Chaos in Cleveland: Biden and Trump quarrel in the presidential debate

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Patrick Semansky/Credit: AP

President Donald Trump, left, and former Vice President Joe Biden during the first presidential debate on Tuesday, Sept. 29, 2020, at Case Western University and Cleveland Clinic, in Cleveland, Ohio.

President Donald Trump and Democratic presidential nominee Joe Biden faced off in Cleveland, Ohio, on Tuesday in their first of three presidential debates ahead of the 2020 election. Moderated by Fox News’ Chris Wallace, the two candidates spent 90 minutes discussing eight topics: the appointment of the next Supreme Court justice, Obamacare, COVID-19, climate change, racism in America, law and order, foreign affairs, as well as the integrity of the election.

Next SCOTUS Justice & Amy Coney Barret:

The first topic presented by the moderator, Wallace, was the candidates’ perspectives on Trump’s nomination for the Supreme Court, Amy Coney Barrett, and the effect she would have on the court.

Given two minutes of uninterrupted speaking, Trump expressed that the Republican control of the Senate and the White House gave him the right to appoint Barrett to the Court before the election. He said Barett is a “phenomenal nominee […] respected by all, top academically, and good in every way” and that she would “be as good as anybody who has ever served on that Court.”

Biden detailed his opposition to Trump’s nomination, saying, “the American people have a right to have a say in who the Supreme Court nominee is. And that say occurs when they vote for senators and the president of the United States.” He elaborated, explaining that “We should wait and see what the outcome of this election is because that’s the only way the American people get to express their view.”

After a quarrel due to Trump’s frequent interruptions, Biden said, “[Amy Coney Barrett] thinks the Affordable Care Act is unconstitutional” and that if appointed, “women’s rights will fundamentally change.”

Straying further from the original question, Trump inaccurately accuses Biden of lying after saying, “There are 100 million people who have preexisting conditions.” Trump’s claim is wrong as there are an estimated 102 million people with preexisting health conditions, according to a report by Avalere. Those 102 million people will likely have to pay premiums on their insurance if the Affordable Care Act is successfully nullified.

Trump is reluctant to say that Barrett would overturn Roe v. Wade, arguing that no one knows how she would vote, as he did appear to elucidate what she stands for. However, in the 2016 presidential debate, Trump pledged to offer nominees to the Supreme Court who would overturn the monumental case.

Obamacare:

Obamacare has been a controversial topic since it was introduced in 2009.

In the first presidential debate of the 2020 election, the moderator, Wallace, brought up the popular subject of healthcare.

“Over the last four years, you have promised to repeal and replace Obamacare, but you have never in these four years come up with a comprehensive plan to replace Obamacare,” Wallace said.

Trump interjected before Wallace had the chance to finish asking his question.

“Yes, I have. Of course, I have. Excuse me; I got rid of the individual mandate, which was a big joke. That was the worst part of Obamacare,” Trump said.

Continuing to speak over the moderator, Trump attempted to dodge the question by directing attention to Biden and asking him what he thinks of the individual mandate. After about a minute of talking over one another, Wallace finally interjected, silencing the President and reminding him of who the debate’s moderator is.

“I am the moderator of this debate, and I would like you to let me ask my question. Just this last Thursday, you signed a largely symbolic executive order to protect people with preexisting conditions five days before this debate. So my question is, what is the Trump healthcare plan,” Wallace said.

Trump responded to his question and said, “there’s nothing symbolic. I’m cutting drug prices; I’m going with favored nations which no president has had the courage to do because you’re going against big pharma.”

He continued to drive his point about cutting drug prices by pointing to Biden and challenging him and his accomplishments in the healthcare world.

“You could have done it during your 47 year period in government, but you didn’t do it. Nobody’s done it,” Trump said.

Biden responded by referencing the 20 million people benefiting from Obamacare and how Trump “wants to take it away.”

For the next few minutes, both candidates spoke over one another, and neither one could make a cohesive statement in response to the question. The mediator was eventually able to stop the altercation, allowing them both to speak individually. When asked to give a concluding statement, Biden began speaking but was promptly cut off by Trump.

