Presidential Debate Live Updates: As Biden Focuses on the Virus and Health Care, Trump Attacks His Family
President Trump returned in Thursday night’s debate to two old falsehoods: that the Obama administration spied on his 2016 campaign and that Robert S. Mueller III’s investigation cleared him on accusations of collusion with Russia.
“I was put through a phony witch hunt for three years,” Mr. Trump said. “It started before I even got elected. They spied on my campaign. No president should ever have to go through what I went through. Let me just say this — Mueller and 18 angry Democrats and F.B.I. agents all over the place spent $48 million. They went through everything I had, including my tax returns, and they found absolutely no collusion and nothing wrong.”
The spying accusations are baseless, and Mr. Mueller’s report was not the “exoneration” Mr. Trump has claimed. Mr. Mueller has said that charging the president with a crime was not an option because of guidance that a sitting president cannot be indicted.
President Trump refused to condemn Russia and Iran for interfering with the presidential election, as he sparred with Joseph R. Biden Jr. about efforts by foreign countries to sway the election results a day after top American security officials said the two countries had both obtained American voter registration data.
“There has been nobody tougher on Russia than Donald Trump,” Mr. Trump said, referring to himself in the third person in response to a question from Kristen Welker, the debate moderator, about what he would do in a second term to combat election interference from foreign adversaries.
President Trump — under fire from Joseph R. Biden Jr. over his low tax payments — again vaguely promised to release his tax returns once a federal audit was completed.
“I released all my tax returns. Twenty-two years — go look at them,” Mr. Biden said. “You have not released a single solitary year of your tax return. What are you hiding? Why are you unwilling? The foreign countries are paying you a lot. Russia is paying you a lot. China is paying you a lot.And your hotels, your businesses all around the country, all around the world. China is building a new road to a golf course you have overseas, so what’s going on? Release your tax return or stop talking about corruption.”
Mr. Trump, who had been trying to bait the former vice president over his son’s business activities, responded by claiming he would soon release his taxes.
“First of all, I called my accountants under audit,” he said. “I’m going to release my tax returns. It will show how great this country is, but more important than that, people were saying $750. I asked a week ago what I paid. They said, sir, you prepaid tens of millions of dollars. I prepaid my tax over the last number of years.”
President Trump dismissed the counsel of Dr. Anthony S. Fauci, the nation’s top infectious disease expert, as he defended his own record on the coronavirus by attacking others.
Asked by the moderator, Kristen Welker, why he described Dr. Fauci as “a disaster” earlier this week, Mr. Trump ticked through what he described as Dr. Fauci’s mistakes in handling the pandemic.
“I’m listening to all of them, including Anthony, I get along very well with Anthony, but he did say ‘do not wear a mask,’” Mr. Trump said. “He did say, as you know, this is not going to be a problem. I think he is a Democrat, but that is OK.”
Mr. Biden responded by reiterating that Mr. Trump had been aware of the seriousness of the virus but chose to dismiss it, as Mr. Trump told the journalist Bob Woodward months ago for his book, because he wanted to keep Americans upbeat about it.
“Think about what the president knew in January and didn’t tell the American people,” Mr. Biden said. “He went on record and said to one of your colleagues, recorded, that he knew how dangerous it was but he did not want to tell us, he didn’t want to tell us because he did not want us to panic. Americans do not panic. He panicked.”
President Trump falsely cast New York as a “ghost town” that is “dying” as a result of shutdowns imposed to fight the coronavirus, and spoke in startlingly dismissive terms about relatively simple measures like installing plexiglass dividers in restaurants.
“When you talk about plexiglass, these are restaurants that are dying, businesses with no money,” Mr. Trump said. “Putting up plexiglass is unbelievably expensive, and it’s not the answer. You are going to sit there in a cubicle wrapped in plastic? These are businesses that are dying. You cannot do that to people.”
His comment came in response to Joseph R. Biden Jr.’s arguing that policymakers did not have to make a binary choice between combating the coronavirus and protecting the economy.
