A Recap of the First 2020 Presidential Debate

The election season has officially kicked off Sept. 29 with the first presidential debate of the year between former Vice President Joe Biden and current President Donald Trump. The debate was broken down into six topics: candidate records, filling of the supreme court, COVID-19, economic policy, race/violence, and election integrity. This article will review what each candidate had to say on the matter.

Some text has been edited for clarification, this will be indicated with brackets. All of these quotes are summary transcriptions from the candidates’ comments during the live debate, in which both candidates repeatedly interrupted the others’ statements. All questions were asked by Fox News anchor Chris Wallace during the debate. This is, to the best of our ability, our chronicle of the statements made to help non-viewers understand each candidates’ answers and messages.  As such, there is no fact-checking of either participants’ messages.

For a full replay of the debate, please see this coverage from C-SPAN.

Candidates’ Records:

Question 1: Mr. President, as you well know, there is a report that from 2017, the first year of your presidency, you paid $750 a year in federal income tax each of those years, I’m aware that you pay a lot of other taxes, but is it true that you paid specifically $750 in federal income tax? 

D. Trump: “I paid millions of dollars in income tax, let me tell you: there was a story in one of the papers, I paid $38 million one year…all of my banks’ assets are extremely good…You’ll get to see it…He [Obama] gave us all these tax breaks…You will see it [the tax returns] as soon as it’s finished…”

J. Biden: “Mr. Trump is essentially bragging about taking advantage of a tax plan to help those who need it…that’s exactly what he did…”

Question 2: When a president seeks a second term, it is typically an indicator of worth based on their record, so why should American voters elect you president over your opponent?

D. Trump: “Because there has never been an administration or president who have done more than I have in 3 and a half years, despite the impeachment hoax, despite Hillary [Clinton], where it was a whole big, I’ve had to fight both flanks, but there has never been an administration who has done what mine has, there was unity about to happen, and we’re building it back up again, which was a mess under him [Obama], we’ve rebuilt our military, by the end of the term I’ll have 300 court judge appeals, that is a record, unlike anything we’ve seen…”

J. Biden: “Under this president, we’ve become weaker, sicker, more violent. When I was Vice President, we were left a recession. When he became president, we got another one…he’s Putin’s puppy…by the way, we’re poorer, the billionaires have gotten more wealthy since COVID, in terms of being more violent, when we [Biden and Obama]were in office there was 15% less nationwide violence than there is today, we can’t stay divided like this…”

Question 3: Mr. President, over the last four years, you have removed us from the Paris climate accord, you have pulled back several Obama era environmental records, what do you believe about climate change and what will you do in the next four years to confront it? 

D. Trump: “I want crystal clean water and air, our carbon numbers are low, but I haven’t destroyed our business, the accord was a disaster on our side and as far as the fires go, you need better forest management, there are dead trees everywhere, we have got to manage these forests better…with climate change, I believe we have to do everything we have to to get immaculate air…I think a lot of things contribute to greenhouse gases, we really have to have good forest management like they do in Europe…”

Question 4: Mr. Biden, I want to address your response to the previous question, but I first want to address the concern: you propose $2 Trillion for your Green New Deal, and the President says this will tank the economy, what are your thoughts? 

J. Biden: “He’s absolutely wrong, if in fact when I was in office, I was able to bring down the cost of renewable energy…we’re gonna make sure we take the federal fleet and make sure they are electrical vehicles, this will build an economy that will provide for it all…”

Supreme Court: 

Question 1: Why are you correct in your position on selecting a Supreme Court nominee in an election year, and where do you think Amy Coney Barrett will take the Supreme Court if chosen? 

D. Trump: …” We have a phenomenal nominee, respected by all, top in academics, good in every way- some of her biggest supporters are very liberal people…we have plenty of time and even if we didn’t, I have a lot of time after the election as you know, so I think she will be outstanding. She will be as good as anyone else who has served in this court. We won this election, so we have the full right to choose her.” 

J. Biden: …”The American people have the right to have a say in the Supreme court nominee, they get that say when they vote for senators and the President, but they won’t get that chance now because we are in the middle of an election now…what’s at stake here has made it clear he wants to get rid of the Affordable Care Act…and I’m not opposed to the justice, but she has admitted to thinking that the ACA is unconstitutional. This puts women’s rights in a position to be fundamentally changed. A hundred million people have pre-existing conditions as well. It’s just not appropriate to do this before the election. If he [Trump] wins the election, and the Supreme Court is democratic or republican, then we proceed in February… The president is also opposed to Roe v Wade, and so that is also at stake on the ballot and the [Supreme] court.” 

