‘Shut up, man’ – Bitterness boils over at first presidential debate

  • President Donald Trump and Democratic presidential candidate former Vice President Joe Biden exchange points during the first presidential debate Tuesday, Sept. 29, 2020, at Case Western University and Cleveland Clinic, in Cleveland, Ohio. (AP Photo/Morry Gash, Pool) Morry Gash

  • Democratic presidential candidate former Vice President Joe Biden answers a question during the first presidential debate Tuesday, Sept. 29, 2020, at Case Western University and Cleveland Clinic, in Cleveland, Ohio. (AP Photo/Morry Gash, Pool) Morry Gash

  • President Donald Trump responds to Democratic presidential candidate and former Vice President Joe Biden during the first presidential debate Tuesday at Case Western University and Cleveland Clinic, in Cleveland, Ohio. AP

  • Guests for the first presidential debate take their seats, Tuesday, Sept. 29, 2020, at Case Western University and Cleveland Clinic, in Cleveland, Ohio. (AP Photo/Patrick Semansky) Patrick Semansky

  • President Donald Trump gives a thumbs up as he arrives at Cleveland Hopkins International Airport for the first presidential debate, Tuesday, Sept. 29, 2020, in Cleveland. (AP Photo/Evan Vucci) Evan Vucci

  • The Ohio National Guard directs traffic away from the debate hall, Tuesday, Sept. 29, 2020, in Cleveland. The first presidential debate between Republican candidate President Donald Trump and Democratic candidate and former Vice President Joe Biden is being held in Cleveland Tuesday. (AP Photo/Tony Dejak) Tony Dejak

  • Broadcast journalists stand in front of cameras outside the Health Education Campus of Case Western Reserve University ahead of the first presidential debate between Republican candidate President Donald Trump and Democratic candidate former Vice President Joe Biden, Tuesday, Sept. 29, 2020, in Cleveland. (AP Photo/Julio Cortez) Julio Cortez

  • UFC fighter Colby Covington takes his seat as a guest of President Donald Trump to watch the first presidential debate Tuesday, Sept. 29, 2020, at Case Western University and Cleveland Clinic, in Cleveland, Ohio. (AP Photo/Patrick Semansky) Patrick Semansky

  • From L-r., Rep. Chris Coons, D-Del., Rep. Lisa Rochester, D-Del., and Mayor of Los Angeles, Eric Garcetti, talking before taking their seats before the start of the first presidential debate Tuesday, Sept. 29, 2020, at Case Western University and Cleveland Clinic, in Cleveland, Ohio. (AP Photo/Patrick Semansky) Patrick Semansky

  • President Donald Trump response to Democratic presidential candidate former Vice President Joe Biden during the first presidential debate Tuesday, Sept. 29, 2020, at Case Western University and Cleveland Clinic, in Cleveland, Ohio. (AP Photo/Morry Gash, Pool) Morry Gash

  • A general view of the Health Education Campus of Case Western Reserve University ahead of the first presidential debate between Republican candidate President Donald Trump and Democratic candidate former Vice President Joe Biden, Tuesday, Sept. 29, 2020, in Cleveland. (AP Photo/Julio Cortez) Julio Cortez

  • President Donald Trump, left, and Democratic presidential candidate former Vice President Joe Biden, right, with moderator Chris Wallace, center, of Fox News during the first presidential debate Tuesday, Sept. 29, 2020, at Case Western University and Cleveland Clinic, in Cleveland, Ohio. (AP Photo/Patrick Semansky) Patrick Semansky

Published: 9/30/2020 8:42:42 AM

Marked by angry interruptions and bitter accusations, the first debate between President Donald Trump and Democratic challenger Joe Biden erupted in contentious exchanges Tuesday night over the coronavirus pandemic, city violence, job losses and how the Supreme Court will shape the future of the nation’s health care.

In what was the most chaotic presidential debate in recent years, somehow fitting for what has been an extraordinarily ugly campaign, the two men frequently talked over each other with Trump interrupting, nearly shouting, so often that Biden eventually snapped at him, “Will you shut up, man?”

“The fact is that everything he’s said so far is simply a lie,” Biden said. “I’m not here to call out his lies. Everybody knows he’s a liar.”

Trump and Biden arrived in Cleveland hoping the debate would energize their bases of support, even as they competed for the slim slice of undecided voters who could decide the election. It has been generations since two men asked to lead a nation facing such tumult, with Americans both fearful and impatient about the coronavirus pandemic that has killed more than 200,000 of their fellow citizens and cost millions of jobs.

Over and over, Trump tried to control the conversation, interrupting Biden and repeatedly talking over the moderator, Chris Wallace of Fox News. The president tried to deflect tough lines of questioning — whether on his taxes or the pandemic — to deliver broadsides against Biden.

The president drew a lecture from Wallace, who pleaded with both men to stop interrupting.

Wallace struggled to stop Trump from interrupting and at times seemed to lose control of the debate.

“Mr. President, as the moderator, we are going to talk about COVID in the next segment,” Wallace said.

Soon after: “I’m the moderator, and I’d like you to let me ask my question.”

Minutes later: “Please let the vice president talk.”