“We ought to be able to walk and chew gum at the same time,” Mr. Biden said. “We ought to be able to safely open, but you need resources to open. You need to be able to, for example if you are going to open a business, have social distancing in the business. If you have a restaurant, you need plexiglass dividers so people cannot infect one another. You need to be in a position to take testing rapidly and know whether a person is in fact infected.”
Joseph R. Biden Jr. — finding himself in a conventional debate against a more restrained President Trump in the early stages of Thursday’s face-off — went on offense by offering a line-by-line indictment of Mr. Trump’s response to the coronavirus pandemic.
“He says we are learning to live with it — people are learning to die with it,” Mr. Biden said. “You folks home who have an empty chair at the kitchen table this morning, that man or wife going to bed tonight and reaching over to try to touch — out of habit — where their wife or husband was, is gone. Learning to live with it? Come on, we’re dying with it. Because he’s never said it’s dangerous. When is the last time — is it really dangerous, still? Are we dangerous? Will you tell the people it is dangerous now?”
Mr. Biden hit back after Mr. Trump claimed he had taken steps that saved millions of lives.
“The fact is that when we knew it was coming, when it hit, what happened? What did the president say?” the former vice president said. “He said, don’t worry, it’s going to go away, it will be gone by Easter. Don’t worry, the warm weather. Don’t worry, maybe inject bleach. He said he was kidding when he said that, but a lot of people thought it was serious. A whole range of things the president has said, even today. He thinks we are in control. We are about to lose 200,000 more people.”
President Trump accused Joseph R. Biden Jr. of “living in a basement,” lobbing a familiar insult against the former vice president as he departed from his initially more restrained tone at the final presidential debate on Thursday.
Asked by Kristen Welker, the debate moderator, to respond to Mr. Biden’s argument that the coronavirus pandemic was far from over, Mr. Trump said the country was “learning to live with it — we have no choice” before falsely suggesting that Mr. Biden was dealing with the virus by hiding in his house.
“We can’t lock ourselves up in a basement like Joe does,” Mr. Trump said. “He has the — he has the ability to lock himself up. I don’t know. He’s obviously made a lot of money someplace. But he has this thing about living in a basement. People can’t do that.”
In fact, though Mr. Biden took a cautious approach to campaigning for much of the summer, largely staying close to his home in Delaware, he has since ramped up his travel and is now holding socially distanced campaign events in battleground states across the country.
President Trump opened the debate with a series of false claims about the coronavirus: He claimed that a vaccine was “ready,” and that he was “immune” because he had recovered from his own illness. He also said that “2.2 million people modeled out were expected to die,” a claim he often repeats but for which there is no clear backing.
“It will be distributed very quickly,” Mr. Trump said, speaking calmly, of a vaccine, when pressed about the quick timeline he had laid out. (Regulators are likely still at least a month away from even considering an emergency authorization for a coronavirus vaccine.)
Former Vice President Joseph R. Biden Jr. opened by saying the president’s handling of the coronavirus disqualified him from serving a second term. Mr. Trump did not interrupt him during his two-minute opening statement, as his microphone was muted.
“220,000 Americans dead,” Mr. Biden said. “Anybody who is responsible for that many deaths should not remain president of United States of America.”
“We are about to go through a dark winter,” Mr. Biden added, “and he has no clear plan and there’s no prospect that there’s going to be a vaccine available for the majority of the American people before the middle of next year.”
“I don’t think we’re going to have a dark winter at all,” Mr. Trump countered.
Later, when pressed on taking responsibility for the spread of the coronavirus in the country, Mr. Trump both accepted and hedged in the same breath. “I take full responsibility, but China brought it here,” he said. “It’s not my fault.”
President Trump and former Vice President Joseph R. Biden Jr. have taken the debate stage in Nashville for their second and final debate.
Mr. Biden emerged wearing a mask, then took it off when he reached his lectern. Mr. Trump did not have a mask on. Kristen Welker, the NBC News correspondent moderating the debate, welcomed both men and posed the first question, about the coronavirus.