Question 2: The Supreme Court will hear a case a week after the election in which the Trump Administration, along with 18 state attorney’s general are seeking to overturn Obamacare. You, [President Trump] have promised to repeal and replace Obamacare but have never in these four years come up with a plan to do so. What is the Trump healthcare plan? 

D. Trump: …” First of all, I guess I’m debating you [moderator Chris Wallace], not him [Biden], which I’m not surprised…Let me just tell you something, there is nothing symbolic, I’m cutting drug prices, along with favorite nations, which no one has the courage to do…to which you [Biden] could’ve done in your 47 year period in Government, but you didn’t. Nobodies done it. We’re cutting healthcare, let’s use insulin as an example. It was destroying families, destroying people, it was so expensive. I am getting it for so cheap, it’s like water. You know the truth…” 

Question 3: Final question for you, Mr. Former Vice President, if senate republicans go ahead ending the filibuster or even packing the court, adding to the nine Supreme Court justices, you called this a distraction by the president and although you’ve refused to talk about it to the press, are you willing to tell the American people whether you support ending the filibuster or expanding the Supreme Court?

J Biden: No matter what position I take, that will be the issue, the issue is that the American people should vote, they need to speak…[cut time]” 


Question 1: Based on what you have said and done so far, why should the American public trust you over your opponent in the dealing of the American health crisis of COVID-19 in 2021? 

D. Trump: “So, if we would’ve listened to you, the country would’ve been left open.. its china’s fault, you don’t know how many people died in China and Russia, they don’t exactly give us straight count, you don’t understand, but if you look at what we’ve done, I closed it [the travel flights] and you called me xenophobic…you didn’t think we should close our country because it’s racist’, by me doing it early, we’re weeks away from ending it early, fewer people are dying. We are doing a great job. The only thing I haven’t done, and that’s because of fake news, they give you good press, I don’t care…you could’ve never done the job we did, Joe…” 

J. Biden: “200,000 dead, 7 million infected in the united states, we have 4 percent of the world’s population and 20 percent of the COVID deaths. When confronted with that number, he [Trump] said, ‘it is what it is…’ he has no plan, he hasn’t laid out anything despite knowing about the oncoming crisis in February. He’s admitted on tape to knowing it, he said he didn’t want to panic the American people. That’s why he didn’t tell us. We didn’t panic-not like he did. In addition to that, what did he do? He said we owed him a debt of gratitude for being so transparent with us. I said we had to provide for our people in July while he was at his golf course…” 

Question 2: President Trump, you have repeatedly been at odds with your government’s own top scientists, the week before last, the head of the centers for disease control [Dr. Redfield] said it would be summer before a vaccine could be ready for the public. You said he was confused and mistaken, but the head of your operation, Warp Speed has said the same thing, so are the medical professionals wrong to say a vaccine will likely be widely available in the summer

D. Trump: ” This is a very political thing because people like him [Biden] want to make this very political…I’ve spoken to all of the people you have to speak to, I’ve spoken to Pfizer, Moderna…they can go way faster than that [deadline stated in question]…we’ll get it delivered right away…it’s all set up…

Question 3: Is your campaign creating confusion about the safety of a COVID-19 vaccine? 

J. Biden: “No, and more than the question you just asked, he [Trump] puts on the pressure and disagrees with his own scientists…that is what he is going to try and do,[referencing the description that K. Harris gave of the president ‘muzzling and repressing scientists]but there are thousands, millions of great scientists that work at hospitals, they don’t work for him….If you believe for a second what he is telling you in light of all the lies regarding the issue related to COVID, he still hasn’t even acknowledged that he knew how dangerous this was in February…

Question 3: Former Vice President Biden, you have been much more reluctant about re-openings than your opponent. Why? 

J. Biden: …” Because he doesn’t have a plan, if I were running it, I would take care of the PPE, funding, and everything needed to keep us safe…”

*quotes cut short due to unclear speech due to constant interruptions from both nominees.*

D. Trump: “He wants to shut down the country, we just went through it…we knew nothing about the virus and now we don’t, more people will be hurt if we stay shut down…”

Question 4: President Trump, you have begun to question the effectiveness of masks…so do you question their benefit during COVID…? 