“Would you shut up, man? This is so unpresidential,” Biden said in refute to Trump’s interruption.

Wallace promptly ended the discussion of this topic, moving on to COVID-19.

Ultimately, Wallace’s question never received a full response; instead, Trump decided to hone in on Obamacare, describing its defects, while Biden attempted to defend it.

COVID-19:

One of the main topics of discussion was the current pandemic. The candidates proposed conflicting views on who is to blame for the virus, what is okay to do right now, and the plan for returning to the lifestyles and economy present before the crisis.

To start, Biden vocalized his feelings on who and what is to blame for the sheer size of the pandemic. He claimed that Trump “knew about the dangers of COVID-19 in February” and “panicked” instead of using this information to prepare the American people. He ended by confronting Trump on his coronavirus response, saying, “You should get out of your bunker and the golf course […] and go to the Oval Office and bring together Democrats and Republicans, and fund what needs to be done now to save lives.”

After Biden’s uninterrupted two minutes were up, Trump hit the ground running. He said that Biden didn’t want to place travel restrictions on China when Trump set them. He told Biden, “If you were here, it wouldn’t be 200,000 people, it would be two-million people. You didn’t want me to ban China, which was heavily infected. If we would have listened to you, the country would have been left wide open.”

However, this claim was later proven false by ABC7 Chicago, which said that Biden never directly addressed an opinion on this issue. Trump continued his attack on Biden by saying, “We [the Trump administration] have done a great job. But I tell you, [Biden], you could never have done the job we’ve done. You don’t have it in your blood.”

The candidates’ campaigns during the pandemic were another topic of discussion. Trump has been holding massive rallies, whereas Biden has held much smaller events with social distancing and safety restrictions.

“We [the Trump administration] have had no negative effect, and we’ve had 30 to 40 thousand people at these rallies,” Trump said.

However, Biden had a different outlook on the safety of Trump’s rallies.

“He’s been totally irresponsible the way in which he has handled the social distancing and people wearing masks. He basically encouraged them not to,” Biden said.

The next question asked by the moderator involved the recovery of the economy following the COVID-19 shutdowns. Trump figured this economic recovery would look like a v-shape. After referring to COVID-19 as the “China plague,” Trump went on to say that places should be opening up now because “people know what to do.”

On the other hand, Biden said that he sees the U.S. economic recovery in a k-shape. Biden talked about how if he were president, he would take a slower start to reopen places. He then spoke outwardly about the economy, hoping to be heard by eligible voters around the country.

“You can’t fix the economy until you fix the COVID-19 crisis, and [Trump] has no intention of making it better for you all at home in terms of your health and your safety,” Biden said.

Climate Change:

Blocks away from the Trump Tower in New York City, the infamous ‘Climate Clock’ ticked down at seven years and 93 days. Meanwhile, in Cleveland, the president blamed the California wildfires on “forest management.”

Trump did not acknowledge the scientific consensus that human activity and greenhouse gas emissions are primarily at fault for climate change.

“I think a lot of things are, but, to an extent, yes,” Trump said.

The Paris Accord was another significant topic covered during the climate discussion. Trump defended his withdrawal from the agreement, while Biden vowed to reinstate the United States as one of the signatories.

Under President Barack Obama, the United States pledged to curb greenhouse gas emissions from 26 to 28 percent by 2025. However, Trump withdrew from the commitment in 2017. According to David Victor, a professor at the University of California, San Diego, the United States is no longer on track to meet the original goal.

Defending his policies, Trump explained that strict emission rules would “take a lot of cars off the market” and called the Paris Accord a “disaster.”

His Democratic opponent argued the opposite and said, “We’re in real trouble. Look what’s happened just in the Midwest with these storms that come through and wipe out entire sections and counties in Iowa. That didn’t happen before; they’re because of global warming. We make up 15 percent of the world’s problems. But the rest of the world, we’ve got to get them to come along. That’s why we have to get back into the Paris accord.”

Biden then asserted that the Green New Deal would pay for itself, provoking Wallace to ask whether or not he supported Senator Bernie Sander’s resolution. Trump, once again, spoke out of turn to mock the former Vice President.

