Final Presidential Debate 2020 (Trump vs. Biden)

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Ruby Hoffman

By Ruby Hoffman

Following the dueling town halls that took place on Oct. 15 in place of the second presidential debate, the third and final debate, held between incumbent President Donald J. Trump and former Vice President Joseph R. Biden on Oct. 22, evinced a shared sigh of relief from liberal, conservative, and undecided viewing voters alike, over the relative respectfulness  demonstrated by the nominees under the firm and studied command of moderator Kristen Welker, and the threat of the thought-thwarting ‘mute button’ by the Commission on Presidential Debates. 

Kristen Welker, a Harvard-graduate, NBC News White House contributor, and co-anchor of Weekend Today, was only the second African American woman in U.S. political history to moderate a presidential debate; her predecessor was Carole Simpson, of ABC News, who moderated the town hall-style presidential debate in 1992 between then-incumbent Republican President George H. W. Bush, Democratic Arkansas Governor Bill Clinton, and Independent businessman and philanthropist Ross Perot. Gwen Ifill has also emerged as a comparative figure of note as the female African American moderator of the vice presidential debates between Republican Vice President Dick Cheney and Democratic North Carolina Senator John Edwards in 2004, and between Republican Alaska Governor Sarah Palin and Democratic Vice President Joe Biden in 2008. 

In last week’s debate, Welker outlined six major topics which she directed the candidates to speak on, and which successfully facilitated what she referred to in closing as “a very robust hour and a half, a fantastic debate.” The topics included, fighting COVID-19, American families, race in America, climate change, national security, and leadership. 

Each meritted some form of a substantive response by each candidate. However, unsubstantiated claims and false assertions again necessitated mass fact-checking measures. Please visit https://www.factcheck.org/2020/10/factchecking-the-final-2020-presidential-debate/ in order to gain insight into the accuracy, or lack thereof, of the following information. You can also access live commentary and fact-checking by the New York Times at https://www.nytimes.com/interactive/2020/10/22/us/politics/debate-live-stream.html 

Fighting COVID-19

Welker: “The country is heading into a dangerous new phase. More than 40,000 Americans are in the hospital tonight with COVID, including record numbers here in Tennessee. And since the two of you last shared a stage, 16,000 Americans have died from COVID. So please be specific. How would you lead the country during this next stage of the coronavirus crisis?”

Trump: “So as you know, 2.2 million people, modeled out, were expected to die. We closed up the greatest economy in the world in order to fight this horrible disease that came from China. It’s a worldwide pandemic. It’s all over the world. … The excess mortality rate is way down and lower than most any other country. … We have a vaccine that’s coming. It’s ready; it’s going to be announced within weeks, and it’s going to be delivered. We have Operation Warp Speed, which is the military is going to distribute the vaccine. … I had it and I got better… and now they say I’m immune. Whether it’s four months or a lifetime, nobody’s been able to say, but I’m immune. … More and more people are getting better. … This is a worldwide problem, but I’ve been congratulated by the heads of many countries on what we’ve been able to do. … It will go away. And, as I say, we’re rounding the turn. We’re rounding the corner. It’s going away.” 

Biden: “What I would do is make sure we have everyone encouraged to wear a mask all the time. I would make sure we move into the direction of rapid testing, investing in rapid testing. I would make sure that we set up national standards as to how to open up schools and open up businesses so they can be safe, and we’d give them the wherewithal, the financial resources, to do that.  … [I would] make sure [the vaccine] is totally transparent. Have the scientists of the world see it, know it, look at it, and go through all the processes.”

Points in Dispute: 

• Biden claimed that we are heading into a ‘dark winter’ with the compounding effect of the approaching flu season amid spikes, in 38 states as of now, in the coronavirus pandemic. Trump negated that claim, reiterating that we are ‘rounding the corner’ away from the consequences of the pandemic, and that the virus would ‘disappear.’

• Trump asserted that ‘we’re learning to live with’ the virus, reiterating his claim that the situation that we are in is ‘China’s fault.’ Biden pointedly rebutted this statement, saying that ‘ people are learning to die’ from the virus and many are being forced to live with the deaths of their loved ones, as inflicted by the virus. 

American Families

Welker: “One of the issues that’s most important to [American families] is healthcare, as you both know. Today, there was a key vote on a new Supreme Court Justice, Amy Coney Barrett, and healthcare is at the center of the confirmation fight. Over 20 million Americans get their health insurance through the Affordable Care Act. It’s headed to the Supreme Court and your administration, Mr. President, is advocating for the court to overturn it. If the Supreme Court does overturn that law, 20 million Americans could lose their health insurance almost overnight. So what would you do if those people have their health insurance taken away?”

Trump: “Through the legislature, I terminated the individual mandate. That was the worst part of Obamacare, as we call it … Pre-existing conditions will always stay. What I would like to do is a much better healthcare, much better. We’ll always protect people with pre-existing… So I’d like to terminate Obamacare, come up with a brand new, beautiful healthcare. … We have 180 million people out there that have great private healthcare. Far more than we’re talking about with Obamacare. Joe Biden is going to terminate all of those policies. … Under what he’s going to do, which will basically be socialized medicine, … they want to terminate 180 million plans. We have done an incredible job at healthcare, and we’re going to do even better.”

