The televised encounter represents one of Trump’s last remaining opportunities to reshape a campaign dominated by the COVID-19 pandemic
NASHVILLE — U.S. President Donald Trump and Democratic challenger Joe Biden offered sharply contrasting views on the still-raging coronavirus pandemic at Thursday’s final presidential debate, seeking to persuade the few remaining undecided voters 12 days before the Nov. 3 election.
Trump, a Republican, adopted a more restrained tone than he did during the chaotic first presidential debate in September, when he repeatedly interrupted Biden. But Thursday’s clash still featured plenty of personal attacks between two men who evince little respect for each other, and Trump kept fact-checkers busy by leveling unproven corruption allegations at Biden and his family.
The televised encounter in Nashville, Tennessee, represented one of Trump’s last remaining opportunities to reshape a campaign dominated by a pandemic that has killed more than 221,000 people in the United States. Trump has trailed Biden in opinion polls for months, though the contest is tighter in some battleground states likely to decide the election.
“Anyone who’s responsible for that many deaths should not remain president of the United States of America,” Biden said.
Trump defended his approach to the outbreak and said the country could not afford to close businesses again, even amid fresh surges.
“We’re learning to live with it,” said Trump. “We have no choice.”
“Learning to live with it?” Biden retorted. “Come on. We’re dying with it.”
Trump asserted that a vaccine might finally become available in “weeks,” although experts, including administration officials, have said a vaccine won’t likely be widely available until mid-2021.
Trump portrayed Biden as a career politician whose nearly 50-year record was insubstantial. Biden, meanwhile, returned repeatedly to Trump’s nearly four years as president, pointing to the economic damage the virus has done to people’s lives.
After an opening segment on the pandemic, Thursday’s clash pivoted to rapid-fire exchanges over whether either candidate had improper foreign entanglements.
Trump repeated his accusations that Biden and his son Hunter engaged in unethical practices in China and Ukraine. No evidence has been verified that proves the allegations, and Biden called them false and discredited.
Biden defended his family and said unequivocally that he had never made “a single penny” from a foreign country, before pivoting to accuse Trump of trying to distract Americans.
“There’s a reason why he’s bringing up all this malarkey,” Biden said, looking directly into the camera. “It’s not about his family and my family. It’s about your family, and your family’s hurting badly.”
He accused Trump of avoiding paying taxes, citing a New York Times report claiming that Trump’s tax returns show he paid almost no federal income tax over more than 20 years.
“Release your tax returns or stop talking about corruption,” Biden said.
Trump, who has broken with decades of precedent in refusing to release his tax returns, said he had paid “millions.” He again said he would release his returns only once a longstanding audit was completed.
The candidates clashed over healthcare, China policy and – after months of anti-racism protests – race relations, with Biden saying Trump was “one of the most racist presidents” in history. Trump responded by criticizing Biden’s authorship of a 1994 crime bill that increased incarceration of minority defendants.
U.S. President Donald Trump and Democratic presidential nominee Joe Biden during the final presidential debate on October 22, 2020 in Nashville, Tennessee. Trump responded by criticizing Biden’s authorship of a 1994 crime bill that increased incarceration of minority defendants while asserting that he had done more for Black Americans than any president with the “possible” exception of Abraham Lincoln in the 1860s.
Biden criticized Trump’s effort to persuade the U.S. Supreme Court to invalidate the 2010 Affordable Care Act, the sweeping healthcare reform passed when Biden was vice president in President Barack Obama’s administration.
“People deserve to have affordable healthcare, period,” Biden said, noting that the law prevented insurance companies from denying coverage to people with pre-existing conditions.
Trump said he wanted to replace the ACA with something “much better” that would offer the same protections.
During a segment on climate change, Biden said his environmental plan would “transition from the oil industry” in favor of renewable energy sources, prompting Trump to go on the attack.
“He is going to destroy the oil industry,” Trump said. “Will you remember that, Texas? Will you remember that, Pennsylvania?”
Relatively few voters have yet to make up their minds, and Trump’s window to influence the outcome may be closing. A record 47 million Americans already have cast ballots, eclipsing total early voting from the 2016 election.
The contentious first debate, when the two men traded insults, was watched by at least 73 million viewers. Trump passed up another planned debate last week after it was switched to a virtual format following his COVID-19 diagnosis.
Some key quotes from the final Trump-Biden debate:
Welker asked how each candidate would lead the country out of the pandemic crisis. Trump: “We’re fighting it and we’re fighting it hard… We’re rounding the corner. It’s going away.” Trump: “I caught it. I learned a lot … We have to recover. We can’t close up our nation.” Biden: “If you hear nothing else I say tonight hear this … Anyone who’s responsible for that many deaths should not remain as president of United States of America.” Biden: “This is the same fellow told you this is going to end by Easter last time. This is the same fellow who told you that, don’t worry, we’re going to end this by the summer. We’re about to go into a dark winter, a dark winter, and he has no clear plan.” Trump: “I don’t know if we’re going to have a dark winter, and at all. We’re opening up our country. We’ve learned and studied and understand the disease.” Biden: “He says, we’re, you know, we’re learning to live with it. People are learning to die with it.”
Biden: “He’s legitimized North Korea. He’s talked about his good buddy (leader Kim Jong Un), who’s a thug, a thug. And he talks about how we’re better off when North Korea is much more capable of firing a missile that is able to reach U.S. territory. ”
Trump: “You know what? North Korea – we’re not in a war. We have a good relationship.”
Biden: “We had a good relationship with Hitler before he in fact invaded Europe. Come on.”
“The reason he (Kim) would not meet with President Obama is because President Obama said, ‘We’re going to talk about denuclearization. We’re not going to legitimize you. We’re going to continue to push stronger and stronger sanctions on you.’ That’s why he wouldn’t meet with us.”
Trump: “No matter how well you run (the Affordable Care Act), it’s no good. What we’d like to do is terminate it. We have the individual mandate done. I don’t know that it’s going to work. If we don’t win (in court) … we’ll have Obamacare but it will be better run.”
Biden: “People deserve to have affordable health care, period. Period. Period. Period.”
Biden on children separated at the border: “It makes us a laughingstock and it violates every notion of who we are.”
Trump: “Children are brought here by coyotes and lots of bad people, cartels … We let people in but they have to come in legally.”