on defense and defending his policies. All right. Arlette, we'll get back to you.

Jeff Zeleny is watching all of this very closely, as well. Jeff, some Republicans were very anxious about how the president would do tonight. What are you hearing?

JEFF ZELENY, CNN SENIOR WASHINGTON CORRESPONDENT: Wolf, they certainly were. Across the board of this Republican Party, they were very anxious about the president's performance at the debate tonight. And I can tell you, after contacting many Republicans since the debate has ended, they are breathing a sigh of relief tonight.

In the words of one senior Republican official I spoke to, he said the word "finally" at the end of this debate. So giving a sense of approval at the president's change in demeanor, being less combative, you know, making his case in a more affirmative way.

But there also are some questions I got from several Republican officials saying why didn't he do this sooner? Why did they cancel the second debate? So there is a sense of, you know, a missed opportunity here as time is ticking away, as it is here now, after midnight in the East Coast. We are at 11 days until election day.

So in the words of another senior Republican adviser I spoke with, Wolf, he said this. Is it too late? It could be. The Trump campaign is planning on campaigning aggressively for the next several days. The president heading directly to Florida for two rallies on Friday, one in The Villages, of course, going after senior voters, and in Pensacola, as well. These are key parts of his base.

And then over the weekend, he'll be campaigning on Saturday in North Carolina, in Ohio, and in Wisconsin. Again, all of these states are states that he won four years ago, is trying to hold onto again.

So Wolf, it's an unknown factor if he changed the trajectory of this race here. Republicans are certainly more optimistic than they have been in weeks. But Wolf, again, 11 days and so many people have voted. Some almost 46 million Americans. That, of course, those votes cannot be changed.

BLITZER: Yes. Forty-six million Americans already have voted. Huge, huge --

ZELENY: Indeed.

BLITZER: -- early voter turnout. Amazing what's going on.

All right, Jeff, thank you very much.

We also are getting some more results from our instant poll of debate watchers. And David Chalian is joining us once again. So tell us what have -- what else you've discovered, David.

DAVID CHALIAN, CNN POLITICAL DIRECTOR: Well, Wolf, just take a look again. The straight-up question to these debate watchers in our poll, who won the debate? Joe Biden, 53 percent to 39 percent. Not as big a a victory as the debate No. 1, but still a substantial victory in the minds of these debate watchers in our poll.

What's behind that victory? Take a look. Who directly answered the questions more? Who directly did that? Sixty-two percent said Joe Biden directly answered the questions more than Donald Trump did, 31 percent. That's a 2 to 1 margin on that score of answering the questions.

How about on solving the country's problems? Fifty-four percent say Joe Biden had a better plan for solving the country's problems compared to 42 percent who say that about Donald Trump.

This next one, who is a strong leader? Look at this. Who seemed to be the stronger leader? Tied, 49 percent Joe Biden, 49 percent Donald Trump. Clearly, that is a battle -- battleground where Donald Trump may want to lean into that, because it's where he's actually tied with Joe Biden.

And then finally, take a look at this. Whose performance raised concerns for you about that person, about him as president? Fifty-five percent said Donald Trump's performance raised questions about his -- his performing the job as president. Forty-one percent said that about Joe Biden, Wolf.

BLITZER: Very interesting indeed. All right. David Chalian now with those numbers. I know you're getting more. We'll get back to you. In the meantime, let's check in with Anderson.

ANDERSON COOPER, CNN ANCHOR: Yes, Wolf. Thanks very much.

We're joined by a new team: Andrew Yang, Kirsten Powers and Scott Jennings. Let's get some quick takes.

Andrew Yang, what did you think?

ANDREW YANG, CNN POLITICAL COMMENTATOR: America, the last presidential debate is in the books, this cycle maybe --

COOPER: Woo!

YANG: -- coming to a close. Yes. I think it was a great night for Joe, because the race is continuing

in his direction. But what the debate made me think of was the first debate 23 days ago. That had Super-Bowl-like ratings; 100 million Americans tuned in, and Trump, by all accounts, gave a disastrous performance and has not really recovered.

After that, he got COVID. The second debate was canceled. So this debate was better for Trump, but it has not reversed the dynamics of this race, which makes it a tremendous night for Joe and the Democrats.

But I think many Americans are just happy that this race is coming to a close. And we're getting votes in now. I already voted. You should vote, too.

COOPER: Kirsten.

KIRSTEN POWERS, CNN POLITICAL ANALYST: Well, I think that --

COOPER: You can try -- you don't have to match Andrew Yang's enthusiasm, by the way. That's not expected of anybody else, other than Andrew Yang.

POWERS: Yes. OK, that's a relief.

No, I -- look, I think that Joe Biden had a very strong night and that there's a temptation to say that Trump had a strong night because he wasn't as out of control as he was in the first debate.

But I think by any objective measure, the way that Donald Trump behaved is not really consistent the way -- with the way any other president would behave in a debate or, really, in any situation.

I mean, if you look at how he handled the question regarding the children who, you know -- who have not been reunited with their parents. There was -- there was just zero empathy and just -- just really moving into, like, attack dog mode towards Joe Biden for something that he has no responsibility for. And not really showing any empathy for that.

