President Donald Trump faced down his enemies — real and perceived — as he and Democratic nominee Joe Biden squared off Thursday in Nashville, Tennessee, for the final debate of the 2020 election season.
The two tangled over the ongoing coronavirus crisis at the outset of the debate, with Biden holding the president accountable for the roughly 223,000 related deaths in the U.S. since the pandemic began earlier this year.
“You hear nothing else I say tonight, hear this: Anyone who’s responsible for not taking control 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, referencing Trump telling reporters he takes no responsibility for the virus.
Biden told Trump he’d focus on pushing people to wear masks and more rapid testing for the virus.
“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 give them the wherewithal, the financial resources to be able to do that,” Biden said.
Trump claimed Fauci advised Americans not to wear a mask.
“This is not a problem, this is gonna go away soon,” Trump said Fauci told him.
Because Trump, who was hospitalized earlier this month after contracting the coronavirus, and Biden both tested negative beforehand, plans for plexiglass barriers were nixed by the Commission on Presidential Debates after officials consulted with both campaigns and Dr. Anthony Fauci, the nation’s leading expert on infectious diseases.
Throughout the debate, Biden was on the offensive while Trump mostly refrained from denigrating the process with uncontrolled talk.
Kristen Welker of NBC News moderated the event at Belmont University in Nashville, Tenn., presenting Trump with a challenge in following a Black and confident journalist’s directions; the president has routinely disparaged women of color, including reporters and lawmakers.
Before the 90-minute debate began, the president emerged on Twitter to insult Welker.
“She’s always been terrible and unfair, just like most of the Fake News reporters, but I’ll still play the game,” Trump tweeted to his 87 million followers.
Trump also lashed out at the debate commission for its decision to cut off the contestants’ microphones while the other delivers initial two-minute answers on each topic.
The move came after a raucous and unhinged performance in the first debate on Sept. 29, when Trump repeatedly interrupted Biden and the former vice president at least twice referred to the president as a “clown.”
“This [muting the candidate’s microphones] is very unfair,” Trump told reporters ahead of the contest.
When Thursday night’s debate turned to the topic of Obamacare, Trump still declined to present an alternative plan, despite repeatedly pushing to repeal the signature law of predecessor Barack Obama and the Supreme Court scheduled to determine whether to strike down the law and take away health insurance from more than 22 million Americans.
Biden noted that his health care proposal would, among other benefits, allow Medicare to negotiate drug prices with insurance companies and reduce premiums.
“[Trump’s] never come up with a plan,” Biden charged. “I guess we’re going to get the preexisting-conditions plan at the same time we’ll get the infrastructure plan.”
Trump later unleashed a host of unproven financial claims against Biden, who hit back about the president’s secret bank account with China, where he paid a reported more than $186,000 in personal income taxes as opposed to the $1,500 he’s paid the United States over the past 15 years.
“I have not taken a penny from any foreign source ever in my life,” Biden said. “We learned that this president paid 50 times the tax in China, has a secret bank account with China, does business in China, and, in fact, is talking about me taking money? I have not taken a single penny from any country whatsoever, ever.”
“You have not released a single solitary year of your tax returns. What are you hiding? Why are you unwilling. Release your tax returns or stop talking about corruption.”
Meanwhile, Welker kept things under control by limiting the contestants to the allotted response times and even interrupted them when they attempted to exceed that time or talk over their opponent.
Welker became only the second Black woman in 30 years to moderate a presidential debate. The last was Carole Simpson, who moderated the 1992 contest between George H.W. Bush, Bill Clinton and Ross Perot.
“By the way, I very much respect the way you’re handling this,” Trump told Welker about one hour into the debate.
When the topic turned to foreign policy, Biden promised that any country that interferes in American elections would “pay a price.”
“They’re interfering with American sovereignty,” Biden added.
The debate concluded with both candidates sharply criticizing each other.
“You know who I am, and you know who he is,” Biden said. “You know his character, and you know my character. You know our reputations for honor and telling the truth. I am anxious to have this race. I am anxious to see this take place. The character of the country is on the ballot. Look at us closely.”