The first presidential debate between President Donald Trump and former Vice President Joe Biden held Tuesday night was characterized by interruption and personal attacks on character, with Trump talking over Biden to ask him questions about his son’s relationship with Moscow and Biden calling Trump a “clown” and “Putin’s puppy” among other names.
The debate was set up into six roughly 15-minute sections in which the candidates could both talk uninterrupted for two minutes followed by an open discussion for the remainder of the section. Barely any of the two-minute sections went uninterrupted.
Moderator Chris Wallace, an anchor for “Fox News Sunday,” attempted to focus the debate on six key issues: Supreme Court, the coronavirus, economy, race, climate change and election integrity.
Wallace first asked about the Supreme Court, specifically focusing on each candidate’s views regarding if a Supreme Court Justice should be appointed before or after the election.
Trump, who nominated Judge Amy Coney Barrett last week, argued that since he had already been elected and was still serving his term that he should be able to appoint a new justice. He also indicated that, if in the same position, a Democratic president would do the same thing.
Barrett, a University of Notre Dame law graduate and professor, has shown she favors more conservative ideas regarding Second Amendment gun rights, immigration and abortion during her time as a federal appellate judge.
In response, Biden said a justice should not be chosen now because people have already begun to vote for the election. Biden also warned the public about the case about to approach the Supreme Court regarding the constitutionality of the Affordable Care Act because Barrett has indicated in previous writings that she does not believe the act to be constitutional. If the act was undone, 20 million people would lose healthcare, Biden said.
Trump countered that the Affordable Care Act was not efficient and claimed he had dropped drug prices. He never outlined a specific healthcare plan to replace Obamacare.
The COVID-19 pandemic
In his initial question, Wallace asked both candidates why the public should trust them to guide the country through the COVID-19 pandemic.
Biden said he felt Trump mismanaged the job in this area, blaming him for the more than 200,000 U.S. deaths and citing the recordings released by journalist Bob Woodward that have Trump saying he downplayed the severity of COVID-19 to the public.
“He said he didn’t tell us or give people a warning of it because he didn’t want to panic the American people,” Biden said. “You don’t panic. He panicked.”
Trump said he felt he actually saved lives by shutting down the country when he did and getting ventilators, masks and gowns out to hospitals. He said he believes Biden would have done a worse job in the same position in handling the “China plague.”
Trump also mentioned that he believes, despite what the head of the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention has said, that a vaccine could be ready before Nov. 1 and that he has U.S. troops prepared to distribute it.
Biden and Trump indicated that, during their times in office, they had helped create a booming economy but talked about different strategies to help the economy improve following the pandemic.
While Trump said he believed the country needs to continue opening to combat the economic losses, Biden emphasized a more gradual approach which would help the country first address the coronavirus.
Biden said he planned on helping the economy by collecting more than $4 trillion dollars in 10 years from those earning over $400,000 a year. Trump said he would continue his free market approach.
Wallace also asked Trump how much he paid in income taxes in 2016 and 2017, citing the New York Times article that released reports indicating he had paid $750 both years.
“Millions of dollars,” Trump said. “And you’ll get to see it.”
“When?” Biden said.
Trump never indicated an exact date or month he would release his tax returns.
Biden said voters should trust him more than Trump regarding race issues because of Trump’s response to when white a supremacist ran a car through a protest in Charlottesville, Virginia, in which he said there were “very fine people on both sides.”
Biden said the decision in the Breonna Taylor case indicates there is systemic racism present in the justice system and said while he does not believe in defunding the police, he does believe in getting more social workers involved in the field and bringing people together to reimagine policing.
Trump called Biden a racist, citing a 1994 crime bill Biden cosigned in which he warned of “predators” in a speech for the bill. Trump also said that he himself had ended certain federal racial sensitivity training because it was racist.
When asked by Wallace if he would condemn right-wing militia and white supremacists, Trump said he was willing to condemn them but didn’t during the debate. He also blamed antifa and left-wing people for the majority of the violence.
“Stand back and stand by,” Trump said.
Following a question asked by Wallace regarding climate change and the West’s forest fires, Trump said pollution from people was contributing to global warming. However, he said forest management needs to change. He also said he left the Paris accord because it was a “disaster.”
Biden said he planned on using federal money to fund projects that would make the country more green, such as adding more charging stations for electric cars across the country, thus creating more federal jobs.
Trump criticized the plan, saying it was expensive and would tank the economy. He also said his plans have been better for the economy because he is focused on helping businesses function in addition to helping climate change, which is why he rolled back limits on carbon emissions.
Biden, in response, claimed that expenditures directed at addressing climate change would help reduce federal funds allocated to helping issues caused by global warming, such as rising sea levels.
In this final section, Biden said he supports mail-in ballots, saying there has been no evidence that mail-in ballots are sources of cheating.
Trump said he believes there will be more fraud present in the election because of the mail-in ballots. He also claimed there have already been many ballots dumped into rivers and trash cans.
Wallace said the biggest issue with mail-in voting in the past hasn’t been fraud but ballots being thrown out because they were not filled out correctly. He also asked both candidates if they would pledge to wait to declare victory until after the vote is independently certified.
While Trump did not directly answer this question, Biden said he would and Trump would have to as well.
“You know why?” Biden said. “Because once the winner is declared after all the ballots are counted, all the votes are counted, that’ll be the end of it.”