And I think Joe Biden, on the other hand, you know, if you watch him, he seems like somebody who really cares. And that is something that really came through tonight, I felt, on so many answers, was that he really sincerely cares and is passionate about the issues and the people that he's talking about, whereas Donald Trump just kept trying to redirect towards things that -- that he was claiming Joe Biden did that weren't really even his responsibility. They were Donald Trump's responsibility.

COOPER: Scott, what did you think?

SCOTT JENNINGS, CNN POLITICAL COMMENTATOR: Well, I can confirm what Jeff Zeleny said a few minutes ago, which is that Republicans are very happy with what Donald Trump did tonight.

I sort of wonder, if he had turned in this performance on the first debate, would this race look different today? I mean, at this point, millions have voted. Most everyone else has made up their minds. So I think people will evaluate these instant polls through the lens of who they've already voted for or who they've already decided to vote for.

But look, this was a 180-degree different Donald Trump than we saw in the first debate, which was widely panned, including by me. He came out tonight. He had a great stage presence. He didn't try to violate the muted mics. He let Joe Biden talk. He set up the policy choices.

That is what Trump's always needed, a race about policy choices, not a referendum on him personally. He finally did that tonight. And on a number of issues -- energy, taxes, you know, on and on -- he actually set up debates where he could win on policy.

[00:10:05]

Final thing, Joe Biden, I think, had two interesting moments. On health care, he sort of mocked the left flank of the Democratic Party. On their views on health care versus his, and at the end of the debate, his comments on changing energy industry in America, getting rid of the oil industry, I think that probably resonate heavily in Texas, which I know Democrats want to contest. But what he said about oil, I'm sure the folks in Texas were listening.

COOPER: But aren't -- I mean, aren't most, you know, car companies, I mean, wasn't Biden talking about transitioning to off fossil fuels in, you know, 2030 something or whatever is in -- in his plan? He's not talking about eliminating oil.

JENNINGS: I believe I heard him say 2025 zero emissions, unless I misunderstood, which would be a pretty substantial and radical thing to do over the next, essentially, one presidential term.

But here's the deal, to borrow a phrase. Biden on energy tonight had to talk about fracking. He had to talk about his views on fossil fuels. Trump contrasted those views. Biden invited Trump, Show the tape. Show the tape on fracking. And immediately after the debate, the Trump campaign and Trump himself put out the video of Donald Trump showing different positions on fracking.

So I think on the whole energy issue, Anderson, I think Trump actually finally scored some points on him.

COOPER: Yes. Daniel Dale showed the tape of Biden at the debate, as well. Andrew Yang, did you think that was a big -- a big loss for Biden on that?

YANG: Joe already released a very ambitious climate change plan that most Americans agree with. I mean, we can see the wildfires out west, that climate change is ravaging our communities here and now, not 10 or 20 years from now.

But there were three times Donald Trump actually made me laugh out loud. No. 1 was when he compared himself to Abraham Lincoln in terms of his impact for black Americans. I have a feeling black Americans do not have Abe Lincoln No. 1 and then Donald Trump No. 2. The second time was when he said that his accountant is keeping him

from releasing his taxes. This is Donald Trump. He runs around saying, I can do whatever I want, but his accountant, like, is keeping, the client, from releasing his taxes? It just seems so ridiculous to any American who's ever employed an accountant.

And the third time is when he invoked the mythical GOP health care plan that can apparently do everything under the sun. We've all heard about it, but no one's actually seen it.

And those three times, to me, were some of the -- the examples of Trump kind of crafting his own reality. And happily, I think many Americans can see right through it at this point.

COOPER: You know, Kirsten, Jake Tapper was saying earlier, you know, pointing out that in 2016, you know, a lot happened in the last 11 days of the race.

The -- James Comey made the announcement that he was reopening investigations into Hillary Clinton. Clearly, President Biden -- President Trump is trying to get his attorney general to open an investigation into Joe Biden, sort of reusing the same playbook. I mean, again, it's 11 -- you know, 11, 12 days. A lot can still happen.

POWERS: Yes, a lot can still happen. But I think something is obviously very different between now in 2016. And that's that we're in the middle of a pandemic. And so that is what really is hanging over the entire race, and it is something -- that is the thing that, when you look at polls where Donald Trump is bleeding senior citizens, it's because of the pandemic.

And so, you know, I think that that that is going to -- nothing in the next, you know, 10 or 11 days is probably going to change radically on that front. That is still going to be something that people are going to be voting on and that people are mostly pretty unhappy with the way the president has handled it. And I don't think he did anything tonight, really, to convince anybody, you know, to feel differently about it.

And I do think, on the issue of the way he was talking about the children who were separated from their parents, that is an issue, actually, that I don't think the way he was handling it is going to go over very well with suburban women. And that's the other group of people that he needs to be concerned about.

So I don't think that -- that President Trump did anything to change the trajectory for him tonight. I do agree with Scott, though, about you know, what he said about Biden and his comments about the oil industry. I don't think -- you know, is that going to make or break the entire election? Probably not. But could it be used against him in Pennsylvania? Could it be used against him in Texas? Absolutely.

COOPER: Yes. I want to go back to Jake -- Jake.

