Trump, Biden go head-to-head in first debate

Trump and Biden debated six topics, ranging from COVID-19 to election integrity.

President Donald Trump and former Vice President Joe Biden faced off on the debate stage Sept. 29.

It was the first of three presidential debates the candidates will compete in. Fox News anchor Chris Wallace moderated the hour and a half debate. Wallace guided the candidates through six topics: the Supreme Court, the economy, COVID-19, race and violence in cities, the candidates’ records and election integrity.

The Supreme Court

Justice Ruth Bader Ginsburg passed away Sept. 18, and in the wake of her death, Trump and Senate Republicans moved to fill her vacancy. Trump nominated Judge Amy Coney Barrett of the 7th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals to take Ginsburg’s place.

Biden said Americans should have a say in selecting the next Supreme Court justice. Because 2020 is an election year, he said, the Senate should wait until after the election to confirm a new justice since voters will choose who they want to make a nomination.

Trump defended his decision to nominate Barrett, saying “I’m not elected for three years, I’m elected for four.” The president claimed Barrett is supported by some liberals too, such as Harvard professor Noah Feldman.

“We have the White House, and we have a phenomenal nominee respected by all,” Trump said. “In fact, some of her biggest endorsers are very liberal people from Notre Dame.”

Biden said he was not personally opposed to Barrett. However, he said that based on her past writings, she might try to strike down the Affordable Care Act, which President Barack Obama passed while Biden was his vice president. Taking down ACA would strip health care coverage from 23 million Americans and deprive care from about 100 million Americans with pre-existing conditions.

Trump contested the statement by saying Biden’s numbers were incorrect and that under Biden's plans for health care, 180 million people would lose their private healthcare providers.

But this claim isn’t entirely true. Trump was referring to Medicare for All, a plan supported by some progressive members of the Democratic Party, not Biden and his campaign.

The economy

In a Sunday New York Times/Siena College poll, 49% of voters said they would vote for Biden in November, while 41% said they would choose Trump. However, the same voters favored Trump’s handling of the economy by an twelve-point margin: 54 to 42.

Trump said the economy is trending upward after declining earlier in the pandemic. The economy is, in fact, recovering and it has added back 10.6 million of the 22 million jobs it has lost since the pandemic started.

But Biden said only the wealthy and corporations are doing better now, while the working and middle class are stagnating.

“You folks living in Scranton [Pennsylvania] and Claymont [Delaware] and all the small towns and working class towns in America, how are you doing?” Biden asked those watching the debate.

Biden said Trump will be the first president to leave office with fewer jobs in the economy than he started with. Since the beginning of Trump’s presidency to August 2020, the economy has had a net loss of 4.7 million jobs. However, Herbert Hoover also lost more jobs in his administration than he added.

The former vice president also said he and Obama had given Trump a “booming” economy and that the president had wrecked it. This is not true, as the last year of Obama’s presidency saw slow economic growth and the first three years of Trump’s presidency saw accelerated growth. Also, no evidence has explicitly tied Trump’s COVID-19 policies to the economy’s contraction.

But Trump said the pandemic forced him to close “the greatest economy in the history of the country” and this too lacks evidence. The pre-coronavirus economy hit a half-century low unemployment rate of 3.5% in late 2019 and early 2020. This labor market produced increased wages and consumer spending. However, the economy has been growing steadily since 2009, and output growth has stayed at about 2% during Trump’s presidency — a level that corresponds to benchmark sustainability, not growth.

Trump said that Biden’s economy would be leaning more toward socialism, especially in terms of health care. He mentioned policies proposed by Biden’s former challenger, Vermont Sen. Bernie Sanders. When Biden proceeded to deny these claims about the economy, Trump repeatedly told him he would lose his party’s support.

Trump’s claims that Biden supports socialized medicine and other progressive policies he refers to as “Bernie Sanders’ far left on the manifesto” aren’t entirely true — Biden tends to have much more centrist views and policies than Sanders. But the former vice president, in hopes to gain progressive voters, did make promises to work with Sanders following his nomination.

