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Photo: Andrew Caballero-Reynolds/AFP via Getty Images

After two gaffes and a low blow from President Trump questioning his faith, Joe Biden spent Thursday evening off his own message — clarifying comments and responding to attacks.

Why it matters: Biden’s responses reflect what we could see a lot more of in the next few months — cringeworthy comments and Trump smears, smacking into each other and pulling the Democrat off course.

  • Biden's campaign had vowed to be "laser-focused" on Trump's handling of the virus.

What's happening: Biden released two long statements last night — one walking back comments he made about African Americans during a virtual interview, and another defending against Trump’s charge that Biden "hurts God."

  • And he faced criticism by some for comparing a cognitive test to a Black reporter taking a drug test.

During a series of interviews at a convention for Black and Hispanic journalists (NABJ/NAHJ), Biden said: "Unlike the African American community, with notable exceptions, the Latino community is an incredibly diverse community with incredibly diverse attitudes about different things."

  • He was answering a question from an NPR reporter about how he would engage with Cuba if elected president: "You go to Florida, you find a very different attitude about immigration than you do in Arizona. So it’s a very diverse community."
  • That prompted a three-tweet clarification from Biden on Twitter around 9 p.m.: "In no way did I mean to suggest the African American community is a monolith — not by identity, not on issues, not at all."

Some Democrats are already worried about Biden’s tendency to say problematic things off the cuff, and what that could mean for debates.

  • A Democratic operative texted Axios with a link to the Biden tweet apology: "Homeboy can’t pick a white VP."

During the NABJ/NAHJ virtual session with reporters, a CBS reporter asked Biden whether he’s taken a cognitive test similar to the one Trump brags about.

  • "No, I haven’t taken a test," Biden said. Why the hell would I take a test? C'mon, man. That’s like saying, 'You — before you got on this program you took a test where you’re taking cocaine or not, what do you think? Huh? Are you a junkie?'"
  • Team Biden’s cleanup, per a campaign official: "It was a preposterous question deserving of a response that showed the absurdity of it all."

Reality check: Senility has become an open line of attack in the 2020 election, making it a totally fair question from any reporter. Asking a Black journalist if they’re a "junkie" is completely out of left field.

In Ohio yesterday, Trump said Biden would "hurt the Bible" and "hurt God" because he has "no religion, no anything."

  • Biden released a nearly 300 word statement defending his faith, which gave him a chance to hit Trump: "My faith teaches me to welcome the stranger, while President Trump tears families apart. My faith teaches me to walk humbly, while President Trump teargassed peaceful protestors."

Between the lines: The virtual campaign limited Biden’s opportunities for awkward missteps, and he’s been able to ignore most of Trump’s smears.

  • Now, it's on.

Go deeper

John Kelly: Trump's delay in transitioning "hurts our national security"

John Kelly with President Trump in the White House in January 2017.

President Trump's delay in transitioning "hurts out national security," John Kelly, Trump's former chief of staff, told Politico on Friday.

Why it matters: Trump has not publicly conceded to Joe Biden, and General Services Administration Administrator Emily Murphy — a Trump political appointee — has not signed documents declaring Biden the apparent winner, preventing his agency review teams from having access to the information they need in order to get to work.

Updated Dec 7, 2020 - Politics & Policy

The top Republicans who have acknowledged Biden as president-elect

Photo: Tasos Katopodis/Getty Images

Some elected Republicans are breaking ranks with President Trump to acknowledge that President-elect Biden won the 2020 presidential election.

Why it matters: The relative sparsity of acknowledgements highlights Trump's lasting power in the GOP, as his campaign moves to file multiple lawsuits alleging voter fraud in key swing states — despite the fact that there have been no credible allegations of any widespread fraud anywhere in the U.S.

Nov 13, 2020 - Politics & Policy

Trump: "Time will tell" who won the 2020 election

President Trump. Photo: Mandel Ngan/AFP via Getty Images

President Trump said Friday that “time will tell” who won the 2020 election, declining to concede the race in his first public remarks since it became clear he’d lost the election to Joe Biden.

What he's saying: "This administration will not be going into a lockdown," Trump said, insisting that so long as he is president there will not be a nationwide coronavirus lockdown. "Hopefully, whatever happens in the future — who knows which administration it will be. I guess time will tell," he added.