‘Do they think ... rules for everybody else do not apply to them?’: Chris Wallace slams Trump’s family for refusing masks at debate

Chris Wallace and Steve Cortes appear on "Fox News Sunday." Screenshot/Fox

Inside a Cleveland auditorium on Tuesday, everyone watching President Trump debate former vice president Joe Biden wore a mask, with a notable exception: Trump’s guests, including the first family.

Fox News host Chris Wallace grilled Trump campaign spokesman Steve Cortes about why the president's family refused to wear masks at the first presidential debate, flouting the venue's rules.

On Sunday, the debate’s moderator, Fox News anchor Chris Wallace, demanded answers from the Trump campaign for flouting the debate host’s rules — especially in light of Friday’s news that both the president and first lady Melania Trump later tested positive for the coronavirus.

“The rules from the Cleveland Clinic could not have been more clear. Everyone, everyone in the audience was to wear a mask,” Wallace said on “Fox News Sunday.” “After the first family came in, they all took off their masks. So did the White House chief of staff Mark Meadows. Do they think that the health and safety rules for everybody else do not apply to them?”

When Steve Cortes, a senior adviser to the Trump campaign, started arguing that the masks weren’t necessary because attendees had been tested for the virus, Wallace cut him off.

“Steve, it doesn’t matter. Everyone in that room was tested. The Cleveland Clinic regulation was, it didn’t matter. Everyone except for the three of us onstage was to wear a mask,” Wallace said.

The interview tied off a weekend where Wallace was a central, often critical, voice in Fox News’s coverage of Trump’s positive diagnosis — a story that could personally affect him after he shared a stage with the president. Wallace has said he won’t be tested until Monday.

On Friday, Wallace broke news that illustrated Trump’s lax approach to safety guidelines, revealing to viewers that the president violated an “honor system” by showing up to the debate without already having tested negative. Wallace also said Trump and his staff didn’t wear masks on a walk-through before the debate.

On Sunday, Wallace repeatedly grilled Cortes on why Trump’s guests had disregarded mask rules, which both campaigns had agreed to ahead of time. In the audience, the first lady and the president’s children, Ivanka, Don Jr., Eric, and Tiffany, all shunned masks, as did Trump’s other guests, including Meadows, and Rep. Jim Jordan (R-Ohio).

When Cleveland Clinic staffers offered the group face coverings, they were rebuffed.

“Everybody was told to wear a mask. Why did the first family and the chief of staff believe that the rules for everybody else didn’t apply to them?” Wallace asked.

Cortes argued that while Trump believes masks are “useful,” “we also believe in some element of individual choice. People were distanced, and they had been tested.”

Indeed, the Cleveland Clinic did test all attendees with PCR, the nasal swab considered the best standard, The Washington Post’s Aaron C. Davis, Shawn Boburg and Josh Dawsey reported. But the Trump campaign was allowed to do its own testing, and used instead a rapid test that studies have found can miss infections up to 30 percent of the time.

Wallace pressed Cortes again. “No,” he said, “those were the rules, and there was no freedom of choice. They broke the rules. Why did they break the rules?”

Instead of answering, Cortes accused Wallace of “haranguing” the president during the debate, repeating Trump campaign claims that Wallace had sided too often with Biden. Then Cortes added again, “Everyone there was tested in the crowd, they were distanced from each other, people can make reasonable decisions for themselves.”

Wallace scoffed at that — and said the Commission on Presidential Debates had made it clear that not wearing a mask at future debates would lead to an ejection from the venue.

“No, actually they can’t,” Wallace responded. “There are the rules, and they’ll be kicked out next time.”

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Coronavirus is causing the 'historic decimation' of Latinos, medical expert says

"It occurred to me that what we’re seeing really is the historic decimation among the Hispanic community by the virus," one expert said.

Image: Rhonda Roland Shearer

A global health expert said Wednesday that the coronavirus is causing "the historic decimation" of the Latino community, ravaging generations of loved ones in Hispanic families.

Dr. Peter Hotez, dean of Tropical Medicine at the Baylor College of Medicine in Houston, spoke at a virtual Congressional Hispanic Caucus briefing Wednesday, when he read off descriptions of people who died on Aug. 13 in Houston alone.

“Hispanic male, Hispanic male, Hispanic male, black male, Hispanic male, black male, Hispanic male, Hispanic female, black female, black male, Hispanic, Hispanic, Hispanic, Hispanic, Hispanic, Hispanic” Hotez said, adding that many are people in their 40s, 50s and 60s.

