From left to right, President Donald Trump and first lady Melania Trump stand onstage as Democratic presidential nominee Vice President Joe Biden gets a hug from his wife, Jill Biden, after the final presidential debate at Belmont University in Nashville on Thursday. Photo by Kevin Dietsch/UPI | License Photo
Oct. 22 (UPI) -- Democratic presidential nominee Joe Biden said Thursday night during the final presidential debate that anyone responsible for as many deaths as President Donald Trump has overseen during the COVID-19 pandemic should not be president.
In the opening section of Thursday's debate at Belmont University in Nashville, Biden cited the 222,977 Americans who have died in the pandemic, which has also sickened 8.4 million people in the country, as he criticized Trump's response to the virus.
"If you hear nothing else I say tonight, hear this: Anyone who's responsible for not taking control, in fact ... saying 'I take no responsibility' initially, anyone who's responsible for that many deaths should not remain as president of the United States of America," Biden said.
The former vice president went on to say that Trump has "no comprehensive plan" to respond to the virus. If Biden were elected, he said he would encourage Americans to wear masks, implement rapid testing and set up national standards to safely open schools and businesses.
Trump asserted that his administration has managed to control the virus, stating that spikes in states such as Florida, Arizona and Texas are "now gone" and surges in other states will "soon be gone."
"It will go away and, as I say, we're rounding the turn, we're rounding the corner. It's going away," the president said.
In fact, on Thursday, Florida saw it's highest single-day increase in cases since Aug. 15. Arizona health experts said Wednesday the state is experiencing a surge. Texas is mobilizing medical equipment and personnel to fight a record number of cases in El Paso.
Trump said that in the meantime, a vaccine will be available "within weeks," citing developments by pharmaceutical companies Johnson & Johnson, Moderna and Pfizer, while later stating that his comment was "not a guarantee."
The president also said Americans are "learning to live with the virus" while declaring he would not shut down the country again in response to rising cases.
"We can't close our nation," Trump said. "We can't lock ourselves up in a basement like Joe does."
Biden countered the president's statement about Americans learning to adapt to the virus, citing projections that 200,000 more Americans may die.
"He says, 'we're learning to live with it.' People are learning to die with it," Biden said.
Candidates responded Thursday night to filings released earlier this week stating that court-appointed lawyers have been unable to contact the parents of 545 migrant children who were separated from their families by U.S. border officials.
Trump said his administration is working "very hard" to locate the children but accused some migrants of attempting to use children that are not their own to enter the United States.
"Children are brought here by coyotes and lots of bad people, cartels and they're brought here and they used to use them to get into our country," Trump said.
Biden disputed Trump's claims, insisting that the children came to the U.S. border with their parents and were separated under the Trump administration's "zero tolerance" policy to serve as a disincentive for attempting to enter the country.
"Coyotes didn't bring them over, their parents were with them. They got separated from their parents," Biden said. "And it makes us a laughing stock and violates every notion of who we are as a nation."
Trump touted progress on the physical barrier along the U.S.-Mexico border and accused Biden and former President Barack Obama of building cages at the border to hold migrant children.
The president also accused Biden of failing to make significant progress on immigration reform during his eight years as vice president.
Biden responded to criticism of the Obama administration's immigration policy saying "it took too long to get it right" and stating he would take swift action as president.
"I've made it very clear within 100 days I'm going to send to the United States Congress a pathway to citizenship for over 11 million undocumented people. And all of those so-called 'Dreamers,' those DACA kids, they're going to be immediately certified again to be able to stay in this country and put on a path to citizenship," Biden said.
Trump and Biden also responded to a report by Director of National Intelligence John Ratcliffe that Iran and Russia have obtained voter information ahead of the U.S. presidential election and that Tehran was behind an email campaign to intimidate Democratic voters.
Ratcliffe on Wednesday said the emails were meant to harm Trump but did not elaborate how, as the emails were sent to Democratic voters, threatening them against voting for Biden.
The president said that he "knew all about" the election interference efforts and claimed Ratliffe told him the countries wanted Trump to lose the election.