As expected, the two men did not shake hands because of precautions taken for the coronavirus, but it is not certain they would have embraced anyway, given the nastiness that has escalated over the last few days of the campaign.
Mr. Trump’s family has entered the audience at Belmont University. They were shown on CNN wearing masks, unlike at the first debate last month in Cleveland.
The debate will take place without plexiglass barriers between the two candidates. The Commission on Presidential Debates had arranged for them, but both campaigns agreed to take them down on Thursday after Mr. Biden and Mr. Trump each tested negative for the coronavirus.
The moderator of tonight’s debate will be Kristen Welker, an NBC News correspondent.
Ms. Welker — who will be only the second Black woman to moderate a presidential debate on her own, following Carole Simpson in 1992 — is a White House correspondent who co-anchors NBC’s “Weekend Today” show.
Tonight, she faces an unenviable task: running an orderly event after President Trump turned the first debate into an interruption-fest.
Mr. Trump has spent the week trying to portray Ms. Welker as “extraordinarily unfair,” part of his attempt to run a campaign not just against Joseph R. Biden Jr. but against the news media.
He has falsely accused Ms. Welker of deleting her Twitter feed, and conservative publications have resurfaced pictures of her posing at the White House Christmas party with President Barack Obama and Michelle Obama in an attempt to show that she is biased.
They failed to mention that she also attended a White House Christmas party hosted by Mr. Trump, who put an end to the tradition of White House correspondents posing for photos with the president and first lady.
In the past, however, Mr. Trump has praised Ms. Welker. At a news conference earlier this year in Davos, Switzerland, Mr. Trump singled her out to congratulate her on her promotion at NBC.
“They made a very wise decision,” he said, even appearing to consider her offer of sitting down with him for an interview.
As President Trump previews attacks on Joseph R. Biden Jr.’s son Hunter, the Biden campaign warned Thursday that it would cast some of those potential attacks as reflecting a foreign misinformation campaign.
“If we see tonight from Donald Trump these attacks on Vice President Biden’s family, I think we need to be very, very clear that what he’s doing here is amplifying Russian misinformation,” Kate Bedingfield, a deputy campaign manager to Mr. Biden, said in a call with reporters.
Mr. Trump has been pushing an unverified New York Post report that suggests Mr. Biden met with an adviser to a Ukrainian energy company on whose board Hunter Biden served. The Biden campaign said official schedules showed no meeting between Mr. Biden and the adviser, and a Senate Republican inquiry found no evidence Mr. Biden had engaged in wrongdoing over his son’s business dealings.
This will not be the first time microphone muting has been an issue at a debate: One of the most famous moments of the 1980 presidential primary came when a moderator in New Hampshire tried to cut off the microphone of Ronald Reagan, whose retort, “I am paying for this microphone, Mr. Green,” quickly became the stuff of legend.
The circumstances were complicated, showing that, then as now, debates about debates were common.
Reagan was set to square off against George Bush in a two-person debate sponsored by The Nashua Telegraph, but after the Federal Election Commission raised objections to the plan, the Reagan campaign agreed to pay for it. As the event began, Reagan and the moderator got into an argument over how many candidates would be allowed to participate.
At one point the moderator asked the technicians to cut off Reagan’s mic. Reagan, with a flash of anger, stood up, picked up his mic, and asked, “Is this on?”
He then sat down again, and delivered his famous line.
“I am paying for this microphone, Mr. Green,” Reagan said, in fact mangling the name of the moderator, Jon Breen, the executive editor of The Nashua Telegraph.
Reagan, a former Hollywood actor, had adapted the line from a Spencer Tracy movie, “State of the Union,” in which the Tracy character says, “Don’t you shut me off. I’m paying for this broadcast.”
Tonight’s muting should be more orderly. During the first two minutes each candidate speaks in each of the six 15-minute segments, his opponent’s microphone will be muted. Kristen Welker, the NBC News correspondent moderating the event, won’t have access to a mute button herself, so her ability to keep the candidates in line may be limited.