*once again, the rest of the question was unintelligible, apologies…* 

D. Trump: “I wear masks when I think I need them, I’m not like him [Biden], you see him with a mask everywhere he goes…but. I have a mask here [on his person] for events I decide I need them for…” 

J. Biden: “Look, the way to open businesses is to have people to wear masks, and this is the fastest way to get anywhere close to normal…” 

Question 5: COVID-19 has also changed the way you both campaign, Mr. Trump has continued to hold larger rallies, while Biden holds much smaller events, in any case, why have both of you chosen to hold the style of rallies that you do? 

D. Trump: “People want to hear what I have to say, and why not? I’m doing a great job as president, so why not hold them [rallies]? If 25-35,000 people show up at airports, we show up. So far, we haven’t had a problem, staying outside has helped tremendously with the virus…”

J. Biden: “He [Trump] has been totally irresponsible in the way he has handled his rallies and social distancing, and is a fool for encouraging people not to wear masks, directly or not.”


Question 1: Former vice president, there is a common argument that the President and many Republicans make, that public healthcare will end private healthcare about cause a Government takeover, so would adding a public option to Obamacare end Private Insurance? What are your thoughts? 

J. Biden: “It will not, it is only for those so poor they qualify for Medicaid. Anyone who qualifies for Medicare is automatically enrolled in the public option, and the vast majority of Americans would not be on the public health insurance plan… 10 million people lost access to their employer-provided insurance to his [Trump’s] recession. The public healthcare option is for them…” 

Question 2: President Trump, you say the recovery of the economy is more of a ‘v’ shape, and Former Vice President, you say it’s more of a ‘k’ shape, what difference does this make for the American people? 

D. Trump: “So we built the biggest economy in history, and with the china plague, we shut it down, which was very hard to do psychologically, by the way…but what happened is that we’re reopening and we’re in record business…when you start shutting it down, you see the democrats want to shutdown again…they’re herding us until the election…they’re hurting people, you gotta open the states up, it’s just not fair…you have to see what’s happening with alcoholism and divorce…this is gonna destroy us unless we reopen…”

J. Biden: “The difference is, millionaires and billionaires like him have done very well…and it only focuses on the market, but you people at home, how are you doing? The president isn’t hurting, he paid $750 in taxes…he is the only president to leave the office with fewer jobs than when he went into it, and those who have lost those jobs are the ones on the front lines, and the fact that he has the idea to open it up more? You can’t fix the economy until you fix the COVID-19 crisis…” 

Question 3: Mr. Former Vice President, you’ve proposed $4 trillion over a decade on corporations and top 1% individuals, Mr. President, what are your thoughts? 

D. Trump: “You want to terminate my taxes, you’ll lose half of the companies pouring into here…they’ll leave for other countries, you’ll have another depression…”

J. Biden: “Just take a look at the analysis done by wall street firms, my economic plan would create 7 million more jobs than his [Trump’s] plan in four years… 1 trillion dollars in economic growth because it would be about buying American, making the federal government spend millions of dollars on domestic materials, and decrease corporate taxes by 1%…” 

Race And Violence: 

Question 1: Former Vice President, you say Trump’s response to the violence in Charlottesville three years ago was directly what led you to run for the presidency, my question for the both of you: why should American citizens trust you over your opponent to deal with American race issues? 

D. Trump: “You did a crime deal in 1994 and called them a super predator, you created the stereotype, and I’m letting them out of prisons, and if you look at the polls, I’m doing better in the African American community than any republican has in a long time, I have Florida, Texas, Ohio, Portland, I have everybody…you can’t even say law enforcement because you’ll lose all your radical left supporters…we believe in law and order, but you don’t, all the high crime cities are led by radical left democrats…”

J. Biden: “It’s about equity and equality, decency and the constitution, and we have never walked away from trying to get equity for everyone, we’ve never accomplished it, but we didn’t walk away, not like he [Trump] did, close your eyes, remember what those people looked like, veins bulging, spewing anti-Semitic vile, and when I asked the president what he thought he said ‘there were very fine people on both sides..’ no person has said anything like that…when Mr. Floyd was killed, there was a peaceful protest at the white house and what did he do? Had the military tear gas them so he could walk across the street to a church and hold up a bible…the bishop of that very church said it was a disgrace and that all he [Trump] wants to do is divide people…this is a president who uses everything as a dog whistle to make more racism and division…”

Question 2: Do you believe there is a separation, but an unequal system of justice for blacks in this country, Mr. Former Vice President?

