Final presidential debate — a run-through

Former Vice President Joe Biden and incumbent President Donald Trump faced off for the final time before election day on Thursday night. (CNN.com)

Thursday night marked the last Presidential debate of the 2020 election cycle, setting incumbent President Donald Trump against former Vice President Joe Biden. Belmont University of Nashville hosted the debate, moderated by Kristen Welker.

The final Presidential debate was unique in that the Debate Commission would only turn on each candidate’s microphone during their respective time to speak, in response to the constant interruptions from the first Presidential debate. There were six pre-decided topics of debate: COVID-19, American families, race in America, climate change, national security, and leadership.

The question before the debate from Matthew Dowid of ABC news was “Can Trump be different from these past 5 years? Can he appeal to someone other than his base?” and Sara Fogen, on Donald Trump’s potential performance, stated she believed he had a chance to address the issue of Hunter Biden respectfully. Both points were addressed throughout the night.

Kristen Welker began the debate discussing the dangerous new phase that the country is headed into, with more than 40k people in the hospital for COVID-19 and 16k deaths since the first Presidential debate.

COVID-19

Welker asked Donald Trump how he would lead the country during this next stage of the Coronavirus, and he firstly assured the virus is a worldwide issue and not just a failing of the United States. He stated that the mortality rate in the US is down 85% and that the “excess mortality rate” is much lower than any other country, stating the spikes in countries as Florida or Texas have disappeared. He then disclosed that the vaccine will be announced within weeks through Operation: Warp Speed, which will put the job of delivering the vaccine onto military leaders. Notably, he also drops that he believes the scientists have told him he is now immune to COVID-19 but the veracity of this statement is to be determined.

Biden, when asked how he’d lead the country out of the crisis, stated the facts: 220k Americans have died, there are a thousand deaths a day, and over 70k cases appear every day. He stated the New England Medical Journal urges Americans to wear their masks and that we “could save 100,000 lives by just wearing masks,” critiquing Trump for his lack of a plan. He declares that he’d encourage the wearing of a mask, rapid testing, formulating national standards for opening schools and businesses safely.

“We’re in a situation now where the New England Medical Journal, one of the most serious medical journals in the world, said for the first time ever that the way the President has responded to this crisis is tragic.”

Welker addressed an earlier point of Trump’s regarding the release of a vaccine in weeks, asking “is that a guarantee?”

Trump stated that the vaccine is not guaranteed but that several companies such as Johnson & Johnson and Pfizer Inc, are already working on the vaccine and stated that the Head of Logistics will make distribution of this vaccine swift and efficient, promising “one hundred million vials.”

The moderator then questioned Biden, asking what steps he’d take to “give Americans confidence in a vaccine?”

Biden stated that he’d make the operation of producing the vaccine transparent and he critiqued the President for falsely assuring Americans that the pandemic would be over by Easter, then stating that there is no prospect for a vaccine by the middle of next year like Trump claims.

Trump fires back criticizing Biden for calling him xenophobic for his handling of the borders and then attacked his handling of Swine Flu, claiming the only reason it wasn’t as bad as COVID-19 was because of a difference in lethality. Biden responded “he[Trump] is xenophobic but not because he shut off access to China,” clarifying that he now agrees with the closure of the borders but still acknowledges Trump as a xenophobe.

Trump, however, ridiculed Biden for his COVID-19 precautions(which Trump views as excessive) and stated “We can’t lock ourselves up in a basement like Joe does,” commending himself for meeting with military families and claiming that the United States have made a lot of progress through studying the virus.

“We can’t close out our nation or we won’t have a nation,” Trump stated.

The discussion moves onto the personal responsibility of Donald Trump; Biden claims that Trump has taken no responsibility and Trump countered this stating “It’s not my fault it came here, it’s not Joe’s fault, it’s China’s fault.”

