The final presidential debate for the 2020 election was more mild, calm and familiar than the first, as incumbent President Donald Trump and Democratic nominee former Vice President Joe Biden made their respective cases about two weeks before Election Day.
The debate — which took place in front of limited guests at Belmont University, a private Christian university in Nashville, Tennessee — focused on topics like the coronavirus pandemic, election interference, health care and American families.
Sure, the candidates drifted on tangents, striking each other on personal issues and their own respective controversies (Trump took some jabs for his taxes, Biden was cornered over his 47-year history in Congress).
Unlike the previous debate, Trump stuck to his talking points and didn’t talk over Biden. He did command some of the stage and attention. Biden was a little more calm and vanilla.
Microphones did their work, muting the candidates when needed and closing them off from interrupting the other. Uninterrupted time to speak helped both candidates in making their cases to the American people.
Next up? Election Day. Millions of people have already voted. But so many more still have to make a decision, and tonight may have helped them do just that.
Below you will find highlights, key moments, quotes and social media reactions from the debate.
The debate included a number of notable moments from Biden and Trump, where both answered questions or skipped over one. We’ve broken down the important moments here based on the various topics from the debate.
- Trump spoke about how he handled the first phase of the coronavirus pandemic, mentioning how spikes across the country have dipped. Trump spent time attacking New York state, North Carolina, Illinois and other states. He made it clear that the country needs to reopen.
Biden took the other path, highlighting how there’s a simple way to prevent the pandemic — wear a mask, embrace rapid testing, set up national standards for how to open schools and businesses. The focus for Biden was setting up a national standard for reopening everything.
- The question was raised about how Biden and Trump would handle election interference from Russia, Iran, China and other foreign nations. Neither really answered it at first, instead taking shots at each other about their connections to China and Russia. It was a muddled back-and-forth that didn’t focus on issues directly relevant to the American people.
Trump’s tax returns?
- The conversation drifted to Trump’s tax returns. Trump said he would release his tax returns soon. Biden hit at how Trump has a foreign bank account in China as well, while Trump hit Biden for allegedly taking money from Ukraine, Russia and China.
- The recent controversy over Hunter Biden was mentioned, too.
- Trump said that North Korea has nuclear capabilities, but that it’s important to have good relationships with other countries.
- Biden, meanwhile, said North Korea wouldn’t meet or have a relationship with the U.S. under the Obama administration because that administration was tougher on the country.
Biden said he will turn Obamacare into “Bidencare,” which he said will be similar to Obamacare but will have a public option. He said he wants to create competition between insurance companies as well.
- Biden said he wants to provide health insurance so people worried about getting COVID-19 can have insurance to stay safe with affordable coverage.
Trump said Biden did not do anything over the last 47 years in office, and that he never made anything happen for the country’s health insurance while he was in office.
Children separated from families
Earlier this week, reports surfaced that more than 500 children were separated from their parents at the border. The candidates were asked what they would do to reunite the parents.
- Trump said his administration is working hard on a plan to reunite them. He did not offer specifics.
- Biden didn’t offer a plan, either. He said the U.S. had become a “laughing stock” for letting it happen.
“We made a mistake. It took too long to get it right,” Biden says when asked why voters should trust him to deliver on immigration reform after the Obama administration presided over record deportations and failed to deliver on this promise. https://t.co/q0MD4RntYu #Debates2020 pic.twitter.com/l0IsM5zjxE— ABC News Politics (@ABCPolitics) October 23, 2020
Racism in America
- Biden said the United States has never lived up to the promise of all Americans being created equally. He called for better health care, education and opportunities for diverse families to earn wealth.
- Trump said criminal justice and prison reform are at the center of his policies for helping people of color, and he wants tremendous investment into historically Black colleges.
Mental health and the drug crisis
Biden said he will try to make sure drug addicts find ways to receive rehabilitation and help for their mental health.