JAKE TAPPER, CNN ANCHOR: It's been yet another busy night for our fact checker, Daniel Dale. And we're bringing him back again. Daniel, President Trump talked about his push to get members of NATO

to pay more to support the alliance. Let's listen to that.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

DONALD TRUMP, PRESIDENT OF THE UNITED STATES: Between the sanctions, between all of what I've done with NATO -- you know, I've got the NATO countries to put up an extra 130 billion, going to $420 billion a year. That's to go against Russia.

[00:15:04]

I sold, while he was selling pillows and sheets, I sold tank busters to Ukraine. There has been nobody tougher on Russia than Donald Trump.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

TAPPER: Daniel, did any of that ring true?

DANIEL DALE, CNN FACT CHECKER: There's a lot wrong there, Jake. I'm going to start with the end, selling pillows and sheets. That was a vague reference to Trump's usual claim that the Obama administration merely sent Ukraine pillows and sheets in military aid. Now, that's not true.

It is not true that Obama declined to authorize lethal military aid, weapons to Ukraine, but it sent things like drones, armored Humvees, counter-mortar radars, night-vision supplies, medical devices, so no, it was not just pillows and sheets.

Now, on these figures for NATO, yes, NATO and its leaders do give Trump's credit -- do give Trump credit for pressuring members into and increasing spending, but it was not as much as Trump claims. So that $130 billion is not 130 billion a year. It's 130 billion, total, between 2016, and the end of 2020.

Now, that $400 billion figure, he said 420 billion, was an estimated total increase as of 2024, so between 2016 and 2024. Not per year. And NATO told me, in an August email, that that estimate is now in doubt because of COVID-related budget challenges. So very much on certain, Jake.

TAPPER: That is an example of Trump actually having good facts on his side to share, but, instead, he just makes stuff up.

DALE: Yes, it's like the truth is never -- never good enough.

TAPPER: I know. Just tell the truth on this one. Those are actually good things to say.

Let's listen to an exchange on immigration from earlier tonight. Former Vice President Biden, talking about the Trump administration's border policy. Detaining and separating families.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP) JOE BIDEN (D), PRESIDENTIAL NOMINEE: These 500-plus kids came with parents. They separated them at the border, to make it a disincentive to come to begin with. They were really tough. We're really strong, and guess what? They cannot -- it's not -- coyotes didn't brought them over. Their parents were with them. They got separated from their parents. And it makes us a laughing stock and violates every notion of who we are as a nation.

KRISTEN WELKER, NBC NEWS: Let me ask you a follow-up question --

TRUMP: Kristen, they did it. We change the policy.

WELKER: Your response to that?

TRUMP: They did it, we changed --

BIDEN: We did not.

TRUMP: They built the cages.

BIDEN: They --

TRUMP: Who built the cages, Joe?

(END VIDEO CLIP)

TAPPER: I mean, this is a policy that the Trump administration trotted out. Jeff Sessions, the attorney general at the time, introduced the official family separation policy. But there you have President Trump trying to blame the Obama administration.

DALE: Yes, Trump has claimed, for a long time -- I've been fact- checking this for years -- that he inherited the separation policy from Obama. You know, he did it tonight, a bit more vaguely, than in previous occasions, but he did say they did it. We changed it. And that's at least highly misleading.

Now, separations did occur, Jake, under Obama, but occasionally. Trump made them, as you said, routine deliberately. So under Obama, as CNN's Priscilla Alvarez has explained, separation occurred in exceptional cases, for example, where the parent was being criminally prosecuted for carrying drugs across the border, or other serious crimes, aside from the legal crossing. Or cases where human trafficking was suspected, or cases where the authorities couldn't confirm the connection between the child and the adult.

So the separations happened, but not as a result of a blanket policy. As you said, Trump imposed a policy of routinely criminally prosecuting all suspected illegal border crossers for the crime of illegal entry, which forced separation from the children.

So it was not just in cases of serious suspected crime, suspected trafficking. It is no comparison.

Now, I have to say, as for the cages, there is some truth to what Trump said. A border processing center, with chain link fencing -- you can call them cages -- was set up during the Obama administration in 2014, in the wake of an unaccompanied minor crisis. They were getting huge numbers of children crossing the border. They didn't feel they were equipped to handle the situation.

So, yes, those cages are built, at least some of them, under Obama. But again, that does not mean the two administrations, Jake, had the same policy.

TAPPER: That's right. I mean, if people are going to be outraged by kids in cages, it's fair to criticize the Obama administration because there were kids in cages. But the differences is these were kids who came across the border in these caravans without their parents. And I'm not justifying putting them in cages, but that's different than having a policy in which you are saying, we're going to separate kids from their parents and still not being able to find the parents of more than 500 of these kids.

DALE: Precisely. That's exactly correct. So Trump is seizing on images of cages under Obama, which is, frankly, a helpful image to him. And it's fair for him to point that out. But as you said, this is just absolutely apples and oranges in terms of separation policy.

TAPPER: All right. Daniel Dale, thanks so much. And I have to say, Abby, I think the president had an opportunity to sound more empathetic, and, instead, what he decided to do was just chum the waters, and make it like, Well, you did it, too. You did it, too.