Climate change was a topic that Wallace originally did not intend to cover, but his specific questions displayed yet another staunch difference between the two candidates.

Racism & Law/Order:

Following the segment of Trump’s tax returns, the mediator asked the candidates why the voters should trust them on the race issues facing the nation.

“It’s about equity, equality, and decency. It’s about the constitution. We have never walked away from equality for the whole of America. We have never accomplished it, but we haven’t walked away from it like [Trump] has done,” Biden said.

Biden continued to describe how after the death of George Floyd, peaceful protestors gathered in places such as the white house, only to get tear-gassed by the military.

“This is the president who has used everything as a dog whistle to try to generate racism, hatred, and division,” Biden said.

Upon finishing his two minutes of speaking, Trump began by challenging him on the topic of law enforcement.

“I don’t think you have any law enforcement. You can’t even say law enforcement because if you say those words, you’re going to lose all of the votes of your radical left supporters,” Trump said, promptly changing the topic from racism to law and order.

Trump continued and said, “The leftists and democrats have got you wrapped around their finger, and that’s why you can’t say anything about law and order- you’re afraid to even say it.”

Wallace quickly interjected, telling the candidates to bring the discussion back to the topic of race.

“People have to be made aware of what other people feel like, of what insults them, of what’s demeaning towards them. It makes a huge difference in the way a child grows up and has a sense of self-esteem. The only way we’re going to bring this country together is to bring everyone together. We can do this together and defeat racism,” Biden said after stating that Trump is a racist.

Later on in the debate, Wallace directly asked Trump about his stance on white supremacy.

“Are you willing, tonight, to condemn white supremacists and militia groups to say that they need to stand down and not add to the violence in a number of these cities that we’ve seen in Kenosha and Portland?” Wallace asked.

“Sure, I’m willing to do it. But I would say that almost everything I see is from the left-wing, not the right-wing. I’m willing to do anything- I want to see peace. Who would you like me to condemn?” Trump said.

“White supremacists,” Wallace said.

“Proud Boys stand back, and stand by, but I’ll tell you what. Somebody’s gotta do something about Antifa and the left because this is a left-wing problem, not a right-wing problem,” Trump said.

Trump and Biden proceeded to debate on whether Antifa is an organization or an idea, with Trump stating that it is a dangerous organization. At the same time, Biden claimed that it is merely an idea.

This ultimately ended the race segment, as Wallace quickly moved on to the next segment.

Foreign Affairs:

While discussing the economy, Biden shifted the subject to how the Trump administration has handled international trade deals. Biden claimed that Trump talked about making trade deals with China, but now “we have a higher trade deficit with China than we did before [Trump’s presidency].”

Trump responded and said, “China ate your lunch, Joe.”

Following Biden’s trade claims, Trump made claims of his own about Hunter Biden’s involvement with Russia, saying, “The mayor of Moscow’s wife gave your son 3.5 million dollars. What did he do to deserve that?”

Trump then repeatedly argued about Biden’s family, while Biden refuted, saying Trump’s claims were “totally discredited.” The moderator then facilitated the situation, giving Biden a chance to speak.

Biden said, “it’s hard to get any words in with this clown.”

Biden continued to say that Trump was lying and that the conversation should focus on the American people and not the candidates’ families.

Concluding statements on the integrity of the election:

Wallace ended the debate by asking each candidate if they would pledge to refrain from making a preemptive victory claim while votes were still being counted and if they would urge their supporters to remain calm.

Biden said, “yes,” while Trump avoided the question.

“I’m urging my supporters to go into the polls and watch very carefully,” Trump said.

He repeatedly made misleading claims about mail-in voting, which will be used across the U.S. this year due to the pandemic, and he has claimed it to be fraudulent and rigged.

Trump warned of “bad things” in Philidelphia and said, “If it’s a fair election, I am 100% on board, but if I see tens of thousands of ballots being manipulated, I can’t go along with that.”

The debate concluded in a fury of interruption and chaos. As the two candidates continue to campaign, the country anticipates the Vice Presidential debate on Oct. 7.

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