Dissecting the debate: Biden, Trump differ sharply over election integrity, racism and the pandemic

Dissecting the debate: Biden, Trump differ sharply over election integrity, racism and the pandemic

- in Defending Democracy, News, Top Story
CLEVELAND, OHIO – SEPTEMBER 29: U.S. President Donald Trump and former Vice President and Democratic presidential nominee Joe Biden speak during the first presidential debate at the Health Education Campus of Case Western Reserve University on September 29, 2020 in Cleveland, Ohio. This is the first of three planned debates between the two candidates in the lead up to the election on November 3. (Photo by Morry Gash-Pool/Getty Images)














[Editor’s note: States Newsroom reporters Laura Olson and Ariana Figueroa filed the following three separate stories early this morning detailing different aspects of last night’s presidential debate. The debate at Case Western Reserve University and Cleveland Clinic was the first of three in advance of the Nov. 3 election. The next debate between Vice President Mike Pence and Democratic vice presidential nominee Kamala Harris will be Oct. 7. The next presidential debate is Oct. 15 in Miami.]

Biden says he’ll support election outcome but Trump urges supporters to ‘watch very carefully’

By Laura Olson

Democratic presidential nominee Joe Biden pledged Tuesday night to accept the outcome of the election, while President Donald Trump urged his supporters to “watch very carefully” what happens as voters cast their general-election ballots.

Those comments were in response to a question at the first presidential debate from debate moderator and Fox News anchor Chris Wallace, who asked the two men if they would signal they trust the electoral process by urging supporters to calmly accept the election results and not declaring victory until the final tally is certified.

“Once the winner is declared after all the ballots are counted, all the votes are counted, that will be the end of it,” Biden said. “And if it’s me in fact, fine. If it’s not me, I’ll support the outcome.”

Trump did not make a similar promise, instead saying he hopes it will be a “fair election” but directing those who support him to watch for evidence of fraud or misconduct.

“I am urging my supporters to go into the polls and watch very carefully, because that’s what has to happen. I am urging them to do it,” Trump said, adding: “I hope it’s going to be a fair election. … But if I see tens of thousands of ballots being manipulated, I can’t go along with that.”

He specifically criticized election officials in Philadelphia, who Trump said were preventing poll workers from witnessing ballots being cast at satellite election offices in the heavily Democratic city on Tuesday. Those early-voting sites are treated differently than traditional polling places, and poll watchers don’t have the same rights in those locations, according to the Philadelphia Inquirer.

The exchange over accepting the election results comes amid rising concerns about the security and accuracy of this year’s election, heightened not just by continued public remarks from intelligence officials about the potential for foreign meddling, but also Trump’s efforts to cast doubt about the legitimacy of voting by mail.

To bolster his argument against mail voting, Trump in the debate pointed to nine ballots found discarded in a northeastern Pennsylvania county election office, where officials say the ballots were inadvertently opened early because the envelopes are similar to those for absentee ballot requests. Those ballots were found in a trash can, and a temporary employee hired for election-related tasks has been fired.

Trump also criticized court rulings that allow ballots to be counted if they are sent by Election Day but not received until a certain number of days afterward.

Biden defended mail balloting as safe, secure, necessary amid the coronavirus pandemic—and a practice that Trump also uses to cast his vote.

“The fact is, there are going to be millions of people because of COVID that are going to be voting by mail-in ballots like he does,” Biden said, referring to Trump voting by a Florida absentee ballot.

A record-setting number of voters are expected to cast their ballot this year without entering a polling place, with more than 71 million ballots already requested or sent to voters so far, according to the New York Times.


Trump tells far-right group to ‘stand back and stand by’ in presidential debate

By Ariana Figueroa 

President Donald Trump and Democratic nominee Joe Biden in Tuesday night’s chaotic and messy presidential debate were each asked how they would deal with the nation’s institutional racism.

Trump directly addressed a far-right group, the Proud Boys, telling them to “stand back and stand by,” and failed to answer a question about why Americans should trust him to deal with issues of racial justice.

Biden recalled Trump’s “both sides” response to a deadly neo-Nazi march in Charlottesville, Va., in 2017.

The questions at the debate at Case Western Reserve University and Cleveland Clinic followed the police killings of George Floyd and Breonna Taylor this year that have ushered in a civil rights movement calling for police reform and justice for Black Americans killed by law enforcement.

While Biden in the debate focused on his message of unity and community based policing, Trump reinforced his position of “law and order” and the need to support law enforcement.

