Biden, Trump spar over COVID-19, economy, and race in first debate

Ballotpedia's Daily Presidential News Briefing
September 30, 2020: Joe Biden and Donald Trump sparred over COVID-19, the economy, and racial issues in the first presidential debate. Biden is campaigning in Ohio and Pennsylvania on Wednesday, while Trump is visiting Minnesota for the second time in two weeks.


Presidential Facebook ads, 2019-2020 (September 20-26, 2020)

Notable Quotes of the Day

“This was not a debate. It was a sustained attack on the American system of government by the President of the United States. There is nothing to comment on regarding policy; Donald Trump made substantive discussion of anything all but impossible. But Trump did make a few things clear: He takes no responsibility for the pandemic deaths that occurred on his watch, he refuses to condemn white supremacists, he wants his followers to engage in voter intimidation, and he intends to challenge any election result he doesn’t like. Any sense of decorum, any possibility that an election is a contest between Americans who want the best for the nation, went out the window as Trump railed—and lied, repeatedly—in desperation. Any reasonable viewing of this debate can only lead to two conclusions: One is that something is deeply wrong with Donald Trump, mentally and emotionally. The other is that the president will attack anyone and anything, that he will sacrifice any principle, ignore any norm, and even that he will violate any law that he thinks stands in the way of staying in office. Trump has brought a new disgrace upon his own country, and we should be horrified that our fellow citizens, our children, our allies—and especially our enemies—have now seen the United States brought low in a way few of us could have imagined possible even five years ago.”

– Tom Nichols, professor at the U.S. Naval War College

“Indeed, while the debate was contentious, and at times became personal, it lacked any real substance that could change attitudes in any meaningful way.

Given the level of back-and-forth between the candidates, the substance of the candidates’ answers was often lost and took a back seat to their style of argumentation and command of the room.

Though, in terms of style, in my view, President Trump was the clear winner—Trump was in command of the conversation, in control of the discussion, and if not presidential, certainly more in command.

Biden, on the other hand, became exasperated at times in the face of Trump’s stop-at-nothing strategy—as the president spoke over both Biden and the moderator—and Biden even leveled personal attacks on Trump, calling him a ‘liar,’ and a ‘clown.’”

– Doug Schoen, Fox News

Debate Recap

Joe Biden and Donald Trump debated in Cleveland, Ohio, on Tuesday night. The candidates discussed the Supreme Court vacancy, coronavirus pandemic, economy, race and violence, climate change, election integrity, and their political records.

Trump spoke for 39.1 minutes, while Biden spoke for 37.9 minutes. Here are highlights for each presidential candidate with a focus on policy. The following paraphrased statements were compiled from the transcript of the debate.

  • Biden said the Supreme Court vacancy should be filled after the election to give voters a say. He said the Affordable Care Act and women’s rights were at stake with Amy Coney Barrett’s nomination. On healthcare, Biden said only people who qualified for Medicaid would be automatically enrolled in a public health option. He said Trump had no healthcare plan. Biden said Trump knew how deadly the COVID-19 pandemic was and did not have a plan to address it. He said Trump was irresponsible with his handling of masks. He said schools and businesses were not supported to reopen safely. Biden said billionaires benefited from COVID-19 because Trump focused on the stock market.

    Biden said Trump would be the first president to leave office with fewer jobs than when he came in. Biden said his economic plan would create 7 million more jobs than Trump had and $1 trillion in economic growth. He said he would raise the corporate tax rate to 28%. He said the Obama administration inherited the worst economy and fixed it, while Trump blew a booming economy. He said Trump’s statements about Biden’s son’s business dealings had been discredited.

    Biden criticized Trump’s response to protests in Charlottesville in 2017 and George Floyd’s death. Biden said there was systemic injustice and called for increased funding for community policing. He said violent crime has increased under the Trump administration. Biden discussed the military service of his son, Beau, and the drug addiction recovery of his other son, Hunter. Biden said his plan would create thousands of green jobs and lead to net-zero carbon emissions by 2035. He said the plan was not the Green New Deal. Biden said Trump was afraid of mail-in voting.

  • Trump praised his Supreme Court pick, Amy Coney Barrett. He said Republicans had the right to nominate her because they won the last election. He said Biden supported socialist medicine. Trump said he signed an executive order that would reduce prescription drug prices. Trump said millions would have died from COVID-19 if Biden were president. He said a vaccine could be available sooner but politics was delaying it. He criticized strict shutdowns in Democratic-run states and said Biden would shut down the country.

    Trump said he paid millions in federal income tax in 2016 and 2017. As a businessman, Trump said he did not want to pay taxes and used tax credits and depreciation. Trump said the Obama administration had the slowest economic recovery since 1929, while he brought back manufacturing and 700,000 jobs. Trump said Biden’s son, Hunter, received $3.5 million from a Russian billionaire.

    Trump criticized the effect of Biden’s 1994 crime bill on Black Americans. He said he had support from military leaders and law enforcement groups across the country. Trump said he ended racial sensitivity training because it was racist. Trump said increases in crime across the country were a party issue. When asked if he would condemn white supremacist and militia groups, Trump said sure. He said the Proud Boys should stand back and stand by and that someone should do something about Antifa.

    Trump said he created the greatest economy and lowest unemployment numbers in history prior to COVID-19. He said that he will have appointed 300 federal judges. Trump attributed West Coast wildfires to poor forest management. He said he rolled back the Obama Clean Power Plan because it drove up energy prices. He said there was no free transition in 2016 because Democrats sought a coup on his campaign. He said unsolicited mail-in ballots would lead to fraud.

The next presidential debate will take place on October 15, 2020, in Miami, Florida. Mike Pence and Kamala Harris will debate on October 7, 2020, in Salt Lake City, Utah.


Election Updates

  • Joe Biden is completing a “Build Back Better Express” train tour across Ohio and Pennsylvania on Wednesday.
  • Donald Trump is campaigning in Minneapolis and Duluth on Wednesday. This is his second visit to Minnesota in the past two weeks.

Flashback: September 30, 2016

The Chicago Tribune endorsed Libertarian nominee Gary Johnson for president.

Click here to learn more.




About the author

Emily Aubert

Emily Aubert is a staff writer at Ballotpedia. Contact us at editor@ballotpedia.org.

Bitnami