However, Biden moves onto various mistakes Trump had made regarding administrative action with COVID-19, such as his infamous “inject bleach” statement which Trump claims to have been a joke. Trump fires back by calling out perceived hypocrisy with Biden’s viewpoint concerning closing the borders, claiming he went from viewing it as xenophobic to acknowledging it as the right decision.

The moderator, in the midst of growing tensions, moved toward the next question. She stated how Biden would support new shut downs if scientists recommended it, and asked him if the negative effects of the quarantine(increasing depression, suicide rates, alcoholism) outweigh the deadliness of the virus.

Biden’s didn’t directly answer the question and instead critiqued Trump for his lack of cooperation with Nancy Pelosi and the Democrats regarding the amount of money given as bailouts, and then argued that schools need more money and ventilation, smaller classes and more teachers, and critiqued Trump for not pushing enough money toward education.

Trump critiques Biden because to him all he does “is talk about shutdowns,” and criticizes the tight shutdowns in Pennsylvania and California and claims the Democratic states are “dying,” insisting that schools must be opened up.

Welker then contextualizes her next question, stating that Boston has become the latest city to move its public school system to be entirely online after a COVID-19 spike. She asked both candidates about their message toward parents who believing opening up schools is a danger to teachers, kids, and families.

Trump stated “we’re not going to have a country if we keep it closed,” and that the closure has led to an increase in suicide, alcohol abuse, drug abuse, all at a “level no one has seen before,” further insisting that the country must be opened.

Biden countered saying that social distancing is necessary and emphasizes the importance of funding proper resources such as plexiglass dividers in restaurants or trace testing. Trump responded to this by saying that plexiglass is killing businesses with no money because it is “unbelievably expensive,” stating that the expenses of COVID-19 safety precautions will kill small businesses.

Referring back to Trump’s statement that New York was “a ghost town,” Biden commended New York’s ability to turn the number of deaths down, and declares he “doesn’t see blue states or red states,” but acknowledges that the COVID-19 spikes are happening primarily in red states in the Midwest or South.

Moving to the final question revolving around COVID-19, Welker asked Trump how the American people can consider scientists credible if he calls Fauci “an idiot.” Trump stated to disregard Fauci for his hypocrisy.

Biden responded by critiquing Trump for withholding information about COVID from the people for fear of instilling panic. Trump then critiqued Biden for taking money from Wall Street and claims he could “blow records in raking in money from Wall Street” if he tried as incumbent President.

Acknowledging the off-topic nature that the first discussion was leading to, Welker moved the topic onto the second section of the debate: foreign interference.

Recap

  • Trump criticizes Democratic governors and leaders for their tight shutdowns, believes it is for the best of the economy and American people to open things up, claims that a vaccine will be available soon
  • Biden takes a cautious stance regarding dealing with COVID-19 and promises funding will go into better and proper COVID-19 precautions at restaurants, schools, etc.

NATIONAL SECURITY

Welker asked Joe Biden “what would you do to put an end to the threat of foreign interference in our nation?”

Biden answered “any country will pay the price,” aiming the threat toward China, Russia, and Iran in particular. He critiqued Trump for not being harder on Putin and mentions how Trump’s Security Council believes Rudy Giuliani, Trump’s personal attorney, to be under Russian influence. To fully establish himself as tough on Russia, he stated that Russia does not want him to be the next President, claiming “I know them and they know me.”

Trump was then asked what he would do in his next term to fight foreign interference, to which he first attacked Biden for allegedly receiving 3.5 million from Moscow, insisting that he himself has never received money from Russia. He also commended himself for convincing NATO countries to increase funding, and criticized Russia’s attacks on Ukraine sovereignty which occurred during the Obama administration.

“I have not taken a penny from any foreign source ever in my life,” insisted Biden, who critiqued Trump for doing business in China and paying taxes for China, citing the recent reveal of his Chinese bank account and his paying $188,561 in Chinese taxes, finally attacking the incumbent President for not yet releasing his tax reurns.

Trump responded by assuring that he’d be releasing his tax returns as soon as possible, claiming that him allegedly only paying $750 in taxes is a lie, and attacks Hunter Biden for receiving money from Ukraine, but is interrupted on this point by the moderator.

