The mute button apparently worked. The second and final presidential debate between President Donald Trump and Joe Biden was a much more staid affair than the chaos of the first — with far fewer interruptions and far more discussion of each candidate’s policies.
There was, to be sure, a fair dose of personal attacks and political theatrics — from Rudy Giuliani’s veracity to Hunter Biden’s business dealings to whether Biden was really from Scranton, Pa.
But overall, the night produced a back-and-forth between the candidates that was far easier to follow, and in many cases about major policy differences. Here are some of the highlights:
Biden and Trump drew a sharp contrast over how each would handle the coronavirus pandemic.
Biden blasted Trump’s handling of the pandemic and said that the nation is about to “go into a dark winter” without a clear plan for battling the virus. He said he would establish national standards for reopening schools and businesses and provide more funding to help them do that.
Biden said he would encourage everyone to “wear a mask all the time” and invest in rapid coronavirus testing. He said that the standard for whether communities have to increase pandemic restrictions, like closing bars, should be based on the transmission rate in that place.
Trump, who claimed that a coronavirus vaccine would be coming “within weeks,” said that the country is “rounding the corner” on the disease, even as there is another spike in cases.
Trump blasted lockdowns and said that they’ve done more harm than good. He said that the country should reopen, including schools. “We’re learning to live with it,” Trump said of the coronavirus. “We have no choice.”
Trump touted his success in passing legislation to eliminate the individual mandate under the Affordable Care Act that had required people to have health insurance or have to pay a penalty.
Trump said he wants to go further in eliminating the entire law, as his administration is advocating for the Supreme Court to do. “I’d like to terminate Obamacare, come up with a brand new, beautiful health care” plan, he said, adding that he thought that Democrats in Congress would either be under “tremendous pressure” to go along with his plan or he would have a GOP-controlled House.
Trump again claimed claim that he wants to prevent health insurance companies from discriminating against people with pre-existing conditions, but he did not provide any specifics on how he would do that.
Biden, meanwhile, leaned in heavily to his health care plan, which he dubbed “Bidencare” and described as “Obamacare with the public option.” The $750 billion plan, he said, would protect people with pre-existing conditions, lower insurance premiums, reduce drug prices, and end unexpected medical billing.
Biden also pushed back against Trump’s suggestion that his plan was “socialized medicine.”
“I support private insurance,” Biden declared, boasting that he beat out his rivals in the Democratic primary who favored Medicare for All, single-payer plans. “I beat all those other people because I disagreed with them” on health care policy, Biden said.
Biden and Trump also sparred over whether Congress should allocate more funding to state and local governments as part of a coronavirus economic stimulus package.
Trump rejected House Democrats’ proposal as a “bailout of badly run, high-crime” cities and states that are run by Democrats.
Biden called for more federal assistance for state and local governments. “Every single state out there finds themselves in trouble,” he said. “They’re going to start laying off – whether they’re red or blue – cops, firefighters, first responders, teachers, because they have to balance their budget.”
Biden said he thought that the federal minimum wage should be raised to $15 an hour. Families, including first-responders during the coronavirus pandemic, “deserve $15 an hour,” he said. “Anything below that puts you below the poverty level.”
Trump said that he thought that the issue should be left to states to decide because he’s concerned that increasing the minimum wage would harm businesses. “Some places, $15 is not so bad,” he said. “In other places, other states, $15 is ruins.”
Biden offered some rare criticism of the Obama administration during a discussion of immigration policy. Asked about deportations and family detention during the Obama administration, Biden responded: “We made a mistake. It took too long to get it right.”
Biden said that in his first 100 days he would propose immigration legislation that provides a pathway to citizenship for the roughly 11 million undocumented immigrants who are living in the country. He also noted that he would “immediately” recertify people who are protected under the Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals program — which Trump has fought to end — and put them on a path to citizenship.
Trump touted what he called a “strong border” with Mexico, hundreds of miles of new barriers, and tougher immigration enforcement policies, such as ending what he called “catch and release.” Asked about how his administration would reunite more than 500 children who were separated from their families at the border under his zero-tolerance policy, Trump said “we’re trying very hard.”
Biden said it was a “mistake” to vote in the 1980s for legislation that toughened penalties for drug offenses and said he now wanted “fundamentally change” the criminal justice system.
Biden proposed providing $20 billion to states to eliminate mandatory minimum sentencing policies and set up drug courts. “No one should be going to jail because they have a drug problem,” he said. “They should be going to rehabilitation, not to jail.”
Trump, for his part, touted his legislative victory on criminal justice reform, the First Step Act. Asked about whether his rhetoric was contributing to hate and racial strife, Trump also ticked off other policies that he said helped Black Americans, including Opportunity Zones and permanent, mandatory funding for historically black colleges and universities.
Biden called climate change an “existential threat to humanity.” He said he would eliminate federal subsidies to the oil industry and push the nation toward renewable sources of energy like solar and wind, which he said would create jobs and boost the economy.
“I would transition from the oil industry,” Biden said, adding that “it has to be replaced by renewable energy, over time.”
Biden said he would not support an outright ban on fracking, though he would move to prohibit the practice on federal lands.
Trump said that his administration had done “an incredible job environmentally” even as he touted his decision to pull the country out of the Paris Climate Accord, which he claimed would have cost “tens of millions of jobs.” He criticized renewable energy sources, claiming that windmills are too expensive and kill birds and that solar energy isn’t powerful enough.