The briefing in wildfire-ravaged California last month was a time-honored staple of White House agitprop, the president around a horseshoe-shaped table with local emergency responders and politicians discussing a natural disaster.
But President Trump made news on Sept. 14 at Sacramento’s McClellan Airport. State leaders were urging him to recognize the role of global warming in the record breaking wildfire season, when he smiled, shrugged, and said, “It will start getting cooler. You just watch.”
When a participant lamented that the science did not agree, the president quipped, “I don’t think science knows, actually.”
To Mr. Trump’s supporters, it was a signal that his denial of climate change had not shifted. To his detractors, it was still more proof that he will not accept established science. But according to three people who witnessed the event, it was all theater.
A few minutes later, out of the range of television cameras, Mr. Trump readily agreed with Gov. Gavin Newsom that climate change in fact did exacerbate the wildfire season.
He called its responsibility “probably like 50-50,” along with poor forest management, the people familiar with the discussion said.
Judd Deere, a White House spokesman, said in a statement the remarks were “not a correct reading of the conversation.”
But the president’s casual, semiprivate acknowledgment of climate change stunned several observers, some of whom likened it to the president’s admission to journalist Bob Woodward that he deliberately downplayed the coronavirus despite knowing it was “deadly stuff.”
At the California event, Governor Newsom approached Mr. Trump after the briefing had ended and the press pool had departed. He said he hoped the president understood that California leaders felt it was important to raise the issue of climate change despite their different views, according to the observers, who asked not to be named because they were not authorized to discuss the conversation.
“Gavin, I totally get it, and really it’s probably like 50-50,” President Trump replied, according to those who overheard.
Scientists said whether or not Mr. Trump was purposely provoking outrage on the left to delight his base, his equivocating on climate change was dangerous.
“Published science shows that pollution from human sources causes 98 percent of the heat of climate change and that human-caused climate change has doubled wildfire over natural levels in the western U.S. On both issues, Mr. Trump is wrong,” said Patrick Gonzalez, a forest ecologist and climate change scientist at the University of California, Berkeley.
“When Mr. Trump denies science and blocks action on climate change, he puts people’s lives and homes at risk,” Dr. Gonzalez said.
During live broadcasts, there’s always the potential for a hot mic horror story: someone’s microphone left on, unknown to them, exposing some of their less polished thoughts to the audience. In President Trump and Joseph R. Biden Jr.’s only debate so far, microphone volume wasn’t as much of an issue as interruptions, but those interruptions have illuminated the utility of a mute button all the same.
“I think they had expected that a moderator stepping in and announcing that time is up or asking someone not to interrupt would be effective — it was not,” Mark Lukasiewicz, who has produced debates for NBC and serves as dean of the communications school at Hofstra University, said of the Commission on Presidential Debates. “And so the commission has equipped itself with another tool to enforce that rule.”
That tool is the mute button: Mr. Trump and Mr. Biden will each have two minutes to respond to questions tonight without their opponent being able to speak, after the first debate devolved into practically incomprehensible cross talk spurred by frequent interjections from Mr. Trump.
Particularly in a year when live broadcasts have had to shift online in response to coronavirus concerns, the mute button has become even more important. When a Supreme Court oral argument in Barr v. American Association of Political Consultants was being live-streamed in May, a hilariously inopportune toilet flush (claimed by no one) would have been better left unheard.
And when Senator Tom Carper, Democrat of Delaware, shouted expletives into a mic he didn’t know was on during a virtual Senate hearing on the Postal Service in August, a hot-button issue became a laughing matter.
Politics is not the only arena that benefits from muted mics, as working from home has presented a range of new challenges, being interrupted by family members in the background not the least among them.
In one memorable instance this summer, Clare Wenham, an assistant professor at the London School of Economics, was being interviewed on BBC about the U.K. lockdown when her daughter interrupted with a question. “Mummy, what’s his name?” the girl asked her mother about the interviewer.
Here is a look at where Americans stand on the issues that President Trump and Joseph R. Biden Jr. are set to debate tonight, according to public opinion data.
