The second and final presidential debate of 2020 between President Donald Trump and former Vice President Joe Biden took place Thursday night.
Moderator Kristen Welker, of NBC News, covered six topics throughout the 90-minute debate: fighting COVID-19, American families, race and racism, climate change, national security, and leadership.
Described by many pundits and political analysts as a “status quo debate,” viewers saw a more calm and collected version of both candidates.
A new rule could explain the change in demeanor: The Commission of Presidential Debates adopted a mute button, allowing each candidate to speak uninterrupted for two minutes at the start of each 15-minute segment.
Trump came out strong in the first question on COVID-19.
“We have a vaccine that’s coming, it’s ready. It’s going to be announced within weeks and it’s going to be delivered,” Trump said. When Welker asked if his response was a guarantee, Trump replied, “It is not a guarantee but it will be by the end of the year, but I think it has a good chance.”
Biden was very critical of the White House’s response to COVID-19.
“220,000 Americans dead. If you hear nothing else I say tonight, hear this: Anyone who’s responsible for not taking control — in fact … saying ‘I take no responsibility’, initially — anyone who’s responsible for that many deaths should not remain as President of the United States of America.”
Trump argued a point he has made before: “We have the best testing in the world by far. That’s why we have so many cases.” This statement has been fact-checked by many groups, including the New York Times, who called it “false.”
“Cases are not driven by adequate testing; they are identified by it,” according to Times science reporter Katherine J. Wu.
Biden was ardent in his rebuke of the Trump administration’s response to foreign interference in U.S. elections.
“I made it clear that any country, no matter who it is, that interferes in American elections will pay a price. They will pay a price … They are interfering with American sovereignty, that’s what’s going on right now,” Biden said.
Trump turned the subject of national security back to Biden.
“All of the emails, the emails are horrible. The emails of the kind of money that you were raking in, you and your family. And Joe, you were vice president when some of this was happening, and it should have never happened, and I think you own an explanation to the American people,” Trump said. “And regardless of me, I think you have to clean it up and talk to the American people, maybe you can do it right now.”
Biden was quick to respond to Trump’s accusations.
“I have not taken a penny from any foreign source ever in my life,” Biden said. “We learn that this President paid 50 times the tax in China, has a secret bank account in China, does business in China, and in fact, is talking about me taking money? I have not taken a single penny from any country whatsoever, ever.”
The debate shifted to health care.
“The difference between the president and I, I think healthcare is not a privilege, it’s a right. Everyone should have the right to have affordable healthcare, and I am very proud of my plan,” Biden said. “This is something that’s going to save people’s lives and give some people an opportunity to have healthcare for their children.”
Biden spoke directly to the American people and asked: “How many of you at home are worried and rolling around in bed tonight wondering what in God’s name you’re going to do if you get sick? … We have to provide health insurance for people at an affordable rate, and that’s what I’d do.”
Biden also challenged President Trump’s claim that raising the minimum wage would hurt businesses, and that it should be left up to the states, as it already is.
“They deserve a minimum wage of $15, anything below that puts you below the poverty level. There is no evidence that shows that when you raise the minimum wage, businesses go out of business. That is simply not true,” Biden said.
Trump continually attacked Biden’s record and his work within the Obama administration throughout the debate.
“You keep talking about these things you’re gonna do … but you were there just a short time ago, and you guys did nothing. You know Joe, I ran because of you. I ran because of Barack Obama, because I thought you did a poor job,” Trump told Biden. “It’s all talk and no action with these politicians … Now you’re saying you’re gonna get it done, because you’re all talk and not action.”
The candidates had more to disagree on when it came to the climate and their ideas for our country.
“We’ve done an incredible job environmentally. We have the cleanest air, the cleanest water, and the best carbon emissions standards we’ve seen in many, many years … and we haven’t destroyed our industries,” Trump said after talking about the differences between how he’s handing the climate crisis as compared to the policies endorsed and written by Biden and “AOC plus three” on the Left.
Biden was quick to lay out the stakes and the facts about the situation the country currently faces regarding the climate, and what he would do about it.
“Our health and our jobs are at stake,” Biden said. “My plan will in fact create 18.6 million jobs, 7 million more than his … and I’ll create $1 trillion more in economic growth.”
The debate ended on a question of leadership. Welker asked both candidates: “Imagine this is your Inauguration Day, what will you say in your address to Americans who did not vote for you?”
Trump’s final statement focused on success and attacking his opponent.
“We have to make our country totally successful, as it was prior to the plague coming in from China, now we’re rebuilding it and doing record numbers,” Trump said. “The other side wanted to get together, they wanted to unify. Success is going to bring us together. We are on the road to success … If he gets in, you will have a depression, the likes of which you have never seen.”
Biden focused on hope and unity as he gave his final remarks.
“I’m an American president, I represent all of you, whether you voted for me or against me, and I’m going to make sure you are represented. I’m gonna give you hope. We’re gonna move. We’re gonna choose science over fiction. We’re gonna choose hope over fear. We’re gonna choose to move forward, because we have enormous opportunities to make things better,” Biden said. “What is on the ballot here is the character of this country: decency, honor, respect, treating people with dignity, making sure that everyone has an even chance, and I’m going to make sure you get that. You haven’t been getting that the last four years.”
Many viewers, like Austin Fashimpaur — the sustainability lead with SLiCE at Salt Lake Community College — found debate more civil and more hopeful.
“I feel like this debate went better than the first debate,” Fashimpaur said. “I feel like the moderator did a good job. I think the conversation about healthcare highlights one of the biggest reasons to watch these debates. The Supreme Court nomination and the differences between the candidate’s policies could affect millions of Americans.”
Fashimpaur added that it was “nice to hear Biden pushing a unifying message.”
This debate allowed viewers to see a more clear contrast between the candidates and their policies, and gave them valuable information that could decide how they vote this year.