Tuesday night, the first presidential debate took place between current President Donald Trump and former vice president Joe Biden.
Moderated by Fox News anchor Chris Wallace, moderator of debates during the 2016 presidential election, the debate lasted one and a half hours and was not fact-checked live.
Frank J. Fahrenkopf Jr., one of three co-chairs for the Commission on Presidential Debates, said, “If one of the candidates says something incorrect onstage Tuesday, it is the other candidate's job to raise concern and essentially fact check live.”
“My job is to be as invisible as possible,” Wallace said prior to the debate.
The debate was intended to be divided into six topic-based segments within which the moderator would ask each candidate direct questions, allow them two minutes to respond uninterrupted then allow open discussion before moving on.
The six segments consisted of the Supreme Court nomination, the president’s handling of the COVID-19 outbreak, the nation’s economy, racial violence across America, each candidate’s political record and integrity of the election.
Despite the intended topics and Wallace’s efforts to steer the debate, the discussion frequently drifted to criticizing each other’s debate tactics, relationships within their own political parties, dealings with foreign countries and other tangential topics.
Regarding his own accomplishments during the tenure of his presidency, Trump spoke of his reaction to the COVID-19 pandemic as having been praised by the director of the National Institute of Allergy and Infectious Diseases Dr. Anthony Fauci and governors alike as “phenomenal” and that we’re weeks away from a vaccine.
Trump also described his economic recovery results as “coming back incredibly well, setting records as it does it. It doesn’t need somebody to come in and shut it down.”
When Wallace asked Trump about Internal Revenue Service reports released by the New York Times on Sept. 27 that stated he had only paid $750 in income taxes during 2016 and 2017, Trump responded, “I paid millions of dollars in federal income taxes in 2016 and 2017, and you’ll get to see it.”
Biden laid out an environmental plan for the future that included adding 500,000 electric vehicle charging stations along new highways, rejoining the Paris Accord and reaching net-zero fuel emissions by the year 2035.
Trump stated that while he does believe human pollution and greenhouse gas emissions contribute to global warming to an extent, the current state of the country’s clean air and water is “phenomenal.”
Biden also addressed the racial violence across the country, “There’s a systemic injustice in this country in education, work and law enforcement. The vast majority of police officers are good, decent, honorable men and women. They risk their lives every day to take care of us, but there are some bad apples, and when they find them, they have to be sorted out. They have to be held accountable.”
Biden said he supports a system where instead of defunding police, “they (police officers) need to have someone with them as a psychologist when they show up to a 911 call to keep them from having to use force and be able to talk people down.”
The final topic of the debate, the integrity of the election, showed stark differences in the candidates’ responses. Biden supported the mail-in ballot system, noting that five states, two of which are majority Republican, have done it for decades and that the U.S. military has done it since the Civil War.
“(Trump’s) trying to dissuade people from voting because he’s trying to scare them into thinking that it’s not going to be legitimate,” Biden said. “No one has established that there is fraud at all with mail-in ballots.”
Trump responded, “We might not know (the outcome of the election) for months. . . They have mailmen selling ballots and dumping ballots in the river. When you have 80 million ballots coming in and swamping the system, you know it can’t be done.”
Like many past presidential debates, last night was rife with near-constant interruption both between the candidates and from the candidates toward the moderator.
“Gentlemen, I hate to raise my voice, but I see it needs to be,” Wallace said at one point while both candidates were speaking simultaneously. “In (the next) segment, you’re each going to have two uninterrupted minutes. Mr. President, you can say anything you want, but I think the country would be better served if we allowed both people to speak with fewer interruptions. I’m appealing to you, sir, to do that.”A full recording of last night’s debate can be viewed free on YouTube. Below is the schedule for the remaining three debates before the election on Nov. 3.
Vice presidential debate - Wednesday, Oct. 7 at the University of Utah in Salt Lake City, Utah
- Second presidential debate - Thursday, Oct. 15 at Adrienne Arsht Center for the Performing Arts in Miami, Florida
- Third presidential debate - Thursday, Oct. 22 at Belmont University in Nashville, Tennessee