Good evening, and welcome to NPI’s live coverage of the final presidential debate of 2020. NPI staff will be watching and sharing impressions of the debate between Democratic nominee Joe Biden and Republican nominee Donald Trump as it progresses. The debate, sponsored by the Commission on Presidential Debates, is being broadcast on all major networks as well as online platforms.
Belmont University in Nashville is hosting the debate, which will be moderated by NBC’s Kristen Welker, the co-anchor of Weekend Today and the network’s White House correspondent. The format is as follows:
The debate will be divided into six segments of approximately 15 minutes each on major topics to be selected by the moderator and announced at least one week before the debate.
The moderator will open each segment with a question, after which each candidate will have two minutes to respond. Candidates will then have an opportunity to respond to each other.
The moderator will use the balance of the time in the segment for a deeper discussion of the topic.
The debate will begin at 6 PM Pacific and run for about ninety minutes. The candidates will stand at podiums, while Welker will be seated in front of them at the moderator’s table. In keeping with tradition for general election presidential debates, there will be no commercial breaks or interruptions.
The Commission on Presidential Debates has decided to prevent this debate from turning into a disgrace by muting the candidate microphones during the time allocated for the two minute responses to each moderator question.
The second presidential debate, which was to take the form of a “town hall”, was scrapped after Donald Trump contracted COVID-19 and after Trump and Biden made plans to do separate dueling “town halls” with ABC and NBC.
Subject to possible changes because of news developments, the topics are as follows, not necessarily to be brought up in this order:
- Fighting COVID-19
- American Families
- Race in America
- Climate Change
- National Security
Climate is on the list this time, as it should be, along with “Race in America” and “Fighting COVID-19”. “Leadership” is not much of a topic, but hopefully Welker will have a question worth posing to the candidates.
Our live coverage will begin below at the time the debate starts.
5:58 – Welker says she is looking forward to a “robust discussion” – we’ll see just how “robust” Trump decides to make it!
6:05 – The candidates walk onto stage. Joe Biden enters with a mask, taking it off before he reaches the podium. Of course, Trump has no mask. The two men barely mumble terse hellos to each other.
6:08 – The first question chillingly reminds the audience that 16,000 have died of Covid-19 since the last debate. Trump, of course, blames China. He lists off “spikes and surges” saying that they’re all “now gone,” shrugging off the massive suffering the virus causes. He’s very insistent on his belief that he’s immune. Trump finishes off “We’re going round the corner, it’s going away.”
6:10 – Biden brings the hammer to Trump’s Covid record – anyone who takes no responsibility for 200,000 dead Americans does not deserve to be president. He promises, “I will take care of this, I will end this, I have a plan!”
6:11 – Welker points out that Trump Administration officials expect Covid-19 measures to last into 2022. Trump says he knows better than them. Biden reminds us “This is the same fellow who said it would be over by Easter.”
6:13 – Trump’s claim that Biden was “way behind us” on Covid, which doesn’t make sense – Biden wasn’t in charge!
6:15 – Epic word salad from Trump: “ninety nine point nine of young people…you can’t shut down a nation or you’ll have no nation.”
6:16 – Biden’s response to Trump is great: “Learning to live with it? People are learning to die with it!”
6:19 – Welker asks whether shutdowns will cause widespread suffering. Biden promises to “shut down the virus, not the country.”
6:20 – Trump demands that schools open, citing his son’s recovery from Covid-19 proves that young people are invulnerable to the disease.
6:22 – Biden borrows a line from his old boss: “I don’t look at this the way he does, blue states and red states, we’re all the United States.”
6:24 – Welker asks why Trump called Dr. Fauci “a disaster.” Trump says that Fauci claimed the pandemic would go away soon, then follows up with “I think he’s a Democrat!” Biden comes in to remind us all of the Woodward tapes, where Trump admitted to hiding the severity of Covid-19.
6:28 – Welker asks about Russian and Iranian attacks on the U.S. election system. Biden sends out a clear message to foreign adversaries – “they will pay a price…they’re interfering with American sovereignty.”
6:29 – Biden says that foreign adversaries want to take down his campaign because “they know I know them and they know me!” He then asks why Trump isn’t taking on election interference.
6:30 – Trump starts rambling about some conspiracy theory he found on Twitter, and then makes the claim “nobody’s been tougher on Russia.” However, he can’t help but fall back down the rabbit-hole, referencing a baseless New York Post story about Biden’s family.
6:32 – Biden uses the opportunity to attack Trump on his tax returns: “Foreign countries are paying you a lot…release your tax returns or stop talking about corruption.” Trump says he will release the returns “as soon as possible,” which he said FOUR YEARS AGO
6:34 – Welker keeps asking Trump about his tax returns. He says that he “pre-paid” his taxes – a ridiculous fabrication. Biden’s response: “Show us, stop playing around.”
6:35 – Trump starts ranting about the Russia investigation, a favorite hobby horse of his.
6:36 – Biden is asked about his son Hunter’s business deals in foreign countries, a favorite talking point of conspiracy theorists.
6:38 – This debate seems to be turning into a punching match over different corruption allegations.
