After months of long-distance sparring, US President Donald Trump and Democratic nominee Joe Biden locked horns in the first of three presidential debates ahead of polling day on November 7. The 90-minute debate saw tense clashes between both candidates on key subjects like the coronavirus pandemic, race tensions, climate change and the economy.
Each 15-minute segment of the chaotic event was peppered with attacks and interjections — a majority of which came from the incumbent. The debate moderator, Chris Wallace of Fox News, had to interject a number of times to rein in the US President when the discussion turned particularly unruly.
According to CNN, President Trump spoke for a total of 39:06 minutes, while Biden was able to speak for 37:56 minutes.
Here are the highlights from the first presidential debate
‘Will you shut up, man?’: Biden lashes out as Trump repeatedly interjects
Within the first half hour of the debate, the two presidential candidates were at loggerheads — repeatedly speaking over one another and the moderator Chris Wallace.
President Trump kept interrupting former vice-president Biden while he was trying to answer Wallace’s questions from the very beginning of the presidential debate. At one point, an exasperated Biden turned to Trump and said, “Will you shut up, man?”
— TIME (@TIME) September 30, 2020
Biden accused the US President of constantly lying about everything. Following a particularly heated back-and-forth, Biden said, “Everything he is saying so far is simply a lie.” Biden chose to address the camera very often, in an attempt to speak directly to the American voters.
Meanwhile, President Trump accused Biden of accomplishing nothing in his 47-year career. As tensions soared, Biden called Trump the “worst president America has ever had”.
President Trump claims he has paid ‘millions’ in federal income taxes
The first presidential debate came on the heels of a scathing New York Times investigative report that claimed Trump had paid merely $750 in federal income taxes in 2016 and 2017 after being elected president. The report claimed Trump has paid no income taxes in 10 out of the last 15 years as he reported losing more money than he actually made.
Trump: “You’ll get my tax returns”
— Alex Macheras (@AlexInAir) September 30, 2020
When asked about the report, Trump claimed that he has paid millions in tax returns over the years. He dismissed the NYT report as “fake news”.
As expected, Biden launched an attack on the US President, accusing him of taking advantage of the country’s tax code. “Show us your tax returns,” he said, to which Trump responded, “You’ll see it as soon as it’s finished.”
Trump is yet to release his tax returns, making him the first US President in over 40 years to keep his tax-return data under wraps. He has falsely claimed he can’t make his returns public while they were under audit.
However, quite surprisingly Biden did not push for long and willingly moved on to the next topic, despite the fact that his campaign had repeatedly gone after President Trump on the issue of taxes over the last few days.
‘India, China do not give real numbers on Covid-19,’ says Trump
With the United States reporting more than 7 million Covid-19 cases and the death toll rising well over 205,000, the ongoing pandemic proved to be an especially contentious issue and highlighted the sharp contrast between the two candidates during the debate.
According to Biden, Trump’s handling of the pandemic was an absolute failure. “He panicked,” Biden said, once again looking straight at the camera and addressing the voters watching at home. “Do you believe for a moment what he’s telling you, in light of all the lies he has told you?”
“You would have lost far more people,” the president retorted. “He wants to shut down this country and I want to keep it open.” He insisted that Biden “could not have done the job we did.” He went on to claim that China and India have not been releasing the “real number” of people who died due to the novel coronavirus. “We don’t know how many people died of Covid-19 in China, Russia, India…because they do not give straight answers, they don’t give real numbers,” he said.
He illustrated his administration’s plan to quickly distribute a vaccine, prompting Biden to question why American voters should trust a man who has continuously lied throughout the pandemic.
‘Frankly, you’ve been doing more interrupting than he has,’ Wallace tells Trump
Fox News anchor Chris Wallace struggled to ensure that the presidential candidates, Trump in particular, maintained decorum during the 90-minute programme. Rebuking the president for his constant interruptions, he said, “Frankly, you’ve been doing more interrupting than he has.”
Attempting to intervene as Biden and Trump continued to squabble, Wallace said, “Gentlemen! I hate to raise my voice. Why shouldn’t I be different than the two of you?”
