Donald Trump and Joe Biden debating during the 2020 Presidential debate. Illustration by Shelby Golemo
Let’s try to make some sense of what just happened for those hoping to get some transparency from the 2020 Presidential debate. Fox News anchor Chris Wallace moderated the debate between President Donald J. Trump and former Vice President Joe Biden, held at the health education Campus of Case Western Reserve University and Cleveland Clinic.
The debate format included six segments broken into 15 minutes each and both candidates received two minutes to answer with an open discussion to follow through the rest of the segment. Both campaigns agreed to these rules, and Wallace decided on the topics and questions.
The first segment covered the Supreme Court and Trump’s nomination to succeed the late Ruth Bader Ginsburg.
“Where do you think Amy Barrett would take the court?” Wallace asked Trump.
“Elections have consequences,” Trump said, and since he won the 2016 election, he has the right to choose Barrett as a nominee. Biden disagreed with the urgency to fill the seat, instead saying the people of the United States. have the right to select the nominee. He reasoned that Trump wants to get rid of the Affordable Care Act, which will keep 20 million people from having health insurance.
Both candidates argued about the total number of people with preexisting conditions, while Trump accused Biden of being a socialist. Biden proposed to expand Obamacare and allow people to keep their private insurance. Trump rebutted by saying he will replace Obamacare with a better plan.
“What is the Trump healthcare plan?” Wallace asked Trump.
Trump claimed his healthcare plan would cut drug prices dramatically and that he will be getting insulin “so cheap that it’s like water.” He also said to have already fixed the issue with a better healthcare plan at a lower price. At this point, Biden tried to explain the public option to Obamacare but was abruptly interrupted by Trump, which happens about 127 more times throughout the debate.
Biden claimed that Trump is not for anyone who needs healthcare and wants to take it away. He concluded with the fact that Trump doesn’t have a plan.
Wallace then moved onto the next question and asked Biden if he would support the ending of the filibuster or packing the court by adding to the nine Justice’s already there. This marked the first time Biden addressed the American people on camera. He advised them to speak up and go out and vote.
Trump then tried to force Biden to answer the question about packing the court. Biden recused.
“Will you shut up man,” he said. “This is so unpresidential.”
The second segment addressed COVID-19, currently at 7 million cases in the U.S. and 200,000 deaths.
“Based on what you have said and done so far, and what you have said you would do,” Wallace asked Biden. “Why should the American people trust you to deal with this public health crisis going forward?”
America accounts for “4% of the world’s population but 20% of the total deaths from COVID-19,” Biden began. He claimed Trump doesn’t have a plan as 40,000 people a day are contracting the virus and between 750 to 1,000 people are dying every day. Biden added that he would provide protective gear and the money that the House of Representatives passed to help businesses and schools during the crisis.
According to Dr. Anthony Fauci, director of the National Institute of Allergy and Infectious Diseases, Trump rebutted by claiming that Biden called him “xenophobic” and that he saved thousands of lives. Trump praised himself on a “phenomenal job,” adding that the U.S. is weeks away from a vaccine. Biden concluded that he knows how to get the job done and addressed the American people directly to keep wearing masks and trust scientists.
Wallace discussed the dissimilarity between Trump and the government’s top scientists. Dr. Robert R. Redfield, the head of the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention and Moncef Slaoui, head of Trump’s vaccine response team Operation Warp Speed, predicted a vaccine would be available to the public by summer 2021. Wallace mentioned that Trump said both directors were confused and wrong, and he asked Trump if they were, in fact, false.
“Well I’ve spoken to the companies and we can have it a lot sooner, it’s a very thing because like this would rather make it political than save lives,” Trump said. “It is a very political thing.”
Biden then reflected on Trump’s previous promises about the virus disappearing by summer. A more realistic timeline would mean that the vaccine could be done by the end of this year and distributed by the middle of next year he said.
The third segment focused on the economy and how it is recovering faster than expected. Trump described the economic recovery as a V-shape and Biden as a K-shape, which is when different parts of the economy recover at different rates. Wallace then asked both candidates what the difference is between recovery rates to the American people in terms of the economy.
Trump started off by calling the virus the “China plague” and hypothetically claimed that Biden would have refused to shut down the economy, which would have cost 2 million lives. He then compared the shutdown to spending time in prison and continually blamed China for the pandemic.
“You cannot fix the economy until you fix the COVID crisis,” Biden said. “Trump has no good intentions.”
Safely opening schools cost a lot of money, Biden said, and that nothing has been done to help small businesses. He claimed that Trump should take care of the needs of the American people first. Before moving onto the next question, Trump interjected that he brought back football.