6:40 – The debate turns to the U.S. relationship with China. Biden makes a substantial argument about how he would change policy. How long before Trump turns back to conspiracy theorists about Hunter Biden?
6:41 – Under ten seconds, as it turns out.
6:42 – Biden tries to brealk out of the cycle: “It’s not about his family or my family, it’s about YOUR family,” pointing to the camera. Ordinary families are “the last thing he wants to talk about.”
6:45 – Trump is falling back into his old ways, talking over the moderator.
6:47 – The debate turns to healthcare, a terrible issue for Trump. Trump starts by bragging about ending the individual mandate. He wants to terminate Obamacare, but never brings up a Republican plan, beyond “a brand new, beautiful healthcare.”
6:49 – Trump launches into a ridiculous assault on Medicare for All – unfortunately for him, that’s not Biden’s policy. Biden, unlike Trump and the Republicans, can actually lay out his plan for healthcare. It helps to have a plan!
6:51 – Biden points out that Trump has no plan: “I guess we’ll get the healthcare about the same time we get the infrastructure plan?”
6:52 – Biden borrows a line from his primary rival, Bernie Sanders: “Healthcare is a right!”
6:54 – Biden: “People deserve to have affordable healthcare, period. Period, period, period…he keeps talking about, he hasn’t done a thing for anyone!”
6:56 – Biden takes an opportunity to break down Trump’s argument about the Stock Market – “people don’t live off the Stock Market.”
6:59 – Biden easily turns Trump’s attacks on the Democrats in the House by pointing out that the HEROES Act is being held up by the Republican-controlled Senate. Trump turns to a favorite tact, attacking the bill for helping “badly run Democrat cities” and immigrants. Biden uses this an opportunity to put himself on the side of all Americans, not his partisan side.
7:01 – Trump uses a commonly used lie about minimum wages, that they cause layoffs. Biden calls out the lie. Biden makes a strong defence of the $15 minimum wage.
7:03 – Trump blames his child separation policy on “cartels and gangs.” Biden reminds us of the truth – the Trump Administration’s policy was to disincentivise parents. Biden calls the child separation policy “criminal.”
7:05 – Biden is honest and calls the Obama Administration’s deportations a mistake. He lays out his plans for immigration reform, and defends the people in the U.S. on the DACA program.
7:07 – Biden on immigration is at his strongest, channeling moral outrage and a clear grasp of the facts to assault Trump’s argument. All Trump can do is return to racist attacks on immigrants.
7:12 – Welker asks Joe Biden about Black parent’s fears. Biden is empathetic and lays out desires to “give people a shot.” Trump brings up the 1994 Crime Bill that Biden co-authored. “Nobody has done more for the African-American community, with the possible exception of Lincoln.”
7:13 – Trump’s response is incoherent and rambling, mostly consisting of him recounting conversations in his office…
7:14 – Biden’s comeback to accusations about his 1990s record by recalling Trump’s racist treatment of the Central Park 5. He points out that Trump has commuted 20 sentences, while Obama commuted over a thousand.
7:17 – Biden draws distinct lines between his character and Trump’s. Trump can’t help but bring up the “laptop from hell” conspiracy theory.
7:18 – Trump says “I am the least racist person in this room.” THREE TIMES
7:20 – Biden lists off Trump’s many racist statements and actions, finishing with “he’s got a dog whistle as big as a fog horn.” Trump starts ranting, eliciting an “aw, God,” from Biden (we all feel you, Joe).
7:21 – Biden admits that the drug policies of the 1980s and 90s were a mistake. “They should not be going into jail for a drug or alcohol problem, they should be going into treatment.” Trump tries to return to his 2016 populism: “You’re all talk and no action.” Unfortunately for Trump, Biden can actually refer to the many achievements of the Obama Administration.
7:23 – In response to Trump’s question about why the Obama Administration couldn’t achieve its aims, Biden simply answers: “Because we had a Republican Congress. That’s the answer.”
7:27 – Biden calls action on climate change “a moral obligation,” and points to Trump’s elimination of environmental regulations. He points out that his climate plan would not only reduce emissions, but create millions of new jobs. “Our health and our jobs are at stake!” He points out to analysis that shows Biden’s economic plan will create millions jobs and a trillion dollars more growth than Trump’s.
7:28 – Trump’s response is pretty insane, saying that Biden is “hopping through hoops for AOC plus three.” He also says “I know more on wind than you do. It’s expensive, it kills all the birds!” Biden can’t help but laugh.
7:31 – Biden just ruled out banning fracking, bowing to right-wing attacks on him.
7:34 – When asked about communities living near polluting plants, Trump says that they are making lots of money, so what’s the big deal? Biden by contrast recalls growing up near oil refineries in Delaware, and argues that “we have to grow nearer to net zero emissions.” He pledges to transition away from the oil industry.
7:36 – When asked what he would say on Inauguration Day to those who didn’t vote for him. He doesn’t seem to understand the question, threatening disaster if Biden wins. Biden says he will make sure all Americans are represented. “We have enormous opportunities to make this country better.” He promises action on racial injustice and clean energy industries.
7:37 – And the debate is over! Melania Trump (perhaps chastened by recent experiences) approaches the stage wearing a mask. Biden dons his mask…Trump remains maskless.