The first of three debates between presidential candidates Donald Trump and Joe Biden was held on Tuesday night. The debate, held in Cleveland Ohio, was moderated by Chris Wallace of Fox News. The topics covered included Trump’s and Biden’s political records, the Supreme Court, COVID-19, the economy, race and violence in US cities, and the integrity of the electoral process itself.
In addition to two more scheduled debates between Trump and Biden, vice presidential candidates Mike Pence and Kamala Harris will also meet for one debate on October 7.
The first debate between US President Donald Trump and Democratic challenger Joe Biden was tense from the outset, and quickly degenerated into an unruly exchange of criticisms and insults, though most analysts agreed that Trump was more disruptive.
Moderator Chris Wallace never managed to establish control over the debate, with Trump repeatedly ignoring his calls to let Biden speak. The two White House contenders talked over each other and repeatedly exchanged insults and derogatory comments, undermining efforts to focus on fundamental political and economic records and objectives.
During the debate, Trump repeated his claim that the Democrats were trying to steal the November presidential election, and declined to criticize white supremacist groups when asked to do so.
The two candidates traded accusations about the adequacy of the US response to the coronavirus pandemic, health care policies, the pending appointment of a Supreme Court magistrate, and the economy, interspersed with criticisms of each others’ political records, achievements and gaffes.
Trump was asked whether he would condemn white supremacists and militia groups and instead of directly answering the question, Trump instead blamed the months of violence in US cities almost exclusively on ‘left-wing groups’.
“Are you willing tonight to condemn white supremacists and militia groups and to say that they need to stand down and not add to the violence or the number of these cities as we saw in Kenosha, and as we’ve seen in Portland?” moderator Chris Wallace asked Trump.
“I would say almost everything I see is from the left wing, not from the right,” Trump responded. “I’m willing to do anything. I want to see peace.”
“Then do it sir,” Wallace urged Trump before his Democratic challenger, Joe Biden, chimed in. “Do it, do it. Say it,” said Biden.
Trump shot back, “You want to call them. What do you want to call them? Give me a name.” Biden said, “Proud Boys,” referring to a right-wing group.
“Proud Boys. Stand back and stand by,” responded Trump.
Wallace asked both candidates if they would urge their supporters to remain calm and not take to the streets if the election is close. Trump said he was urging his supporters to be vigilant about the actual voting on election day. “I am urging my supporters to go into the polls and watch very carefully,” Trump said.
Biden said Trump “has no idea what he’s talking about”. “Once the winner is declared after all the ballots are counted, that will be the end of it,” Biden said.
Trump and Biden, prompted by a question on election integrity from Wallace, argued over whether the mail-in ballots can be counted properly. Trump continued to cast doubt on the accuracy of mail ballots.
Biden was sharply critical of Trump’s record on the coronavirus pandemic which has killed more than 200,000 Americans, accusing him of failing to protect Americans because he was more concerned about the economy.
“He panicked or he looked at the stock market,” Biden said of Trump, who has pushed for states to reopen their economies and played down the threat of the pandemic.
“A lot of people died and a lot more are going to die unless he gets a lot smarter, a lot quicker,” Biden said.
Trump objected to Biden using the word “smart” and defended his approach on the pandemic, claiming he did “a great job” and that “millions” would have died had his challenger been in office.
Trump defended his effort to rapidly appoint a new member to the US Supreme Court seat, saying that he had the right to appoint a new judge despite Democratic objections.
“I will tell you very simply we won the election, elections have consequences. We have the Senate and we have the White House and we have a phenomenal nominee respected by all,” Trump said in defence of his nominee, conservative Judge Amy Coney Barrett.
Biden said the seat of the late liberal Justice Ruth Bader Ginsburg should be filled after the election, when it was clear who the president would be.
“We should wait, we should wait and see what the outcome of this election is,” Biden said, adding that a more conservative Supreme Court would endanger the Affordable Care Act known as Obamacare.
Trump is moving quickly to fill the vacant seat on the Supreme Court, hoping to secure a 6-3 conservative majority on the court.
Trump accused Biden of not supporting law enforcement. Biden countered the claim, accusing Trump of racism, and of stoking unrest.
“If he ever got to run this country and they ran it the way he would want to run it … Our suburbs would be gone,” Trump said, noting that law enforcement unions have been endorsing him.
“I was raised in the suburbs. This is not the 1950s. All these dog whistles and racism don’t work any more. The suburbs are by and large integrated,” Biden said. Trump wants to “rile everybody up. He doesn’t want to calm things down. I’m saying let’s get everybody together, figure out how to deal with this. What he’s doing, he just pours gasoline on the fire constantly at every single solitary time,” Biden said.
Trump also brought up Biden’s son Hunter, whose business dealings in China and the Ukraine have brought allegations of influence peddling and conflicts of interest.
In particular, Trump mentioned a finding from a recent Senate Republican investigation saying that the mayor of Moscow gave Hunter Biden $3.5m.
“What did he do to deserve it?” Trump asked Biden.
“Totally discredited,” Biden said. “My son did nothing wrong.”
Biden then shot back saying if Trump wanted to drag family into this debate, they could talk about the Trumps “all night.”
Trump responded saying what he has said throughout his presidency: that he and his family have “lost a fortune” with their public service.
Shortly before the debate started, Biden released his 2019 tax returns and his campaign called on Trump to do the same.
Two days earlier the New York Times reported Trump paid just $750 in federal income taxes in 2016 and 2017 — and none in 10 of the previous 15 years — following years of reporting losses from his businesses.
Biden’s taxes showed that he and his wife Jill paid more than $346,000 in federal taxes and other payments for 2019 on an income of nearly $985,000 before seeking a refund of nearly $47,000 they said they had overpaid the government.
The Democratic nominee used taxes as a point of attack, saying Trump “does take advantage of the tax code” and “pays less tax than a schoolteacher.”
Almost three quarters of US voters indicated they intended to watch the first presidential debate live, according to a Monmouth University Poll released this week, however, only 13% said that they expected to hear something that would affect their decision as to who they would vote for.
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