Welker: “Vice President Biden… this is for you. Your healthcare plan calls for building on Obamacare. So my question is, what is your plan if the law is ruled unconstitutional by the Supreme Court?”

Biden: “What I’m going to do is pass Obamacare with a public option, and [it will] become Bidencare. The public option is an option that says that if you in fact do not have the wherewithal, if you qualify for Medicaid and you do not have the wherewithal in your state to get Medicaid, you automatically are enrolled, providing competition for insurance companies. … We’re going to make sure we reduce the premiums and reduce drug prices by making sure that there’s competition… by allowing Medicare to negotiate drug prices with the insurance companies. … Not one single person with private insurance would lose their insurance under my plan. … I think healthcare is not a privilege, it’s a right. … People deserve to have affordable healthcare, period.”

Points in Dispute: 

• The government stimulus plans for the unemployed such as the Paycheck Protection Program and the CARES Act emerged as points of contention. Trump claimed that house Democrats were preventing the fulfillment of economic recovery plans; Biden asserted that the refusal of the Republican-lead senate to pass economic relief bills was fueling the working-class crisis.

• In discussion of immigration policies and DACA, Trump claimed that children in detainment facilities are being ‘well taken care of,’ and that many of the children that are said to be separated from their parents came into the country with ‘coyotes,’ and not their parents, in the first place. Biden revealed that he views the immigration policies under the Obama Administration to have been a mistake; he also demonstrated great disdain over the notion that immigrant children are being trapped in detainment facilities without their parents, under policies of the Trump Administration. 

Race in America

Welker: “Mr. President you’ve described the Black Lives Matter movement as a symbol of hate. You’ve shared a video of a man chanting white power to millions of your supporters. You’ve said that black professional athletes exercising their First Amendment rights should be fired. What do you say to Americans who say that that kind of language from a president is contributing to a climate of hate and racial strife?” 

Trump: “The first time I ever heard of Black Lives Matter, they were chanting, ‘Pigs in a blanket,’ talking about police, pigs, pigs, talking about our police, ‘Pigs in a blanket, fry them like bacon.’ I said, ‘That’s a horrible thing.’ … That was my first glimpse of Black Lives Matter, I thought it was a terrible thing. … I am the least racist person in this room. … I got criminal justice reform done, and prison reform, and Opportunity Zones; I took care of Black colleges and universities. … They can say anything… it makes me sad, because I’m the least racist person in this room.”

Welker: “I want to talk about the way Black and Brown Americans experience race in this country. Part of that experience is something called ‘the talk.’ It happens regardless of class and income; parents feel they have no choice but to prepare their children for the chance that they will be targeted, including by the police, for no reason other than the color of their skin. … I want you to speak directly to these families. Do you understand why these parents fear for their children?”

Biden: “My daughter is a social worker and she’s written a lot about this. She has had her graduate degree from the University of Pennsylvania in social work. And one of the reasons why I ended up working on the East side of Wilmington, Delaware, which is 90 percent African-American, was to learn more about what was going on. … The fact of the matter is, there is institutional racism in America. … We’ve never lived up to it, that we hold these truths to be self-evident, all men and women are created equal. … We have to provide for economic opportunity, better education, better healthcare, better access to schooling, better access to opportunity to borrow money to start businesses … I’ve laid out a clear plan as to how to do those things just to give people a shot. It’s about accumulating the ability to have wealth as well as it is to be free from violence.” 

Points in Dispute: 

• Trump attacked Biden on the adverse effects that the 1994 Crime Bill had on the incarceration rate of African-Americans, which he signed as a Senator on the judiciary at the time. Biden responded by admitting that he sees the views detailed in, and the actions carried out on account of, the bill as a mistake and he regrets all of the consequences that it has had – accusing Trump of fomenting the spike in racially driven strife this year. 

Climate Change

Welker: “You both have very different visions on climate change. President Trump, you say that environmental regulations have hurt jobs in the energy sector. Vice President Biden, you have said you see addressing climate change as an opportunity to create new jobs. For each of you, how would you combat climate change and support job growth?” 

Trump: “So, we have the trillion trees program; we have so many different programs; I do love the environment. But, what I want is that cleanest crystal clear water, the cleanest air. … The Paris Accord – I took us out because we were going to have to spend trillions of dollars and we were treated very unfairly. When [Obama and Biden] put us in there, they did us a great disservice, they were going to take away our businesses. I will not sacrifice tens of millions of jobs, thousands and thousands of companies, because of the Paris Accord. It was so unfair.” 