When the coronavirus shutdown had just begun, some voters expressed tentative support for Mr. Trump’s leadership on the pandemic. But as it became clear that he had no intention of mounting a national response to contain the virus, faith in his performance plummeted.
Mr. Biden has built a formidable polling advantage over Mr. Trump on the coronavirus crisis: By double-digit margins, voters say they trust him over the president to handle it.
It’s not quite clear what the debate’s moderator, Kristen Welker, has planned for the section titled “American families,” but a range of polling data shows that voters remain shaken by the pandemic’s effects and uncertain about what the future holds. The recent New York Times/Siena poll found that 50 percent of likely voters said they were actually better off than four years ago, while just a third said they were doing worse. But when asked about the country at large, 55 percent said things had grown worse.
Race in America
Among Americans — including white voters not in the Republican Party — concern about anti-Black discrimination hit a record high this year. Partly as a result, voters overwhelmingly pick Mr. Biden as the better option to handle racial issues. In an ABC News/Ipsos poll last month, voters said Mr. Biden would do a better job handling issues of racial discrimination than Mr. Trump would by roughly two to one.
Republicans have grown more likely to say that it is white people who face bias, according to polling from the Public Religion Research Institute: 57 percent of Republicans said white people faced a lot of discrimination in the institute’s 2020 American Values Survey. Members of Mr. Trump’s party are now more likely to say that white people or Christians face a great deal of discrimination than they are to say that about Black people, the survey found.
Mr. Trump has consistently denied the science of climate change, leaving him out of step with most Americans — including, at this point, members of his own party. Nearly two-thirds of Americans said they thought the government was doing too little to confront climate change, according to a Pew Research Center poll this year. It found majorities of both Democrats and Republicans supporting a range of federal measures to confront global warming.
By a huge margin — 58 percent to 19 percent — registered voters said in an NBC News/Wall Street Journal poll that Mr. Biden would handle the response to climate change better than Mr. Trump.
Voters have been evenly split on whether Mr. Trump was being too hostile to America’s traditional allies (43 percent said yes) or handling those allegiances well (44 percent), according to a Quinnipiac University poll last year.
Americans broadly think Mr. Biden would do a better job of handling foreign policy. Fifty-nine percent chose him on the issue, according to a CNN poll last month, compared with just 39 percent who picked Mr. Trump.
In 2016, Mr. Trump consistently scored ahead of Hillary Clinton in polls measuring whom voters considered to be the “stronger leader.” But when asked in an ABC News/Washington Post poll last year whether they thought he had the right personality and temperament to do the job of president, 62 percent of Americans said no, while just 36 percent said yes.
Asked in a CNN poll this month whom they considered more honest and trustworthy, Americans chose Mr. Biden over Mr. Trump, 57 percent to 33 percent.
Barring some cataclysmic event in the next two weeks, tonight’s debate will be the last moment in the presidential race guaranteed to draw a huge viewership, and the final time President Trump and former Vice President Joseph R. Biden Jr. will share a stage.
The stakes are particularly high for Mr. Trump, who is trailing in most national and battleground state polls and whose performance at the first debate appeared to hurt his standing. The president pulled out of what was supposed to be a second debate after the Commission on Presidential Debates decided that the forum should be held virtually in light of Mr. Trump’s coronavirus diagnosis.
Here is what you need to know about tonight’s debate, and how to watch.
Kristen Welker of NBC News will moderate the debate, which will take place in Nashville.
It will begin at 9 p.m. Eastern and run for 90 minutes. The announced topics include fighting the coronavirus, American families, race in the United States, climate change, national security and leadership.
The New York Times will cover the event live, with real-time analysis from teams of reporters, on nytimes.com.
The debate will be televised on channels including ABC, CBS, NBC, CNN, C-SPAN, PBS, Fox News and MSNBC. Many news outlets, including ABC, CBS, NBC, PBS, Fox News and C-SPAN, will stream the debate on YouTube.
After the first presidential debate devolved into a chaotic spectacle marked by President Trump’s frequent interruptions, the Commission on Presidential Debates took the extraordinary step of deciding to mute the microphones of the candidates during portions of tonight’s debate, the second and final one before Election Day.