[00:20:09]

And you know, I got texts from friends saying, Is that true? Did the Obama people do it, too? Because you know, they're nit up on all these policy details like we are. But it's just -- as Daniel says, apples and oranges.

ABBY PHILLIP, CNN WHITE HOUSE CORRESPONDENT: Yes, and he even suggested, at one point, that the children are being well taken care of. He repeatedly said, falsely, that they were being -- they were all being brought over by coyotes and that they were being trafficked, essentially, when, the reality is, based on the information that we have, the administration had a policy of separating children from their families as a deterrent. That's what happened.

And now they are trying to deal with the consequences of that. But the president doesn't want to acknowledge that, but also doesn't want to acknowledge the humanity of people who are trying to come to the United States, with their children, to give them a better life, to give them access to the American dream.

They're fleeing something. The president never talks about it in that way. And I get why he doesn't do it. It's politically not his cup of tea.

But in this moment, when Biden is trying to -- to basically say to the American people, literally, Biden said tonight -- I was a little surprised to hear him say that -- he's repeatedly said it's criminal. It's criminal what they were doing with those children. The president had an opportunity to turn that around with a little empathy, and he didn't take it.

DANA BASH, CNN CHIEF POLITICAL CORRESPONDENT: There's one moment that we haven't talked about but Arlette brought up, and I think she brought it up because the former vice president is playing cleanup on this -- this issue. And that is about energy.

And I'm hearing from a lot of Republicans, and frankly, some Democrats, about this, that it might be something that plays in Texas, which, you know, who knows if it's real, how tight it is there. But much more importantly, where I was in the western part of your home commonwealth.

TAPPER: Pennsylvania.

BASH: Pennsylvania.

TAPPER: Absolutely.

BASH: Which is -- it's very rich in oil and fossil fuels. Fracking is big there. And specifically on the oil industry, when Joe Biden said, I would transition from the oil industry, yes. And then the president jumped on it, saying, that's a big statement.

Now, tonight, the former vice president is saying, what I meant was, I will transition when it comes to federal subsidies. He's not saying that he would transition people out of their jobs, which, I guarantee you, is going to be what the Trump campaign, and people who are on his side, in these parts of Pennsylvania, in particular, are going to hit on big time. And it could have an impact.

And on this, just to kind of show you how concerned some of -- some of the Democrats in those areas are, some candidates, for the House, are already on Twitter separating themselves.

TAPPER: Who?

BASH: From -- You're going to ask. Oh, I knew you were going to ask.

TAPPER: Oh, sorry.

BASH: That's OK, keep talking, and I'll get to it for you.

TAPPER: I thought you knew. I thought you knew off the top of your head.

BASH: I do. I have it here. Keep talking, and I'll get it for you.

PHILLIP: What's interesting about this is that this is something Joe Biden repeatedly flubs. He keeps mixing up his position on fracking. And then, his campaign has to turn around and say, Well, his position is that fracking is banned on federal land.

It's something that he's clearly not -- he is not able to articulate clearly what is actual position is. Because it's threading a very narrow needle here. They're trying to say, we want to move away from fossil fuels, but also, not wanting to ban fossil fuels.

BASH: By the way, Kendra Horn from -- running for Oklahoma 5, but you're exactly right.

PHILLIP: Yes.

BASH: That -- and it's difficult. How many Democrats have we seen covering politics fall into this -- I wouldn't even call it a trap; it's a very fine line? Because they do want to not make people who are very worried, understandably so, about losing their jobs, even more worried and say, Forget it. I'm going to vote for the other guy.

TAPPER: And this underlines something that is interesting in this race, which is, Joe Biden is not a great candidate. I mean, like, in terms of his speaking style. He flubs a lot of stuff. There are a lot of gaffes. We haven't really seen it because of the coronavirus pandemic. He hasn't been out there on the stump. He hasn't been pressing the flesh. There haven't been as many voters challenging him. He gets hot under the collar. I mean, this happens.

I've covered -- This is his second presidential race that I've covered, and there was one when I was a freshman in college that -- when he ran. He's not necessarily the strongest candidate.

But this is a race against Donald Trump, and as Joe Biden always says, Don't compare me to the almighty. Compare me to the alternative. And the alternative is Donald Trump, and as an incumbent, it's really largely a referendum on him this race.

PHILLIP: Yes. And Donald Trump is also guilty of not being very articulate about, A, the truth, and, B, even his own policies. The president often misstates his own policies and inflates them, or misstates them, for political purposes.

[00:25:04]

So, again, Joe Biden, if he were running against -- you know, even if he were running against --

TAPPER: Mitt Romney.

PHILLIP: Mitt Romney, or you know, or you know, a lot of other people, he wouldn't have -- this would be a much bigger problem.

TAPPER: Yes, but it is a referendum on Donald Trump, and David Chalian has -- I'm throwing to Anderson. OK. Anderson, back to you.

COOPER: Jake, thanks so much. You could have done it. It's not a big deal.

TAPPER: Well --

COOPER: I'll introduce David.

TAPPER: They put you up. They put you up.

COOPER: Yes, you know.

TAPPER: So there you go. Sorry.

COOPER: I've got to make the donuts. David Chalian has more results from our instant poll of debate watchers.

David, what else -- what else do you see?

