PHOTO CREDITS: JIM BOURG/POOL/AP
President Donald Trump and former Vice President and Democratic rival Joe Biden hashed it out on a number of hot topics during last Thursday’s final Presidential debate.
The debate took place at Belmont University in Nashville, Tennessee, and was moderated by Kristen Welker, the NBC News White House correspondent and co-anchor of Weekend Today. According to her online bio, Welker’s “hard-hitting political reporting appears across all NBC News and MSNBC platforms, including NBC Nightly News with Lester Holt, TODAY, Meet the Press and NBCNews.com.” She began covering the White House for NBC News in December 2011.
Thursday’s debate was – in comparison with the previous presidential debate – far calmer and more organized. The presidential hopeful and the POTUS discussed six topics, from coronavirus to climate change, spending 15 minutes on each. Each candidate spoke for two minutes uninterrupted before entering into open debate with measures in place to avoid interruptions like the previous time.
Moderator Kristen Welker introduced the pair, and opened with questions on coronavirus. Trump said that although Americans will continue to deal with COVID-19, the country can’t stay closed and must continue the process of reopening. “We can’t close up our nation, or you’re not going to have a nation,” Trump said. Trump pointed out America’s mortality rate is down 85 percent, as well drops in excess deaths. He lamented how the “greatest economy in the world had been closed up because of a plague from China,” adding following his own Covid-19 treatment he was now immune to the virus “whether that be for four months or a lifetime.”
Biden said that he did not aim to keep the country shut down. “I’m going to shut down the virus, not the country,” Biden said. However, Biden expressed a greater willingness to keep lockdowns in place until certain needs are met. “I’m not shutting down today, but look, you need standards,” Biden said. “If you have a [virus] reproduction rate above a certain level, everybody says slow down, do not open bars and gymnasiums, until you get this under more control.” He wants schools to reopen, Biden said, but more needs to be done to get them into a place to do so, such as better ventilation. “Schools, they need a lot of money to open,” Biden said. “They need to deal with smaller classrooms.”
Biden also said Trump had failed to negotiate a new coronavirus relief package with the Democrat-controlled House. The president countered that House Speaker Nancy Pelosi, D-Calif., doesn’t want to make a deal before the election. “We are ready, willing, and able to do something,” Trump said. Trump repeated his prediction that a COVID-19 vaccine will be approved by the end of this year. Trump said several companies – including Johnson & Johnson, Moderna, and Pfizer – are “doing very well” in developing a vaccine, adding that the U.S. is also working with European nations to produce a vaccine as quickly as possible.
Welker questioned Trump about his vaccine timeline, noting that his own health officials have said it may be well into 2021 before a vaccine is generally available. “I think my timeline is going to be more accurate,” Trump said, adding: “I don’t know that they [health officials] are counting on the military the way I do, but we have our generals lined up. One in particular that’s the head of logistics, and this is a very easy distribution for him. He is ready to go. As soon as we have the vaccine–and we expect to have 100 million vials–as soon as we have the vaccine, he is ready to go.”
Biden fired back at Trump, criticizing the president’s handling of the virus. “We’re about to go into a dark winter,” Biden said. “And [Trump] has no clear plan and there’s no prospect that there’s going to be a vaccine available for a majority of the people until the middle of next year.” Trump pushed back: “I don’t think we’re going to have a dark winter at all. We’re opening up our country, we’ve learned and studied and understand the disease, which we didn’t at the beginning.”
The president also took his first shot of the night at Biden, noting that the former vice president criticized him in January when he put restrictions on travel from China. “Now he’s saying, ‘Oh, I should have moved quicker.’ But he didn’t move quicker, he was months behind me,” Trump said.
Trump said Biden’s handling of the H1N1 swine flu was a total disaster. “Had that had this kind of numbers, 700,000 people would be dead right now, but [swine flu] was a far less lethal disease.” Trump denied saying that the virus is going to be “over soon,” but said Americans are “learning to live with it.” He added: “We can’t lock ourselves up in a basement like Joe does.”