“This virus is taking away a whole generation of mothers and fathers and brothers and sisters, you know, who are young kids, teenage kids. And it occurred to me that what we’re seeing really is the historic decimation among the Hispanic community by the virus,” he said.

Hotez contacted other medical officials in Texas and found that the pattern is similar in other cities. He added that the pattern also applies to the Latino population in other parts of the country, particularly in the southern U.S.

Before Hotez spoke at the briefing, Dr. Anthony Fauci, the nation’s leading infectious disease expert, said that hospitalizations among Latinos as of Sept. 19 were 359 per 100,000 compared to 78 in whites. Deaths related to Covid-19 are 61 per 100,000 in the Latino population compared to 40 in whites, and Latinos represent 45 percent of deaths of people younger than 21, Fauci said.

Fauci said the country can begin to address this “extraordinary problem” now by making sure the community gets adequate testing and immediate access to care. But he said this is not a one-shot resolution.

“This must now reset and re-shine a light on this disparity related to social determinants of health that are experienced by the Latinx community — the fact that they have a higher incidence of co-morbidities, which put you at risk," Fauci said.

"That’s something that you do not fix in a month or a year. It’s something that requires a decades-long commitment to change those social determinants, which make that community more susceptible to diabetes, to obesity, to hypertension, to kidney disease," he said. "We need to look at what we need to do now to make this to be an enduring and burning lesson of a challenge that we have for the Latino community."

Fauci also urged the Latino congressional members on the call to get their Latino constituents to consider enrolling in vaccination trials so they can be proven to be safe in everyone, including African Americans and Latinos.

“We need to get a diverse representation of the population in the clinical trials,” he said.

Fauci said he believes there will be an “answer” by the end of the year or beginning of next year on whether one of five potential vaccines is safe and effective. “We only will know after the tests are over, so anyone who makes predictions about our having it really doesn’t fully understand the challenges of getting a trial done,” he said.

Texas is one of the states that did not expand Medicaid to provide more access to health care for its population under the Affordable Care Act. It has the highest percent of people without health insurance coverage in the country, and Latinos are the largest share of people lacking coverage.

The state also is the lead plaintiff in a lawsuit challenging the Affordable Care Act. A U.S. Supreme Court hearing on the state’s challenge is set for Nov. 10. It will take place before a more conservative court that could include a new justice appointed by President Donald Trump. The president nominated Amy Coney Barrett to fill the vacancy left by Justice Ruth Bader Ginsburg, who died Sept. 18.

The Congressional Hispanic Caucus’ chairman is Rep. Joaquín Castro, D-Texas, who lost a stepmother this past summer to Covid-19 and whose father was infected with the virus. He is the twin brother of former Housing and Urban Development Secretary Julián Castro, who was a 2020 Democratic presidential candidate.

Texas lagged behind other states in closing businesses and mandating wearing of masks as the virus began its virulent spread in the spring. The state's governor also has recently begun to ease restrictions that were put in place in the summer, reopening restaurants while restricting crowd sizes and mandating the reopening of schools.

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4 takeaways from the most juvenile presidential debate in U.S. history

Raised voices, interrupting and chaos was story of first 2020 Presidential Debate

After months of anticipation, President Trump and his Democratic rival, former Vice President Joe Biden, finally met onstage in Cleveland on Tuesday night for the first presidential debate of 2020 — perhaps the single most important moment of the fall campaign.

But “presidential debate” is too dignified a phrase to describe what actually went down Tuesday at Case Western University. “Foodfight” is the more fitting term — with one candidate, Trump, determined to sling a torrent of false and misleading attacks at his Democratic opponent, and the other, Biden, often struggling to reach the end of a sentence without getting sidetracked by Trump’s haranguing interruptions. 

“Gentlemen! I hate to raise my voice, but why should I be different than the two of you?” moderator Chris Wallace of Fox News was forced to shout after the umpteenth unintelligible spat of the evening. “I think that the country would be better served if we allowed both people to speak with fewer interruptions. I’m appealing to you, sir,” Wallace said, turning to Trump, “to do that.” 

“Well, and him, too,” Trump muttered, gesturing toward Biden. 

“Well, frankly, you’ve been doing more interrupting than he has,” Wallace retorted. 

“Well, that’s all right,” Trump continued, “but he does plenty.” 

“Well, sir, less than you have,” Wallace said. 

Such was the level of discourse throughout the evening, thanks to Trump. Here are four takeaways from the most juvenile presidential debate in U.S. history. 

