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Chaotic first debate: Taunts overpower Trump, Biden visions

CLEVELAND (AP) — The first debate between President Donald Trump and Democratic challenger Joe Biden deteriorated into bitter taunts and near chaos Tuesday night as Trump repeatedly interrupted his opponent with angry — and personal — jabs that sometimes overshadowed the sharply different visions each man has for a nation facing historic crises.

In the most tumultuous presidential debate in recent memory, Trump refused to condemn white supremacists who have supported him, telling one such group known as Proud Boys to “stand back, stand by.” There were also heated clashes over the president's handling of the pandemic, the integrity of the election results, deeply personal attacks about Biden's family and how the Supreme Court will shape the future of the nation’s health care.

But it was the belligerent tone that was persistent, somehow fitting for what has been an extraordinarily ugly campaign. The two men frequently talked over each other with Trump interrupting, nearly shouting, so often that Biden eventually snapped at him, “Will you shut up, man?”

“The fact is that everything he’s saying so far is simply a lie,” Biden said. “I’m not here to call out his lies. Everybody knows he’s a liar.”

The presidential race has been remarkably stable for weeks, despite the historic crises that have battered the country this year, including a pandemic that has killed more than 200,000 Americans and a reckoning over race and police brutality. With just five weeks until Election Day and voting already underway in some key states, Biden has maintained a lead in national polls and in many battlegrounds.

It's unclear whether the debate will do much to change those dynamics.

Over and over, Trump tried to control the conversation, interrupting Biden and repeatedly talking over the moderator, Chris Wallace of Fox News. The president tried to deflect tough lines of questioning — whether on his taxes or the pandemic — to deliver broadsides against Biden.

The president drew a lecture from Wallace, who pleaded with both men to stop talking over each other. Biden tried to push back against Trump, sometimes looking right at the camera to directly address viewers rather than the president and snapping, “It’s hard to get a word in with this clown.”

Again refusing to commit to honoring the results of the election, Trump spread falsehoods about mail voting. Without evidence, he suggested that the process — surging in popularity during the pandemic — was ripe for fraud and incorrectly claimed impropriety at a Pennsylvania voting site.

But despite his efforts to dominate the discussion, Trump was frequently put on the defensive and tried to sidestep when he was asked if he was willing to condemn white supremacists and paramilitary groups.

“What do you want to call them? Give me a name. Give me a name,” Trump said, before Biden mentioned the far right, violent group known as the Proud Boys. Trump then pointedly did not condemn the group, instead saying, “Proud Boys, stand back, stand by. But I’ll tell you what, somebody’s got to do something about Antifa and the left because this is not right wing problem. This is a left wing problem."

Biden attacked Trump's handling of the pandemic, saying that the president “waited and waited" to act when the virus reached America's shores and “still doesn’t have a plan.” Biden told Trump to “get out of your bunker and get out of the sand trap” and go in his golf cart to the Oval Office to come up with a bipartisan plan to save people.

Trump snarled a response, declaring that “I'll tell you Joe, you could never have done the job that we did. You don’t have it in your blood."

“I know how to do the job,” was the solemn response from Biden, who served eight years as Barack Obama's vice president.

The pandemic’s effects were in plain sight, with the candidates’ lecterns spaced far apart, all of the guests in the small crowd tested and the traditional opening handshake scrapped. While neither candidate wore a mask to take the stage, their families did sport face coverings.

Trump struggled to define his ideas for replacing the Affordable Care Act on health care in the debate’s early moments and defended his nomination of Amy Coney Barrett, declaring that “I was not elected for three years, I’m elected for four years.”

“We won the election. Elections have consequences. We have the Senate. We have the White House and we have a phenomenal nominee, respected by all.”

Trump criticized Biden over the former vice president's refusal to comment on whether he would try to expand the Supreme Court in retaliation if Barrett is confirmed to replace the late Justice Ruth Bader Ginsburg. That idea has gained momentum on the party's left flank but Biden tried to put distance between himself and the liberal wing, declining to endorse the Green New Deal and rejecting the assertion that he was under the control of radicals by declaring “I am the Democratic Party now.”

The scattershot debate bounced from topic to topic, with Trump again refusing to embrace the science of climate change while Biden accused Trump of walking away from the American promise of equity for all and making a race-based appeal.

“This is a president who has used everything as a dog whistle to try to generate racist hatred, racist division,” Biden said.

Recent months have seen major protests after the deaths of Black people at the hands of police. Biden said the country faces a problem with systemic racism and that while the vast majority of police officers are “decent, honorable men and women” there are “bad apples” and people have to be held accountable.

Trump in turn claimed that Biden’s work on a federal crime bill treated the African American population “about as bad as anybody in this country.” The president pivoted to his hardline focus on those protesting racial injustice and accused Biden of being afraid to use the words “law and order,” out of fear of alienating the left.