Biden said he plans to raise the corporate tax rate to 28%, implement higher payroll and income taxes on those making more than $400,000 and create new jobs, especially in green energy and manufacturing. Research firm Moody’s Analytics estimated Biden’s economic plan would create seven million new jobs.

But Biden said the economy has to clear one more hurdle before it can bounce back: the pandemic.

“You can't fix the economy until you fix the COVID crisis,” Biden said.


209,500 Americans have died from COVID-19, as of Oct. 4. This is the highest death toll of any country. America comprises 4% of the global population but accounts for 21% of the world’s COVID-19 deaths.

“You folks at home, how many of you got up this morning and had an empty chair at the kitchen table because someone died of COVID?” Biden asked. “How many of you are in a situation where you lost your mom or dad and you couldn't even speak to them?”

Trump countered that if Biden had been in charge, deaths would be higher.

“If we would’ve listened to you, the country would have been left wide open, millions of people would have died,” Trump said. “Not 200,000. And one person is too much.”

But Biden has not opposed travel bans on China, and his campaign said they even supported them if backed by medical experts.

Trump said the pandemic was China’s fault, referring to COVID-19 as the “China plague.” He also said we aren’t aware of how many deaths and cases there are in China, India or Russia.

Biden said Trump is facing the pandemic death toll with inaction and panic. The president does not have a plan for combating the virus, Biden said, and he knowingly downplayed its severity — referencing interviews with the president in Bob Woodward’s book “Rage” — instead of trying to keep Americans safe.

According to PolitiFact, Biden’s claim that Trump has no plan for COVID-19 was false. Trump's administration has released plans for distribution of a vaccine and the Centers for Disease Control has told state governors to be ready to distribute vaccines as early as Nov. 1. The plan wasn’t released until September.

Biden said he does have a plan and laid one out in July. The former vice president said mandating face coverings and social distancing would be an important part of his plan (and could in fact save hundreds of thousands of lives), as would vetting a potential vaccine independently and thoroughly before distributing it. Biden said he would not trust a vaccine from Trump’s administration unless scientists independent of the administration approved it.

Race and violence in cities

Wallace asked Trump directly if he would condemn white supremacists. He did not.

“Proud Boys, stand back and stand by,” Trump responded, referencing a far-right organization affiliated with white supremacists. “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, this is a left-wing problem.”

Trump also blamed the violence in cities on Democratic mayors and leaders, specifically in Chicago and New York. He also falsely said that he was endorsed by law enforcement even in Portland, where Black Lives Matter protests have continued for more than a hundred days after George Floyd’s death. Trump also faced criticism in July for sending federal law enforcement officers into the city. The Multnomah County sheriff tweeted out in response that he does not support Trump.

But police unions and law enforcement largely do support the president. For example, the National Association of Police Organizations, the country’s biggest police lobbying group, endorsed Trump in July. The International Union of Police Associations backed Trump in September of last year.

Trump supported half a billion in cuts to local law enforcement through the Justice Department budget. This includes $170 million in cuts directly to Community Oriented Policing Services.

He also reinforced his decision to end racial sensitivity training in federal agencies and said the training included “very sick” ideas and is in and of itself racist. He also said critical race theory teaches people to hate America.

Biden said Trump is failing to handle race relations and violence. One example the former vice president pointed to was the 2017 rally in Charlottesville, Va, where a white supremacist demonstrator killed a young woman. Trump said there were “very fine people on both sides,” in 2017. Biden also discussed an event in June where law enforcement used tear gas to clear out protestors in Washington, D.C. so Trump could take a photo.

“This is a president who has used everything as a dog whistle to try to generate racist hatred, racist division,” Biden said.

