President Donald Trump and Democratic nominee, former Vice President Joe Biden, were mostly polite during the final presidential debate before the Nov. 3 election at Belmont University, Tennessee, a stark change from the first debate.
Kristen Welker of NBC moderated the Oct. 22 debate during which microphones could be cut off after the allotted times to prevent the candidates from repeating the chaotic first debate. The second debate was canceled after Trump tested positive for COVID-19.
Seven topics were discussed: fighting COVID-19, national security, American families and economy, immigration, race in America, climate change and leadership.
Trump claimed he has done a great job handling the virus, but Biden blamed Trump for the deaths of thousands of Americans because of his administration’s slow response, which Trump took credit for.
“I do take responsibility. But it’s not my fault it came here; it’s China’s fault,” Trump said.
Trump said a vaccine will be released in a “few weeks,” the latest by December. The moderator pointed out that many experts predict the general public will only have access to a vaccine in 2021.
The President said Operation Warp Speed ensures that the military will distribute the vaccine quickly.
Biden said it will take longer than a few months for the public to get access to a vaccine and said the science around it has to be transparent.
To battle the next stages of the pandemic, Biden will enforce mask regulation and rapid testing and slowly open schools and small businesses with supported resources and money to flatten the curve.
“I will end this. I will make sure we have a plan,” Biden said.
On the contrary, Trump wants to reopen states faster because he said the economy would die if we don’t.
Trump claimed he used appropriate measures regarding handling of the virus and that other world leaders had congratulated him for the country’s response.
“We closed up the greatest economy in the world to combat this virus that came from China,” he said.
Trump added that states with who originally had big spikes of COVID-19, like Texas and Florida, have seen improvements.
However, Biden said Trump’s actions were insignificant, given that more than 220,000 have died.
“Anyone who is responsible for that many deaths should not remain President of the United States,” Biden said.
He said it’s predicted that over 200,000 more people will be dead by the end of the year if masks are not worn — wearing masks would save at least 100,000 of the 200,000.
Biden doubled down on foreign influence — including Russia, China and most recently Iran — on the election as well as voter security. He said that countries are “interfering with American sovereignty” by tampering with the election.
“Any country, no matter who it is, that interferes with American elections will pay a price,” he said.
He also criticized Trump for his inaction on foreign interference in the election.
Trump hit back claiming both Russia and Iran want him to lose the election because there has been “no one tougher” with respect to sanctions and NATO. Trump also said that Biden didn’t do anything with respect to Russia during his terms as Vice President.
“You and Barack Obama let Russia take over a big part of what should have been Ukraine,” he said.
Both candidates veered off topic and engaged in a debate over their personal taxes.
Biden cleared up any uncertainty around his taxes.
“I have released 22 years of my tax returns,” Biden said.
He questioned Trump’s secrecy over his tax audits because Trump has never made his tax returns public.
Trump claimed that he has been treated “horribly” by the Internal Revenue Service.
“I was put through a phony witch hunt for three years. Mueller, 18 angry democrats and FBI agents spent 48 million on an investigation and found nothing on me,” he said.
Trump said he wants to release his tax returns and will do so once he reaches a deal with the IRS.
Families and the Economy
Biden highlighted the importance of healthcare. He said that “not a single person” would lose their healthcare under his plan.
“Healthcare is not a privilege; it’s a right,” he said.
Trump focused on COVID-19 relief bills, touting three successful relief packages he has already passed. But he criticized Speaker of the House, Nancy Peolsi, for the lack of a fourth bill.
“Pelosi does not want to approve the relief bill. I do,” Trump said.
He also emphasized the importance of re-opening the country.
Both candidates debated over the minimum wage. Biden said he supports raising the minimum wage to bail out schools and small businesses while Trump said the minimum wage is a decision for the states. He said raising the minimum wage would result in businesses firing employees.
The moderator asked the candidates how they will reunite the more than 500 detained immigrant children that have been separated from their parents at the border.