“Violence in response is never appropriate, “Biden said. “Never appropriate. Peaceful protest is.”

The attacks turned deeply personal when Trump returned to a campaign attack line by declaring that Biden's son, Hunter, had inappropriately benefitted from his father's connections while working in Ukraine. Biden rarely looked at Trump during the night but turned to face the president when he defended his sons, including his son Beau, an Army veteran who died of cancer in 2015, after the commander-in-chief's reported insults of those who served in the military.

A new report from two Republican-led Senate committees alleged that Hunter Biden’s work in Ukraine at the same time his father was vice president raised conflict-of-interest concerns for the Obama administration, but the report did not link Joe Biden to any wrongdoing or misconduct. Trump was impeached for pushing Kiev to investigate the Biden family.

The debate was arguably Trump's best chance to try to reframe the campaign as a choice between candidates and not a referendum over his handling of the virus that has killed more people in America than any other nation. Americans, according to polling, have soured on his leadership in the crisis, and the president has struggled to land consistent attacks on Biden.

In the hours before the debate, Biden released his 2019 tax returns just days after the blockbuster revelations about Trump’s long-hidden tax history, including that he paid only $750 a year in federal income taxes in 2016 and 2017 and nothing in many other years. The Bidens paid nearly $300,000 in taxes in 2019.

Trump, in the debate, insisted that he paid millions in taxes — but refused to say how much he paid in federal income taxes — and insisted that he had taken advantage of legal tax incentives, another angry exchange that led to Biden declaring that Trump was the “worst president” the nation has ever had.


Lemire reported from New York. Price reported from Las Vegas. Additional reporting by Associated Press writers Jill Colvin in Cleveland and Zeke Miller in Washington.


Police rule out explosives, drug lab in house fire

While the investigation into the cause of a house fire at 1015 N. St. Joseph Ave. last month is ongoing, officers have ruled out some rumored possibilities.

Hastings Police Capt. Mike Doremus said several rumors were being circulated about the cause of the fire at the time. One rumor included the possibility of explosives at the residence, but investigators didn’t find any evidence of that.

Another rumor was a methamphetamine laboratory.

“From the very beginning, we said that those were rumors,” Doremus said. “We didn’t find anything to substantiate that.”

As for the official cause of the fire, police are waiting for further information from the Nebraska State Fire Marshal’s Office, which is cooperating with the Hastings Police Department on the investigation.

No injuries were reported in the Aug. 11 fire, but the home at 1015 N. St. Joseph Ave. is considered nearly a total loss, according to a press release from the city. Neighbors initially thought a resident was inside at the time of the fire, but no occupants were found inside.

Denise Manthei of Hastings said she was a former occupant in the house. She has four children, ranging in age from 10 months to 8 years, and the family lost nearly every material possession in the fire.

Manthei said she had been living at the residence with her ex-fiancé. She said they were struggling in their relationship and she moved out with the children about a week before the fire.

She learned about the fire when a neighbor messaged her on social media. Manthei had been in the process of finding a storage facility for her family’s belongings while she searched for a new place to live.

She rushed over and was devastated to see flames billowing out of the house she had called home for around three years. Most of her belongings were lost in the fire, including pictures and family heirlooms being stored in the basement.

“That’s probably the saddest,” she said. “Everything else is just material.”

After the fire, Manthei said she had to leave the house to feel safe. She said she won’t feel completely safe until she knows what caused the fire and why.

“My landlords were wonderful to me,” she said. “They made it so if I wanted to stay, I could have. I really didn’t want to.”

But Manthei said rumors of possible explosives or a meth lab made it difficult to find housing. She said some homeowners were hesitant to rent to her due to those rumors.

Manthei said she is a recovering meth user, but has been drug free for two months. Before that, she said she had about six years of sobriety.

But she said she has never been involved in manufacturing meth, which involves flammable chemicals.

“It’s a big jump from using to manufacturing,” she said.

She said it took nearly three weeks of searching and putting in applications every day to find a new place to live.

This isn’t the first time Manthei has been involved in a fire. When she was 16, a furnace malfunction caused a house fire in her father’s mobile home. She was at home at the time, which made it even more traumatic than her recent loss.

In both incidents, she said the community has come together to provide assistance.

“I wouldn’t be where I am without the community’s help,” she said. “I wasn’t expecting it. Hastings is a great place to be.”

Unfriendly skies: Airline workers brace for mass layoffs

DETROIT — The worries are growing for United Airlines flight attendant Jordy Comeaux.

In a few days, he’ll be among roughly 40,000 airline workers whose jobs are likely to evaporate in an industry decimated by the coronavirus pandemic.