Welker asked Trump if he knew when he could release his taxes, to which Trump stated no, blaming the IRS for unfair treatment stating “I get treated very badly by the IRS.”

Trump, after being attacked again for not releasing his tax returns, ranted about the constant interference in his administration, stating that his campaign had been spied on and that Mueller spent $48 million to go through everything he had(including his tax returns, he claims) and concluded that there was no wrongdoing.

The moderator then asked Biden about whether or not any work conducted by Hunter Biden had been inappropriate or unethical, and Biden answered that his son had made no money in China and claims Trump had tried to bribe the Ukrainian government into badmouthing Biden to which they refused.

Welker then contextualized her next question by stating that Trump never divested from his business and even personally promoted his properties abroad, and asked Trump about his bank account in China. Trump justified the bank account, claiming it was publicly listed and closed in 2015(before his campaign), thus implying it was in no way a political liability.

There was little back-and-forth at this point, and the moderator peacefully moved onto her next question: “President Trump has said that China should pay for not being fully transparent with the Coronavirus. If you are elected President, would you make China pay?”

Biden answered saying that China would have to follow international rules and then called North Korea and Putin “thugs,” critiquing Trump’s leniency regarding them, and insisting that China would pay economically for not playing by the rules. This furthered the hard stance on Russia and China that he displayed earlier

Trump implies that China is already paying economically, stating that $28 billion(which Biden claims to have come from taxpayers) was paid from China and put into farmers, but Biden calls this “malarkey.”

Trump was then asked if North Korea’s development of its nuclear program was a betrayal of Kim Jong Un and Trump’s 3 earlier meetings.

“He[Kim Jong Un] is a different kind of guy, but that’s okay, I’m sure he sees me the same,” said Donald Trump, commending himself for his diplomacy regarding North Korea and his avoidance of any nuclear war.

Biden was asked afterward about why he thought he’d “be able to rein in this threat,” to which he argued that North Korea must be controlled. Biden again called Kim Jong Un a thug and critiqued Trump’s legitimization of North Korea as allowing their nuclear arsenal to reach US territory much easier than before.

“The Korean peninsula should be a nuclear-free zone,” concluded Joe Biden.

The two candidates argued over the American relationship with North Korea, Trump claiming that Kim Jong Un didn’t like Obama and Biden arguing he didn’t like Obama because he pushed for stronger sanctions and de-nuclearization.

However, the moderator hastily pushed the two candidates toward the next topic, which was far more domestic: American families.

Recap

  • Trump advocates for the usage of diplomacy regarding North Korea but also claims to be tough on Russia, also stating that he will release his tax returns as soon as possible
  • Biden takes a tough stance on foreign collusion on American sovereignty and censures the nuclear development in North Korea

AMERICAN FAMILIES

Welker mentioned Amy Coney Barrett and how healthcare is at the center of her confirmation fight and stated; if the Supreme Court does overturn Medicare for All, 23 million Americans could lose their health insurance overnight. She asks what each of the candidates would do if those Americans lose their insurance.

Trump said “Obamacare is no good,” and stated he terminated the individual mandate, the so-called “worst part of Obamacare,” and stated that he seeks to protect people with pre-existing conditions but also to prioritize the 180 million people with private healthcare that Biden claims would have their plans changed with “socialized medicine.”

Biden was then asked the same question, and he stated he would pass Obamacare as the public option and name it “Bidencare,” claiming drug prices and premiums would be reduced and that his system would directly compete with health insurance companies. He also affirms that he supports private insurance, citing this as a point of contention between him and the other Democratic nominees.

The moderator then furthered her question for Biden, asking him what his statement is to people scared of a healthcare system run entirely by the government.

“Healthcare is not a privilege, it’s a right,” stated Biden, and he claimed that all major labor unions support his plan.