CHALIAN: I just -- I just had Anderson Cooper and Jake Tapper fighting over me. It was kind of amazing.

Anderson, remember, our big poll finding of debate watchers, Joe Biden won this debate. He won it 53 percent to 39 percent. That's the basic question. Who won the debate?

But now, I want to show you the gender gap. Because this is what we see in this race everywhere, how women are powering Joe Biden's position in this race.

Look among the female debate watchers: 60 percent say that Joe Biden won; only 35 percent say Trump won. When you look at the male debate watchers, it splits almost evenly. Forty-seven percent said Biden won; 44 percent said Trump won.

But again, that mirrors part of Joe Biden's strength we see nationally and in these battleground states.

Look at the issue set that got discussed tonight. Biden wins on climate change, 67 to 29. Race and equality, 62 percent to 35 percent Biden. Coronavirus, a Biden strength, 57 percent to 41 percent. Foreign policy, near even, 50 percent Biden, 48 percent Trump.

And look at the economy. Donald Trump has a huge lead among these debate watchers about who would better handle the economy. Fifty-six percent say Trump, 44 percent say Biden. I imagine that's tied to some of the conversation you just heard Dana, and Abby, and Jake having about that oil answer that the Biden campaign is trying to clean up.

But that is a Trump strength in this race, and even more so in this debate tonight.

And then, finally, just the bread and butter question: Did this debate make you more likely to vote for Biden or Trump? Twenty-one percent of debate watchers said yes, more likely to vote for Biden. Fourteen percent said more likely to vote for Trump.

But, nearly two-thirds thirds of the debate watchers say neither. It didn't really alter their feeling about where they were in this race, prior to the debate.

Again, I think getting at, there probably is not a huge change to the fundamental dynamics in this race from this debate. But, because Donald Trump was able to do some work, some positive work here, we could see a little bit of impact. But I don't think we're seeing an upending of the dynamics, as they exist. COOPER: David Chalian, it's so interesting on the economy issue,

favoring Trump so -- so heavily. It's the thing we've heard from supporters of the president, working with the president on the campaign, wishing he would focus, you know, on the issues that he does well on, with voters, as opposed to going down these rabbit holes and these conspiracy theory, you know, kind of swamps.

CHALIAN: Exactly. It's like politics one-on-one, Anderson. When you see numbers like that, any politician, normally, they would look at that and say, lean into that. That's a strength, let's play it up. That's -- you could bring people along, you could actually add to your coalition from this. You're doing better in this area than you're doing overall. So lean into it.

But you're right: He chooses grievance politics and those rabbit holes time and again, no matter how many times people around him say, Please get out there every day and just talk about the economy. He has not proven disciplined enough to do that yet.

COOPER: Yes. Let's go to our team, check in.

Scott Jennings, I'm sure, as a Republican, you wish the president would focus on the economy.

JENNINGS: Yes, it's his best issue, and people think that before COVID, we had a good economy. And I think they believe Trump is better geared towards getting the policies that would get it back.

The race hasn't exactly been about the economy. So obviously, that's hurt Trump.

I do think one thing about what David Chalian just said that dawns on me is, if Trump did enough tonight to, say, shore up some wobbly Republicans who care about the economy -- maybe some senior citizens thought, Hey, that's the kind of Republican that I recognize -- you wonder if this debate, even if not a ton of minds were changed, it might have staved off the possibility that the bottom could fall out. Say, you know, in the center-right suburbs, where you do have some -- some Republicans out there who, perhaps, thinking, I just don't know if I want to do this again. So I think that is -- that is something that could have happened.

I think for Biden, the one thing you brought up in the earlier panel, Anderson, about the last 11 days, could something happen? The one thing he's got going for him that Hillary Clinton never had is that people don't hate him.

Look at his image. His favorable/unfavorable rating is over water. In 2016, Hillary Clinton was so far underwater, nobody ever gave her the benefit of the doubt about anything.

[00:30:11]

So if you're Biden, whether it's a debate, or something else happening at the end of a race, you have a reservoir of goodwill that is sort of like a Cancun. It's like a bit of a shield against bad things that could happen to you. People will give you the benefit of the doubt.

So that's why I think a debate, or some other last-minute issue, won't be as impactful on Biden the way the Comey letter was impactful on Hillary Clinton.

COOPER: That's interesting. Kirsten, do you agree with that? Because in -- you know, John King earlier tonight was showing us in key battleground states, compared to 2016, Biden's not all that ahead of where Hillary Clinton was. And in fact, in some states, he's actually behind where Hillary Clinton was at this stage in the race.

POWERS: Right, yes. Well, so yes, I mean, I think that -- that it's unlikely that -- look, we're probably not going to have another, God willing, situation like, you know, a Comey coming out, you know, right before the election and changing the dynamic in that serious kind of way.

So you know, what I think is fascinating is that Donald Trump, you know, based on what we just heard, you know, more people trust him in terms of how to handle the economy. And yet, under any normal circumstances, a president who is trusted on the economy would be running away with the race. That is -- that is typically the thing that people vote on. If you were to say give me one number, and it's how the president doing on the economy, that would all but guarantee that -- that they're going to be reelected.