The president said 99% of those who contract the disease caused by the new coronavirus recover. “People are learning to die with it,” the former vice president fired back, adding that the president has not taken responsibility for the virus. “I take full responsibility. It is not my fault that it came here. It’s China’s fault. And you know what? It’s not Joe’s fault that it came here, either. It is China’s fault,” Trump said. Biden also said, referring to COVID-19, “Two hundred and twenty thousand Americans dead. If you hear nothing else I say tonight… anyone who is responsible for that many deaths should not remain as president of the United States.”
When it came to climate change and the energy industry, the two candidates had notable differences. “I will not sacrifice tens of millions of jobs, thousands and thousands of companies, because of the Paris accord,” Trump said. “We have the cleanest air, the cleanest water, and the best carbon emissions standards that we’ve seen in many, many years. And we haven’t destroyed our industries,” Trump said. He said the climate accord was too easy on nations such as China, Russia, and India that have “filthy” air. Biden said that “Climate change, climate warming, global warming is an existential threat to humanity. We have a moral obligation to deal with it,” adding that it was crucial to act in the next 8 to 10 years.
Referring to his climate plan, which includes adding charging machines for electric cars to U.S. highways and retrofitting buildings to be more energy-efficient, Biden said: “It will create millions of new, good-paying jobs.”
Welker said “people of color” are more likely to live near chemical plants and oil refineries, and that Texans living in such areas are concerned the proximity is making them sick. “The families that we’re talking about are employed heavily and they’re making a lot of money, more money than they’ve ever made,” Trump said, noting his administration’s record jobs numbers among Hispanic, Asian, and black Americans. He added, “I have not heard the numbers or the statistics that you’re saying, but they’re making a tremendous amount of money.”
“Those frontline communities, it doesn’t matter what you’re paying them, it matters how you keep them safe,” Biden said, talking about the need to regulate pollutants. Trump asked Biden: “Would you close down the oil industry?” Biden responded: “I would transition from the oil industry, yes… because the oil industry pollutes significantly… It has to be replaced by renewable energy over time, over time. And I’d stop giving to the oil industry, I’d stop giving them federal subsidies.”
Trump said that the Affordable Care Act, passed in 2009-10 during the Obama administration, was “no good.” He said that’s why the law, popularly known as Obamacare, is still being challenged in court. The president said his administration ended the individual mandate requiring Americans to buy health insurance and is overseeing what remains of Obamacare. “We’re running it as well as we can, but it’s no good,” he said.
Trump said Biden and the Democrats would push the country toward “socialized medicine” and government-run health care, as promoted by Sen. Bernie Sanders, I-Vt. Biden said that, unlike all his competitors in the Democrats’ primary race, he would not advocate a “Medicare for All” plan. “He’s a very confused guy,” Biden said. “He thinks he’s running against somebody else. He’s running against Joe Biden. I beat all those other people because I disagreed with them.”
Instead, Biden said, he wants “Bidencare,” which includes a “public option” for health insurance. Under a public option, the government offers subsidized plans that are less expensive than those offered by insurance companies. Biden said he supports private insurance and insisted that “not one single person with private insurance would lose their insurance under my plan, nor did they under Obamacare.” Obama also promised that nobody would lose his or her health insurance under Obamacare, which Politifact ruled to be false in 2013.
“When he says ‘public option,’ he’s talking about socialized medicine and health care,” Trump said. “When he talks about a public option, he’s talking about destroying your Medicare and destroying your Social Security. This whole country will come down.” Trump also disputed Biden’s claim that he would not move toward socialized medicine. “It’s not that he wants it—his vice president, I mean, [Harris] is more liberal than Bernie Sanders and wants it even more,” Trump said. “Bernie Sanders wants it. The Democrats want it. You’re going to have socialized medicine.”
Trump and Biden sparred over America’s relationship with Russia and their respective ability to deal with Russian President Vladimir Putin. The former vice president warned that Russia “will pay a price if I am elected.” Biden said that Trump’s personal attorney, former New York Mayor Rudy Giuliani, “is being used as a Russian pawn”: “He’s being fed information that is Russian, that is not true. And then what happens? Nothing happens. And then you find out that everything [that] is going on here about Russia is wanting to make sure that I do not get elected the next president of the United States, because they know I know them, and they know me.”
