Largely absent the rancor that dominated their previous encounter, President Donald Trump and Democratic challenger Joe Biden laid out differing visions and policy proposals as they each made their cases for why Americans should vote for them during Thursday’s final presidential debate before Election Day.
Trump and Biden sparred over the CCP (Chinese Communist Party) virus outbreak, health care, energy policy, race relations, the environment, foreign policy, and taxes.
Moderator Kristen Welker of NBC News drew praise for her management of what many pundits described as largely a calm and substantive discussion between the contenders, with previous debate moderator Chris Wallace of Fox News saying on the air: “I’m jealous. I would’ve liked to have been able to moderate that debate and get a real exchange of views instead of hundreds of interruptions.”
The Democrat challenger warned a “dark winter” was looming in terms of CCP virus infections and accused Trump of mishandling the administration’s response to the outbreak, while the Republican president defended his record on the pandemic, said a vaccine was imminent, and insisted “we’re rounding the turn.”
On health care, Biden, who branded his proposal as “Bidencare” and described it as Obamacare with a public option, said he would support private insurance, and reduce drug prices by allowing Medicare to negotiate drug prices with insurance companies.
Trump accused Biden of pushing for “socialized medicine,” claiming the former vice president would terminate the insurance policies of some 180 million people who “have great private health care.”
“Under what he wants to do, which will basically be socialized medicine, he won’t even have a choice, they want to terminate 180 million plans. We have done an incredible job at healthcare, and we’re going to do even better,” Trump said, adding, “I’d like to terminate Obamacare, come up with a brand new, beautiful health care.”
“People deserve to have affordable healthcare, period,” Biden responded. “And the Bidencare proposal will in fact provide for that affordable healthcare, lower premiums. What we’re going to do is going to cost some money. It’s going to cost over $750 billion over 10 years to do it. And they’re going to have lower premiums. You can buy into the better plans, the cheaper plans, lower your premiums, deal with unexpected billing, and have your drug prices drop significantly.”
The Republican president portrayed himself repeatedly as an outsider to the Washington establishment and sought to cast his opponent as a 47-year political veteran tainted by corruption at the intersection of business and diplomacy. Ahead of the debate, Trump’s campaign held a surprise news conference featuring Tony Bobulinski, a man who said he was a former business partner of Biden’s son, Hunter Biden, and made allegations that the former vice president consulted with his son on China-related business dealings.
Trump leveled several accusations against Biden for his alleged improprieties in foreign business dealings involving family members, and referred to the recent explosive reports about the contents of a hard drive allegedly belonging to Hunter Biden as “the laptop from hell.”
“If this stuff is true about Russia, Ukraine, China, other countries, Iraq—if this is true, then he’s a corrupt politician. So don’t give me the stuff about how you’re this innocent baby,” Trump said.
Biden dismissed the allegations as “malarkey,” accused Trump of trying to duck discussion on substantive issues, and referred to a letter (pdf) penned by dozens of former intelligence officials led by former Director of National Intelligence James Clapper and former CIA Director John Brennan, which claims in reference to the alleged Hunter Biden emails that, “there are a number of factors that make us suspicious of Russian involvement.” Director of National Intelligence John Ratcliffe told Fox News on Oct. 19 that there’s no evidence tying the case of the Hunter Biden laptop to Russian disinformation.
On race, Biden suggested Trump has egged on xenophobic groups, claiming the president “pours fuel on every single racist fire.”
“Come on, this guy has a dog whistle about as big as a foghorn,” Biden said in reference to Trump telling the Proud Boys at their previous debate to “stand back and stand by.”
Trump countered by pointing out his efforts on criminal justice reform and blasting Biden’s support of a 1990s crime bill that many say disproportionately incarcerated black men. Trump then declared himself “the least racist person in this room.”
Trump earlier faced false claims of not disavowing militant hate groups, with Biden wrongly claiming in an interview on ABC in February that Trump has “yet once to condemn white supremacy, the neo-Nazis.” Trump, in fact, explicitly said his “very fine people” comment referred not to white supremacists and neo-Nazis but to “people that went because they felt very strongly about the monument to Robert E. Lee—a great general, whether you like it or not.” At the same press conference where Trump made the “very fine people” comment, he shortly after specifically excluded white supremacists and racists, saying they should be “condemned totally.”
During the debate, Trump repeatedly asked Biden if he would “close down the oil industry,” with Biden saying he “would transition from the oil industry, yes,” and that he would replace it with renewable energy “over time.” Trump seized upon Biden’s remark as “a big statement,” and made a direct appeal to voters in energy producing states like Texas and the key battleground of Pennsylvania.
Trump called Biden’s energy policy proposals a “pipe dream” and said, “We’re going to have the greatest economy in the world, but if you want to kill the economy, get rid of your oil industry you want.”
Following the debate, Biden told reporters as he was boarding his plane that, “We’re not going to ban fossil fuels. We’ll get rid of the subsidies of fossil fuels but not going to get rid of fossil fuels for a long time.”
As of Thursday, with 11 days until Election Day, nearly 49 million Americans had already voted, according to the U.S. Elections Project.