And when Wallace noted that Trump hasn’t come up with his health care plan in nearly four years, Trump turned the question back on Wallace.

“First of all, I’m debating you and not him. That’s OK. I’m not surprised.”

Biden tried to push back against Trump, sometimes looking right at the camera to directly address viewers rather than the president and snapping, “It’s hard to get a word in with this clown.”

But despite his efforts to dominate the discussion, Trump was frequently put on the defensive and tried to sidestep when he was asked if he was willing to condemn white supremacists and paramilitary groups.

“What do you want to call them? Give me a name. Give me a name,” Trump said, before Wallace mentioned the far right, violent group known as the Proud Boys. Trump then pointedly did not condemn the group, instead saying, “Proud Boys, stand back, stand by, but I’ll tell you what, somebody’s got to do something about Antifa and the left because this is not right-wing problem. This is a left wing problem.”

The vitriol exploded into the open when Biden attacked Trump’s handling of the pandemic, saying that the president “waited and waited” to act when the virus reached America’s shores and “still doesn’t have a plan.” Biden told Trump to “get out of your bunker and get out of the sand trap” and go in his golf cart to the Oval Office to come up with a bipartisan plan to save people.

Trump snarled a response, declaring that “I’ll tell you Joe, you could never have done the job that we did. You don’t have it in your blood.”

“I know how to do the job,” was the response from Biden, who served eight years as Barack Obama’s vice president.

The pandemic’s effects were in plain sight, with the candidates’ lecterns spaced far apart, all of the guests in the small crowd tested and the traditional opening handshake scrapped. The men did not shake hands and, while neither candidate wore a mask to take the stage, their families did sport face coverings.

Trump struggled to define his ideas for replacing the Affordable Care Act on health care in the debate’s early moments and defended his nomination of Amy Coney Barrett, declaring that “I was not elected for three years, I’m elected for four years.”

“We won the election. Elections have consequences. We have the Senate. We have the White House and we have a phenomenal nominee, respected by all.”

Trump criticized Biden over the former vice president’s refusal to comment on whether he would try to expand the Supreme Court in retaliation if Barrett is confirmed to replace the late Justice Ruth Bader Ginsburg.

The president also refused anew to embrace the science of climate change.

As the conversation moved to race, Biden accused Trump of walking away from the American promise of equity for all and making a race-based appeal.

“This is a president who has used everything as a dog whistle to try to generate racist hatred, racist division,” Biden said.

Recent months have seen major protests after the deaths of Black people at the hands of police. And Biden said there is systemic racist injustice in this country and while the vast majority of police officers are “decent, honorable men and women” there are “bad apples” and people have to be held accountable.

Trump in turn claimed that Biden’s work on a federal crime bill treated the African American population “about as bad as anybody in this country.” The president pivoted to his hardline focus on those protesting racial injustice and accused Biden of being afraid to use the words “law and order,” out of fear of alienating the left.

“Violence is never appropriate,” Biden said. “Peaceful protest is.”

Trump said Biden was the politician who helped put millions of Black Americans in prison with the 1994 crime law. Biden called Trump “the racist” in the race.

Biden was quiet as Trump blitzed him as a tool of the “radical left” and a weak figure who opposes “law and order.” He pressed Biden repeatedly to name any police union that’s endorsed him. He accused Biden of wanting to “defund the police.”

Biden didn’t capitalize when Trump refused to condemn armed militias, insisting: “This is not a right-wing problem. This is a left-wing problem.”

The former vice president tried to push back, but not until after Trump had made his arguments.

Biden regained some footing mocking the president’s warnings about suburbs, saying, “He wouldn’t know a suburb unless he took a wrong turn.” And perhaps revealing the thinking about allowing Trump the rhetorical upper hand, Biden said, “All these dog whistles and racism doesn’t work anymore.”

As expected, Trump found a way to bring up Hunter Biden, the former vice president’s son, and recycle allegations about the younger Biden’s international business practices. Biden called Trump’s litany “discredited” and fired back, “I mean, his family we can talk about all night.”

But Biden sidestepped any of the specifics of Trump’s international business dealings and instead turned straight to the camera. “This is not about my family or his family,” Biden said as Trump tried to talk over him. “This is about your family.”

In a later exchange, Trump interrupted Biden when he was talking about his late son, Beau Biden, who died of cancer in 2015 after having served in Iraq.

“I don’t know Beau, I know Hunter,” Trump said.

Trump, who is no stranger to going on offense, kept his Democratic opponent fighting to complete a sentence throughout the debate. Trump frequently interrupted Biden mid-sentence, sometimes in intensely personal ways.

“There’s nothing smart about you,” Trump said of Biden. “47 years you’ve done nothing.”

Trump tactics may have been effective at breaking up the worst of Biden’s attacks — simply by talking over them.

With just 35 days until the election, and early voting already underway in some states, Biden stepped onto the stage holding leads in the polls — significant in national surveys, close in some battleground states — and looking to expand his support among suburban voters, women and seniors. Surveys show the president has lost significant ground among those groups since 2016, but Biden faces his own questions encouraged by Trump’s withering attacks.




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