October 16, 2020

Facebook CEO and founder Mark Zuckerberg reportedly has a direct line to the White House.

At Facebook's outset, Zuckerberg was "completely apolitical," a former Facebook public policy director tells The Wall Street Journal in a deep dive into Zuckerberg's politics. But that all changed in 2016 amid criticism that Facebook steered the election, leading Zuckerberg to start getting closer with the company's top publishers — and the White House.

Publicly, Zuckerberg branded himself as "a work in progress, open to self-reflection and eager to understand other perspectives," the Journal writes. But "behind the scenes," was focused on ensuring the site didn't seem partisan with an emphasis on free speech, leading some Democratic officials to see him as "overly deferential to conservatives," the Journal continues. Indeed, Zuckerberg started forming close ties to conservatives with the help of the Trump-backing Facebook board member Peter Thiel and global head of policy Joel Kaplan, a former deputy chief of staff to George W. Bush.

One of Zuckerberg's newfound ties is to President Trump's son-in-law and senior adviser Jared Kushner. The two "sometimes discuss Facebook policies over WhatsApp," the Journal reports. And earlier this year, people familiar with the matter say Zuckerberg talked about the video app TikTok's U.S. presence with Kushner and Treasury Secretary Steven Mnuchin. "Zuckerberg also has forged ties with right-leaning publishers that drive engagement on the platform," including Ben Shapiro, who formerly ran the conservative Daily Wire, the Journal writes.

"Any insinuation that [Zuckerberg] encouraged the administration to ban TikTok is false," a Facebook spokesperson said. Zuckerberg declined to comment to the Journal. Read more at The Wall Street Journal. Kathryn Krawczyk

10:05 p.m.

President Trump has a miracle scenario brewing in the back of his mind.

During Thursday night's presidential debate, Democratic nominee Joe Biden outlined his plan to expand the Affordable Care Act under a proposal he's coining as "BidenCare." But Trump would "like to terminate ObamaCare" and "come up with a brand new beautiful plan," which he thinks will happen because the Democrats would be under "tremendous pressure." "We might even have the House by that time," Trump said, repeating that "I think we're going to win the House."

Trump later revealed a bit more about his overly hopeful House victory plan: He's counting on House Speaker Nancy Pelosi's (D-Calif.) failure to pass a coronavirus relief plan to flip a few Democratic seats, ignoring the fact that the House already passed its plan months ago.

This ObamaCare-bashing dream also neglects the fact that Republicans held the House, Senate, and presidency at the beginning of Trump's term, and that he still hasn't come up with a health care plan since then. Kathryn Krawczyk

10:00 p.m.

President Trump and Democratic candidate Joe Biden went toe-to-toe at the final presidential debate on Thursday over their respective tax returns. "I have not taken a penny from any foreign source ever in my life," Biden stressed. "We learned that this president paid 50 times the tax in China," he added, evidently citing a report in The New York Times this week that Trump International Hotels Management L.L.C. paid nearly $200,000 in taxes in China between 2013 and 2015.

Biden went on to say, "I have released all of my tax returns. Twenty-two years. Go look at them. Twenty-two years of my tax returns. You have not released a single, solitary year of your tax returns. What are you hiding? Why are you unwilling? … Release your tax returns, or stop talking about corruption."

In his response, Trump repeated the falsehood that he cannot release his tax returns because he is under audit. But "much more importantly than that," Trump went on, "people were saying $750. I asked [my accountants] a week ago, 'What did I pay?' They said, 'Sir, you prepaid tens of millions of dollars.' I prepaid my tax."

The Wall Street Journal's Richard Rubin offered some clarification of the comment: "Though it's not clear exactly what [Trump] meant, it's common for people to make estimated income tax payments in advance and then use those balances to settle their tax liability, just like salaried people have income taxes withheld from their paychecks and settle up on their tax returns," he wrote.

The New York Times' Peter Baker added, however, that "when [Trump] says he paid millions of taxes, that does not mean he paid federal income taxes. According to the tax records our colleagues obtained, he paid just $750 in 2016 in federal income taxes and $750 in 2017 and zero in 11 of 18 years examined." Watch the back-and-forth below. Jeva Lange

Jeva Lange

9:32 p.m.

Democratic presidential nominee Joe Biden had a powerful response to President Trump's insistence that America should learn to live with COVID-19.

