WASHINGTON — The night voters across the country were waiting for finally arrived: President Donald Trump and former Vice President Joe Biden went head to head in their first debate of the general election.
It was an opportunity for each to appeal to undecided voters and solidify their bases by explaining their policies and visions for the country, but the majority of the time on stage was spent trying to get their points across amid frequent interjections and back-and-forth exchanges.
They bickered over their views on who should appoint the next Supreme Court justice, their stances on health care and even brought each other’s families into the fray. Moderator Chris Wallace of Fox News struggled to rein in the candidates and at times admonished Trump as interrupting more frequently than Biden.
These are some of the most memorable debate moments:
‘Will you shut up, man?’
A question on health care led to a tense moment early in the night with Biden calling on Trump to “shut up.”
“Will you shut up, man?” Biden said while shaking his head, after the president continued to interrupt the former vice president. “This is so unpresidential.”
During the health care discussion, which dominated much of the first 30 minutes of the debate, Trump accused Biden of trying to abolish private health care and accused him of being a “socialist.” Biden, however, said he would expand Obamacare and would continue to have private insurance under his administration.
“Your party wants to go socialist,” Trump said. “They’re going to dominate you, Joe, you know that.”
But Biden pushed back that during the Democratic primaries he beat progressives like Sen. Bernie Sanders of Vermont, whose top policy was Medicare for All, a single-payer health care system.
“I am the Democratic Party right now,” Biden said. “The platform of the Democratic Party is what I, in fact, approved of.”
“I’m the party,” he added.
When asked what his plan is to replace the Affordable Care Act, Trump insisted he had a plan but offered no details and instead claimed he would help protect Americans with preexisting conditions.
Throughout his tenure, the president’s administration has tried to overturn the ACA, which already guarantees protections for preexisting conditions. That aspect of the law cannot be overturned unless other legislation is passed.
‘I’m not elected for three years, I’m elected for four years’
As the first item in the debate, Wallace asked each candidate to explain his stance on when the seat vacated after the death of Supreme Court Justice Ruth Bader Ginsburg should be filled, and by whom. It was the first of several intense arguments between the candidates.
Trump said he is entitled to nominate Amy Coney Barrett because he won the 2016 election, and a Democratic president would have done the same thing.
“I’m not elected for three years, I’m elected for four years,” Trump said.
Biden said the winner of the election should have the right to make the nomination — and noted the court may strike down the Affordable Care Act if Barrett is successfully confirmed.
Biden was also reluctant to say whether he supports a proposal by some Democrats to end the filibuster and “pack” the Supreme Court — adding justices — if Trump successfully appoints Barrett to the Supreme Court before the inauguration, and if Democrats take control of the White House and the Senate.
In a heated moment of crosstalk between the president and former vice president, Trump badgered Biden about answering that question, while Biden redirected by saying it was not the main issue at hand.
“The issue is, the American people should speak. You should go out and vote,” Biden said, speaking directly to the camera, while Trump tried to interrupted him.
“Are you going to pack the court?” Trump interjected.
Trump nominated Barrett over the weekend, and Republicans have vowed for a swift confirmation process. As the minority in the Senate, Democrats have little chance of blocking Trump’s nominee from going through.
Trump does not condemn white supremacists when asked
Trump didn’t explicitly condemn white supremacist groups when given the opportunity Tuesday night, and instead pointed his finger at extremism among left-leaning groups.
Wallace asked Trump, “Are you willing, tonight, to condemn white supremacists and militia groups and say that they need to stand down and not add to the violence in a number of these cities, as we saw in Kenosha, and as we’ve seen in Portland?”
Trump responded, “Sure.”
“Then do it,” Biden said.
But Trump said next that the majority of violence he sees comes from leftist groups. Trump has consistently blamed the far left anti-fascist group known as antifa for violence at protests over the summer. FBI Director Christopher Wray said the movement is one of several ideologies driving clashes; another is white supremacists.
The president said he is willing to “do anything,” and wants “to see peace.”
Trump asked Wallace who specifically he should condemn, and Wallace offered up white supremacists and right-wing militias as examples, while Biden chimed in with the Proud Boys. The Proud Boys are a far-right group known for their belief that men – especially white men – are under siege. They have been labeled a hate group by the Southern Poverty Law Center.
“Proud boys: stand back and stand by,” Trump responded. “But I’ll tell you what, I’ll tell you what, somebody’s got to do something about antifa and the left because this is not a right-wing problem.”
‘Did you just use the word smart?’ and other personal attacks
In a debate that lacked much civility, the candidates stooped to questioning each other’s intelligence.
Biden, while hitting Trump for the more than 200,000 deaths that have resulted from the coronavirus pandemic, said, “A lot more are going to die unless he gets a lot smarter, a lot quicker.”
Trump seemed ready to hit back: “Did you just use the word ‘smart?’ Don’t ever use the word smart with me.”
Trump went on with an attack on Biden’s intelligence and academic record. As with several other moments in the debate, Biden chuckled in response.
“There’s nothing smart about you, Joe,” Trump said.
At another point, Biden also called Trump a “fool” for his handling of the coronavirus, knocking him for holding rallies with large crowds and not doing more to encourage mask-wearing among the general public.
“He has been totally irresponsible in the way he has handled the social distancing, the people wearing masks — basically encouraging them not to,” Biden said. “He’s a fool on this.”
Amid the arguing between Trump and Biden, and Wallace attempting to control the situation, Biden said, “It’s hard to get any word in with this clown, excuse me, this president.”
Another point of contention between the candidates on smarts: reports that Trump paid only $750 in taxes for two recent years, which he denied on stage.
Trump acknowledged using tax laws to his benefit: “Like every private person, unless they’re stupid, they go through the laws and that’s what it is.”
Biden’s response? To attack Trump for paying less in taxes than lower-wage workers like teachers.
“He says he’s smart because he takes advantage of the tax code.”
Family members weren’t off limits
After a night of Trump trying to rattle the former vice president, the president hit Biden on his son, Hunter.
Trump claimed the mayor of Moscow gave Hunter Biden $3.5 million. PolitiFact examined the claims around that $3.5 million, and reported ” … proof that Hunter Biden received money through this transaction is unproven.”
Earlier this week, a report was published from two Republican-led Senate committees on whether Hunter Biden’s work in Ukraine constituted a conflict of interest for the Obama administration at a time when Joe Biden was engaged in Ukraine policy as vice president, which the report said was “unclear.” The report also noted that Elena Baturina, the widow of a man who had been mayor of Moscow until 2010, had a financial relationship with Biden and his business partner Devon Archer, according to PolitiFact.
The report said that on “Feb. 14, 2014, Baturina wired $3.5 million to a Rosemont Seneca Thornton bank account for a ‘Consultancy Agreement. Rosemont Seneca Thornton is an investment firm co-founded by Hunter Biden.” Hunter Biden’s lawyer said that he did not co-found the firm.
“What did he do to deserve it?” Trump asked, referring to the $3.5 million.
Joe Biden called Trump’s accusation “totally discredited.”
“My son did nothing wrong,” Biden replied.
Biden added that he if Trump wanted to talk about families and ethics, they could talk about Trump’s family “all night.” The president interjected that his family “lost a fortune by coming down and helping” with his administration.
Biden tried to pivot away from the personal, saying the campaign is not about either candidate’s family, but is about the voters’ families.
The former vice president’s family was brought up once again later in the debate. Biden highlighted his late son, Beau, and his work as a veteran. Trump tried to once again bring up Biden’s other son, Hunter.