Trump, Biden clash over COVID-19, racial injustice in fiery first debate

President Donald Trump and Democratic presidential nominee Joe Biden face off Tuesday night in the first of three scheduled presidential debates, in Cleveland, Ohio. Photo by Kevin Dietsch/UPI
1 of 3 | President Donald Trump and Democratic presidential nominee Joe Biden face off Tuesday night in the first of three scheduled presidential debates, in Cleveland, Ohio. Photo by Kevin Dietsch/UPI | License Photo

Sept. 30 (UPI) -- Tensions flared Tuesday night as President Donald Trump and former Vice President Joe Biden squared off in the first 2020 presidential debate -- which aimed to question the candidates on six main issues.

The debate was, at times, disorderly as the two frequently talked over each other and moderator Chris Wallace of Fox News attempted to rein in the discussion multiple times throughout the night. The main topics of the evening were COVID-19, violence and racial injustice, the economy, election integrity, the Supreme Court and the candidates' track records.


At one point in the night, Biden turned to Trump after one interruption and asked, "Will you shut up man?" The two lobbed personal insults toward one another -- such Trump questioning Biden's education and saying, "There's nothing smart about you," and Biden referring to the president as a "clown."


The debate was broken into 15-minute segments, beginning with two minutes of statements by each candidate followed by open discussion.


Debate moderator and Fox News anchor Chris Wallace speaks to Democratic presidential nominee Joe Biden during the debate Tuesday night. Photo by Oliver Doulier/UPI/Pool

Tuesday's debate took place amid the ongoing COVID-19 pandemic that has sickened more than 7 million people in the United States and resulted in more than 200,000 deaths.

Biden criticized Trump's handling of the coronavirus, pointing to Pulitzer Prize-winning journalist Bob Woodward's book, Rage, in which he wrote that Trump understood the deadly nature of the disease in early February and "played it down" to the American public because he didn't want to "create a panic."

"You didn't panic, he panicked," Biden said of the president's response.

"He's on record as saying it. He panicked or he just looked at the stock market, one of the two. Because guess what, a lot of people die and a lot more are going to die unless he gets a lot smarter, a lot quicker."

Trump asserted that Biden "could never have done the job," citing the handling of H1N1 when Biden was vice president.


"We got the gowns. We got the masks. We made the ventilators," Trump said. "You wouldn't have made ventilators. And now we're weeks away from a vaccine. We're doing therapeutics already. Fewer people are dying."

Trump also said he disagreed with health experts in his administration -- such as Dr. Anthony Fauci, director of the National Institute of Allergy and Infectious Diseases, and Dr. Robert Redfield, director of the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention -- over statements they have made suggesting a vaccine may not be widely available until next year.

Trump insisted that drugmakers developing the vaccines can "go faster than that by a lot" and described the process of developing a vaccine as "a very political thing."

Racial injustice

President Donald Trump speaks Tuesday night during the first of three scheduled presidential debates, in Cleveland, Ohio. Photo by Kevin Dietsch/UPI

The two candidates discussed law enforcement and large scale protests that have occurred throughout the country in the wake of the killings of George Floyd in Minnesota and Breonna Taylor in Lousiville, Ky., at the hands of police, and the police-involved shooting of Jacob Blake in Kenosha, Wis., which left him paralyzed.


Trump touted the endorsements he has received from law enforcement groups, while accusing Biden of seeking to avoid embracing law enforcement at risk of losing support from "the radical left."

The president also asserted that deploying federal law enforcement is an effective means to quell protests.

"I'll tell you what, the people of this country want law and order and you're afraid to say it," Trump said.

Biden declared that the vast majority of police officers are "good, decent honorable men and women" adding that he is "totally opposed" to defunding the police, following an accusation from Trump that he would support the idea amid calls to do so from other members of the Democratic Party.

"What I support is the police having the opportunity to deal with the problems they face. I'm totally opposed to defunding the police," he said.

Wallace also asked Trump about his recent measures to end federal racial sensitivity training, which the president appeared to imply was prejudiced against White people and said was teaching people to "hate America."

"If you were a certain person, you had no status in life. It was sort of a reversal," Trump said. "And if you look at the people, we were paying people hundreds of thousands of dollars to teach very bad ideas and frankly, very sick ideas."


Biden refuted Trump's statements, saying "he's just, he's a racist" and repeatedly accused the president of subtly supporting racist ideas.

"This is a president who uses everything as a dog whistle to try to generate racist hatred, division," Biden said.

When asked to condemn White Supremacists, militias and far-right groups such as the Proud Boys who have been involved in violence at various protests throughout the nation, Trump placed blame on left-wing protesters.

"Proud Boys -- stand back and stand by," 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."

Supreme Court

President Donald Trump (R) and Democratic presidential nominee and former Vice President Joe Biden exchange points Tuesday night during the first presidential debate. Photo by Oliver Doulier/UPI/Pool

Trump, who nominated conservative jurist Amy Coney Barrett to succeed the late Justice Ruth Bader Ginsburg, defended his decision to urge the Republican-held Senate to complete confirmation proceedings ahead of November's election.