Trump said Biden was all talk and no action when it comes to helping pass policies.
Trump said he wants the cleanest environment and the clearest water, but was upset about some agreements the country had to protect the environment, like the Paris accord. He said the U.S. has the best water and clearest air. He promoted his current policies, but highlighted how he wants to keep the policies going.
Biden sees global warming as a major threat and the country is running out of time to fix it. The two traded barbs about how much it would cost to keep the environment in a good place.
President Trump on Biden’s plan for climate change: “If you look at his environmental plan, you know who developed it? AOC plus three. They know nothing about the climate.” #Debates2020 pic.twitter.com/52zgWCZlYj— Cheddar (@cheddar) October 23, 2020
What would you tell voters who didn’t vote for you on Inauguration Day?
Trump wants to make America a good place again like it was before the coronavirus pandemic. He wants to get back to a world before the pandemic, working to create more jobs and more opportunities for everyone in the nation.
Biden would tell voters he wants to work together and choose facts over fear. He would rebuild the economy, work through the problems of racism, and create clean energy and new jobs. He highlighted the idea of working together in a decent, honorable way.
Trump: “We can’t lock ourselves up in a basement like (Biden) does. ... I would love to lock myself up in a basement ... but I can’t do that. I don’t know, he’s obviously made a lot of money from somewhere.”
Trump: “I take full responsibility. It’s not my fault. It’s China’s fault.”
Trump: “We have to recover, we can’t close up our nation. We have to open our schools.”
Trump: “I’m not a typical politician. That’s why I got elected.”
Trump: “Nobody has done more for the Black community than Donald Trump. And if you look, with the exception of Abraham Lincoln, possible exception, but the exception of Abraham Lincoln, nobody has done what I’ve done.”
Trump: “I am the least racist person in this room.”
Trump: “I know more about wind than you do. It’s extremely expensive. Kills all the birds. It’s very intermittent. It’s got a lot of problems.”
Biden: “Learning to live with it? Come on. People are learning to die with it.”
Biden: “220,000 Americans dead. If you hear nothing else I say tonight, hear this … anyone who is responsible for that many deaths should not remain as president of the United States of America.”
Biden: “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: “Release your tax returns or stop talking about corruption.”
Biden: “He’s a very confused guy. ... He thinks he’s running against someone else. He’s running against Joe Biden. I beat all those other people because I disagreed with them.”
Biden: “These 500 and plus kids came with parents … coyotes didn’t bring them over. It makes us a laughing stock and violates every notion of who we are as a nation.”
Biden: “We made a mistake. It took too long to get it right.”
Social media reacted to the event throughout the night. Here are some notable reactions:
initial reaction: both candidates, and obviously the moderator, turned in the best debate performances of the 2020 cycle— Christian Datoc (@TocRadio) October 23, 2020
will it move the needle in any direction? no idea, but it was at least enjoyable and fairly informative
Good debate. Mute button worked. @kwelkernbc did great. Now onto voting. And Borat.— Alex Kantrowitz (@Kantrowitz) October 23, 2020
Joe biden's inauguration speech was the best part of this debate. Positive message, confidence, inclusion. I'll take that over the doomsday scenario of stock market crashes and depression any day.— Vivek Wadhwa (@wadhwa) October 23, 2020
Trump being forced into the format ended up helping him a lot.— Noam Blum (@neontaster) October 23, 2020
It’s too obvious to need saying but: Bravo Kristen Welker. Sheer professionalism on display.— Ron Elving (@NPRrelving) October 23, 2020
Again, an absolute avalanche of lying from Trump tonight.— Daniel Dale (@ddale8) October 23, 2020
. @kwelkernbc had an impossible task tonight and she did a fantastic job. The best debate moderator in the last two cycles.— Yashar Ali (@yashar) October 23, 2020
A) Muting was only for the two minute answer section
B) Blame the debate commission for the fact-checking...that is their directive re moderators