President Donald Trump and former Vice President Joe Biden attacked each other over the coronavirus, the stock market and the economy on Thursday night, in their last debate before they face voters on Election Day.
In a relatively civil debate after a raucous first faceoff between the two candidates, the Republican incumbent and his Democratic challenger traded barbs over topics including management of the pandemic, health care and energy. With less than two weeks remaining until Election Day, the live faceoff at Nashville’s Belmont University was among the last chances the candidates had to make their cases directly to voters.
Trailing Biden in polls of key battleground states including Michigan and Wisconsin, Trump pressed his case that the country needs to operate as normally as possible while continuing to fight the virus.
“We can’t keep this country closed,” said Trump. “The cure cannot be worse than the problem itself,” he said.
While Biden said he wouldn’t rule out more shutdowns, he declared, “I’m going to shut down the virus, not the country.”
The wide-ranging debate also focused on national security, with Biden saying any country that interferes with U.S. elections will “pay a price.”
That section of the debate morphed into finger-pointing about who got money from foreign countries, who’s tough on or influenced by Russia, and Biden’s son Hunter’s business dealings in China and Ukraine. Biden said nothing about those dealings was unethical, and claimed it was Trump who got in trouble in Ukraine, referring to the president’s impeachment.
Trump earlier this week urged Attorney General William Barr to start a probe into the Bidens. The president has promoted an unconfirmed New York Post article that suggested Joe Biden benefited from Hunter’s work overseas. Biden’s campaign has rejected wrongdoing.
The Trump campaign had insisted that the debate focus on foreign policy, after moderator Kristen Welker of NBC News announced that the topics would be fighting COVID, American families, race in the U.S., climate change, national security and leadership.
Heading into Thursday night’s showdown, analysts said the burden was on Trump to turn the race around.
In a direct appeal to investors, Trump said the stock market would “boom” if he’s re-elected. “If he’s elected, the stock market will crash,” he said about Biden.
Biden said where he comes from, “people don’t live off the stock market.”
The two also differed over economic issues, like raising the minimum wage from its current $7.25 an hour, with Trump saying it should be left up to states and Biden saying it deserves to be $15 an hour.
And they took aim at one another over racial-justice issues, with Trump attacking Biden over his support for a controversial 1994 crime bill and Biden saying Trump has a “dog whistle about as big as a fog horn.”
The two traded familiar barbs over health care and energy policy. Late in the debate, Biden said he would “transition from the oil industry” as part of his energy plan, to which Trump replied, “that’s a big statement.” The president asked if Texas, Pennsylvania and Oklahoma would remember what Biden said.
It was the final debate between Trump and Biden — and only the second such event this year. Trump refused to participate in the second scheduled debate after the Commission on Presidential Debates announced it would be a virtual event in the wake of the president’s COVID-19 diagnosis. Biden and Trump had dueling town halls instead.
The chaotic first debate featured both candidates hurling insults at each other and Trump frequently interrupting Biden and the moderator. Biden also interrupted Trump, but not as much.
The debate came as the U.S. death toll from COVID-19 rose above 222,000, and U.S. stocks finished higher as investors eyed negotiations over another round of aid to the battered economy.
Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell, meanwhile, declined to say he would try to force a vote on any coronavirus-aid deal between Trump and House Democrats before the election.
Trump and Biden now begin the final sprint to the election, with 12 days remaining. On Friday, Biden has announced a speech in Delaware on the economy and COVID. Trump has speeches planned for this weekend in North Carolina, Ohio, Wisconsin and New Hampshire.