On Tuesday night, the president asserted that "elections have consequences" and his 2016 election win grants him the right to name a Supreme Court justice.


"We won the election and therefore we have the right to choose her," he said.

Biden countered that the American people should be able to weigh in on the decision with their votes in the presidential election.

"The American people have a right to have a say in who this Supreme Court nominee is and that say occurs when they vote for United States senators and when they vote for president of the United States," said Biden. "They're not going to get that chance now because we're in the middle of an election already."

He added that he believes Barrett is a "fine person," but warned that she thinks the Affordable Care Act, established under his time serving as vice president alongside former President Barack Obama, is unconstitutional placing it in jeopardy in a Supreme Court case scheduled for a week after the election.

Biden accused Trump of lacking a comprehensive plan to replace the ACA, also known as Obamacare, as the president leaned on the elimination of the individual mandate -- which required Americans to pay a tax penalty if they chose to forego insurance -- which was repealed as part of the 2017 Tax Cuts and Jobs Act.


Trump accused the Democratic Party of seeking to implement "socialist medicine" and alleged his plan would force Americans to drop private insurers, to which Biden replied "I am the Democratic Party" following his nomination.

"What I proposed is that we expand Obamacare and we increase it," said Biden. "One of the big debates we had with 23 of my colleagues trying to win the nomination that I won, were saying that Biden wanted to allow people to have private insurance still. They can, they do. They will under my proposal."

Election integrity

Democratic presidential nominee Joe Biden speaks during the debate in Cleveland, Ohio, on Tuesday night. Photo by Kevin Dietsch/UPI

Trump on Tuesday again declined to commit to a peaceful transfer of power if defeated in November's election, expressing concern over the legitimacy of mail-in ballots amid an expected increase in mail votes due to the pandemic and suggesting the results of the vote may not be known for "months."

When asked if he would urge his supporters to remain calm and refrain from pre-emptively claiming victory while votes are still being tallied, Trump said he would urge his supporters to "go into the polls and watch very carefully."


"If I see tens of thousands of ballots being manipulated, I can't go along with that," he said.

Trump also said he would count on the Supreme Court to settle any disputes surrounding the election.

"I'm counting on them to look at the ballots, definitely. I don't think we'll -- I hope we don't need them in terms of the election itself. But for the ballots, I think so," he said.

Biden responded that he would urge his supporters to remain calm and would accept the results of the election, while disputing claims that mail-in ballots are not secure and appealing Americans to establish a plan for how they will vote.

"Show up and vote. You will determine the outcome of this election. Vote, vote, vote. If you're able to vote early in your state, vote early. If you're able to vote in person, vote in person," he said. "Vote whatever way is the best way for you because ... he cannot stop you from being able to determine the outcome of this election."

Climate change

President Donald Trump and Democratic presidential nominee Joe Biden exchange points during the debate Tuesday night. Photo by Morry Gash/UPI/Pool

Trump on Tuesday night said that he believes climate change science, including that human pollution and greenhouse gas emissions, contribute to the warming of the planet "to an extent."

"I believe that we have to do everything we can to have immaculate air, immaculate water and do whatever else we can that's good," Trump said, highlighting his administration's effort to plant more trees.

The president also repeated assertions that poor forest management is the primary cause of record wildfires that have burned through California and other states in the Western United States.

"Every year, I get the call 'California is burning. California is burning,' if that was cleaned, if you had forest management, good forest management, you wouldn't be getting those calls," he said.

Biden stated that he does not support the Democratic-led Green New Deal, instead promoting his own $2 trillion climate plan.

He said that his actions would include rejoining the Paris Climate Accord, which Trump moved to withdraw from last year.

"With us out of it, look what's happening, it's all falling apart," said Biden.

Biden also said he would gather the nations of the world to collect $20 billion to halt the deforestation of Brazil's rainforests or impose "significant economic consequences" on Brazil.


Trump's taxes

President Donald Trump and first lady Melania Trump walk offstage as Democratic presidential nominee Joe Biden and Dr. Jill Biden greet moderator Chris Wallace after the first debate Tuesday night. Photo by Kevin Dietsch/UPI

Tuesday's debate followed a report by The New York Times indicating Trump didn't pay any federal income taxes in 10 of the 15 years before he became president and paid just $750 in 2016 and 2017.

Trump claimed that he paid "millions of dollars in taxes, million dollars of income tax," but maintained he is unable to release his tax returns as he is undergoing an audit.

He also suggested that he used deductions in the tax code to lower the amount of taxes he was required to pay.

"People like every other private person, unless they're stupid, they go through the laws, And that's what it is," Trump said.

Biden's campaign released his 2019 tax returns, which showed he and his wife, Jill Biden, reported about $945,000 in taxable income and paid $300,000 in federal income taxes.

The next debate will feature Vice President Mike Pence and Democratic running mate Sen. Kamala Harris on Oct. 7 in Salt Lake City, Utah. The next presidential debate will take place in Miami on Oct. 15.


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