The second and last presidential debate was held on Thursday, Oct. 22 at Belmont University in Nashville, Tennessee, this time with a new adjustment.
The Commission on Presidential Debates instituted muting to allow each candidate uninterrupted speaking time for the first two minutes in response to a question posed by the moderator.
Moderated by Kristen Welker, a journalist with NBC News, the debate covered a range of issues, including the coronavirus, healthcare, the Supreme Court, foreign policy, immigration, the economy, the environment and race relations, in a robust exchange of ideas between former Vice President Joe Biden and President Donald J. Trump.
Welker began with the issue of the coronavirus pandemic citing that numbers had increased since the last debate, including 16,000 new deaths across the United States. She asked each candidate how they would handle the challenges of protecting the health and safety of Americans.
Trump stated he was confident his administration had done a better job than expected considering the 2.2 million deaths he said experts had predicted in the U.S. Having contracted COVID-19 himself, he reassured Americans that the virus could be tamed through therapeutic medicine and that recent spikes in the U.S. were fading.
“We’re rounding the turn,” Trump said of the virus. “We’re rounding the corner. It’s going away.”
He claimed that the vaccine would be ready in a few weeks with military action through Operation Warp Speed to rapidly deploy it.
In rebuttal, Biden referenced moments in which the president claimed that injecting bleach was a cure and that he had withheld information from the American public to not cause “panic.”
Trump accused Biden of “living under a basement” because of social distancing and said that Americans are “learning to live with it. We have no choice.”
“We closed up the greatest economy in the world in order to fight this horrible disease that came from China,” Trump said.
Trump stressed his support for schools and businesses to stay open, citing that young people were at less risk of dying from the disease and that blue states are “shut down so tight.”
In contrast, Biden expressed a desire to have federal guidelines that would set standards across all 50 states.
“I don’t look at this in terms of the way he does, blue states and red states. They’re all the United States,” Biden said.
Welker moved on to ask each candidate about their stance on raising the minimum wage during an economic depression.
Biden had previously shown support for the federal standard of a new $15 minimum wage. Welker asked if this was reasonable in light of the stresses placed upon many small businesses during the pandemic.
In reaffirming his support, Biden stated it was important to bail out small businesses because the Trump administration “is not giving them any of the money.”
Trump, while not completely opposed to the $15 federal minimum wage, still argued that these decisions would be best handled by states individually.
Moving onto climate change, Trump claimed that the environment had never been cleaner than during his term as president, which he had accomplished without having to curb the oil or natural gas industry.
Biden refuted Trump’s decision to pull out of the Paris Climate Accord, which had set nations on track to reducing their carbon footprints. He promised that he would re-enter the agreement and invest in renewable energy to create jobs for Americans.
Trump called Biden’s environmental plan an “economic disaster” of $100 trillion in taxes planned out by freshmen Congresswomen Alexandra Ocasio Cortez, Rashida Talib, Ilhan Omar and Ayanna Pressley, or “AOC plus three” as he referred to them.
He claimed they worked on the bill with Sen. Kamala Harris, who he argued was more liberal than Bernie Sanders.
Welker asked each candidate their strategy on foreign affairs, which ranged from interference with the 2020 election, relations to North Korea and accusations of monetary relationships to other nations. She also asked about their policy stance knowing that Russian and Iraq had interfered with the election.
Biden said that these countries, along with China, would answer for “interfering with American sovereignty.” He claimed that Trump had not taken a hard stance against Putin and other world leaders like North Korea’s Kim Jung-un, who have been accused of human rights violations.
Trump claimed that “having a good relationship with leaders of other countries is a good thing” in reference to North Korea.
“Between the sanctions, nobody [has been] tougher than me on Russia,” he said.
Trump repeated his claim that there was a “laptop from hell” found with incriminating emails revealing that Biden’s son, Hunter Biden, had accepted $3.5 billion from Elena Baturina, whose husband is the former mayor of Moscow.
In defense of his son’s business involvement in Ukraine, Biden said that five former CIA directors deemed this claim to be misinformation spread by Russian agents. He also brought up the issue of Trump’s tax returns and his lack of transparency.
“Twenty-two years of my tax returns. You have not released a single solitary year of your tax return. What are you hiding?” Biden asked the president.
Welker moved to the topic of healthcare, asking about the future of the Affordable Care Act in light of the likely nomination of Amy Coney Barrett that would tip the Supreme Court to a conservative majority.
Biden expressed his desire to maintain a public and private healthcare option for citizens and a plan that would lower premiums, protect pre-existing conditions and lower drug prices.
Trump accused Biden of promoting “socialized medicine,” stating it would destroy medicare and social security. Biden interrupted with “not true.”
Trump was muted mid-speech to allow Biden to respond. He said that taking away the Affordable Care Act would take away health insurance for 22 million Americans in the middle of a public health crisis.
Biden refuted by saying he beat all the other Democratic candidates because of his support for private insurance options.
Focusing on the intersection issues of race and the criminal justice system, Welker cited that over 500 children had been separated at the border and lost their parents.
Trump claimed that President Barack Obama’s administration was largely responsible for the “cages” that held these children and that those held in detention centers were being well taken care of.
Biden decried the Trump administration’s acts as criminal and claimed that the current waiting period to admit asylum seekers into the U.S. has made the nation a “laughingstock.” He promised that within 100 days of office he would send a bill to Congress to create a pathway of citizenship for Dreamers and undocumented individuals residing in the U.S.
Welker asked the candidates about “the talk” that Brown and Black families often have with their children about the dangers of being profiled by police.
Trump claimed he was the “least racist in the room” and cited employment rates for African American, Asian American and Hispanic communities as being “nine times greater” during his administration than Obama’s.
He spoke of his criminal justice reform efforts, stating that with “the exception of Abraham Lincoln, nobody has done what I’ve done.” In contrast, he stated that Biden had been ineffective on these issues during his 47 years in government and had even sponsored the ‘90s crime bill that criminalized crack cocaine and drastically increased the prison population of Black men.
Biden conceded that he was wrong at the time and vowed to invest in the drug courts to focus on rehabilitation and move toward inclusion.
He accused Trump of inciting further hate and fear in his rhetoric and asked the American people to vote with character.
“What is on the ballot here is the character of this country,” he said.
Welker asked each candidate what they would say to Americans who didn’t vote for them if they won.
“Success is going to bring us together,” Trump said of his high hopes for an economic recovery. He warned that once elected, Biden would raise taxes and cause “a Depression, the likes of which you’ve never seen.”
Biden repeated his promises to end systemic racism and to move the country toward sustainability and create equitable opportunities for Americans.
“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,” Biden said.