Biden said it is worth asking why Trump has not been tougher on Putin. “Joe got three and half million dollars from Russia,” the president responded. “And it came through Putin, because he was very friendly with the former mayor of Moscow… Someday, you are going to have to explain why you got three and a half million dollars.”
“We learned this president does business in China, has a secret bank account in China and is talking about me taking money? I have not taken a penny from a single country whatsoever,” Biden said. “No. 2, I released all my tax returns — 22 years, go look at them. You have not released a single solitary year of your tax return,” Biden said. “What are you hiding? Why are you unwilling?” Trump then said, as he has for years, that he can’t release his tax returns because they are under audit by the IRS (CNBC).
The president drew a link between Biden and Putin, saying that John Ratcliffe, director of national intelligence, believes the Russian president wants Trump to lose the election because “there has been nobody tougher on Russia than Donald Trump.” Trump also criticized Biden for allowing Russia’s invasion of Ukraine and its seizing of the Crimea region during his time as Obama’s vice president. Trump said of Biden: ”While he was selling pillows and sheets, I sold tank-busters to Ukraine.”
Immigration & Race
Trump and Biden had a sharp disagreement about enforcing immigration law, in particular a policy enforced early in the Trump administration of separating children from adults when they come across the southern border and placing children in detention centers with “cages.”
“The children are brought here by coyotes and lots of bad people, cartels… and they used to use them to get into our country,” Trump said. “We now have as strong a border as we’ve ever had. We’re over 400 miles of brand new wall. You see the numbers. We let people in, but they have to come in legally.” Biden said that the policy of separating children from adults who crossed the border “violates every notion of who we are as a nation.” He said the policy was used as a disincentive for more illegal immigration. But Trump said his administration actually inherited the Obama policy of putting children in cages. “We changed the policy. They did it. We changed—they built the cages,” Trump said. “Who built the cages, Joe?”
According to The Associated Press, placing migrant children in cages began in 2014 under the Obama administration. Biden admitted that the Obama administration got some things wrong on immigration enforcement, in particular on detaining children, but said his own administration would do better. “We made a mistake. It took too long to get it right,” Biden said. “I’ll be president of the United States, not vice president of the United States.” When the issue of race came up in the debate, Trump defended his reputation, saying, “I am the least racist person in this room.”
Asked about some of his past comments, including on Black Lives Matter, Trump said: “The first time I ever heard of Black Lives Matter, they were chanting, ‘Pigs in a blanket,’ talking about police. [chanting] ‘Pigs in a blanket, fry ’em like bacon.’ I said, that’s a horrible thing.” He also referred several times to record low unemployment rates for blacks and Hispanics before the pandemic. Asked again about his rhetoric on race, Trump said, “I got criminal justice reform done, and prison reform, and opportunity zones. I took care of black colleges and universities. I don’t know what to say. They can say anything… It makes me sad.”
“Abraham Lincoln over here is one of the most racist presidents we’ve had in modern history,” Biden said, referring to Trump’s repeated line that he probably has done more for black Americans than any president other than Lincoln. “He pours fuel on every single racist fire,” Biden said. “This guy is a dog whistle about as big as a foghorn.”
Amid a discussion of the economy and the impact of COVID-19, Biden argued that the federal minimum wage should be raised from $7.25 an hour to $15 an hour. “People are making six, seven, eight bucks an hour,” Biden said, adding: “These first responders we all clap for as they come down the street because they have allowed us to make it. What’s happening? They deserve a minimum wage of $15, and anything below that puts you below the poverty level. And there is no evidence that when you raise the minimum wage businesses go out of business. That is simply not true.”
Trump said he would consider raising the federal minimum wage, but “not to a level that’s going to put all these businesses out of business.” The president went on to argue that the minimum wage should be decided by state governments, without a higher federal minimum that always supersedes state decisions. “Some places, $15 is not so bad. In other places, other states, $15 would be ruinous,” Trump said, referring to restaurants and other businesses (Daily Signal).
POLITICS EDITOR: CARSON CHOATE