And yet, he's -- he's not even remotely running away with the race, if we believe the polls. He's quite far behind, at least nationally, and in some very key states, and with people who had supported him. Again, so what does -- what does that say about Donald Trump?

YANG: Well, the problem for Trump is that the economy and COVID are the same thing right now. Where you have Disney World reopened its doors, and then no one showed up; and then Disney just announced that they're laying off thousands of workers.

So you can't be strong on the economy and be completely mistrusted on COVID, because one, unfortunately for all of us, leads into the other. This is why Trump can benefit from a Republican and an inaccurate association of him as the businessman, and it's not affecting his overall numbers.

Sometimes the numbers tell the truth. And we're all somewhat traumatized by 2016, but if you look at the numbers around the country, Joe's ahead in many of the swing states that he needs to win, and he's competitive in places like Georgia, and North Carolina, Texas, Arizona.

Trump had a rally in Georgia a number of days ago, which is the last place he wants to be at this stage in the race. So I think at some point, we have to start listening to the numbers, because they're telling a very consistent and clear story.

COOPER: All right. Coming up, we're going to find out if any of the undecided voters we're talking with in North Carolina are decided now who they'll vote for after watching tonight's debate. That and another debate fact check, ahead.

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

[00:37:15]

BLITZER: All right. We're getting more reaction coming in from the undecided voters who watched tonight's final presidential debate. Gary Tuchman is with undecided voters in the key battleground state of North Carolina.

Gary, those voters gave the highest mark of the night to Joe Biden when he talked about election security. Watch this.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

BIDEN: That any country, no matter who it, that interferes in American elections, will pay a price. They will pay a price. It has been overwhelmingly clear this election -- I won't even get into the last one -- this election, that Russia has been involved. China has been involved to some degree. And now we learn that -- that Iran is involved. They will pay a price if I'm elected.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

BLITZER: So Gary, what are the voters telling you about why that answer resonated with them?

GARY TUCHMAN, CNN CORRESPONDENT: Wolf, personally, let me just tell you this, that the exhales you hear are the sighs of relief here at Davidson College, north of Charlotte, that this was a far more substantive debate. They were very alarmed at what happened three weeks ago, so people are happy they heard more. And that's an important point I want to bring up right away.

Regarding this issue, we talked to you about election security. You guys pressed that button and raised it high, because it was such an important issue for you. Tell me why it's so important to you when you heard Joe Biden talk about how election interference from foreign countries is a problem.

UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: I think unless there's a strong disincentive, it's going to continue and get worse, and it threatens free elections, which is important to this country.

TUCHMAN: Same question to you. Were you -- are you concerned that Mr. Trump isn't talking about that so much?

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: Yes, I feel that, if a country gets involved in the election, then they have leverage over that particular leader when they bring to light that, Hey, I got you this election. Now you owe me.

TUCHMAN: How concerned are you about other countries interfering in our presidential election?

UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: Very concerned. And also concerned about the role that our leader takes in working with these countries, either in the past or moving forward.

TUCHMAN: Nathan, same question to you. You did tell me earlier that you were leaning towards President Trump. All of you -- almost all of you are leaning towards somebody. A couple of you were not sure at all. But you're all willing to be swayed based on what you saw during this debate. That's an important point to bring up.

You were leaning towards Trump. Were you troubled by the fact that President Trump hasn't talked much about foreign interference?

NATHAN, UNDECIDED VOTER: You know, I guess not. I think he's got -- he's got a team that does that for him. And I know that the question was posed, and he went off on some tangent, just like he does with a lot of other things.

TUCHMAN: Did you like the fact that Joe Biden made a point of it?

NATHAN: I did. I did. I mean, I'm glad he came out and said it. It's an important issue.

[00:40:05]

TUCHMAN: Another important issue that you talked about with me was the discussion about pre-existing condition coverage. Joe Biden has talked about that with Obamacare. Are you confident that Joe Biden will keep coverage for pre-existing conditions? Anyone worried about that? No.

Is anyone worried, when Donald Trump keeps that promise, that he's not going to keep that promise?

Let me ask you that question. Does that concern you that he's not going to be able to keep that promise, because he's not giving any substance about it?

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: Yes, man, I think that he hasn't really shown that that's really any of his priorities. And I think that he's basically focused on getting rid of anything that Obama and Biden did.

TUCHMAN: But he does say that he will keep pre-existing condition coverage. Do you believe that?

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: If you can take him at face value, then yes.

TUCHMAN: Well, do you? That's the question. It doesn't matter what I think. It matters what you think as an undecided voter.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: I -- no, I don't think I can trust that.

TUCHMAN: How do you feel about that, Linda?

LINDA, UNDECIDED VOTER: I don't think I can trust him about that, and that matters to me. I have health issues, so I really want the pre- existing conditions not to be taken away.

TUCHMAN: Thank you for your response. One thing I want to point out, everyone here absolutely loved the idea

of the mute button, and they're laughing about it, but they liked it. And I suspect that, if we hear a lot of argument in future years, that mute button will be back.

BLITZER: Yes. It was a much more civil debate, thanks to that mute button.

Gary, the big question: Did tonight's debate help any of them decide who they will vote for?

