US Election 2020: Trump and Biden go head-to-head in first presidential debate

The first US presidential debate has come and gone with a fiery ninety minute on-stage performance being described as a disaster and “the worst debate” in history by some in the US media.

In comments immediately following the debate broadcast, NBC correspondents described it as a “hot mess” and a “train wreck”, saying viewers likely turned it off.

"It was a train wreck. But it was a train wreck of the making of one person. We know who did it. President Trump did this," chided TV journalist Chuck Todd, who has moderated previous presidential debates.

He said there would be "pity for those who had to be involved in it."

US President Donald Trump and Joe Biden faced off in the Covid-safe debate Wednesday. Source: Getty
US President Donald Trump and Joe Biden faced off in the Covid-safe debate Wednesday. Source: Getty

Meanwhile on the similarly left-leaning CNN network, journalist Jake Tapper didn’t hold back in his assessment of the night.

“That was a hot mess, inside a dumpster fire, inside a train wreck,” he said. “It was the worst debate I have ever seen.”

Meanwhile his fellow anchor Wolf Blitzer called it chaotic and said it raises questions about future debates between the two candidates.

With just 35 days until the US election, it was the first time the US President Donald Trump and Democratic challenger Joe Biden went head-to-head in a public arena.

The debate was marred by a number of fiery clashes between Mr Trump and his opponent, as well as the moderator Chris Wallace from Fox News.

Here’s how it played out.

Joe Biden and Donald Trump during debate.
The contest was chaotic and hard to watch at times. Source: Getty

‘You’re not debating me!’: President explodes over healthcare

Healthcare was a major issue in the early moments of the debate as the Supreme Court is due to rule on a case that could see an important Obama-era healthcare bill repealed, making it harder for some Americans to access affordable healthcare.

In a fiery moment, moderator Chris Wallace interjected angrily to pin down Mr Trump on healthcare.

“You’re debating me not him,” the moderator shot back at the president when Mr Trump tried to argue.

“In the course of these four years, you've never come up with a comprehensive plan to replace Obamacare, and just this last Thursday, you signed a largely symbolic executive order to protect people with pre-existing conditions five days before this debate. So my question, sir, is what is the Trump health care plan?”

In response, Mr Trump said he would give better healthcare for a lower price and said he was cutting drug prices.

“I'm cutting drug prices … No President has the courage to do that because you're going against big Pharma.

“Insulin was destroying families, destroying people, because I'm getting it for so cheap it's like water. You want to know the truth. So cheap.”

In reality, insulin prices have remained stable in the US at about $US300 a vial.

‘Hard to get any word in with this clown’

In response, Mr Biden said the president doesn’t have a healthcare plan and doesn’t know what he’s talking about.

“There are 20 million people getting health care through Obamacare now and he wants to take it away. He won't ever look you in the eye and say it, but that's what he wants to do, take it away,” Mr Biden said.

“He has no plan for healthcare … He sends out wishful thinking.”

As Mr Trump continued to interject, his opponent appeared to loose his cool, saying: “Would you just shut up man?”

As the debate got testy again in a later moment, Mr Biden complained that “It's hard to get any word in with this clown.”

Biden’s powerful coronavirus message

Mr Biden continued to hammer home the poor handling of the pandemic in the US and the high death toll. The US has seen more than 200,000 coronavirus deaths, leading the world in the unenviable category.

“How many of you got up this morning and had an empty chair at the kitchen table because someone died of COVID? How many of you are in a situation where you lost your mum or dad and you couldn't even speak to them. You had a nurse holding a phone up so you could say goodbye,” he said.

He also hit out at Mr Trump for telling people to inject bleach as a potential cure.

“That was said sarcastically,” the president hit back.

Mr Biden said he would have a plan to safely open the economy until a vaccine was distributed late next year.

“He [Trump] didn't have a plan. If I were running, I'd know what the plan is. You've got to provide these businesses the ability to be able to have the money to be able to reopen with the PPE and with sanitation,” he said.

Trump said he paid ‘millions’ in tax

“I paid millions of dollars in taxes, millions of dollars of income tax, and, let me just tell you,” Mr Trump said when his personal finances were raised. The Democrats have tried to frame his indebtedness – likely to foreign creditors – as a national security threat.

“I paid $38 million one year. I paid $27 million,” Mr Trump claimed, without going into the detail.

Mr Biden argued the leaked New York Times report showed the US president pays less tax than the typical school teacher.

Later in the debate, Mr Biden called the president “Putin’s puppy”.

Debate gets emotional over race relations

Mr Biden said Mr Trump’s presidency has been a disaster for black Americans and accused the president of dog whistling to white nationalists.

“This is a President who has used everything as a dog whistle to try to generate racist hatred, racist division. This is a man who, in fact, you talk about helping African-Americans, one-in-1000 African-Americans has been killed because of the coronavirus and if he doesn't do something quickly, by the end of the year 1-in-500 will have been killed.”

Later he added: “There is a systemic injustice in this country, in education, in work and in law enforcement.”

Trump was quick to interrupt during the debate. Source: Yahoo News
Trump was quick to interrupt during the debate. Source: Yahoo News

In response, Mr Trump pointed to a 90s crime bill that Biden was linked to which ended in higher incarceration rated for black Americans.

“I am letting people out of jail now,” Mr Trump said. “You called them super predators and you've called them worst than that.”

The Republican candidate again positioned himself as a law and order president.

“I don't think you have any law enforcement. You can't even say the word ‘law enforcement’ because if you say those words you're going to lose all of your radical left supporters,” he told his opponent.

Meanwhile the president was lambasted online for not denouncing groups described by critics as white supremacists.

Trump challenged on climate change record

When the issue of climate change was raised, Mr Trump sought to defend his administration’s unravelling of environmental protections and wiping away climate change initiatives.

“I believe that we have to do everything we have to have immaculate water and immaculate air,” he said.

“We’re planting a billion tress … it’s very exciting.”

When asked if he believes that increased carbon pollution adds to a warming atmosphere, he said: “to an extent, yes.”

Moderator Chris Wallace then asked “If you believe in the science of climate change why have you rolled back [Obama-era policies that sought to reduce emissions]”.

“Because it was driving energy prices through the sky,” he said. Mr Trump also defended removing fuel efficiency requirements for vehicles introduced by his predecessor saying cars were getting too expensive.

Mr Biden, meanwhile, said he will take up the mantle again to address climate change if he is elected.

“I will rejoin the Paris Accord because with us out of it, look what’s happening. It’s all falling apart.”

‘Four more years of these lies?’

Mr Biden implored people to vote, saying Mr Trump was trying to corrupt the election process to retain power.

“He says he will just stay in power. It won't happen. It won't happen. So vote,” Mr Biden told viewers.

“Just make sure you understand you have it in your control to determine what this country’s going to look like the next four years. Is it going to change? Or are you going to get four more years of these lies?”

Meanwhile Mr Trump claimed the election was rigged and said the ballots were being tampered with despite any evidence, which the moderator was quick to point out.

Already a million Americans have voted in the election by mail-in votes and the US president has consistently railed against the process despite it being a long-standing way to vote in a number of pro-Republican states.

“They're being sold. They're being dumped in rivers. This is a horrible thing for our country.”

“This is not going to end well,” Mr Trump warned.

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