Politico

The first Trump-Biden debate: A trainwreck


The first debate between President Donald Trump and former Vice President Joe Biden quickly went off the rails, with each side lobbing bitter attacks and frequently talking over each other.

Here are the key moments from the combative primetime event:

Trump, Biden spar over Obamacare

Trump and Biden sparred in the opening moments over the consequences if the Supreme Court overturns the Affordable Care Act.

In answering the first question of the night, Biden argued that if Judge Amy Coney Barrett is confirmed as a Supreme Court justice and the court overturns former President Barack Obama’s signature health care law, 100 million people who have pre-existing conditions will lose their coverage.

“And so it’s just not appropriate to do this before this election,” Biden said, referring to a Senate vote on Barrett.

Trump disputed the statement that 100 million people have pre-existing conditions, before pivoting to attack Biden for his own health care plan which he said will “extinguish” the health care of 180 million people who currently have private coverage.

Biden said “that’s simply not true,” as Trump accused him of “going to socialist medicine.”

According to an analysis by the Department of Health and Human Services, 50-129 million Americans have some type of pre-existing health condition. Under Obamacare starting in 2014, insurance companies cannot refuse to offer health coverage to these Americans as they previously could. And according to the Congressional Research Service, private health insurance covered an estimated 178 million Americans.

Trump tries to steamroll the moderator

President Donald Trump tangled with debate moderator Chris Wallace early in the night, repeatedly interrupting a question about why he hasn’t released a comprehensive health care plan to replace the Affordable Care Act.

“If I may ask my question, sir,” Wallace, the Fox News journalist, pressed as Trump kept cutting him off as he tried to ask the question.

“First of all, I guess I’m debating you, not him,” Trump shot back at Wallace. “I’m not surprised.”

Biden tells Trump to ‘shut up’

Biden snapped at Trump just about 20 minutes into the debate after a line of questioning on the Supreme Court went off the rails.

“Will you shut up, man?” Biden said after Trump repeatedly talked over him. “This is so unpresidential.”

At times, the debate was an unintelligible jumble of the two candidates and Wallace talking over each other. As Wallace tried to move to the next topic area, Biden quipped “that was a really productive segment, wasn’t it? Keep yapping, man.”

While talking about the future of universal healthcare, Biden asked “do you have any idea what this clown is doing? I tell you what, he is not for any help for any people needing health care.”

Who’s smarter? Debate turns into intelligence measuring contest

The debate quickly became personal, and that continued when Biden said that many more people would die from Covid-19 unless Trump got “a lot smarter, a lot quicker.”

The president lashed back at the former vice president by referring to Biden comments from last year that have been taken out of context by conservative media.

“He said he went to Delaware State, but you forgot the name of your college. You didn’t go to Delaware State,” Trump said. “He graduated the lowest or almost the lowest in your class. Don’t ever use the word ‘smart’ with me.”

Biden’s comments from Oct. 19, saying that he “got his start” at Delaware State University, were actually referring to announcing his run for U.S. Senate at the campus in 1972, according to the Delaware News Journal.

Biden responded with exasperation to Trump’s attack: “Oh, give me a break.”

Trump whips out a mask on stage

Trump broke out his mask on stage to deny accusations that he questions the effectiveness of masks.

Trump added that he selectively wears them, and pointed out that he didn’t have to put one on on Tuesday night because people were tested and took the proper safety measures. Meanwhile, the president took a jab at his opponent: “I don’t wear a mask like [Biden],” Trump said. “Every time you see him, he’s got a mask. He could be speaking 200 feet away from you, and he’s wearing the biggest mask I’ve ever seen.”

Biden fully embraced the attack of being an avid mask-wearer. “Masks make a big difference,” he said. “If we just wore masks between now and social distanced between now and January, we would probably save up to 100,000 lives.”

Trump pushed back against Biden’s enthusiasm for masks and wrongly said Dr. Anthony Fauci disagreed with scientists who promoted protective gear. Fauci promoted the universal wearing of masks in August.

Biden: ‘You’re the worst president America has ever had’

In a heated exchange over Trump’s tax returns, Biden accused his opponent of being “the worst president America has ever had.”

Biden attacked Trump for taking advantage of the U.S. tax code and vowed to eliminate tax cuts under Trump’s tax law. Trump cut in to ask why Biden had not already done so over his past “25 years” as a senator.

“Because you weren’t president, screwing things up,” Biden deadpanned. “You’re the worst president America has ever had. Come on.”

Trump retorted sharply that he had “done more in 47 months than you’ve done in 47 years.”

Minutes after the exchange, Biden’s campaign doubled down, tweeting from his account that “Donald Trump is the worst president we’ve ever had.”