Unless Congress acts to help for a second time, United will furlough Comeaux on Thursday, cutting off his income and health insurance. Unemployment and the money made by his husband, a home health nurse, won’t be enough to pay the bills including rent near Chicago’s O’Hare International Airport.

“I don’t have enough, unfortunately, to get by,” said Comeaux, 31, who has worked for United for four years. “No one knows what’s going to come next and how to prepare.”

Since the pandemic hit, thousands of flight attendants, baggage handlers, gate agents and others have been getting at least partial pay through $25 billion in grants and loans to the nation’s airlines. To receive the aid, companies agreed not to lay off employees through Sept. 30. That “Payroll Support Program” helped many stay on, and keep health care and other benefits.

It all runs out on Thursday.

With air travel down about 70% from last year, many carriers including United and American say they’ll be forced to cut jobs without additional aid. Delta and Southwest, two other big carriers, tapped private capital markets and say they’ll avoid layoffs.

Industry analysts say fear of air travel and businesses keeping employees close to home have brought an unprecedented crisis to the industry, resulting in cataclysmic losses. The four largest U.S. airlines — Delta, United, American and Southwest — together lost $10 billion in the second quarter alone.

Fewer airline passengers also means less demand for rental cars, hotels and restaurants. With demand for new planes down, airplane manufacturer Boeing has cut thousands of jobs. And with tourism down, The Walt Disney Co. said Tuesday it planned to lay off 28,000 workers in its parks division in California and Florida.

“To my understanding, this is the steepest demand shock for commercial aviation in human history,” said Morningstar aviation analyst Burkett Huey.

The International Air Transport Association on Tuesday lowered its full-year traffic forecast. The trade group for airlines around the world now expects 2020 air travel to fall 66% from 2019, compared to its previous estimate of a 63% decline.

Airlines in Europe are expecting years of trouble and have acted quickly to cut jobs even as they get government rescue loans.

Germany’s Lufthansa won a 9 billion-euro government bailout, but announced an additional round of cuts after a summer bump in vacation travel dwindled in September. The company has parked its jumbo jets and has plans to eliminate 22,000 full-time positions. British Airways parent company IAG has said it would cut some 12,000 of its 42,000-person workforce.

In the U.S., Congress has been considering a second round of airline aid for weeks, but it’s hung up in the debate over a larger national relief package. The Airlines for America trade group said a House proposal unveiled Monday raises some hope because Democrats and Republicans appear to be talking. Layoffs could be delayed if a deal is imminent.

Toni Valentine, 41, a United reservations agent in Detroit who has been with the airline for 15 years, has been told she’ll be laid off this week.

She has six children ranging in age from 2 to 22, and her husband can’t work because he’s recovering from a massive stroke.

“Knowing that I may not have insurance benefits, I feel like I have failed,” she said on a conference call set up by the Machinists Union. “I’m the primary breadwinner in this family.”

Before the pandemic, the airlines were thriving. Planes were full, profits were fat and workers were getting big overtime checks. That helped Valentine, who said she worked 80 hours per week but still was barely making it after her husband’s illness.

Now, her 19-year-old son has dropped out of college to help support the family, she said. “We’re crying for help and no one is hearing,” she said.

Tevita Uhatafe also was a big beneficiary of overtime pay, working 60 hours a week hauling baggage and loading airplanes for American Airlines in Dallas. He and his wife, who holds the same fleet service job, earned enough to buy a house and purchase a new car in January.

Then came the pandemic. Overtime went away. Uhatafe and his wife cut expenses and staggered their shifts so one could stay home to supervise remote learning for two sons and a niece.

But come Thursday, they both are likely to get only part-time hours, meaning their household income could be halved. “We can’t afford our mortgage, our car payment, our other utilities,” he said.

They also fear they won’t be able to make health care copays and deductibles. They’ve looked for jobs, but in a market with high unemployment “there really isn’t anything out there for us right now,” Uhatafe said.

Allie Malis, an American Airlines flight attendant in Washington, D.C., also faces layoff Thursday. “At this point I don’t have a Plan B,” she said.

With early retirements and other incentives to quit, U.S. airlines have already shed about 45,000 jobs during the pandemic, or 48,000 including cargo carriers. Government figures are only available through July, however.

Compare that to the first six months after the Sept. 11, 2001, terror attacks, when passenger and cargo airlines cut more than 90,000 jobs, and employment drifted lower for the next two years.

Two decades later, airline employment still had not fully recovered. Malis said American didn’t hire any new flight attendants until 2013 because it was still calling back those who were laid off.

While job losses in the airline industry since the pandemic could be about 20% of the total workforce when accounting for the next round of cuts, there are other sectors feeling even more pain, including the restaurant, bar and hotel businesses. From February, before the coronavirus took hold in the U.S., through August, those businesses shed nearly 5.8 million jobs, or around 22% of the total number employed, according to federal statistics.