As he has throughout the pandemic, Trump downplayed the severity of the coronavirus during Thursday's final presidential debate. He talked about how he went to the hospital after his COVID-19 diagnosis but recovered quickly, implying that Americans can easily defeat the virus. "We're learning to live with it," Trump insisted.

Biden relayed a different reality. He spoke directly to Americans who didn't have a family member at their kitchen table this morning, and then spun Trump's words into a message about all the people the U.S. has lost. "Learning to live with it?" Biden questioned. "People are learning to die with it."

More than 220,000 Americans have died of COVID-19, and millions have contracted it. Case counts and hospitalizations have started to spike again in recent weeks as businesses and schools reopened. Kathryn Krawczyk

9:28 p.m.

President Trump and Democratic presidential candidate Joe Biden offered dueling approaches to tackling the coronavirus crisis during their opening comments at the final presidential debate on Thursday.

Trump opened the night by touting his response to the pandemic, claiming that 2.2 million people had initially been "expected to die," quoting a worst-case scenario projection if the government had done nothing to stop the spread of the virus. Trump also downplayed spikes around the country, claiming "it will go away. We're rounding the turn. We're rounding the corner. It's going away."

Biden painted a different picture, describing a "dark winter" ahead for America if more robust action isn't taken to stop the spread of the disease. "Over 200,000 Americans are dead," Biden said. "If we just wore these masks, the president's own advisers told us, we could save 100,000 lives. And we're in a circumstance where the president still has no comprehensive plan."

Biden appeared to be once again citing the University of Washington's Institute for Health Metrics and Evaluation forecast, which said as of September that "224,000 more people in the U.S. could die from the coronavirus by January, but with near-universal mask use the number of projected additional fatalities could decrease by more than half, or at least 100,000," CNN reports.

“I will take care of this. I will end this," Biden concluded. "I will make sure we have a plan." Jeva Lange

Jeva Lange

9:06 p.m.

Gap Inc. announced on Thursday it plans on closing 30 percent of its Gap and Banana Republic stores in North America over the next three years in order to focus on outlet stores and e-commerce.

This will affect 220 Gap and 130 Banana Republic stores. The Gap has been a mall mainstay, but that's no longer working, the company said, and after the closures 80 percent of the remaining stores will be outside of traditional malls. "We've been overly reliant on low-productivity, high-rent stores," Gap CEO Mark Breitbard said. "We've used the past six months to address the real estate issues and accelerate our shift to a true omni-model."

Two other Gap Inc. brands, Old Navy and Athleta, are doing well, and there are plans for both to grow over the next three years. Old Navy has 1,200 stores, and last year brought in $8 billion in sales; that number is expected to increase to $10 billion annually by early 2024. Athleta now has 200 U.S. locations, and the goal is to have about 300 by 2024. Catherine Garcia

8:29 p.m.

About 47.5 million ballots have already been cast in the U.S. presidential election, data compiled by the U.S. Elections Project shows.

This is about eight times the number of early votes cast at this same time in 2016, Reuters reports. That year, more than 47.2 million early votes were eventually cast.

Because of the coronavirus pandemic and safety concerns, more people are using mail-in ballots or taking advantage of early in-person voting. University of Florida Prof. Michael McDonald administers the U.S. Elections Project, and he predicts there will be a record turnout of 150 million — the highest rate since 1908. This would represent 65 percent of all eligible voters.

FiveThirtyEight is projecting something similar — forecasting that the total election turnout will be 154 million, with an 80th percentile range between 144 million and 165 million. In 2016, turnout was 137 million. "The primary ingredient in our turnout estimate is polls that ask people whether they're more or less enthusiastic about voting than usual, and those polls are showing record levels of enthusiasm," editor-in-chief Nate Silver tweeted. Catherine Garcia

7:56 p.m.

Kate Rubins joined the 47 million people who have voted in the U.S. election so far on Thursday when she cast her ballot from 254 miles above the surface of the Earth.

Rubins is the only American currently in space, working alongside Russian astronauts Sergey Ryzhikov and Sergey Kud-Sverchkov at the International Space Station. Seeing as she isn't due to return to the ol' blue marble before April 2021, she chose to cast her vote from orbit, which has been an option for U.S. astronauts since 1997.

Rubins previously voted in the 2016 election from the space station as well, listing her address at the time as "low-Earth orbit." As she explained to The Associated Press, "I think it's really important for everybody to vote. If we can do it from space, then I believe folks can do it from the ground, too." Jeva Lange

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