— Really American 🇺🇸 (@ReallyAmerican1) September 30, 2020
“The country would be better served if we allow both people to speak with fewer interruptions. I’m appealing to you to do that,” he later pleaded when the debate grew even more chaotic and the candidates veered from the 2-minute-per-answer format.
Biden and Trump disagree on Judge Amy Coney Barrett’s Supreme Court nomination
One of the more clear parts of the debate was around Indiana Judge Amy Coney Barrett’s nomination to the Supreme Court. While Trump argued that he had every right to choose a replacement for late Justice Ruth Bader Ginsburg, Biden claimed that Trump’s nominee would end health coverage for millions of Americans.
“The American people have a right to have a say over who the Supreme Court nominee is,” Biden said. “What’s at stake here, as the president’s made it clear, he wants to get rid of the Affordable Care Act. He’s in the Supreme Court right now trying to get rid of the Affordable Care Act, which will strip 20 million people from having health insurance now, if it goes to the Supreme Court.”
When Wallace intervened to de-escalate tensions, a heated exchange broke out between Trump and the moderator himself, prompting the president to complain, “I guess I’m debating you.”
Trump refuses to condemn white supremacists
When asked if he would openly condemn the actions of the white supremacists involved in inciting violence at anti-racism protests across the country over the last few months, President Trump said the issue was not caused by the right. He even urged one far-right group, called the Proud Boys, to “stand back and stand by.”
A big takeaway from the first presidential debate: Trump once again refused to condemn white supremacists. Watch his answer when asked directly to do it: “Proud Boys, stand back and stand by.”
— POLITICO (@politico) September 30, 2020
“Sure, I’m willing to (tell them to stand down), but I would say almost everything I see is from the left wing, not from the right wing. I’m willing to do anything. I want to see peace,” he said. “But I’ll tell you what…Somebody’s got to do something about Antifa and the left because this is not a right wing problem,” he added.
He further attacked Biden for his advocacy of the 1994 crime bill, claiming that the former vice-president had called African Americans “super predators”. His comments come as the country experiences one of its most significant moments of reckoning on matters of race and equality in recent history. Again, Biden chose not to press Trump on the issue, merely accusing him of having “bad ideas” and moving on to the next topic.
Trump attacks Biden’s son Hunter over alleged business dealings
In another low blow, President Trump went after Biden’s son Hunter’s alleged business dealings in Ukraine. He accused Hunter of profiting in China while his father was serving as Vice President of the United States under Barrack Obama.
“China ate your lunch, Joe. And no wonder, your son goes there he takes out billions of dollars. Takes out billions of dollars to manage. He makes millions of dollars,” he said. He also accused Hunter of receiving payments from the former mayor of Moscow — allegations that Biden outrightly denied.
A visibly unnerved Biden brought up his late son Beau Biden and his service to the nation as a soldier during the Iraq war. He went after the President for a recent report that claimed that he had made disparaging comments about soldiers and had called them “losers”. Speaking about his son Beau, an angry Joe Biden asserted, “He was not a loser. He was a patriot.”
‘This is going to be a fraud like you have never seen before’: Trump on mail-in ballots
In his closing statement, Trump once again lashed out at the mail-in ballot system, calling it “a disaster”. “This is going to be a fraud like you have never seen. We are going to do well. But, who knows? We are not going to know [the election result] for months,” he said.
Over the last few weeks US President Trump has repeatedly threatened to withhold funding from the postal service to limit voting by mail, arguing that the method increased the likelihood of voter fraud. This claim has largely been refuted by experts.
As a large number of people are expected to cast their votes before November 3, election experts suggest that this could mean the results will not be announced on election night and may instead take a few days to emerge.
— TIME (@TIME) September 30, 2020
Meanwhile, when asked why voters should elect him over Trump, Biden said, “Under this president, we became sicker, poorer and weaker. He (Trump) even refused to talk to [Russian President Vladimir] Putin about the bounty on the heads of our citizens. You (people) were in more trouble than you were before. This was on his (Trump’s) watch. The nation can’t be this way.”