Trump, however, again critiqued Biden for his inaction over his 47 years of political experience, and condemns his running mate Kamala Harris for “being more liberal than Bernie Sanders,” also claiming that Biden is only saying he won’t stop fracking to secure the Pennsylvania vote.

Trump further argues that the public option will “destroy medicare and social security,” claiming Bernie Sanders tried “socialized medicine” in Vermont and it failed miserably, to which Biden retorted Trump was “debating the wrong guy.”

Further, Biden stated that if Trump withholds the tax on social security that social security would be bankrupt by 2023 with no way to make up for it.

“Where I come from, people don’t live off the stock market,” said Biden, who stated that while Wall Street had made $700 billion during the pandemic, ordinary people had been suffering.

Moving the discussion toward raising the minimum wage, Biden argued that it was the right time as small businesses must be bailed off now and that 1/6th of small businesses are going under, but Trump insists on it staying a state option.

“Alabama is different from New York,” stated Trump, who argued raising minimum wage will not help small businesses right now.

The moderator took the discussion to the next topic afterward: immigration.

Recap

  • Trump states that Obamacare is “no good” and promises to protect private healthcare, critiques Biden for wanting to cut social security
  • Biden states that he seeks to make Medicare the public option and ensures he does not seek to eliminate private healthcare, also advocates for raising the minimum wage

IMMIGRATION

Welker began this section informing Trump that “your administration separated at least 1000 kids at the border. The United States can’t locate the parents of more than 500 children. How will these families ever be reunited?”

Trump answered that the children were brought over by “coyotes” and cartels, but assures that the border is stronger with “over 400 miles of brand new wall,” and critiqued Biden for blaming the Trump administration for cages built during Obama’s administration.

Biden fires back condemning ICE for separating families as to create a disincentive to stop families crossing the borders, and said separating families “makes us a laughingstock and violates any notion of who we are as a nation,” concluding that separating families is criminal.

Trump justifies the ICE holding facilities, calling them “clean” and claiming the detained children are taken care of well, censuring Biden for his ineffective “Catch and release” policies, stating less than 1% of people came back for their court hearings.

This section was brief compared to the other topics, as the moderator swiftly moved toward the issue of race in America.

Recap

  • Trump believes most illegal immigrants to be “coyotes” and justifies ICE holding facilities while also critiquing Biden for blaming Obama administration cages on him
  • Biden condemns the separation of families at the border as criminal

RACE IN AMERICA

Welker, notably a black woman, brought up the concept of “the talk,” where parents of black or brown children feel they have no choice but tell their children that they may be unfairly targeted by police for no reason other than their skin color. She then asked both candidates if they understood why these parents feared for their children.

Biden stated he understood and commended his daughter, a graduate of the University of Pennsylvania, for working as a social worker around many people of color, and he acknowledges the existence of institutional racism in America.

However, Trump brings up the 1994 Crime Bill, condemning Biden for harming the black community by calling them ‘super predators.”

“Nobody has done more for the black community than Donald Trump,” he stated.

Biden, however, disagreed and stated that the justice system must be fundamentally changed, stating no one deserved jailtime for a drug problem.

Trump took the discussion elsewhere after criticizing Biden for his inaction as Vice President, claiming he only ran for President because of his perceived ineptitude in the Obama administration. He said that if Ukraine is true then that makes Biden a corrupt politician, to which Biden stated five former heads of the CIA disregard Hunter’s laptop as a Russian hoax.

This discussion, irrelevant to the topic, is interrupted by Welker who reminded Trump of his denouncements of BLM and sharing of videos where men chanted “white power,” asking him if he believed his language contributed to violence.

Trump is careful to outright condemn BLM, instead justifying his earlier criticisms for the “pigs in a blanket” riots but insisted on his own perception of racial equality, going so far as to claim “I am the least racist person in this room.”

Welker too acknowledged the 1994 Crime Bill mentioned earlier by Trump, alongside other bills from the 80s and 90s which contributed to mass incarcerations of black men with small amounts of drugs in them, and asked Biden why their families should vote for him.

