By Annah Johnson
A noticeably more productive debate between President Donald Trump and former Vice President Joe Biden was packed with many burning questions across six topics from NBC moderator, Kristin Welker.
Belmont University, in Nashville, hosted the final debate on Thursday night, Oct. 22. The in-person event took place behind no aforementioned physical barriers, but with the new addition of muting the microphones to discourage interruptions.
Welker began the evening by questioning the candidates about the striking new phase that the United States has entered with the coronavirus. Approximately 16,000 American people have died from COVID-19 since the first debate in Sep. The first question to Trump asked how he would lead during the next stage of our battle with the virus.
“2.2 million people, modeled out, were expected to die,” Trump said, referencing a report estimating the lives lost if absolutely no actions were taken to combat COVID-19. He continued to explain how we are rounding the corner despite the record infection rate. Although no experts have declared a cure for COVID-19, Trump maintained his position that the therapeutic treatments he received cured him of the virus and said that he is now immune. He then claimed that there is a vaccine that is ready and will be available in the coming weeks under his Operation Warp Speed. Although the timeline laid out by his officials implies that a vaccine will not likely be available until the spring of 2021, Trump insisted his timeline of a few weeks is more realistic.
Biden was asked the same question.
“Anyone who is responsible for that many deaths should not remain as President of the United States of America,” he said, after citing the 220,000 deaths resulting from COVID-19. He then explained that once given the opportunity to lead, he would push for more rapid and accurate testing and national standards for reopening the country.
When questioned next about what they would do to give Americans confidence in a vaccine, Biden encouraged the public to trust the scientists. Trump pushed back by circling around his determination to reopen the country. Biden then explained his comments from months prior about Trump being xenophobic.
“He is xenophobic, but not because he shut down access from China,” Biden said.
Trump said America must reopen.
“We are learning to live with it, we have no choice,” Trump said. “We can’t lock ourselves up in a basement.” He then claimed that 99.9% of young people recover, and 99% of other age groups infected, will recover.
“People are learning to die with it,” Biden said as he looked to the camera and once again talked directly to the viewers. He then painted the picture of the Americans who have to suffer the loss of their loved ones and pushed Trump to take responsibility for those lost lives. To which Trump stated, “I take full responsibility. It’s not my fault that it came here, it’s China’s fault.”
The follow-up question from Welker surrounded the idea that scientists may support another shutdown. Biden didn’t rule a shutdown out, but assured that he does not want to shut down the country, but explained that some businesses, like bars and gyms, will have to close if infection rates continue to climb. This was followed by the claim that schools and businesses need more funding to re-open. Trump’s reply pushed for the reopening of schools and said that the transmission rate for teachers is small.
“We ought to be able to walk and chew gum at the same time,” Biden said, explaining the need for protective measures like plexiglass dividers, social distancing, testing, and tracing in reopening of businesses.
Biden then shut down Trump’s continued mentions of Democratic state governors.
“I don’t look at this in terms of the way he does,” Biden said. “Blue states and red states, they are all the United States.”
Trump then explained how there were mixed messages on the seriousness of the virus. Biden hit back, referencing Trump’s interview with Bob Woodward, asking the American people to reflect on the comments showing he knew the looming dangers of the virus in January.
The next section of the debate focused on the looming threat of foreign interference in the upcoming election. Top intelligence groups have learned that there are organizations in Russia and Iran attempting to influence who our next president will be. Welker asked what each candidate would do to put an end to these threats.
Biden firmly stated, “Any country no matter who it is that interferes in American elections will pay a price.”
There, Trump began to circle around the unsubstantiated allegations of the Biden family’s financial gains of $3.5 million from Russia. He then claimed that he has been tough on Russia, tougher than anybody else.
“I have not taken a penny from any foreign source ever in my life,” Biden said. “I have released all of my tax returns, 22 years… Why are you unwilling?”
Trump again mentioned that he is under audit and wants to release his tax returns once his team finds it safe. He then explained that he already prepaid millions of dollars toward his taxes, and the $750 that was shown on the recent New York Times report was simply a filing fee. Again, complained that he is treated far worse than anyone else has ever been by the IRS.
Asked to reflect on the business ties his son had during his vice presidency, Biden said that nothing that happened in Ukraine and China was unethical. He then turned the conversation around to claim that Trump has done dealings with Ukraine and China. Welker then asked how voters can be sure he doesn’t have forgein ties when he currently holds a listed bank account in China. “I closed it before I even ran for president.”
Biden assured that his forgein policy would be run by upholding international rules and only negotiating with world leaders that do the same. Trump then countered that China is paying $28 billion under his command, to which Biden states is taxpayer’s money. Biden then alluded to the current financial difficulties of middle class American families, and that Trump will continue to overlook the misuse of taxpayer money at their cost. Trump became upset that Biden pivoted off of talking about China.
The final questions of this section were concerning North Korea. Trump claimed to have stepped into the Oval Office with an impending war with North Korea, gifted to him by Barack Obama. Alluding to his good relationship with the leader of North Korea, Trump claimed they were no longer a threat. Biden responded with concern that Trump was attempting to legitimize North Korea. His policy was to agree to negotiate with the country as long as denuclearization was on the table.
The next section of questioning began with the mention of Amy Coney Barrett’s Supreme Court nomination and what it would mean for the Americans whose healthcare is covered by the Affordable Care Act.
“I terminated the individual mandate, that is the worst part of Obamacare,” Trump said. He repeated the previous campaign promise of 2016 of repealing and replacing the ACA, although no changes outside of those to the individual mandates have been made. He danced between running the ACA as well as he can, and the ACA being unusable. Biden suggested that he would pass Obamacare with a public option – Bidencare.