"He said, 'the one thing that's common to both of them, they both want you to lose because there has been nobody tougher to Russia,'" Trump said.
Biden said that he would impose consequences on country's that interfere with America's elections.
"They will pay a price if I'm elected," Biden said of China, Russia and Iran. "They're interfering with American sovereignty. That's what's going on."
Trump repeated his assertion that he would seek to eliminate the Affordable Care Act, also known as Obamacare, which faces a challenge in the Supreme Court, but did not provide specific details of his healthcare plan.
"I'd like to terminate Obamacare, come up with a brand-new, beautiful healthcare. The Democrats will do it because there'll be tremendous pressure on them, and we might even have the House by that time," Trump said.
He also alleged that the ACA "no longer is Obamacare" after he removed the individual mandate, which requires people to carry a minimum level of health insurance coverage with a tax penalty imposed against those who do not comply, as part of Trump's Tax Cuts and Jobs Act.
"Through the legislature, I terminated the individual mandate, that is the worst part of Obamacare as we call it," Trump said.
Trump has repeatedly pledged he would continue protections for Americans with pre-existing conditions provided in the ACA, although Biden said he had "no way" of doing that.
The president also accused Biden of seeking to implement "socialized medicine," which Biden denied.
"I think healthcare is not a privilege it's a right. Everyone should have the right to have affordable healthcare," Biden said.
Biden again described his plan as a modification of Obamacare that would include a so-called public option, that would provide a government-funded health insurance option to compete with private plans.
He added his healthcare plan, which he said would cost $750 billion over 10 years, would seek to reduce premiums and reduce drug prices by introducing competition.
Trump said he would strive for a clean environment but added he believes the U.S. economy would suffer if it commits to stricter global standards on environmental issues.
"So we have the trillion trees program. We have so many different programs. I do love the environment, but what I want is the cleanest, crystal clear water, the cleanest air," Trump said.
The president also defended his decision to exit the Paris climate accord, criticizing other nations as primary polluters.
"Look at China. How filthy it is. Look at Russia, look at India. It's filthy. The air is filthy," Trump said. "The Paris accord. I took us out because we were going to have to spend trillions of dollars and we were treated very unfairly ... It would have destroyed our businesses."
Biden described global warming as an "existential threat to humanity," adding that Americans have "a moral obligation to deal with it."
"We're going to pass the point of no return within the next eight, 10 years," Biden said, citing scientists. "Four more years of this man, eliminating all the regulations that were put in by us to clean up the climate ... will put us in a position where we are going to be in real trouble."
He also restated his commitment to rejoin the Paris climate accord and said his plans would create new jobs in the clean-energy industry.
"The whole idea of what this is all going to do, it's going to create millions of jobs and it's going to clean the environment. Our health and our jobs are at stake," Biden said.
Race in America
Trump touted his administration's achievements on race relations, specifically citing criminal justice reform efforts, funding for Historically Black Colleges and Universities and the establishment of so-called Opportunity Zones.
"Nobody has done more for the Black community than Donald Trump," he said. "And if you look, with the exception of Abraham Lincoln ... nobody has done what I've done."
Trump also again accused Biden of doing a "poor job" in making significant strides on race during his time as president, saying "I ran because of you."
Biden criticized Trump for his rhetoric on race, including his condemnation of the Black Lives Matter movement, stating the president "pours fuel on every single racist fire, every single one."
He also responded to Trump's repeated criticism of his support for crime bills in the 1980s and 1990s, calling the support of legislation that incarcerated people for drug offenses "a mistake."
"I've been trying to change it since then, particularly the portion on cocaine," Biden said. "That's why I've been arguing that, in fact, we should not send anyone to jail for a pure drug offense. They should be going into treatment across the board."
Thursday's debate was supposed to be the third of the 2020 campaign, but the Oct. 15 event in Miami was canceled after Trump refused to participate. He backed out of the debate because the Commission on Presidential Debates switched to a virtual format in response to his COVID-19 diagnosis days before.
NBC News White House correspondent Kristen Welker moderated Thursday's debate before a small audience.
Trump said Wednesday he thought it was "unfair" the debate wasn't to be focused entirely on foreign affairs.