With less than two weeks until Election Day, President Trump and former Vice President Joseph R. Biden Jr. laid out starkly different visions of America as they met on the debate stage for the last time. NBC’s Kristen Welker was the moderator.
We fact-checked the candidates’ claims on the coronavirus, racism, health care and more. Highlights from the debate are below.
Kristen Welker kept things under control (the muting helped).
Kristen Welker, the debate’s moderator, began the night with a plea for civility.
“Please,” she instructed the men standing before her, “speak one at a time.”
For the most part, Ms. Welker got what she wanted.
In a high-stakes debut overseeing a presidential debate — taking charge of a candidate matchup that proved a bucking bronco for the last moderator, Chris Wallace of Fox News — Ms. Welker, an NBC anchor and correspondent, managed to restore order to a quadrennial institution that some believed could not be tamed.
Mr. Wallace himself said on Fox News: “Well first of all, 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.”
No doubt, she benefited from Trump 2.0: a calmer president arrived onstage Thursday, a contrast with the candidate who derailed the proceedings in Cleveland last month. And she had a technological assist in the form of muted microphones, a novelty installed to keep the exchanges between Mr. Trump and Joseph R. Biden Jr. from going from civics to chaos.
But in a poised and crisp performance, Ms. Welker, 44, succeeded where Mr. Wallace got walloped. Battle-tested by years of covering the Trump White House, she parried with the president and cut him off as needed; Mr. Trump, eager to shed voters’ memories of his unruly performance last month, mostly acquiesced.
Ms. Welker — the first Black woman to moderate a general-election presidential debate since Carole Simpson of ABC in 1992 — entered the evening facing an onslaught of attacks from Mr. Trump, who earlier this week called her “terrible.”
Little of the pressure showed onscreen. Ms. Welker was polite but firm in guiding the discussion, offering chances for brief rebuttals but also taking control when the candidates threatened to go on a harangue, repeatedly urging, “We need to move on.”
In closing statements, Trump attacks Biden while Biden offers a vision for the country.
Kristen Welker’s final question of the debate to each candidate was simple: In your inaugural address, what would you say to Americans who didn’t vote for you?
President Trump, who has done little to articulate a second-term agenda during any of his interviews over the past several months, used his answer to defend his record on the coronavirus crisis and attack Joseph R. Biden Jr.
“I am cutting taxes, and he wants to raise everybody’s taxes, and he wants to put new regulations on everything,” Mr. Trump said. “He will kill it. If he gets in, you will have a depression the likes of which you have never seen. Your 401(k)s will go to hell and it will be a very, very sad day for this country.”
Mr. Biden offered a more traditional closing statement. He recited an uplifting vision for what the United States would look like under a Biden administration and delineated clear goals for what he would do as president.
“I am an American president,” Mr. Biden said he would say. “I represent all of you, whether you voted for me or against me. And I’m going to make sure that you’re represented. I’m going to give you hope.”
Mr. Biden went on to remind voters that the crux of his candidacy is about offering a vision of an America in which people of opposing political persuasions are not constantly at one another’s throats.
“What is on the ballot here is the character of this country,” Mr. Biden said. “Decency, honor, respect, treating people with dignity, making that sure that everyone has an even chance. And I’m going to make sure you get that. You have not been getting it the last four years.”
The responses encapsulated perhaps the most crucial difference between the two presidential campaigns, one that has only become more apparent as the race has transpired: Mr. Trump’s re-election bid has largely revolved around attacking Democrats and Mr. Biden; Mr. Biden, on the other hand, has repeatedly articulated — at least in broad strokes — how the country would be different under his leadership.
Asked about the environment and race, Trump did not mention the environment or race.
Environmental justice — a theme in some of Democrats’ discussions during the primaries, focusing on the racially disparate effects of climate change and other environmental issues — made a striking appearance on the general-election debate stage.
