The Final Presidential Debate

By DonkeyHotey – Donald Trump – Caricature, CC BY-SA 2.0,
CC by 2.0

The third and final presidential debate took place on Thursday at Belmont University in Nashville, Tennessee. The moderator, NBC White House correspondent Kristen Welker pressed both candidates on seven major topics, which included the ongoing COVID-19 pandemic, security, American families, the economy, climate change and leadership. Each candidate spoke for two minutes, followed by an open discussion. Due to the disarray and chaos of the first presidential debate, the Commission on Presidential Debates announced that opponents’ microphones will be muted while the other candidate is speaking, a decision that has angered the Trump campaign. The second presidential debate was cancelled after disagreements over the format, after President Trump tested positive for COVID-19. Also worth noting is the fact that this date is taking place in the midst of early voting across the country, with many states, including New Mexico, forecasting record turnout, with almost 48 million ballots already having been cast.

Welker pressed the candidates on how each would lead during the next, growing stage of the pandemic. President Trump touted mortality rates, which he claims have dramatically decreased and said spikes and surges were confidently under control. He also advocated for Operation Warp Speed, calling the vaccine “ready.” He also referenced his previous diagnosis of COVID-19 and his hospital stay. He claimed he was – and still is – cured. He again emphasized that the U.S. is rounding a corner and that the virus is “gone.” Biden brought up the 220,000 deaths from the pandemic, and 1,000 deaths per day. He advocated for wearing masks, which he said could save 100,000 lives. He argued that he would establish national health standards and alluded to a possible nationwide mask mandate. President Trump said vaccines will be distributed very quickly, within weeks. Welker pressed Trump on the accuracy of his timeline, which he argued is very realistic. Biden supported having transparency in the race for a vaccine and focusing on science. He emphasized that Trump has no plan, and that America is heading for a “dark winter.” Trump also talked about the ban on travelers from China that he imposed, and criticized Biden’s handling of the H1N1 pandemic from 2009-2010. Biden said we should thank China for their transparency, and said that Trump should have sent scientists to the epicenter to investigate the cause. He mocked Biden’s campaign style, saying he was stuck in the basement and praised himself as a hands-on leader. He also claimed that 99.9% of young people get cured from COVID-19 and that people are “learning to live with it.” Biden refuted this by saying that we are dying from it. Trump reiterated that the pandemic was China’s fault, and that he claims responsibility for his handling of the pandemic. Biden also noted Trump’s claims of injecting bleach inside the body, to which Trump responded that he was kidding. Welker pressed Biden on many issues that could become prevalent if we shut down the country, to which he said he would shut down the virus, not the country. Welker also questioned Trump on the importance of schools, and he said that we should open schools and not go under lockdowns as he says Biden advocates for. Trump said the transmission rate to teachers is very small, saying that we won’t have a country at the end of this pandemic if we continue to stay locked down, reiterating that “the cure cannot be worse than the problem itself.” Trump said that New York is a “ghost town” and that “businesses are dying.” Biden said that he sees the country not as red or blue, but as America, and argued that many states with current spikes are Republican Midwestern states. Trump put out the example of the death rates in New York and the shutdowns in Michigan and North Carolina. Welker also asked Trump about his claim that Dr. Anthony Fauci was an idiot, and he brought up the example that Fauci initially said not to wear masks at the beginning of the pandemic. Biden brought up Trump’s interview with Bob Woodward, where he said Trump knew how dangerous the virus was but did not want to panic the American people.

As Welker moved to the next topic, Biden said that he would make the Chinese government pay for their missteps, vowing to hold China accountable to international standards by punishing them with sanctions. Trump said that he made China pay on steel, but Biden dismissed it characteristically as malarkey.

The debate then pivoted to the topic of national security and the security of the election and brought up Russian and Iranian interference in the presidential election. Biden said that countries who do interfere “will pay the price” if he is elected, saying that the countries were interfering with American sovereignty. He also brought up Trump’s “friend” Rudy Giuiani, who he characterized as a “Russian pawn.” Trump said that Russia wanted him to lose, touting his record on Russia, saying “there has been nobody tougher on Russia than Donald Trump.” Trump did not outline a plan, saying that Welker should instead level with the American people. Biden attacked Trump’s reluctance to release his tax returns, saying that foreign countries were paying him a lot of money through his properties. Trump then went on to say that he prepaid tens of millions of dollars, contrary to the New York Times report which claimed that the president had only paid $750 in income taxes in ten of the past fifteen years. Trump also attacked Biden’s tax records and said he was being treated very unfairly by the Internal Revenue Service. Biden told Trump to “stop messing around” and “to show us” his tax records. Trump also reiterated the “phony witch hunt” that he had to go through, reiterating there was no collusion with Russia. He also brought up the topic of Hunter Biden, Biden’s son. Welker then pressed Biden on his son’s relationship with Ukraine, which he characterizes as “not unethical.” He also said that Trump tried to bribe Ukraine to smear Joe Biden, which spurred Trump’s impeachment early last year. Welker also questioned Trump’s conflicts of interest and new reports of his bank account in China, which Trump said everyone knows about and is listed.