Then Wallace asked Trump if he paid $750 in federal income tax.
“I paid millions of dollars in taxes, millions of dollars of income tax and let me just tell you, there was a story in one of the papers that said $38 million one year and I paid $27 million one year,” Trump said.
Biden claimed that Trump took advantage of the tax code. Instead, Biden planned to eliminate the tax code and invest in the people who need help.
Wallace next asked Biden if his plan to increase taxes on individuals making more than $400,000 a year would hurt the economy as it comes out of the recession. Biden claimed his economic plan will create more than $7 million jobs and an additional $1 trillion in economic growth. He called it “buying American.”
Wallace confronted Trump on how more jobs were created under Obama’s final three years as president— 1 million and a half more than in the first three years under Trump’s presidency. Avoiding the question, Trump repeatedly pointed out that the U.S. had the slowest and weakest economic recovery and that Biden will lose half of the companies that have poured in during his presidency. Biden countered that the Obama administration came back from one of the worst recessions in American history.
“We handed him a booming economy, he blew it,” Biden said.
At this point, Trump became offended and started to pester Biden about his son receiving $3.5 million from the mayor of Moscow. Biden tried to rebuttal, but Trump would not stop interrupting.
“I think that the country would be better served if we allowed both people to speak with fewer interruptions,” Wallace said directly to Trump. “I’m appealing to you, sir, to do that.”
Segment four highlighted race and violence. Wallace touched on Trump’s response to the violence in Charlottesville and why he feels that he has done more for Black Americans than any president with the possible exception of Abraham Lincoln.
“Why should voters trust you to deal with the race issues facing the country in the next four years?” Wallace asked Biden.
Biden mentioned that it is about the constitution and equality for everyone. He discussed how Trump tear-gassed a peaceful protest after George Floyd was killed so he could take a picture holding a bible in front of a church and how he wants to divide the people.
“One in 1,000 Black Americans have been killed because of the coronavirus and one in 500 will be killed if the president doesn’t change his course,” Biden said.
Trump rebutted that in the past, Biden called African Americans “super predators” adding the former vice president doesn’t have any support from law enforcement.
On the Breonna Taylor case, Wallace asked Biden if justice is equally applied in America and if there is a separate-but-equal system of justice for Black people in this country. Biden noted injustices but said a vast majority of police officers are decent and honorable men and women that are held accountable. He concluded that violence is never an appropriate response for either side.
“This month, your administration directed federal agencies to end racial sensitivity training that addresses white privilege or critical race theory— why did you decide to do that, to end racial sensitivity training and do you believe that there is systemic racism in the country, sir?” Wallace asked Trump.
Trump claimed that the U.S. needs to go back to the core values of the constitution.
“I ended it because it’s racist,” Trump said. “I ended it because a lot of people were complaining that they were asked to do things that were absolutely insane, that it was a radical revolution that was taking place in our military, in our schools, all over the place and you know it and so does everybody else.”
Biden disagreed and explained that people need to be aware of what others are going through. Then he agreed that there is racial insensitivity and that we need to bring everyone together.
“There has been a dramatic increase in homicides in America, this summer particularly, Trump blames this on Democratic cities and governors,” Wallace asked Trump. “But in fact, there have been equivalent spikes in Republican lead cities like Tulsa and Fort Worth. Is this really a party issue?”
Trump said it is a party issue and if Biden ran the country, suburbs would be gone and we would see problems as we have never seen before. Biden claimed that the real threat to the suburbs is Trump’s failure to respond to COVID-19 and the environment.
Then Wallace asked Biden what reimagining policing means and if he supports Black Lives Matter’s calls for community control of the police. Biden mentioned that he would support the police in having the opportunity to do their jobs right and is opposed to defunding the police. He then referred to Trump’s cut in local law enforcement assistance by $400 million dollars and that the police actually need more assistance to keep them from having to use excessive force.
As both candidates bickered back-and-forth once more, Wallace struggled to take back control of the conversation. Eventually, he was able to mention the issue of protests in Portland, where protests have continued for 100 straight days leading to some rioting.
“People who commit crimes should be held accountable, have you ever called the democratic mayor of Portland or the democratic governor of Oregon and asked to stop these riots and bring in the national guard?” Wallace asked Biden.
Biden made it clear in public statements that the violence should be prosecuted. He claimed that Trump should stay out of the way so other leaders can do their jobs. Trump interrupted Wallace again and insisted on answering to Biden’s statement, but ended up arguing with Wallace. Wallace joked about switching seats with Trump if he would like.