As the moderator, Kristen Welker, noted, people of color are much likelier than white people to live near chemical plants and oil refineries, which can cause health problems. Given that President Trump’s administration has lifted restrictions on these facilities, Ms. Welker asked him, “Why should these families give you another four years in office?”
Mr. Trump, in his response, did not once mention the environment, health or racial disparities.
“I have not heard the numbers or the statistics you are saying, but they are making a tremendous amount of money economically,” he said. “I saved it again a number of months ago when oil was crashing because of the pandemic. Say what you want about the relationship, we got Saudi Arabia, Mexico and Russia to cut back, way back. We saved our oil industry and now it is very vibrant. Everyone has very inexpensive gasoline. Remember that.”
Joseph R. Biden Jr., by contrast, gave a detailed response.
“Those people live on what they call fence lines. He doesn’t understand this,” Mr. Biden said. “The fact is, those front line communities, it doesn’t matter what you are paying them. It matters how you keep them safe. What do you do. And you impose restrictions on the pollutants coming out of those fence line communities.”
Mr. Biden briefly discussed the pollution he saw in Claymont, Del., as a child, and the high rates of cancer there. He then repeated his campaign pledge to transition from oil and other fossil fuels to renewable energy.
“In terms of business, that’s the biggest statement. Because basically what he is saying is he is going to destroy the oil industry,” Mr. Trump responded. “Will you remember that, Texas? Will you remember that, Pennsylvania, Oklahoma? Ohio?”
“He takes everything out of context,” Mr. Biden said. “But the point of it is, look, we have to move toward net-zero emissions.”
Trump slammed wind power, and Biden said he’d ‘transition’ from oil.
One of the most heated exchanges in a much more sedate debate came over the issue of wind power.
President Trump, as he has often done, falsely claimed that Joseph R. Biden Jr. supported the Green New Deal. (Mr. Biden praised it on his website, but has not said he would back the progressive energy and job creation plan).
“If you look at what he wants to do — if you look at his plan, his environmental plan — you know who developed it? A.O.C. plus three,” he said, a reference to Representative Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez and other progressive lawmakers.
(“It’s actually AOC plus 115 because that’s how many House and Senate members have cosponsored the most ambitious climate legislation in American history,” Ms. Ocasio-Cortez responded on Twitter.)
“We are energy-independent,” said Mr. Trump, who has pledged his support for coal and petroleum producers and ridiculed wind and solar energy sources as impractical.
“I know more about wind than you do,” he added. “It is extremely expensive, kills all the birds, it’s very intermittent, it’s got a lot of problems, and they happen to make the windmills in both Germany and China. And the fumes coming up — if you’re a believer in carbon emission — the fumes coming up to make these massive windmills is more than anything that we are talking about with natural gas.”
Mr. Biden replied: “Find me a scientist who says that.”
“I love solar, but solar doesn’t quite have it yet,” the president added. “It is not powerful yet to really run our big, beautiful factories that we need to compete with the world.”
Later, Mr. Biden said he “would transition from the oil industry” because “the oil industry pollutes significantly” — a fairly conventional answer in keeping with Obama administration policy and with the automotive industry, which has been moving toward high-efficiency or alternative-fuel vehicles for decades.
But Mr. Trump, eager for anything that could give him an edge in energy-producing battlegrounds, responded directly to the camera: “Will you remember that, Texas? Will you remember that, Pennsylvania, Oklahoma? Ohio?”
After the debate, speaking to reporters, Mr. Biden expanded on his remarks. “We’re getting rid of the subsidies for fossil fuels, but we’re not getting rid of fossil fuels for a long time,” he said, according to a pool report.
Kate Bedingfield, a deputy campaign manager on Mr. Biden’s team, also stressed the part of Mr. Biden’s answer in which he had referred to subsidies. “He was very clear in his answer, he was saying that he was going to eliminate oil subsidies,” she said in a call with reporters.
“I think, you know, writ large, the idea of transitioning off of oil is nothing new,” she added, invoking George W. Bush’s remarks on the subject in 2006.
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