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Donald Trump and Joe Biden held their final debate of the 2020 cycle in Nashville, Tennessee, last night. Compared to their first showdown last month — an admittedly law bar — it was a fairly civil and substantive affair: neither candidate interrupted much and both had ample time to outline their divergent visions for the nation.
As with the vice presidential debate earlier this month, the night opened with a discussion of the coronavirus pandemic — and once again, the chasm between the two candidates on the issue was vast. Trump painted a rosy picture of the outbreak in the United States — “We’re rounding the corner. It’s going away,” he said — and drew on his personal experience with the virus to claim that the U.S. has developed a “cure” (although he was referring to a therapeutic drug with unclear effectiveness) and will have a vaccine “within weeks.”
Biden, meanwhile, opened his remarks on the pandemic with a simple statement, “220,000 Americans dead,” and went on to assail Trump’s response to the pandemic. “The way this president has responded to this crisis has been absolutely tragic,” he said. “I will take care of this. I will end this. I will make sure we have a plan.” The former vice president promised to invest in rapid testing and establish national standards to reopen schools and businesses.
When Trump accused him of backing more national closures, Biden shot back: “I’m going to shut down the virus, not the country.” Trump also rejected Biden’s assertion that the U.S. was headed for a “dark winter.” But despite his claim that the nation is “rounding the turn,” a new single-day record of cases were reported in the U.S. on Thursday, more than 77,000. “He says we’re learning to live with it. We’re learning to die with it,” Biden said.
Throughout the debate, Biden clung to a singular approach: speaking directly to American families, whether it was those with “an empty chair at the kitchen table” due to coronavirus or middle-class families “sitting at the kitchen table” making difficult decisions due to the economic recession.
Trump, meanwhile, spent portions of the debate going after Biden’s family, labeling him a “corrupt politician” and raising questions about Hunter Biden’s overseas business ties. “I don’t make money from China. You do. I don’t make money from Ukraine. You do,” Trump said to Biden, although there is no evidence that the former vice president accepted money from either country.
“It’s not about his family and my family,” Biden said in response, staying on message. “It’s about your family.” Trump dismissed the comment as “a typical political statement.”
Biden also repeatedly sought to strike a character contrast with the president, telling voters: “You know who I am. You know who he is,” and urging them to “look at us closely.” While Biden encouraged voters to compare their character, Trump urged Americans to focus on their records. “You’re all talk and no action,” he said to Biden, repeatedly asking why the longtime politician hadn’t accomplished the goals he was outlining in his 36-year Senate career or eight years as vice president.
On race, for example, Trump again claimed that he had done more for the Black community than any president with the “possible exception of Abraham Lincoln,” citing his criminal justice reform package, increased funding for Historically Black Colleges and Universities, and low Black unemployment numbers before the pandemic. “Obama and Joe didn’t do it,” Trump said of criminal justice reform. Biden responded by accusing Trump of pouring “fuel on every single racist fire” and engaging in hateful rhetoric. “This guy is a dog whistle about as big as a foghorn,” he said.
Trump also sought to blame his predecessors for his child separation policy: “They built the cages,” he claimed. While many of the facilities migrant children are held in were constructed under the Obama administration, they were not used to separate children from their parents until Trump’s “zero tolerance” policy. “The kids were ripped from their [parents’] arms and separated, and now they cannot find over 500 of the sets of those parents, and the kids are alone,“ Biden said. “Nowhere to go. It’s criminal.”
When pressed by NBC’s Kristen Welker, the moderator, to detail his plan for reuniting those children with their parents, Trump demurred.
In one of their final exchanges of the night, Trump and Biden also offered substantially differing views on the environment. While Biden claimed that climate change is “an existential threat to humanity,” Trump sought to downplay the issue: “We have the cleanest air, the cleanest water, and the best carbon emission standards that we’ve seen in many, many years,” he said. (Air pollution has risen under his administration.)
One of Biden’s more notable policy announcements came when he called for a “transition from the oil industry,” promising to halt federal subsidies for oil and instead invest in renewable energy sources. (“Oh, that’s a big statement,” Trump said.) Trump accused Biden of joining progressive Democrats in calling for an end to fracking, which Biden denied. (Biden did back a ban on new fracking in a primary debate, although he has since backtracked from that position.)
Trump also attempted to tie Biden to progressives on health care, claiming that his rival supported “socialized medicine,” although the former VP opposes Medicare for All. “He’s a very confused guy,” Biden responded. “He thinks he’s running against somebody else.” Asked to outline his policy on the issue, Trump promised a “brand new, beautiful health care” plan but offered no details of what it contain, as he has done in the past.
Throughout the night, Trump’s performance was much milder than his conduct at the first debate, a clear victory for the presidential aides who had urged him to tone it down and for the mute button that the Commission on Presidential Debates debuted for the first time. His temporary change in tone may allow the Trump campaign to stanch the bleeding from the first debate — which precipitated another drop in the polls for the president — but it is unclear if it will be enough to completely reverse his dire electoral position.
With just 11 days to go until polls close, opinions of both candidates are all but baked-in for most Americans — many of whom have already cast their ballots in the election. Nearly 50,000 Americans have already voted, obliterating the early vote record set in 2016.
All times Eastern.
President Donald Trump will deliver remarks at campaign rallies in The Villages, Florida, at 4:30 p.m. and Pensacola, Florida, at 8 p.m. He will spend the night at his Mar-a-Lago resort in Palm Beach.
Vice President Mike Pence will cast his ballot in Indianapolis, Indiana, at 8 a.m. He will deliver remarks at campaign rallies in Swanton, Ohio, at 1 p.m. and West Mifflin, Pennsylvania, at 4:30 p.m.
Democratic presidential nominee Joe Biden will deliver remarks in Wilmington, Delaware, on “his plans to beat COVID-19 and get our economy back on track” at 2:30 p.m.
Democratic vice presidential nominee Kamala Harris will participate in an “early vote mobiliazation event” in Atlanta, Georgia, at 5:10 p.m. She will also participate in virtual fundraisers in the afternoon.
Libertarian presidential nominee Jo Jorgenson will deliver remarks at a campaign rally in Milwaukee, Wisconisn, at 6 p.m. and attend a fundraising dinner in Milwaukee at 7:30 p.m.
The Senate will convene at 12 p.m. The chamber is expected to hold procedural votes advancing the nomination of Judge Amy Coney Barrett to the U.S. Supreme Court. The Senate Judiciary Committee approved Barrett’s nomination on Thursday, despite a boycott from the Democrats on the panel.
The House will meet at 11:30 a.m. for a pro forma session.
The Supreme Court is not in session.
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