TUCHMAN: OK. And that is the big question. You all came here undecided. You said you were willing to be swayed. I've been saying all night, I talked to people at home, how can anyone be undecided? These 11 people were undecided when they walked in today.

My question is, of the 11 of you, after watching this debate, how many of you are ready to cast a vote for president of the United States? Raise your hands, please.

One, two, three, four, five, six seven. Most of you are ready to vote. Of the seven of you, how many are ready to vote for President Trump? Zero. How many of you are ready to vote for President -- for Vice President Biden for president? One, two, three, four, five, six, seven. OK. So that's a good day for Joe Biden, according to this group.

What I'm very interested in is those of you who aren't ready. Very quickly, why aren't you ready to vote for president?

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: Probably for fear of missing out. So you could find the one piece of information that, if I were to vote tomorrow and Donald Trump does, or Joe Biden does something on Friday, or Saturday, I'd be, like, Well, I shouldn't have voted.

TUCHMAN: All right. So you're still waiting for more. OK.

As I mentioned, you were leaning towards Donald Trump. You're not ready yet?

UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: I want to see what happens over the next week and a half.

TUCHMAN: What could happen?

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: Who knows?

TUCHMAN: OK.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: Who knows?

TUCHMAN: Who was the third person who said they weren't ready to vote? You. OK, let me ask you the question, too. Do you --

UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: I want to see evidence that the Democrats won't tank the economy.

TUCHMAN: You think you'll get that evidence in the next 12 days?

UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: I think I can do some research and see what I think about it. I mean, is there assurance? Never.

TUCHMAN: OK. Final person right over here. Tell me why you are not ready to cast your vote yet. What are you waiting for?

MATT, UNDECIDED VOTER: Well, I'm pro-life. So I'd like to see, you know, whether Judge Barrett gets on the court.

TUCHMAN: If she gets on the court, what does that mean?

MATT: I'll probably vote for Biden.

TUCHMAN: You'll vote for Biden if she gets on the court? And why is that?

MATT: Well, I think that he is a stronger leader who is more willing to support fair elections and lead both parties more back toward the center and away from extremism.

TUCHMAN: So you're saying if the justice you want gets on the court and you no longer have to worry about her not getting on the court, then you could select Biden? But if she didn't get selected, you might vote for Trump, because you want her to get selected?

MATT: Right. Or someone like that.

TUCHMAN: Matt, it sounds confusing. But that's interesting.

MATT: Yes. It's hard. It's a hard position.

TUCHMAN: All right. We try to make television interesting when we do stories like this, and you're a bunch of very interesting people. Thanks for watching the debate with us.

Great Americans. Great North Carolinians. These are the voters who represent all of us in the United States of America. Wolf, back to you.

BLITZER: Yes. Please thank all of them for spending so much time with us, Gary. Thank you very, very much.

Jake, over to you.

TAPPER: All right, Wolf. Thanks so much. Such an interesting --

PHILLIP: That was very interesting.

TAPPER: -- voter, the young man who is very concerned about -- is very anti-abortion. It's very important to him. And yet, at the same time, he clearly, with the exception of that issue, far prefers Joe Biden. If Judge Barrett becomes Justice Barrett, he's like, I don't have to worry about that any more. I'm going with Joe Biden. I mean, fascinating.

PHILLIP: It is fascinating. I really -- it makes me wonder how many other people might be thinking similar things. I mean, it can't be --

TAPPER: I never even occurred to me that anyone would think that.

PHILLIP: It didn't even really occur to me. And it's probably a non- zero number of other people, but it's an interesting dynamic.

And I also thought it was interesting that so many of the people who seemed to be maybe inclined to want to vote for Trump or skeptical of Biden were the ones who came out of this debate still feeling like they hadn't made a decision.

I think that's pretty telling. It means that the president did not close the sale for those people who are already inclined to be interested in voting for him.

BASH: He didn't. But Joe Biden did --

PHILLIP: Yes.

BASH: -- with -- with the majority of the people who said that they have made up their mind. They were -- you know, I think all of them were -- were for Joe Biden.

Obviously, this is a focus group. This is not necessarily representative of what we're going to see even more broadly in North Carolina, but it is very, very telling. And to hear these voters talk about what they heard and why they did or didn't change their mind.

The other dynamic that we are reminded of is that people have voted and are voting. Like, they will wake up tomorrow morning and go vote.

TAPPER: Forty-seven million have already voted.

BASH: Right. And -- and in North Carolina, in Pennsylvania, in Wisconsin, in so many of these really important states, Florida, they could just take what they saw tonight, digest it, and go do it, as opposed to waiting the 11 days that we were talking about, going back four days, four years with the Comey decision.

PHILLIP: And just to note, we've surpassed the entire 2016 early vote already at this point.

TAPPER: Incredible.

PHILLIP: Eleven days left. I mean, it's an extraordinary amount of time we have left, and millions, millions, millions more people are going to vote.

TAPPER: Two parts of the debate that I think we will definitely see in targeted advertising. One, Joe Biden and his flub, gaffe, whatever you want to call it, about fossil fuel energy. We already have, you noted, the congresswoman from Oklahoma distancing. We already see a congresswoman from New Mexico --

BASH: New Mexico, yes.

