As Far as Debates Go, This One Is Very Messy

It was a night of insults and sparring in Cleveland
By Newser Editors,  Newser Staff
Posted Sep 29, 2020 8:16 PM CDT
Updated Sep 29, 2020 9:41 PM CDT
Trump, Biden Square Off in First Presidential Debate
President Donald Trump, left, and Democratic presidential candidate former Vice President Joe Biden, listen to moderator Chris Wallace of Fox News during the first presidential debate Tuesday, Sept. 29, 2020, at Case Western University and Cleveland Clinic, in Cleveland, Ohio.   (AP Photo/Patrick Semansky)

(Newser) – With just 35 days until the election, President Trump and Joe Biden took the stage in Cleveland for their first face-off but declined to shake hands due to the coronavirus—one of six topics moderator Chris Wallace of Fox News plans to question the candidates about tonight. The others: the candidates' records, the Supreme Court, the economy, race and violence in our cities, and the integrity of the election. Up first was SCOTUS, but within minutes the debate had taken on a life of its own, with Trump sparring with Wallace and Trump, Biden, and Wallace talking over each other in a heated and insult-studded early exchange on health care.

  • Wallace began by asking why each candidate's opinion on the timing of filling Ruth Bader Ginsburg's seat is correct. Trump expressed that "we won the election. Elections have consequences." Biden responded that "we should wait and see what the outcome of the election is, because that's the only way the people can express their view." Trump's retort: "I'm not elected for three years, I'm elected for four years."
  • Biden brought up Amy Coney Barrett’s past writings on the Affordable Care Act, which opened the door on a discussion of pre-existing conditions. When Wallace pushed Trump about what his healthcare plan is, Trump said, “I guess I’m debating you, not him. But that’s OK, I’m not surprised.”
  • Trump then went after Biden on the topic, saying that what he has said about health care would turn off progressives. Biden called him a “liar” and a “clown.” After another interruption, Biden said, "Will you shut up, man?"
  • Up next: COVID. Trump vowed a vaccine would be ready "soon" and said he was speaking "sarcastically" when Biden brought up Trump's previous comments about Americans consuming bleach. When asked about masks, Trump said "I think masks are OK. I put a mask on when I think I need it." He then mocked Biden for wearing one all the time. Biden then expressed that experts have said 100,000 lives could be saved by January if mask wearing and social distancing recommendations are adhered to. Trump responded that many health experts have said "the opposite" on the subject of masks. Biden: "No serious person has said the opposite."

  • Wallace asked Trump directly if reports he paid just $750 a year in federal income tax was true. After pushing him to directly answer the question on how much he paid in 2016 and 2017, Trump said, "Millions of dollars. Like every other private person, unless they're stupid, they go through the laws and that's what it is." Biden kept pushing Trump to releasing his tax returns, finally saying, "You are the worst president America has ever had."
  • Trump went after Biden's son Hunter, asking after his business dealings in Ukraine. It was an expected topic, and Biden had a response ready: "This is not about my family or his family, this is about your family—the American people. He doesn't want to talk about what you need."
  • Things devolved to the point that when Wallace began the segment on race, he told Trump he was going to ask about race but Trump could use his two minutes to say whatever he wanted. Trump quickly referenced the 1994 crime bill Biden helped pass, accusing Biden of treating the Black community “about as bad as anybody in this country." Said Trump, "You called them superpredators and you’ve called them worse than that."
  • On the subject of law and order, Trump called out Democratic-led cities like New York and Chicago and said Biden would destroy the suburbs. "He wouldn't recognize a suburb unless he took a wrong turn," quipped Biden.
  • Wallace asks Biden about "reimagining policing," which is stated in the Biden-Sanders document, and whether he backs Black Lives Matter's call for community control of policing. Biden said he is not in favor of defunding the police. Trump said Biden "has no law enforcement support" and pushes him to name a law enforcement group that is backing him; Biden doesn't answer.
  • Wallace then asked the candidates, "Why should voters elect you president?" Trump was up first: "Because there has never been an administration or president that has done more than I’ve done in a period of three and a half years," even with "the impeachment hoax." From Biden: "Under this president we've become weaker, sicker, poor, more divided, and more violent."
  • On the topic of climate change, Trump said, "I believe that we have to do everything we can to have immaculate air, immaculate water." When asked about greenhouse gas emissions as a contributor he said yes, they're a factor. But he said we need better forest management, citing the fires in California. "That's burning down because of a lack of management."
  • The last topic was about mail-in ballots and the integrity of the election. "We might not know who wins for months," said Trump. “He’s just afraid of counting the votes,” said Biden at one point. As for the ballots, Trump said solicited ballots are just fine but that unsolicited ones sent automatically to voters aren't, and said there are examples of fraud already. "This is going to be a fraud like you’ve never seen," he said.
(Read more Election 2020 stories.)

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