Flight attendants likely will be the hardest hit if the airline layoffs come this week because there are over 25,000 of them, more than any other job in the industry, said Savanthi Syth, an airlines analyst for Raymond James.

Pilots may not be affected as much because airlines want to avoid the cost of retraining them once they’re in a position to rehire. On Monday, United Airlines pilots ratified an agreement that the union and the airline say will avoid about 2,850 furloughs set to take effect later this week, and another 1,000 early next year.

It’s anyone’s guess when or even if air travel will recover from the pandemic and if airlines can fly through the turbulence. Morningstar expects a vaccine to be available by the end of this year with widespread distribution by the middle of 2021, but recovery could still take years.

Comeaux holds out hope that his union, the Association of Flight Attendants, can successfully lobby Congress for help in the next few days. Many United flight attendants, he said, took special leaves with no pay to preserve jobs for others.

“How long is it going to take for us to get back up and going?” he asked. “That’s the really difficult part.”

New effort seeks to protect Nebraska felon voting rights

OMAHA — The American Civil Liberties Union of Nebraska on Monday began sending notices to thousands of felons informing them of their right to vote after learning of a case in which the state incorrectly notified an Omaha man that he wasn’t eligible to cast a ballot.

The ACLU launched the public awareness project to ensure felons know whether or not they’re qualified to vote in the upcoming general election. The group said it plans to mail nearly 9,000 voting rights packets to county jails and the homes of residents who received disqualification notices from election officials.

Nebraska allows felons to vote after a two-year waiting period that begins once they’ve finished their sentence as well as any parole or probation.

“Voting is the cornerstone of our democracy and the right upon which all civil liberties rest,” said Adam Sipple, legal director of the ACLU of Nebraska. “When it comes to communication about voting rights, the acceptable error rate is zero. It shouldn’t happen.”

The ACLU said its review found that some people who received disqualification notices had completed their sentence well beyond the two-year limitation. Others had felony charges that were later reduced to misdemeanors or dismissed. Still others were wrongfully disqualified from casting a ballot because they were given an “unsatisfactory” release from probation — a circumstance that doesn’t affect their right to vote under state law.

Caught in the confusion was Walter Wolff, an Omaha man who was erroneously told he couldn’t vote in the upcoming general election because of his status as a felon.

Wolff, 68, was released from prison in March 2017 for fourth-offense driving under the influence, but went through a treatment program and hasn’t reoffended since. He said he was shocked and angry when election officials denied his request for a ballot because he knew he was eligible.

“It was kind of like they were doing everything they could to make sure I would never vote again,” Wolff said in an interview. “A lot of people have died for this country so I could vote. It’s my duty to do it to pay them this respect for defending that right.”

A spokeswoman for Secretary of State Bob Evnen said state election officials are reviewing the ACLU of Nebraska’s findings and will correct any errors before the election. The ACLU of Nebraska obtained the names of those who had been disqualified through a public records request.

Cindi Allen, a spokeswoman for Evnen, said anyone whose name doesn’t appear on the state voter registry can still cast a provisional ballot at their polling place. Election officials would determine later whether the person was eligible to vote and thus whether the ballot should be counted.

Nebraska is one of 11 states that either require a waiting period for felons beyond the completion of parole or probation or don’t restore voting rights at all, according to the National Conference of State Legislatures.

Another 21 states reinstate voting rights for felons as soon as they finish parole or probation, and 16 other states and the District of Columbia restore those rights as soon as an inmate is released from prison.

Two states, Maine and Vermont, allow felons to vote while incarcerated.

The ACLU called Nebraska’s two-year waiting period “arbitrary” and said it’s a frequent source of questions and confusion for voters and election officials. Other states have faced similar problems, including one case in Iowa in which a man was arrested because of a bureaucratic error that placed him on the state’s list of ineligible felon voters.

The ACLU said the restriction disproportionately affects Black Nebraskans and other minorities, who make up a larger share of the state’s prison population.

“Since the arbitrary two-year rule is continually confusing to members of the public and election officials, it’s important every Nebraskan who has questions works through this carefully with their local election officials and ACLU if need be,” said Danielle Conrad, the group’s executive director. “The Nebraska voters and local election officials we talk to want to do the right thing, that’s why it’s important to work together to make sure every eligible voter can participate.”

Nebraska lawmakers passed a measure in 2017 to eliminate the two-year waiting period so that felons could vote as soon as their sentence ends, but Republican Gov. Pete Ricketts vetoed it and senators couldn’t muster enough votes for an override.

Ricketts argued in his veto letter that many felons reoffend shortly after they’re released from prison, and the waiting period gives them an incentive to maintain a clean record. He also contended that the bill violates the Nebraska Constitution by restoring a civil rights to felons, a power delegated to the state pardons board.