Biden said that a main reason that he decided to run in the 2020 presidential election was Trump’s reaction after Heather Heyer, who was protesting a “Unite the Right” white supremacy rally, was killed by a neo-Nazi in Charlottesville. The president later said that there “were very fine people on both sides.”

Debate moderator Chris Wallace of Fox News asked the president if he would condemn white supremacists and militia groups that incite violence.

“Are you willing tonight to condemn white supremacists and groups to say they need to stand down and not add to the violence and number of the cities as we saw in Kenosha and as we’ve seen in Portland?” Wallace asked Trump, referring to protests in Wisconsin and Oregon.

“I’m willing to do that,” Trump said, but then added that left groups were to blame for violence and unrest.

Wallace continued to ask the president if he would condemn white supremacist groups.

“Proud Boys stand back and stand by,” Trump said, speaking to a far-right and neo-fascist group that only admits men and promotes violence.

The extremist organization in reaction quickly circulated that message on Twitter.

Biden said that “the only way we’re going to bring this country together is bringing everybody together—there’s nothing we cannot do.”

Trump did not answer Wallace’s initial question about why Americans should trust him to deal with race issues in the country. He instead brought up Biden’s support of a 1994 crime bill and stressed the need for police to contain protesters.

“You don’t want to say anything about law and order,” Trump said to Biden. “I’ll tell you what the people of this country want and demand, law and order, and you’re afraid to even say it.”

Biden responded that police “have to be held accountable” and that “violence in response is never appropriate.”


Trump and Biden quarrel over mask mandates and state shutdowns in first presidential debate

By Laura Olson

The two men vying to become the next president offered a stark contrast to voters on face mask requirements and on how soon state economies should reopen amid the pandemic, just two of many areas where they squabbled during Tuesday’s contentious and often chaotic first debate.

The exchange between President Donald Trump and former Vice President Joe Biden touched on some of the major disputes that have erupted during the pandemic, with Trump decrying state shutdowns of businesses and Biden criticizing the lack of a White House plan on containing the COVID-19 outbreak.

Trump said he wears a face mask when “needed” and mocked Biden’s use of one; defended his recent rallies as safe because the large, tightly packed events have taken place outside; and blasted Democratic-led states that have taken a more cautious approach to allowing businesses to reopen and social gatherings to resume.

“If you look at Pennsylvania, if you look at certain states that have been shut down, they have Democratic governors,” Trump said. “One of the reasons they shut down is because they want to keep it shut down until after the election.”

Pennsylvania Gov. Tom Wolf has defended his administration’s actions in response to the coronavirus pandemic, which included ordering non-essential businesses to shut down this spring. That order was lifted using a color-coded, county-by-county basis.

When case counts began to rise again in July, Wolf’s administration limited public gatherings to 25 people for indoor events and 250 for outdoor events.

A U.S. District Court judge in Pittsburgh struck down the most significant portions of Wolf’s response earlier this month, calling it “well-intentioned” but unconstitutional. Republicans in the state Legislature also have criticized Wolf’s response, arguing that he overstepped his authority and seeking to roll back restrictions on school districts and sporting events.

Trump argued during Tuesday’s debate that “people will be hurt” if restrictions continue, preventing businesses from fully resuming their operations.

Biden shot back that resuming business operations and other aspects of normal life requires a plan for supporting companies with enough protective gear and other support, and faulting Trump for not providing adequate funds or planning for reopening.

“He is insisting that we go forward and open, when you have almost half the states in America with a significant increase in COVID cases and COVID deaths. And he wants to open it up more,” Biden said. “Why aren’t schools open? Because it costs a lot of money to open them safely.”

Biden also criticized Trump’s decision to hold large rallies that are virtually unchanged from the massive events he held prior to the pandemic. The former vice president described those events as “totally irresponsible.”

Trump defended the rallies as safe because recent events have been outside, though he held earlier rallies inside, including one in Tulsa in June. He also said he’s holding big events because he is able to draw a large crowd.

As for mask-wearing, Trump pulled out a black face mask and says he does wear one “when needed.”

He then made fun of Biden’s regular use of a face mask—”the biggest mask I’ve ever seen”— and disputed Biden’s citation of an academic model projecting that 100,000 lives could be saved if 95% of Americans wear masks in the coming months.

“They’ve also said the opposite,” Trump said.

“No serious person has said the opposite,” Biden replied.

More than 200,000 Americans have died and more than 7 million have tested positive for COVID-19 since the pandemic began in March.