Biden: “Climate change, global warming is an existential threat to humanity. We have a moral obligation to deal with it. And we’re told by leading scientists in the world that we don’t have much time, we’re going to pass the point of no return within eight to ten years. … I was able to get all the environmental organizations as well as the labor, the people worried about jobs, to support my climate plan. … It will create millions of new good-paying jobs. We’re going to invest in, for example… 50,000 chagrin stations on our highways so that we can own the electric car market of the future. In the meantime, China is doing that. … 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. … Wall Street Firms indicates that my plan… will in fact create 18.6 million jobs, 7 million more than his.” 

Points in Dispute: 

• Trump called Biden’s plan a product of ‘AOC plus three,’ speaking of liberal Congresswoman Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez’s plan for the Green New Deal, which was initially signed off on by Kamala Harris (Biden’s pick as Vice President) and would ultimately undermine oil and coal industries which are key in polluting the environment. Biden rebutted this unsubstantiated remark by re-stating that his plan would create more new jobs than Trump’s plan, and would contribute to cleaning the environment.

• Biden admitted that he does plan to ‘phase out’ of fracking and the oil industry in accomplishing his plans. The Trump administration has since used this as campaign leverage to appeal to voters in key swing states such as Pennsylvania and Michigan, where the oil industry is a major facilitator of the workforce. 

National Security

Welker: “Just last night, top intelligence officials confirmed again that both Russia and Iran are working to influence this election. Both countries have obtained U.S. voter registration information, these officials say, and Iran sent intimidating messages to Florida voters. … What would you do to put an end to this threat?” 

Trump: “[Russia and Iran] both want you to lose because there has been nobody tougher… than me on Russia, between the sanctions, between all of what I’ve done with NATO. I’ve got the NATO countries to put up an extra $130 billion going to $420 billion a year. That’s to guard against Russia. … While he was selling pillows and sheets, I sold tank busters to Ukraine. Nobody has been tougher on Russia than Donald Trump.” 

Biden: “I made it clear that any country, no matter who it is, that interferes in American elections will pay a price. … Folks, we are in a situation where we have foreign countries trying to interfere in the outcome of our election. [Trump’s] own National Security Advisor told him that… his buddy Rudy Giuliani, he’s being used as a Russian pawn. He’s being fed information that is Russian, that is not true. … Russia is wanting to make sure that I do not get elected as the next President of the United States because they know I know them, and they know me. … Any country that interferes with us will, in fact, pay the price, because they’re affecting our sovereignty.”

Points in Dispute:

• Trump accused Biden of accepting money from Russia during his time as vice president, and up unto the present, as backed by unverified emails presented to Congress by Republican politicians. Biden negated that unsubstantiated claim, saying, “I have not taken a penny from any foreign source in my life,” and directed attention to Trump’s failure, as of yet, to release his tax returns. Trump then expressed that he “pre-paid” his taxes; however, that has yet to be proven.

• Biden accused Trump of failing to hold China and North Korea accountable for their failure to ‘play by the international rules,’ likening Trump’s relationship with such leaders to the U.S. government’s relationship with Hitler in the time before the second world war. Trump rebutted this by, instead, attacking the integrity of Biden’s family with reference to his son, Hunter Biden’s business dealings in China. 

Leadership

Welker: “Imagine this is your inauguration day. What will you say, in your address, to Americans who didn’t vote for you?” 

Trump: “We have to make our country totally successful, as it was prior to the plague coming in from China. … Before the plague came in… we had the best Black unemployment numbers in the history of our country. Hispanic women, Asian… everybody had the best numbers… Success is going to bring us together. We are on the road to success. … If he gets in, you will have a Depression, the likes of which you have never seen. Your 401(k)s will go to hell, and it’ll be a very, very sad day for this country.” 

Biden: “I will say, ‘I’m an American President. I represent all of you, whether you voted for me or against me, and I’m going to make sure that you’re represented.’ … We’re going to choose science over fiction. We’re going to choose hope over fear. … We can grow this economy; we can deal with systemic racism. At the same time, we can make sure that our economy is being run and moved and motivated by clean energy, creating millions of new jobs. … What is on the ballot here is the character of this country. Decency, honor, respect. Treating people with dignity, making sure that everyone has an even chance. And I’m going to make sure that you get that.” 

Many argue that while the responses provided by each candidate were substantive, they merely served to fuel the already fiery biases of voters on either side of partisan lines. 

With the Nov. 3 Election Day fast approaching, many voters have amplified their efforts to promote confidence in the U.S. electoral process, and to encourage as many eligible citizens as possible to carry out their Constitutional right to vote, as a part of the national electorate. 

According to recent polling of voters ages 18-29 by The Harvard Public Opinion Project, of the Harvard Kennedy School Institute of Politics, young voters, like many newly-eligible PA seniors this year, are choosing to vote because of the negative impacts of increased anxiety brought on by developments this year. Young voters in this range are making up a larger sector of the voting population this year, with 3 million having already cast their ballots and many more set to make their voices heard in the time leading up to Election Day. 

Please posit a comment below to make your voice heard as to this final debate and the potential impact that it has had on your views of our stance as a nation or any particular matter of note.