Trump pushes back on tax report, demurs on releasing returns

Trump insisted he paid “millions of dollars” in federal income tax in 2016 and 2017, the two years in which the New York Times reported he paid just $750 in a bombshell report on Sunday.

When Biden interjected, “show us your taxes then,” Trump repeated the claim he has made since entering politics five years ago — that he will release his tax returns once they are no longer under audit. Trump has said he could not release them while the audit is ongoing — a claim his own IRS commissioner has refuted.

The Times reported that Trump paid zero income tax in 11 of the 18 years the paper examined, citing decades’ worth of “tax-return data … for Mr. Trump and the hundreds of companies that make up his business organization.” Trump then paid $750 in 2016 and again in 2017. The newspaper found that Trump reduced his tax bill by reporting massive losses and taking advantage of tax breaks and refunds.

Biden suggested he would eliminate the breaks Trump has taken but falsely suggested that they were isolated to the cuts included in the 2017 tax law that Trump championed.

“The tax code that put him in a position that he pays less tax than a schoolteacher on the money a schoolteacher makes is because of him — he says he’s smart because he can take advantage of the tax code, and he does take advantage of the tax code,” Biden said. “That’s why I’m going to eliminate the Trump tax.”

In fact, Trump has taken advantage of longstanding deductions, according to the Times report. The paper said it did not obtain return data for 2018 and 2019, after Trump’s tax law took effect.

The Times report also suggested Trump has taken on significant debt, with some $300 million in loans he has personally guaranteed set to come due over the next four years. Trump disputed that detail on Tuesday too, saying, “I am totally under-leveraged because the assets are extremely good.”

Biden calls Trump ‘racist’ for ending diversity training

Biden explicitly called Trump “racist” during an exchange about the president’s recent move to end racial sensitivity training among federal agencies.

Responding to a question about why he ended training that addresses white privilege or critical race theory, Trump said he made the decision because “it’s racist,” that “a lot of people were complaining,” and that it reflected a “radical revolution” taking place throughout the country.

“If you look at the people, we were paying people hundreds of thousands of dollars to teach very bad ideas and frankly, very sick ideas,” Trump said. “They were teaching people that our country is a horrible place, it’s a racist place, and they were teaching people to hate our country and I’m not going to allow that to happen.”

Biden interjected that the premise was false.

“Nobody is doing that,” Biden said. “He’s racist.”

Trump avoids calls to condemn white supremacists

Trump dodged calls from Wallace and Biden to publicly condemn white supremacists.

Trump avoided answering for a few moments, blaming recent violence on left-wing rioters instead. When he finally addressed their requests, his response was: “Proud boys, stand back and stand by.”

He then immediately redirected the spotlight to antifa, calling it a “dangerous, radical group,” which he has repeatedly attacked in the past. “This is not a right-wing problem,” he said. “This is left-wing.”

Biden pointed out that antifa cannot be compared to white supremacists because the former is a political ideology, not an organization. Trump scoffed at the comment, but Biden referenced the president’s own FBI Director Chris Wray, who made similar comments on Sept. 17 during a congressional hearing.

Trump invokes suburban fears

Trump returned to a law-and-order stump speech staple in responding to a question about the violence that erupted in cities throughout the country this summer.

If Biden is elected, Trump said, “Our suburbs would be gone, and you would see problems like you’ve never seen.”

The president has in recent months said he is protecting suburban Americans from low-income housing, in what the New York Times called a “false picture of the suburbs as under siege and ravaged by crime.”

Biden accused the president of using “dog whistles and racism” in invoking the suburbs.

“You would never know a suburb unless you took a wrong turn. I was raised in the suburbs,” Biden said. “This is not 1950.”

He also brought up climate change, saying that both that and Covid-19 are the real threats to suburbs.

“They are being flooded, they are being burned out because of his refusal to do anything. That is why the suburbs are in trouble,” Biden said.

Biden, Trump trade barbs on racial justice

Biden and Trump tangled over their records on racial injustice, with each criticizing past events.

Biden slammed Trump for calling a group of white supremacists in Virginia “very fine people” in 2017 and for the use of tear gas on protesters this summer after the death of George Floyd.

“This is a president who has used everything as a dog whistle to try to generate racist hatred, racist division,” Biden said. “You talk about helping African-Americans. One in 1,000 African-Americans has been killed because of the coronavirus.”

Trump also criticized Biden for calling criminals “super predators” while working on the crime bill in 1994.

“You called them super predators, African-Americans, super predators. And they’ve never forgotten it,” Trump said. “You have treated the black community about as bad as anybody in this country.”

Trump touted support and endorsements he’s received from law enforcement and military leaders. Biden also was recently endorsed by nearly 500 national security leaders, including two top officers who served under Trump.

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