J. Biden: “Yes, there is a systemic injustice in this country; in work, education, and in law enforcement, and the majority of law enforcement officers are kind, decent people, but there are bad apples, and when we find them, we have to hold them accountable, and when I’m president, I’m going to call everyone together and we will work this out to have more transparency, these cops aren’t happy about these events, but we have to have a system where people are held accountable…”

Question 3: Mr. President, this month, your administration directed federal agencies to end racial sensitivity trading, why did you decide to do that, and do you believe there is systemic racism in this country?

D. Trump, “I ended it because its racist and a lot of people were complaining that it was a radical revolution taking place in our military, our education, and everywhere else…they were teaching people to hate our country, we have to go back to the core values of our country…”

Question 4: Is the recent spike in homicides a party issue despite equivalent rates of crime in both Republican and Democrat states? 

D. Trump: “It is absolutely a party issue, I’m not gonna name a bunch of examples, but look at Chicago, New York, it is crazy what is going on, and he [Biden] refuses to say law and order…”

J. Biden: “The suburbs aren’t in trouble because of parties, they’re in trouble because of his [Trump’s] refusal to acknowledge what’s happening…”

Question 5: Do you support the BLM call for community control of policing?

J. Biden: ” What I support is the police having the opportunity to deal with the problems they face, I completely oppose defunding the police, what we need is not a defunding, we need community police as we did before, we need to have the resources to allow the officers to not need force, on-site therapists…”

Question 6: Mr. President, you have repeatedly called out your opponent for not addressing left-wing extremist groups like ANTIFA, but on the other side of that, are you willing to condemn white supremacists and militia groups and to say that they don’t need to add to further violence? 

D. Trump: “I say almost all the violence is coming from the left…I wanna see peace, who do you want to see me condemn? Someone has to stop ANTIFA…” 


Election Integrity: 

Question 1: What are you doing to reassure voters about the legitimacy of the election? 

D. Trump: ” when you listen to joe, talking about transition, there’s been no transition from when I won, I won that election, and if you look at crooked hillary, all those other people, there was no transition for them either…they came after me, spying on my campaign, they started from the day I won, they were a disaster, they were a disgrace to our country…as far as the ballots are concerned, it’s a disaster…they’re being sent all over the place, this is going to be fraud like you have never seen.”


J. Biden: “The man thing I can do is let people vote, let them decide the means in which to do so…go to http://iwillvote.com, even his [Trump’s] homeland security and FBI have confirmed that mail-in ballots are not a significant source of cheating voting manipulation…the fact is…millions of people, because of COVID are going to be voting by mail-in ballots, like he [Trump] does, by the way…number two; we will make sure that those who want to vote in person can do so, with poll workers there to make sure they are socially distanced…If I win, that will be accepted, and if I lose, that will be accepted…


Question 2: What are you doing about the mail-in ballots, and are you counting on a ruling from the Supreme Court?

D. Trump: “‘What’s happening is incredible, most of the ballots from 2016 were invalidated…they’re sending back ballots, mailmen are dumping them into rivers..we have to do solicited ballots…” 


J. Biden: “Five states have had mail-in ballots, and you don’t have to solicit the ballet, it’s sent to your home…it can be counted on the seventh, eighth, ninth [of November], he’s just afraid of counting the votes…” 


Question 3: Are you concerned that the Supreme Court will settle a disputed election? 

J. Biden: “I’m concerned any Supreme Court would because when you get a ballot and fill it out, you should have an affidavit…if you can, in fact, verify before the ballot is thrown out…that is sufficient, that is valid…”


Question 4: Will you hold off on declaring victory before the election is certified and encourage supporters to wait for the results? 

D. Trump: “I am urging my supporters to go to the polls and watch very, very carefully, because that’s what has to happen…I hope it’s going to be a fair election…I am 100% on board, but if I see tens of thousands of ballots being manipulated, I can’t go along with that, that’s a fraudulent election…”

Well, that’s a wrap on the first presidential debate of 2020, stay tuned for the rundown of next week’s debate between the two co-runners, Kamala Harris and Mike pence, it’ll be a doozy. 

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