During the first two minutes each candidate speaks in each of the six 15-minute segments, his opponent’s microphone will be muted. After those initial statements in each segment, both mics will be turned on and are not expected to be cut off during the rest of the segment, even if one candidate keeps interrupting the other or eats up time talking.
Kristen Welker, the NBC News correspondent moderating the event, faces the daunting task of trying to make both candidates adhere to the rules to which their campaigns agreed. She won’t have access to a mute button herself, so her ability to keep them in line may be limited.
Over the 90-minute debate, Mr. Trump and Mr. Biden will be asked questions in six different categories selected by Ms. Welker: fighting the coronavirus, race in America, climate change, national security, leadership and American families.
Mr. Biden is expected to redirect his answers back to Mr. Trump’s handling of the coronavirus, which has killed more than 222,000 people in the United States so far, whereas Mr. Trump has signaled he hopes to attack Mr. Biden’s son Hunter.
When President Trump and Joseph R. Biden Jr. face off in Nashville tonight at their final debate, they will be grilled on six issues, organizers said: the coronavirus, race relations, climate change, national security, American families and leadership.
The topics were selected by the debate’s moderator, Kristen Welker of NBC News, and while it is unclear just what she will ask, they are all subjects that have divided the candidates. Here is where the candidates stand on some of those issues.
Since the beginning of the pandemic, Mr. Trump has downplayed the threat from the virus and has ignored advice from health officials, refusing to wear a mask and holding gatherings with large crowds. His administration’s failures to rapidly expand testing are also well documented.
Mr. Biden’s plans call for improved testing, expanded production of personal protective equipment, safe vaccine development and the safe reopening of schools. He has emphasized the importance of following science, and he has modeled responsible behavior on the campaign trail, wearing a mask and refraining from holding crowded rallies.
Race in America
Mr. Trump repeatedly claims to have done more for Black Americans than any president other than Abraham Lincoln, an assertion that most experts say is absurd on its face. The president points to his support for long-term funding for historically Black colleges and universities, and to his signing of the bipartisan First Step Act, which made modest reforms in federal sentencing laws.
But from the earliest days of his presidency, Mr. Trump has stoked racial divisions. After clashes between white supremacists and counterprotesters at a rally in Charlottesville, Va., in 2017, he said that there were “very fine people on both sides.” He used vulgar language to deride African nations and said that Haitian immigrants “all have AIDS.” And in the first debate, he refused to denounce the Proud Boys, a far-right extremist group, telling them to “stand back and stand by.”
Since the death of George Floyd in police custody in May, Mr. Biden has emphasized the need to fight racial injustice, speaking about the issue in a strikingly different way than Mr. Trump does. This summer, Mr. Biden rolled out a plan to address economic racial disparities, such as by increasing access to capital for minority-owned businesses. He has also called for changes in policing, including a ban on chokeholds.
Mr. Trump has called climate change a hoax and called those who care about the issue “prophets of doom.” Mr. Trump has moved to withdraw from the Paris agreement on climate change and has rolled back virtually every regulation aimed at reducing emissions from vehicles, power plants and other sources. He has promoted the development of fossil fuel energy, and made it easier for aging coal plants to stay online.
Mr. Biden has attacked Mr. Trump as a “climate arsonist,” criticized the president’s dismissiveness of science and championed a $2 trillion plan to develop clean energy while driving down emissions. But he also has been on the defensive about the Green New Deal, a climate plan embraced by progressive groups and criticized by Republicans. In his first debate with Mr. Trump, Mr. Biden said he did not support the Green New Deal, but his website calls it a “crucial framework” for action.
Another area where Mr. Biden is likely to come under attack from Mr. Trump is fracking, the process of extracting oil and gas from shale rock. Mr. Biden has pledged a ban on new oil and gas permitting on public lands and waters, but he has assured union leaders that he will protect existing fracking jobs while pursuing a clean energy transition. Mr. Trump has accused him, falsely, of wanting to ban fracking altogether.