Trump tried to rattle Biden — but it probably wasn’t enough to shake up the race 

President Donald Trump and Joe Biden during first presidential debate on Sept. 29, 2020, at Case Western University and Cleveland Clinic, in Cleveland, Ohio. (Phot illustration: Yahoo News; photos: Brian Snyder/Reuters, Julio Cortez/AP)

Despite an unprecedented amount of real-world upheaval — the COVID-19 pandemic, the resulting economic collapse, a racial reckoning in the streets — the presidential race between Trump and Biden has remained remarkably stable. Exactly one year ago, Biden was leading Trump by 7.6 percentage points, on average; today, Biden is ahead by 7. If the election were held right now, forecasters predict that Biden would win 331 electoral votes

This means that — with 35 days to go until Election Day and voters already beginning to cast ballots in many states — the onus Tuesday was on Trump to change a dynamic that has proven stubbornly resistant to even the most momentous news events.

If nothing else, you can say this about the president’s performance: He certainly tried.

Trump arrived in Cleveland with a single-minded strategy. After years spent crafting a caricature of Biden as an old, enfeebled man who can barely function without the aid of teleprompters, earpieces or performance-enhancing drugs, Trump’s goal Tuesday was to do or say whatever was necessary to trip Biden up and make him lose his train of thought. The hope, it seemed, was that Biden’s rattled missteps would be cut together for viral videos designed to advance that narrative — hence the incessant interruptions.  

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But in a broader sense, Trump may have failed to do what he actually needed to do: sway the very small number of remaining undecided voters — a mere 4 percent of the electorate, according to most polls — to his side. 

According to one pre-debate survey, 60 percent of swing voters said that the coronavirus pandemic (30 percent) and health care (30 percent) were the top issues facing the United States. Zero percent said “Hunter Biden,” a topic Trump returned to again and again throughout the night.  

Trump’s attempts to get under Biden’s skin did unsettle his rival on occasion. But they also provoked some of the Democrat’s most memorable lines. 

“Will you shut up, man?” Biden snapped at one point. “This is so unpresidential."

Biden attempted to keep his focus on ordinary Americans 

Joe Biden speaks during the first U.S. presidential debate hosted by Case Western Reserve University and the Cleveland Clinic in Cleveland, Ohio, U.S., on Tuesday, Sept. 29, 2020. (Matthew Hatcher/Bloomberg via Getty Images)

During the debate, one of Trump’s tactics was to try to drive a wedge between Biden and the left wing of his own party. 

“You just lost the radical left,” the president said when Biden reiterated, to no one’s surprise, that he is not and has never been a supporter of the Green New Deal.

To some degree, left-leaning Twitter was disappointed with the nominee’s performance — particularly when he failed to deliver punchy comebacks to Trump’s most outlandish claims or seemed to spend more time complaining about the president’s lack of decorum (“Folks, do you have any idea what this clown is doing?”) than prosecuting the case against him.

Yet Biden had a strategy, too, and it’s one that arguably made more electoral sense than Trump’s. At every turn — no matter what sort of distraction Trump was creating — Biden pivoted back to how his policies and the president’s would affect working Americans. 

“We want to talk about families and ethics?” Biden said, when Trump brought up his son Hunter yet again. “His family, we could talk about all night. This is not about my family or his family. It’s about your family. The American people.

“He doesn’t want to talk about what you need,” the former vice president continued, looking squarely at the camera. “You.” 

In a muddled debate, it was the closest Biden came to a thesis statement. He went on to argue that the American people need many things: expanded access to health care, continuing protections for preexisting conditions, “safety” from COVID-19, “more money” so schools and businesses shuttered by the pandemic can reopen, and a president whose word they can trust.

“Do you believe for a moment what he’s telling you, in light of all the lies he’s told you about the whole issue relating to COVID?” Biden asked. “He still hasn’t even acknowledged that he knew this was happening, knew how dangerous it was going to be back in February, and he didn’t even tell you.”

“He panicked — or he just looked at the stock market, one of the two,” Biden went on. “Because, guess what, a lot of people died — and a lot more are going to die unless he gets a lot smarter, a lot quicker.”

Tellingly, Trump didn’t respond by defending his handling of the pandemic or reaching out to the forgotten men and women of the United States who have been affected by it. All night, the president was argumentative without making any kind of argument for his candidacy.

Instead, Trump took personal offense when Biden insulted his intelligence.

“Don’t ever use the word ‘smart’ with me,” Trump objected. “There’s nothing smart about you, Joe.”

