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Trump, Biden interrupt each other, snipe in first debate

Sarah Rahal
The Detroit News

Will the election be fair?

On mail-in ballots and fair elections, President Donald Trump said, "This election is going to be a fraud like you’ve never seen."

“I think we’re going to do well ..., but we might not know for months because these ballots are going to be all over. Look what happened in Manhattan, New Jersey, Virginia and other places, it’s not 2% or 1%… it’s 30 and 40%, it’s a fraud, it’s a shame," Trump said.

Democratic presidential candidate JoeBiden said it hasn't been established that mail-in voting is fraudulent and he will wait to declare victory until the ballots are independently certified.

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Biden said about the president, "He’s just afraid of counting the votes."

In eight states, election workers are prohibited from beginning to process ballots until Election Day, which could lead to days of counting ballots.

Trump spoke to Americans, saying they shouldn't fall into the pressure of personal attacks and said 80 million mail-in votes "can't be done." He urged voters to "watch poll workers very carefully."

Michigan:Trump, Biden clash over auto jobs, state COVID-19 policies

Biden responded: "Our military has been voting by ballots since the end of the Civil War... Why is it for them somehow not fraudulent?

"I will accept it and he will too. Once the winner is declared, that will be it.

"I will support the outcome," Biden said. 

Climate change

On climate change, Trump said America is at the lowest carbon footprint and "we're doing phenomenally. Our businesses aren't put out of commission. People are very happy about what's going on."

Biden said he has his own plan, "which is different than what he calls The Green New Deal."

Race, Black Lives Matter

On the issue of race and the Black Lives Matter movement, Biden said what Trump's done has "been disastrous for the African American community" by defending alt-right protesters and counterprotesters in Charlottesville last year saying there were "good people on both sides." 

Trump rebutted with Biden's 1994 crime bill saying, "(African American's) have never forgotten it, Joe."

Biden said there are systemic racism embedded in the country's fabric, while Trump said America has to go back to its core values not to "teach people to hate our country."

On law-and-order, Biden said crime fell by 15% during the previous administration while it's currently increasing. Trump said he thinks it's a party issue, where Republican-led cities like Tulsa, Oklahoma, and Fort Worth, Texas, are staying consistent on crime.

Biden took a stance saying he opposes defunding police, but that they need more assistance.

"They need a psychologist on staff for each call to prevent them from having to use force," Biden said, adding that Trump's budget has a $400 million cut in local law enforcement assistance.

Trump would not declare a stance against white supremacists and the Proud Boys. He tried to steamroll Biden by including a direct statement against Biden's son's past history in the service and drug usage.

The economy

Next up, the economy, which is recovering faster than expected for the shutdown. Last month, the unemployment rate fell to 8.4% and the Federal Reserve said the hit to growth is not going to be nearly as big as they expected.

Trump said he's the man who saved Big 10 football, meanwhile, Biden "will destroy this country" by encouraging states to remain closed. 

"Between drugs and alcohol and depression... When you start shutting it down and you look at what's happening in some of your Democrat-run states where they have these tough shutdowns...When you look at these governors are under siege, Pennsylvania, Michigan, and a couple of others. You can open the state so it's not fair. You don't get it, it's almost like being in prison."

Trump said he brought back Chrysler and General Motors and brought them back to Ohio and Michigan. During the debate, Trump said Iowa had the best year it’s ever had last year, Michigan "had the best year they’ve ever had."

"He blew it up, they’re gone. He blew it," Biden replied.

Verbal shots fired back and forth

Both candidates fired shots back and forth, interrupting each other on health care, Barrett and a Supreme Court filibuster. Twenty minutes into the debate, Biden had an outburst after being interrupted by the president, saying, "Will you shut up man?"

Trump replied, "This is so unprofessional of a president."

The topic moved forward to the ongoing coronavirus pandemic. Biden stated "40,000 people a day are contracting COVID-19. In addition to that, about 750 and 1,000 people are dying. When he was presented with that number he said, 'it is what it is.'"

Trump said it's China's fault for the initial outbreak and that the United States wouldn't have made enough ventilators to supply the country if Biden were in charge. He added that the country is "weeks away from a vaccine."

Biden is more reluctant to reopen the economy and schools. He stated, "you've got to provide businesses the ability to have the money to be able to reopen with the PPE, as well with the sanitation they need."

Trump interrupted Biden saying, "He wants to shut down the country and we just went through it. We had to because we didn't know anything about the disease... They want to keep it closed until after the election."

How it started 

The debate started Tuesday night with a question on the Supreme Court and President Donald Trump's nomination of Amy Coney Barrett.

Trump defended his nomination saying Barrett is a great choice and "there's no way the Democrats would give (the nomination) up."

Democratic presidential candidate Joe Biden said he didn't necessarily oppose Barrett, but argued the choice should wait for the next president since early voting already has started in the Nov. 3 election. He then pivoted and argued that "what's at stake here is the Affordable Care Act."

"He wants to get rid of the Affordable Care Act. He’s in the Supreme Court to get rid of it, which will strip 20 million people from having health insurance now and I’m not opposed to the justice, but she believes the Affordable Care Act is unconstitutional." 

Trump is seeking to have the court strike down the federal law, but has argued he would replace it with a better plan.

Pre-debate rally is serious

Comedian Billy Eichner, known for his show “Billy on the Street,” opened Tuesday’s virtual pre-debate rally for Michigan Democrats but cracked no jokes – or even a smile. Instead, Eichner delivered a stern message to the camera, warning that “we are on the brink of an American catastrophe.” 