TAPPER: Democratic congresswoman, New Mexico, distancing. That's going to be, I think, carried forward by the Trump campaign, a message based in reality, at least, in terms of what Joe Biden actually said.

And then, Joe Biden is not doing as well, according to polls, with Latino voters as Hillary Clinton was at this point. He's doing better with other groups but not with Latinos. Donald Trump has made inroads.

I would be surprised if the Biden campaign didn't take two comments that Trump made: one just the lack of humanity when talking about the child separation policy. And, two, again, I am still stunned at his comment about the Latinos that come into the country after being deported are low I.Q. I mean, it's just a stunningly racist remark. Not out of character. We've seen it before. But shocking to hear on a debate stage.

PHILLIP: Yes. I mean, I think those two comments for President Trump, he didn't do himself any favors.

But one thing we should keep in mind is that Joe Biden is struggling, particularly with Latino men. And he's really struggling with Latino people of Cuban descent in Florida in particular.

And they might be less swayed on some of these immigration-related issues and more swayed on economy-related issues. So it's a little bit of a tricky situation with Joe Biden with Latino voters, because in some ways, it's actually completely -- it might be completely divorced from his policies on immigration versus Trump's policies on immigration.

TAPPER: All right. We're going to take another quick break. On the other side, the bottom line on tonight's debate.

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

[00:52:06]

COOPER: Eleven days to go, let's take one more look at where the race stands in the Electoral College map, where Joe Biden is leading. Will that change? Let's take a look.

That's the road for -- for 270. Let's go with our panel is here.

Andrew, when you look at that map there, what do you -- do you think the race changes tomorrow? I mean, based on what we saw tonight, does -- does anybody have more momentum that they might have not -- or that they didn't have yesterday?

YANG: The fact is, one side needed a game changer tonight, and that's Donald Trump. And they did not get it. This map looks very much the same tomorrow as it does right now.

And one thing we haven't talked about, Anderson, is that Joe Biden's campaign has built a fundraising juggernaut. They have a nine-figure cash advantage that they're deploying in the form of advertising, both nationally and in the swing states.

Dems are in a great position. To me, a lot of it's going to be around trying to establish a margin of victory in swing districts in Pennsylvania and around the country.

But Joe has to be thrilled about tonight.

COOPER: Kirsten?

POWERS: Yes, I do think that Donald Trump needed to do something different. If he -- if he made a few people feel better about voting for him, I think Scott was sort of making that -- that case earlier, I think they're people who were already voting for him.

I don't think he did anything to help himself with people who -- who have voted for him before and were thinking of voting for Joe Biden.

And I think Joe Biden just has to continue with the same argument that he's been making, that he is, you know, going to be the president for all people. I think there is a real fatigue around the division and the polarization that even tonight you didn't see the president trying to tamp down.

COOPER: Yes, Scott, I mean, do you think the president won over anybody who was on the fence or -- or you know, reached out to any new voters tonight?

JENNINGS: I do. I mean, I'll take that one. I think there were some Republicans, Anderson, who you know, probably approve of a lot of what the president has done from a policy perspective, but they're fatigued. You know, they have anxiety over what he's going to do. They're just -- you know, they're worn out from the guy.

But tonight, they saw a Donald Trump that they could possibly live with for another four years. I got a text message from a Republican consultant who said he's going to sleep a little easier tonight. He's working on a big Senate race.

In the first debate, basically, you know, everybody was fretting, because they knew the poll numbers were going to tank, and they did. This time around, nobody has that fear.

If I may just take a quick moment, Anderson, to look at the next few days, you showed the map earlier. If I were Donald Trump, I would be doing a couple of things.

No. 1, Florida. He's got to hold onto Florida. No. 2, that whole sort of Florida, Georgia, North Carolina, working my way north, you get up to Ohio. If he holds Florida, Georgia, North Carolina, and Ohio, and can figure out a way to hold one of those three states in the upper Midwest, he is really in the ball game. He could be in the ball game on election night.

[00:55:05] But on election night, if Florida falls, that's a huge problem.

And how do you win Florida? How do you win some of these states? You find voters who fit your demos, who lean your way on issues but didn't vote in 2016. Maybe they weren't even registered. And you use your massive field program, which the Trump campaign has invested in, and you've got to turn them out.

So there's not a ton of persuasion going on out there. There is turnout going on out there, to try to alter the composition of the electorate. Obama did it in '12. Bush-Cheney did it in '04. And could Trump be the next incumbent president to do it? That's his task over the next two weeks.

COOPER: Andrew, does Scott's math worry you?

YANG: Well, you'd much rather be Joe, according to this map. And the great thing about Joe's position is he has multiple paths to 270. And Trump, essentially, has to pull an inside straight, which would be a very, very difficult task, because it's not like the Dems can't see this coming.

We could invest in a lot of the same battlegrounds. And at this point, the Biden campaign has meaningful resources to invest just about everywhere.

So Scott's not wrong that that is Trump's best path to victory, but you would much rather be the other side on this one.

COOPER: Yes. CNN's coverage of debate night in America continues with Chris Cuomo and Don Lemon after a break. We'll be right back.

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

CHRIS CUOMO, CNN ANCHOR: Hello, everybody. I'm Chris Cuomo, along with my man D. Lemon, Don Lemon.