Biden also said America has systemic injustice, exemplified in how Black Americans disproportionately die of COVID-19 and face police brutality. He said most police officers are good people but the “bad apples” need to be sorted out and held accountable. Biden added that he is “totally opposed” to defunding the police and instead wants to emphasize community policing and implementing social workers into 911 responses.

Peaceful protesting is appropriate, Biden said, but violent protesting is not.

The candidates’ records

Biden said Trump is “the worst president America has ever had.” Under Trump, the former vice president said America has become “weaker, sicker, poorer, more divided and more violent.”

Biden pointed to Trump bending to the country’s enemies, such as Russian president Vladimir Putin. COVID-19 has made America sicker, he said, and wealth inequality and Trump’s economic policies have made the country poorer. Finally, Biden said Trump’s rhetoric has made the country more divided and violent.

Biden also touched on Trump’s tax returns. According to a New York Times investigation released Sept. 27, Trump paid $750 in income taxes in 2016 and 2017 and nothing in 10 of the previous 15 years. Biden said he wants to reform the tax code because the current system “put [Trump] in a position that he pays less tax than a schoolteacher.” However, Trump paid so little in taxes mainly because his businesses were losing more money than they were making.

Trump said this was due to the loopholes from Obama’s economic policies. He also said that the New York Times story was false and he has paid “millions” in taxes. It isn’t clear if he was talking about income taxes.

Trump attacked Biden’s support of a 1994 crime bill that was passed under the Clinton administration while Biden was a U.S. senator in Delaware.

“You call [African Americans] super predators … they’ve never forgotten it, Joe,” Trump said.

Biden did not say that. According to the Washington Post, it was 2016 Democratic nominee Hillary Clinton who used the word “super predators.”

Trump also deflected from his record by going after the business dealings and ties to Russia of Hunter Biden, Biden’s son. Trump said the mayor of Moscow's wife had given Hunter $3.5 million. This story came from a Senate Republican report in 2014 that Democrats have largely contested is inaccurate and has not been confirmed.

Trump, who has faced criticism for a report from The Atlantic claiming he called deceased veterans “losers” and “suckers,” said that Biden has called military members “stupid bastards.'' This is somewhat true, but the phrase was used as a joke in a speech Biden gave to airmen in Abu Dhabi in 2016.

Election integrity

According to YouGov, about a third of registered voters plan to vote by mail this election. Trump said on the campaign trail and at the debate that mail-in voting will result in fraud.

He cited ballots found with his name on them that had been thrown away in Pennsylvania. Local officials there confirmed that seven of the ballots were votes for Trump but they don't suspect ties to cheating or fraud. Trump also said law enforcement in Wisconsin found three trays of absentee ballots in a creek bed last week, and some of the pieces of mail were absentee ballots. Officers are still investigating this case.

There is no proof that voting by mail will result in widespread fraud. An Arizona State University voter fraud database found just 491 accused cases of absentee voter fraud out of hundreds of millions of votes cast between 2000 and 2012. Oregon has conducted elections almost completely by mail since 2000, and the state has reported 14 cases of mailing fraud since that year.

Biden said Americans must vote and should plan right now where, when and how they will vote. In response to Trump’s refusal to say whether he will accept or reject the results of the election, Biden said he will respect the decision voters make. He also said that if Trump tries to contest the results, he will not stay in power if he loses, especially if it is by a large margin.

“So vote,” Biden said. “Just make sure you understand you have it in your control to determine what this country is going to look like the next four years.”

Biden said voting by mail is not subject to fraud. Americans have voted by mail for more than a century, Biden said, and very few credible cases of fraud have occurred as a result of absentee or mail-in voting since then.

Americans in some states are already casting their votes for president. Election Day is Nov. 3, about a month away. Trump and Biden will debate again Oct. 15 and Oct. 22. However, the president’s COVID-19 diagnosis on Friday makes these dates tentative. The candidates’ running mates, Vice President Mike Pence and California Sen. Kamala Harris, will debate Oct. 7.

To register to vote, visit

Edited by Joy Mazur |

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