“We are teetering on it right now, and this is our chance to save our country and save our democracy,” he said. 

He urged viewers to text their friends to remind them to register to vote and urged people to volunteer at Biden events. He suggested people vote early and in person if they can. 

“It's a very serious night and there's a lot on the line,” Eichner said. “I wish we could be together and not just together virtually, but we can't because Donald Trump and this Republican administration and this Republican-led Senate have created a situation and willfully allowed for a situation where over 200,000 innocent Americans are dead because of a pandemic that every other country on the face of the earth took more seriously, and was more successful and attacking than we have been.”

Lt. Gov. Garlin Gilchrist tried to rev up the virtual crowd, saying Biden at the debate would confront “volcano of lies that is Donald Trump.”

“He will confront them with truth and integrity but most importantly a vision of the future of the country and the world that actually includes all of us,” Gilchrist said. “That sounds like a simple thing, a basic thing to declare, but the truth is we have to start there because so many of those basics have been undermined and destroyed by this president and this administration and the willful, malignant effect it’s had on this country.”

He repeated a frequent criticism that he and Gov. Gretchen Whitmer have had of the federal response to the pandemic as lacking. 

“We cannot leave any voter untouched. Michigan was the state that was lost by the slimmest margin of any state in the country,” Gilchrist said, noting Trump’s 10,704-vote margin of victory in 2016. “There will be 11,000 Michiganders watching this debate tonight that we can change from Trump ‘16 to Biden-Harris 2020 voters. The only way that happens is if we put in the work.” 

He challenged viewers to make phone calls, send text messages and knock on doors. 

“I don’t like close elections. I want us to beat Trump bad in Michigan, and we have the capacity to do that in Michigan if we all step up and we all stand tall for our communities and for the state of Michigan. Let’s get to work right now.” 

Supreme Court

A fast-track push by Republicans to fill the Supreme Court seat held by the late Ruth Bader Ginsburg is roiling an already deeply divided Washington and will likewise be a flashpoint during the debate. Both Democrats and Republicans believe the confirmation battle might energize their voters and shape a court that could decide major issues such as health care, abortion access and possibly even the outcome of the November election.

Biden has so far not heeded Trump’s call to release a list of potential court nominees, as the president did before naming Amy Coney Barrett as his choice to replace Ginsburg. Biden has focused on how the makeup of the court could threaten President Barack Obama’s signature health care law.

Coronavirus

The president’s response to the COVID-19 pandemic is expected to be a central focus. More than 200,000 people have died from the coronavirus in the U.S. while everyday life remains jumbled and many schools and businesses are still shuttered. The president has defended his response to the outbreak, frequently pointing to his move to restrict travel from China in February.

But the president and his backers have routinely dismissed experts’ analysis of the seriousness of the outbreak and measures to rein it in. A new book from journalist Bob Woodward revealed the president acknowledged intentionally playing down the seriousness of the virus earlier this year.

Biden and Democrats have keyed in on the president’s coronavirus response throughout the campaign, and the former vice president is expected to keep it front and center Tuesday.

Class (and tax bill) contrasts

Biden, who frequently highlights his working-class upbringing, has increasingly cast the election as a campaign “between Scranton and Park Avenue,” referring to his own childhood home in Pennsylvania and Trump’s adult life as a Manhattan businessman.

Biden is likely to turbocharge that argument Tuesday in the wake of a bombshell New York Times report on the president’s shrouded tax history, including that he paid only $750 in federal income taxes in 2016 and 2017 and nothing in many other years.

Biden’s line of attack aims to cut into Trump’s support among white working-class voters, particularly in Rust Belt states that helped him win the presidency in 2016.

Tactics and style

Trump, a former reality show star, is at ease on camera and has skipped formal debate preparation. He often leapfrogs to friendlier talking points like the confirmation of judges or “law and order,” favors derisive nicknames and withering attacks, and at times employs a dizzying number of false statements and misrepresentations.

Biden’s performances during the Democratic primary debates were uneven and played a role in his early struggles in polling and primary contests. With decades in politics, he’s also got more experience as a debater than the president. Biden has promised to be a “fact-checker” as he stands side-by-side with Trump but also says he doesn’t want to get sucked into a “brawl.” Look for the Democrat to walk a line between contrasting himself with the president and challenging the man who may continue his campaign attacks on Biden’s mental and physical stamina or his family.

Moderator and format

The debate will be moderated by Fox News’ Chris Wallace, who has a reputation as a straight shooter. Wallace moderated a presidential debate in 2016, favoring direct questions to get the candidates talking. He said before the 2016 debate that he did not believe it is his job “to be a truth squad,” and he largely stayed away from interjecting to fact-check the candidates.

The format for Tuesday’s debate consists of six 15-minute segments, scheduled to focus on the following topics, selected by Wallace: “The Trump and Biden Records,” “The Supreme Court,” ”COVID-19,” “The Economy,” “Race and Violence in our Cities” and “The Integrity of the Election.”

Each candidate will be given two minutes to respond to a question from the moderator opening the segment. Candidates will then be able to respond to each other, and the moderator will use the rest of the 15-minute period to discuss the topic further.

Safety precautions

Amid the customs and routines upended by the coronavirus will be the customary display of civility before the debate: Trump and Biden are not expected to shake hands at the opening. They will each be stationed at podiums spaced far apart and are expected to have a limited, socially distanced audience.

Detroit News Staff Writers Craig Mauger and Melissa Nann Burke contributed

The Associated Press contributed