Welker quickly pressed Trump and Biden on the topic of North Korea, and he referenced his “different kind of relationship” with Kim Jong-Un and praised himself for not starting a nuclear war. Biden said he wants to control North Korea and questioned Trump’s relationship with Kim Jomg-Un, who he called a “thug” multiple times.

The debate moved on to American families and the economy. The conversation turned to healthcare, with Trump calling Obamacare “no good,” and said that under his administration, premiums came down and that pre-existing conditions would continue to be covered, and that he would renegotiate a new and “beautiful” health care plan, claiming that Republicans will be able to flip the House in November. Biden said he would pass Obamacare with a public option, calling it “Bidencare.” He also promised to lower drug prices and made clear he would not abolish private health insurance. He also vowed to cover pre-existing conditions, reiterating that Trump has not come up with a plan and that there was no way Trump could cover pre-existing conditions. Biden also argued that medicare would not be controlled by the government, and said everyone has a right to affordable healthcare. Trump referenced Biden’s 47-year tenure in the Senate and vice-presidency, saying “he [Biden] didn’t do anything.” He also talked about Biden’s flip-flopping on the topic of fracking. Trump also said Biden would destroy healthcare and social security. Welker also asked about the topic of minimum wage and Biden advocated for the Paycheck Protection Program, put in place during the pandemic. Trump said that there should be a state-by-state system, citing that all states are different. He said he would pass a $15 minimum wage for some states, calling it “ruinous” for other states.

The topic then shifted to immigration. Welker questioned the Trump administration’s zero-tolerance policy, where he separated families. He brought up cartels coming through the border, and touted his achievement of building 400 miles of his promised border wall. He also said many children were brought through “cartels [and] coyotes.” He also kept reiterating, “Who built the cages?”, referring to detention centers at the border that he claimed Biden built. Biden referenced the recent report that said that 545 children are still separated from their parents. Biden said that within the first 100 days of his administration, he would present a plan to Congress to a path of citizenship for eleven million undocumented immigrants. Trump again said that Biden did nothing. Trump attacked Biden, saying that Biden has no knowledge of immigration law and that “rapists” and bad people would cross the border due to Biden’s catch-and-release policy.

The debate then shifted to the topic of race in America. Biden brought up his daughter’s experience as a social worker and talked about the conversation that many black parents have to have with their kids, claiming there is institutional racism in America, and then quoted from the Constitution. He also criticized Obama’s record of underfunding historically black colleges and universities. Biden also criticized Trump’s claim that there aren’t enough people in prison and said that 38,000 people were released from prison under the Obama-Biden administration and voiced his opposition to mandatory minimum sentences. The exchange got a bit contentious, with Trump saying he ran because of the job Obama did while in office, calling him a corrupt politician and to stop pretending that he is “an innocent baby.” Welker recentered the debate and questioned Trump on his post of a video of a supporter shouting “White power!” Trump said that he is the least racist person in the room. Biden called him one of the most racist presidents in American history. He referenced Trump’s previous comment to the Proud Boys, a white supremacy group, when he said to them to “stand back and stand by.” Trump also criticized Biden’s backing of the 1994 crime bill, to which a visibly exasperated Biden responded, “Oh, God.” Biden acknowledged the bill was a mistake and was trying to reform the system. Trump criticized Biden for being about “all talk, no action.”

Welker then pressed both men on the topic of climate change. Trump advocated for the cleanest air and crystal-clear water and said that carbon emissions numbers are at a 35-year low under his administration. He called the Paris Climate Accord unfair, saying that it would destroy American businesses. Biden called climate change an existential threat to humanity and said that everybody has a moral obligation to save the environment. Biden said his plan called for retrofitting buildings and homes and creating more electric charging stations, while simultaneously creating millions of jobs. Trump said Democrats want to “knock down buildings” and rebuild them “with tiny, tiny windows.” Trump said that he knew more about wind energy than Biden and that it “kills all the birds” and called the plan a “pipe dream.” Biden also clarified his stance on fracking, saying he is against abolishing it. Trump said he is solely responsible for bringing back the oil industry.

Trump said that America is on the road to success and that if Biden is elected, a massive depression will occur, saying that people’s “401(k)s are going to go to hell.” Biden reiterated that the character of the country is on the ballot and that he would be a president for all of America.

With all the uncertainty surrounding our world right now, one thing is clear: All of America is coming out in droves to vote in the election, voting at record numbers. This debate may not have a substantial impact as there are less undecided voters since 2016, and that we’ll see if those few were swayed – because the race could be decided by a couple hundreds of votes. As a whole, this debate seemed more civil and organized than those in the past, and Welker did do a good job at moderating as well. Election Day is on Nov. 3 – we’ll all be closely watching.