Biden’s pitch may not have been the flashiest. With all the crosstalk, it may not have come through as clearly as it could have. But in substance, it’s the same kind of populist, meat-and-potatoes approach that helped Trump connect with late-breaking swing voters in 2016. By ceding that ground to Biden on Tuesday night, Trump did little to win those voters back.  

Trump again refused to condemn white supremacists

President Donald Trump speaks during the first presidential debate at Case Western Reserve University and Cleveland Clinic in Cleveland, Ohio, on September 29, 2020. (Saul Loeb/AFP via Getty Images)

In the age of social media, presidential debates are often more about individual moments than either candidate’s overall performance. And one moment in particular may continue to shape the campaign in the days and weeks to come. 

With the memory still lingering of Trump’s controversial claim that “very fine people” had attended a 2017 white supremacist rally in Charlottesville, Va., Wallace gave the president a chance Tuesday night to condemn those on the right who have incited violence at more recent protests. 

But Trump declined, even as Wallace repeatedly pressed him to speak out. 

“Are you willing tonight to condemn white supremacists and militia groups and to say that they need to stand down and not add to the violence at a number of these cities, as we saw in Kenosha, and, as we’ve seen, in Portland?” Wallace asked Trump.

“Sure, I’m willing to do that, but I would say that almost everything I see is from the left wing, not from the right wing. I’m willing to do anything. I want to see peace—”

“Well, then, do it, sir,” Wallace interrupted.

“Say it,” Biden interjected. “Do it. Say it.”

“You want to call them, what do you want to call them?” Trump replied. “Give me a name. Go ahead, who would you like me to condemn?”

“White supremacists,” Wallace interjected.

“Proud Boys,” Biden added, referring to the group of self-described “Western chauvinists” whose members appeared alongside white supremacist groups at the 2017 Unite the Right Rally in Charlottesville, and have been a consistent presence during more recent clashes in Portland, Ore.

“Proud Boys, stand back and stand by,” Trump said — before immediately pivoting. “But I’ll tell you what, somebody’s got to do something about antifa and the left, because this is not a right-wing problem.” 

The Proud Boys quickly embraced the moment, posting clips of the president’s comment and even circulating an image with Trump’s quote superimposed over their logo. 

Trump has in the past sought to blame violence stemming from some recent protests on antifa, an umbrella term for radical left-wing activist groups that sometimes engage in street brawls.

It’s an assessment that Trump’s own FBI Director, Christopher Wray, and acting Homeland Security Secretary Chad Wolf have both dispelled in testimony before Congress. By their account, white supremacist violence is the most persistent and deadly domestic terrorist threat facing the country. 

When Biden noted Wray’s comments. Trump shot back, “Well, you know what? He’s wrong.”

Biden, for his part, said that while he supports peaceful protests, he condemns violence of all kinds. 

In the wake of Charlottesville, Trump’s approval rating fell below 37 percent for the first time — the lowest level of his presidency — and remained below 40 percent for the rest of the year. 

Trump repeated his baseless claim that the election will be rigged

President Donald Trump participates in the first 2020 presidential campaign debate with Democratic presidential nominee Joe Biden held on the campus of the Cleveland Clinic at Case Western Reserve University in Cleveland, Ohio, U.S., September 29, 2020. (Brian Snyder/Reuters)

Another moment that may live on after the debate was the segment where the president of the United States told roughly 100 million Americans that they won’t be able to trust the results of the upcoming election. 

“This is going to be fraud like you’ve never seen,” Trump said.  

As “evidence,” Trump peppered the television audience with an array of out-of-context remarks about small incidents that were largely examples of errors by election workers affecting tiny, inconsequential numbers of votes — then suggested again, as he has done repeatedly in recent weeks, that he might not accept the results of November’s election

“If I see tens of thousands of ballots being manipulated, I can’t go along with that,” Trump said. 

With comments like these, it’s unclear whether Trump is trying to rationalize a potential loss or whether he’s laying the groundwork to claim victory before the year’s pandemic-induced influx of mail ballots have been fully tabulated. Either way, Trump’s efforts to delegitimize an American election in advance are unprecedented. They represent what his own FBI director described as “misinformation” that “will contribute over time to a lack of confidence of American voters and citizens in the validity of their vote.” 

Trump is “trying to scare people into thinking it’s not going to be legitimate,” Biden responded on stage. But “he cannot stop you from being able to determine the outcome of this election. If we get the votes, it’s going to be all over. He’s going to go.”

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