“If you qualify for Medicaid… you are automatically enrolled,” Biden said. “Healthcare is not a privilege, it’s a right.” Counterating Trump’s claim that millions of people would lose their insurance under Biden’s plan, he reminded Trump that he was the only Democratic nominee that was in favor of a public option and never swayed on that opinion in attempts to appease his party.
In reference to the 12 million people out of work and the 8 million who have been pushed into poverty, Welker asked the candidates what they will do for Americans who are facing hardships.
“Nancy Pelosi doesn’t want to approve anything,” Trump said, then followed that he is ready and willing to pass a relief bill. Biden was questioned then why he has not pushed for more to be done, he blamed the Republicans who are unwilling to cooperate.
Minimum wage being raised is a large part of Biden’s relief plan. He explained that the individuals who work in schools and businesses deserve to make minimum wage of $15 to help the businesses and people they work for. Trump argued that raising the minimum wage would put small businesses in a position where they can not make ends meet, and the decision should be made on a state level.
The topic of immigration was kicked off with Trump being questioned about the 545 children separated from their families at the border, who have yet to be reunited with their parents.
“The 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. “We now have as strong a border as we’ve ever had. We’re over 400 miles of brand-new wall. You see the numbers. We let people in but they have to come in legally.”
“These 500 plus kids came with parents. They separated them at the border to make it a disincentive to come to begin with,” Biden said. “It makes us a laughing stock, and violates every notion of who we are as a nation.”
Trump attacked Biden on the fact that under the Obama administration, there were record deportations and detention centers. Biden hit back that there were mistakes made, but he is the candidate who will right those wrongs. He pushed that his immigration policies will focus on the debt we owe to those in the DACA and DREAMERS programs, by offering a clearer pathway to citizenship.
Trump then made a long repeated claim of his administration that the people coming from Mexico are dangerous, murderers, and rapists.
Race in America
The talk that many parents of color have to give to their children about their skin color putting them in danger of violence is not new, and never gets less painful. Welker asked the candidates if they understand the fear these parents feel for their children.
Biden answered first, explaining that he never had to teach his daughter how to avoid being a victim. “The fact of the matter is, there is institutional racism in America,” Biden said. “We have always said, but never lived up to it, that ‘We hold these truths to be self evident, all men and women are created equal.’” He then pushed for better access to healthcare, education, loan opportunities, and accumulating the ability to grow wealth and not face violence.
Trump responded that Biden has done nothing except label the Black community “superpredators,” although that claim has been debunked across the board. He then claimed, once again, that he has done more for the Black community since President Lincoln. To which, Biden pushed back with the statements that Trump has made about not enough people being jailed and pushing the death penalty for the Central Park Five. Biden then explained that rehabilitation was the answer to people with drug offenses, and repealing mandatory minimums is how we change the criminal justice system.
Trump was asked followup questions about his retweeting of white power videos, calling Black Lives Matter movement a symbol of hate, and protesting atheletes should be fired from their jobs. “I am the least racist person in this room,” Trump said, multiple times.
“Abraham Lincoln here is one of the most racist presidents we’ve had in modern history,” Biden said, in response to Trump’s consistent claim to be a savior among the Black community.
Trump became agitated and cited the crime bills that Biden supported in the past. Biden claimed that he voted against drugs, but it was a mistake to pass the bills. He now is pushing for drug rehabilitation and drug courts to counteract the damage done by the crime bills that disproportionately jailed men of color.
Onto the next topic of climate change, the candidates were asked how they will combat climate change and also support the creation of new jobs. Trump explained that his administration has done more for the environment than any other, and will not sacrifice jobs to meet the standards set in the Paris Accord.
Biden urged that climate change is an existential threat to humanity. He assured that the regulations to clean up the Earth and protect the climate will create millions of jobs as we switch to renewable energy.
Trump fired back that Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez knows nothing about the climate and is the one who created Biden’s economic plan.
“They want to take buildings down because they want to make bigger windows into smaller windows,” Trump said. “As far as they’re concerned, if you had no window, it would be a lovely thing.”
Trump was asked about rolling back environmental regulations for corporations, and the effects their emissions had on the disproportionately communities of color who live next to these plants. He replied that they are making more money, gasoline is inexpensive, and he saved them economically. Biden shot back at Trump’s avoidance of the question.
“It doesn’t matter what you are paying, it matters how you keep them safe,” Biden said. He also firmly stated that he would transition out of the oil industry by renewable energy over time.
The long awaited final question asked the candidates to address Americans who did not vote for them. Trump was the first to answer.
“We have to make our country totally successful as it was prior to the plague coming in from China,” Trump said. He claimed to have record job increases in a short period of time of 11.4 million, although this number was presented in a misleading fashion, as it is only half of the 22 million jobs lost during the pandemic.
“Success is going to bring us together,” he said. “We are on the road to success.” He then cautioned that a Biden administration will kill the economy and send the country into a massive depression.
Biden addressed the American people as a unified whole. He held on to his claim that he would be a president for every American, no matter if they are Republican or Democrat.
“I’m gonna give you hope, we’re gonna move,” Biden said. “We are gonna choose science over fiction, we are gonna choose hope over fear. We are gonna choose to move forward … because we have enormous opportunities to make things better.”
Biden closed, reminding the American people that the character of our country is on the ballot, “Decency, honor, respect, treating people with dignity, making sure that everyone has an even chance, and I’m going to make sure you get that.”