Trump said the government was working on it and would reunite them soon. He switched gears, however, saying most of the children that come over the U.S./Mexico border are brought by cartels and smugglers — commonly referred to as “coyotes” — not parents.
Biden refuted Trump’s claim, and emphasized that the children come over with parents, and that they are purposefully split from their families by the Trump administration to disincentivise illegal immigration.
“They got separated from their parents. That makes us a laughingstock, and violates every notion of who we are as a nation,” Biden said.
Additionally, Biden said that within 100 days of his election, he will send Congress a plan to provide a pathway to citizenship for over 11 million undocumented people.
“Over 20,000 of these people are first responders taking care of people during this crisis. We owe them,” Biden said.
Trump said his administration has gotten rid of many “horrible things” in the last three years that were set up under the Obama administration. He said Biden had eight years to reform immigration, but failed to do so.
Trump and Biden also had opposing viewpoints on the “catch and release” practice set up by the Obama administration. The policy releases illegal immigrants into the country on the condition that they attend a court hearing to defend their status.
Trump said it was a “disaster.”
“A murderer would come in. A rapist would come in. We would take their name, and we would release them into our country. Less than 1% come back,” Trump said.
Biden defended the policy. He said Trump is the first president to make immigrants who are seeking asylum defend their case in another country.
Race in America
Biden claimed that systemic racism is a real problem that needs to be addressed, by providing better opportunities for education, health care and loans.
“I’ve laid out a clear plan as to how to do those things, ” Biden said.
Trump again said Biden has not accomplished this in his 47 years of politics.
“I have great relationships with all races. I am the least racist person in this room.” he said.
Biden argued for more lenient crime rules, such as eliminating jail time for drug-related crime and replacing it with addiction treatment.
“No one should be going to jail for drug related problems. They should be going to rehabilitation,” Biden said. “That’s why I’m running. To change his terrible policies.”
Trump pushed back.
“But why didn’t you do it four years ago? You guys did nothing. I ran because of you,” he said.
Biden said his climate change plan will be better for the economy than Trump’s, and that Wall Street statistics back this.
Biden said the oil industry contributes to climate change. He wants zero carbon emissions by 2025. The U.S. would rejoin the Paris Climate Accord if he won.
Trump said he pulled the U.S. from the Paris Climate Accord because we would spend trillions and lose businesses. He emphasized that the U.S. is currently doing “an incredible job” environmentally.
“We are energy independent for the first time,” Trump said.
The moderator questioned the candidates about their abilities to enforce policies on foreign countries, given their histories with foreign countries.
Biden’s son worked in China and served on the board of a Ukranian energy company during Obama’s term.
Biden said his son’s work did not and will not stop him from enforcing U.S. policies on China.
When questioned about his Chinese bank account, Trump said it was a business bank account that was started in 2013 and closed in 2015, before he ran for president.
On the topic of foreign relations, both were questioned about North Korea’s expansion of their nuclear arsenal.
North Korea’s expansion of its nuclear arsenal was raised as a concern.
Trump said he has excellent relations with North Korea.
Biden said North Korea is a serious threat.
“They have much more capable missiles than ever before,” he said.
Finally, candidates were asked: “Imagine this is your inauguration day. What will you say in your address to Americans who did not vote for you? “
Trump responded that we would have to make our country as successful as it was before COVID-19 came from China.
Biden finished the debate assuring voters that as president, he would represent everyone and promised to grow the economy, deal with systematic racism, use clean energy and create millions of jobs.
“I’m an American president. I represent all of you whether you voted for me or against me,” he said. “We’re gonna choose science over fiction. We’re gonna choose hope over fear. We’re gonna choose to move forward because we have enormous opportunities to make things better.”
— By Sanjana Anand, Arjin Claire, Nihal Gulati, Ethan Monasa, Arijit Trivedi and Arikta Trivedi