Biden admitted that his support for these bills was a mistake, and reaffirmed his belief that no one should be sent to jail for a pure drug offense and that treatment is necessary. Trump resorted to one of his main arguments against Biden, criticizing him for not taking more action during his 47 years of political experience.

“It’s all talk no action with these politicians,” said the incumbent President.

Biden, however, argued that he had begun the process for releasing criminals detained for drug offenses with over 38k individuals freed, and that the process will continue with his election.

However, speeding the discussion up, moderator Welker moved the topic again, this time to climate change, which was heavily discussed during the Vice Presidential debate.

Recap

  • Trump does not consider himself racist and condemns Biden for his support of the 1994 Crime Bill, and does not support BLM
  • Biden acknowledges the existence of institutional racism and promises to remove jailtime for drug offenses

CLIMATE CHANGE

Welker began the topic by asking how each candidate would combat climate change while supporting job growth at the same time.

Trump commended his administration, critiquing rival countries such as Russia, China, and India for being “filthy,” and reasoned that he removed the country from the Paris Accord to not sacrifice tens of millions of jobs and trillions of dollars. He concluded “we have the cleanest air, the cleanest water, and the best carbon emissions.”

Biden issued a warning to the audience that they will pass the point of no return in the next 8-10 years regarding carbon emissions, and claimed that he got all of the environmental and labor organizations to support his climate plan. Also, he promised an investment in 50k charging stations on highways so the electric car market can grow.

Trump critiqued Biden’s climate plan as “the craziest plan anyone as ever seen,” simplifying it as using 100 trillion dollars to knock down buildings, but Biden simply asked in return where Trump got that number from.

Biden noted that the fastest growing industry in America is solar and wind energy, reproving Trump’s previously held belief that windmills cause cancer.

Trump, however, attacks windmills for being dirtier than natural gas and for being a threat to birds, and while he “loves” solar energy, he failed to see its ability to compete in the energy industry with other countries.

The moderator then moved toward addressing how minorities are more likely to live near chemical plants or oil refineries, and asked Trump why the families of these minorities should voe for him when he has laid back restrictions on the chemical and oil industries.

Trump argued he is the right economic choice, commending himself for saving the economy by going back to oil. Biden, however, brought up his personal experience living near an oil refinery in Delaware and condemns Trump for failing to understand the misery of living somewhere polluted. He said he sought to transition away from the oil company because of their significant pollution, stating oil must be replaced with renewable energy.

Trump fought Biden for wanting to “destroy the oil industry” and asked him if he thought Texas, Pennsylvania, or Oklahoma would like that. Biden only reaffirms his desire to move toward zero emissions and his plan to join the Paris Accord.

The moderator, running out of time, moved to the final topic and final question, which revolved around leadership.

Recap

  • Trump disapproves of solar and wind energy and does not find the issue of pollution particularly relevant
  • Biden believes global warming is an imminent threat, promises to invest in electric car industry, promises to join Paris Accord, states he would stop giving federal subsidies to oil

LEADERSHIP

The final topic was handled very briefly, but Welker asked both candidates to imagine it was their inauguration day, and asked what they would say to the Americans who didn’t vote for them.

Trump stated that there was a need to bring the country back to its success before the “China plague” and how “success will bring us together,” whereas Biden declared the importance of creating new jobs under clean energy and the importance that “everyone gets an equal chance.”

OVERVIEW

The final Presidential debate differed from the first one in that it had avoided much of the interrupting and name-calling which seemed to define the nature of the first debate. Both candidates remained largely on topic, with a few significant exceptions such as the Hunter Biden argument which occurred in the middle of the discussion concerning racial relations in America, but the Debate Commission’s decision to remove speaking ability during the others’ turn seemingly allowed for a more civil discourse.

The final Presidential debate is over, however, and the election is happening now. If you are a Pennsylvania voter, please research your options for voting as soon as possible(or click here to see them).

Election night is November 3rd. Get out and vote.

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