The first presidential debate of the 2020 elections took place in Cleveland last night between President Donald J. Trump, the Republican nominee, and former Vice President Joe Biden, the Democratic nominee.
The debate was moderated by Fox News Sunday anchor Chris Wallace and the topics included the Supreme Court, healthcare, the coronavirus disease (COVID-19) pandemic, the economy, racial justice, climate change and election integrity. The event was notable for Trump’s repeated interruptions, personal attacks from each candidate and Wallace’s struggle to keep the conversation focused on policy.
“Will you shut up, man?” Biden said at one point after Trump continued to speak over him. “This is so unpresidential.”
The debate began by addressing the Supreme Court and Trump’s nomination of Amy Coney Barrett, a controversial move due to the proximity of the election.
Biden said the Trump administration has been trying to get rid of the Affordable Care Act (ACA) and is concerned that Barrett would overturn the ACA if she joins the court, leaving approximately 20 million people uninsured and rolling back protections for pre-existing conditions.
In response, Trump said Biden wants to eliminate private health insurance and claimed he was a socialist, to which Biden pointed out his repeated disapproval of Medicare for All and said his official platform involves expanding the ACA and adding a public option.
“It does not (eliminate private insurance). It’s only for those people who are so poor they qualify for Medicaid, they can get that for free in most states… Anyone who qualifies for Medicaid would automatically be enrolled in the public option,” he said. “The vast majority of the American people would still not be in that option.”
Wallace asked Trump about what his healthcare policy would be if the ACA were to be overturned because he has not released a comprehensive plan. Trump repeatedly talked over Wallace as he attempted to ask the question and accused Wallace of trying to debate him.
He said he began initiatives to lower drug prices, although the four executive orders he was likely referring to have not been implemented, according to The New York Times. Trump said his goal is to give Americans a better healthcare system than what is offered by the ACA but did not specify what that system would look like.
Wallace also asked Trump about the COVID-19 vaccine, which multiple top health officials said may not be widely available until as late as next summer. Trump said he disagrees with his own officials and said pharmaceutical companies told him a vaccine may be ready late fall.
“I’ve spoken to Pfizer, I’ve spoken to all the people you have to speak to — Moderna, Johnson & Johnson and others — they can go faster than (the proposed timeline) by a lot,” he said.
Pfizer is the only company in a late-stage clinical trial that has said it could have initial results by the end of October in a best-case scenario, according to The New York Times. Anthony Fauci, the country’s top infectious disease expert, said there could potentially be evidence of a vaccine’s effectiveness by the end of the year.
In addition to his claims on vaccines, Trump made other misleading statements on COVID-19, including the claim that children and younger people are not vulnerable to the disease.
Although children only make up approximately 10.5 percent of all cases, health experts are still unsure of how the virus impacts children, according to CBS News. Children are able to still spread the disease to others, and teenagers are twice as likely to contract it.
On the subject of masks, Biden said models estimate that if everyone wore masks from now until the end of the year, approximately 100,000 deaths could be prevented. Trump said he is not against masks, but ridiculed Biden for wearing them so frequently.
Trump also cited Fauci’s original guidance from March advising against masks, which was partially in response to a mask shortage among healthcare workers, according to PolitiFact. Fauci revised this guidance in early April and has maintained this position since.
Biden and Trump argued over who would be best at handling COVID-19, with Biden criticizing Trump for panicking and withholding early knowledge about the severity of the disease, and Trump claiming Biden would have let more people die under his leadership.
During the economic portion of the debate, Wallace asked about Trump’s income taxes after The New York Times reported he only paid $750 in income taxes in both 2016 and 2017. Trump said he paid millions in income taxes alone but has yet to share documents confirming this.
The personal attacks continued with Trump bringing up allegations that Biden’s son, Hunter Biden, accepted $3.5 million from Russian leaders, a claim which is based on minimal evidence, according to PolitiFact. The claim resulted in Biden and Trump talking over one another as Biden tried to defend his son, calling Trump a “clown,” while Trump pressed him on the allegations.
“I hate to raise my voice, but why should I be different than the two of you?” Wallace said, after multiple attempts to end the argument. “I think that the country would be better served if we allowed both people to speak with fewer interruptions.”
On the subject of race, Biden said Trump’s response to the far-Right rally in Charlottesville in 2017 and his treatment of protesters after the death of George Floyd earlier this year shows his lack of concern for the Black community. He also brought up racial disparities in COVID-19 deaths as well as education, work and the way laws are enforced.
“This is a president who has used everything as a dog whistle to try to generate racist hatred, racist division,” Biden said.
Trump then criticized Biden for his role in writing the 1994 crime law, which is linked to the rise of mass incarceration. Trump then cited his wide support from law enforcement nationwide as well as his strict response to racial justice uprisings around the country and said Biden and other Democratic leaders are too radical to maintain law and order.
Biden said he supports law enforcement and is opposed to defunding the police and violent protests, but wants the police to become more acquainted with their communities and to hold individual officers accountable for their problematic behavior.
Wallace asked Trump if he would also be willing to condemn white supremacists and militia groups, who have added to the violence at protests. Trump said most of the violence he has witnessed is a result of Leftists, to which Wallace and Biden both prompted him again to condemn white supremacists, with Biden specifying the group known as the Proud Boys.
“Proud Boys? Stand back and stand by, but I’ll tell you what, somebody’s got to do something about (anti-fascists) Antifa and the Left, because this is not a Right-wing problem, this is a Left-wing problem,” Trump said. He did not condemn white supremacists.
On climate change, Trump said he rolled back certain programs, including the Clean Power Plan, to relax emission restrictions in order to bolster the economy. There is no evidence that the Clean Power Plan was as expensive as Trump suggested, according to The New York Times. Alternatively, Biden said his green energy initiatives will work toward net-zero emissions in energy production by 2035 while creating new jobs.
Trump said Biden supports the Green New Deal, which Biden denied, although his official climate plan does cite the Green New Deal as an important framework and adopts similar policies, according to NBC News. Trump said these climate plans are too expensive and unrealistic, but also falsely claimed that the Green New Deal would ban air travel and cows, according to PolitiFact.
At the end of the debate, the candidates discussed the upcoming election. Biden encouraged voter participation whether in-person or by mail and said the FBI has found little evidence of voter fraud with mail-in ballots.
“(Trump is) trying to scare people into thinking that it’s not going to be legitimate,” Biden said. “Show up and vote, you will determine the outcome of this election.”
Trump said he thinks the election will be corrupted by mass voter fraud despite statements from security experts. He cited a number of recent examples which he said demonstrates the issue with mail-in ballots or other election issues, which were either labeled as false, inaccurate, partly exaggerated or misleading by The New York Times or PolitiFact.
Wallace attempted to ask Trump another question about mail-in ballots, but Trump would not let Wallace finish speaking and repeatedly said the only way to vote is to go to the polls or to vote through a solicited mail-in ballot rather than one automatically sent out.
To end the debate, Wallace asked each candidate to agree not to declare victory until the election results are independently certified and to tell their supporters to refrain from engaging in civil unrest during the interim.
Trump said his supporters should go to the polls and watch for suspicious activity and suggested tens of thousands of ballots could be manipulated.
Biden said he would wait until all the ballots are counted and said it may take a longer amount of time based on certain state-specific election rules, but that he would respect the election results, no matter who wins.