“Are you willing to condemn white supremacists and militia groups and to say that they need to stand down and not add to the violence?” Wallace asked Trump.
Trump claimed that he is willing to although almost everything he sees is from the left-wing. He claimed that he wants peace and is willing to do anything.
“Proud Boys, stand back and stand by,” Trump said.
Both candidates continued in an open discussion about whether or not Antifa is an idea or an organization. Trump claimed that it is a dangerous radical group.
“Why should voters elect you as president over your opponent?” Wallace asked Trump.
Trump claimed that there has never been an administration or president who has done more than he has in a period of three and a half years. Biden claimed that under Trump, Americans become weaker and sicker, poorer and more divided and more violent. He discussed how he went head-to-head with Vladamir Putin, but Trump is “Putin’s puppy” as he refuses to say anything about the bounty on the heads of American soldiers.
Trump didn’t agree and decided to interrupt Biden before he could finish his statement.
“Your campaign agreed that both sides would get two-minute answers uninterrupted,” Wallace asked Trump. “Your side agreed to it, why don’t you observe what your campaign agreed to as a ground rule? OK, sir?”
Biden continued on about how billionaires have gotten wealthier and the average American earns less. He also mentioned how Trump talks about the military as “losers and suckers.” Then Trump attacked Biden’s son, Hunter, noting he was thrown out of the military, but Biden defended his son and honored his achievements as a patriot.
The fifth segment was in regards to climate change, Wallace mentioned the forest fires in the West Coast and how they have burned millions of acres, displacing hundreds of thousands of people. He pointed out that Trump doesn’t agree with state officials about climate change, how he pulled out of the Paris Agreement and rolled back a number of Obama environmental records.
“What do you believe about the science of climate change and what will you do in the next four years to confront it?” Wallace asked Trump.
Trump mentioned how he wants crystal clean air and water and blamed the fires on lack of management. Wallace attempted to redirect the question and asked Trump if he believes in climate change.
“I believe that we have to do everything we can to have immaculate air and water and do whatever else we can that’s good,” Trump said. “Planting a billion trees, the billion tree project.”
Wallace also asked if Trump believes that human pollution and greenhouse gasses contribute to the global warming of the planet. Trump agreed and repeated that there needs to be better management.
At that point, Wallace challenged Trump and asked why he rolled back the Obama clean power plan, which limited carbon emissions in power plants and relaxed fuel economy standards. Trump goes off on a tangent about how they are less expensive and much safer, but he also supports electric cars.
Then, Biden discussed how Trump was wrong about the $2 trillion proposal in green jobs and the new limits on fracking and ending the use of fossil fuels to generate electricity by 2035, claiming that it would tank the economy and cost millions of jobs. He claimed that he will rejoin the Paris Agreement and bring down the cost of renewable energy, which will help create millions of jobs.
The sixth and last segment was about election integrity and how millions of Americans will receive mail-in ballots or will be voting early.
“How confident should we be that this will be a fair election and what are you prepared to do over the next five-plus weeks that the next president will be the legitimate winner of the election?” Wallace asked Biden.
Homeland Security has found no evidence that mail-in ballots are manipulated or that there is any evidence of cheating Biden said. Trump is trying to confuse and scare people into thinking that it’s not going to be legitimate he added. Trump claimed the ballots are a disaster and that they are being sold or dumped in rivers.
Wallace then asked Biden about the thousands of ballots thrown out each election because they aren’t properly filled out.
“Are you concerned that the Supreme Court with Justice Barrett will settle any dispute?” Wallace asked.
Biden said he is concerned with any court that would have to deal with this. Then Trump interrupts Biden for the last time, but Wallace intervened with his final question of the night. In eight states, election workers are prohibited from beginning to process ballots until election day, Wallace said, and it’s likely that we are not going to know who the winner is on election night because of the mail-in ballots.
“Will you urge your supporters to stay calm during this extended period, not to engage in any civil unrest,” Wallace asked Trump. “Will you pledge tonight that you will not declare victory until the election has been independently certified?”
Trump urged supporters to go to the polls and watch very carefully.
“I am urging them to do it, as you know today, there was a big problem in Philadelphia they went in to watch,” Trump said. “They’re called poll watchers, they’re a very safe and very nice thing. They were thrown out, they weren’t allowed to watch.”
Trump declared that he is only on board if it will be a fair election. Biden pledges that he will support the outcome and that if he won, then he will be a president for Democrats and Republicans.