The Second and Final Presidential Debate of 2020, Straight Up


REUTERS/Mike Segar on the Texas Tribune

Ohr Gutman, Community and Social Issues Editor

President Donald Trump and former Vice President Joseph R. Biden Jr. squared off in the second presidential debate of the 2020 election year on Thursday, Oct. 22. Moderated by Kristen Welker of NBC News, an esteemed White House correspondent and the first Black female journalist to independently moderate a general-election debate since 1992, six broad topics were covered in a commercially uninterrupted 90 minutes: fighting the coronavirus, race in America, climate change, national security, leadership, and “American families.” 

The debate rules remained the same except for one significant change: there was muting. The chaotic, frequent interruptions that characterized the first presidential debate prompted this new rule dictating that each candidate’s microphone be muted during his opponent’s opening answers to the moderator’s questions. There was a remarkable change in tone from the first debate, but that success could be attributed more so to the candidates’ responses to feedback from the first debate rather than the forced silence of the mute button. Trump’s aggressive posture on Sep. 29 cost him support in subsequent opinion polls, prompting campaign advisors and fellow Republicans to urge the President to restrategize his approach. The behavioral restraint demonstrated in the final debate resulted in highly more substantive content and a return to “normal” presidential debate conduct standards. 

More than 40 million Americans already cast their vote and many already made up their minds. This debate was a final ploy to sway the remaining wavering voters. 

Like earlier debates, it started with the COVID-19 pandemic- when asked what each candidate would do during the next stage of the virus, Trump played defense while Biden went for the attack. Trump evaded the clear articulation of any future plans and instead maintained to claim that the virus is improving as a direct effect of his administration’s handle of the situation in the early months. He offered his recent personal experience with the disease to boast about the power of the drugs he had taken, highlighting the promise of a vaccine that “would be ready in weeks”- a statement that contradicts scientific experts. Biden repeated the number of Americans dead at the hands of the virus – 220,000 – and the responsibility of the current administration for that number before elaborating on mask usage and rapid testing. 

A pattern of deflecting fault quickly emerged. On Oct. 22, lawyers appointed by a federal judge to identify migrant families announced that the parents of 545 migrant children cannot be found. This sparked controversy nationwide and inspired a question during the debate concerning the Trump administration’s zero-tolerance policy that separates families at the Southern U.S. border- an issue which the president downplayed his role in and instead shifted focus to the detention facilities – or in his words “cages” – created by the Obama administration to house unaccompanied minor immigrants. Feigning indignation, Biden shifted back to the present implications of the question. On the subject of national security, the inevitable Hunter-Biden allegations claiming that Biden personally profited from his sons’ business dealings in Ukraine and China, which remain unproven, resurfaced. Biden simply stated it was not true before launching into the scandal over Trump’s taxes and his previously undisclosed Chinese bank account, forcing Trump to provide explanations for why he has not yet released his tax records and the nature of his business relations. 

The candidates returned to particular motifs throughout the debate meant to land the biggest punch upon their rival. Trump pushed the argument that Biden would become a vessel for radical progressives to drive the country left on economic issues like “socialized medicine”, among others. Painting Biden as a socialist carries an automatically negative weight by association, though his attempt to do so has been relatively unsuccessful. On Biden’s proposals for criminal justice reform, Trump questioned why he didn’t “get it done. You had eight years to get it done,” referring to his vice presidency terms under President Barack Obama. “It’s all talk but no action with these politicians.” 

“Come on, man.” Biden’s trademark catchphrase inspires a scoff or an eye-roll. “This guy.” These small remarks say a lot in just 2 to 3 words, conveying nothing but exasperation towards Trump. 

As politicians, both candidates know how to market themselves best. This can lead to misrepresentations of the truth, withholding of information, and blatant lies on both sides. A team of New York Times reporters has taken the liberty of fact-checking the claims made so that viewers at home can focus their efforts on deciding which president’s policies resonate with them more, instead of deciphering the facts from the lies. The chart below contains all of the true, misleading, and false statements made by Biden and Trump so that the students of Cresskill High School receive the most accurate representation of the truth possible and can develop their own interpretations of the debate accordingly. 


For context behind the fact-checks, click this link.


Joe Biden Donald Trump
True/ Mostly/ Partly True “We should be bailing them out, now, those small businesses. One in six is going under. They are not going to make it back.” – True “You have done nothing other than the crime bill which put tens of thousands of Black men, mostly, in jail” – Mostly True
“We learned this President does business in China, has a secret bank account in China.” – True “He tried to hurt Social Security years ago.” – Partly True
“I just gave $28 billion to our farmers.” – True
Misleading/ Exaggerated/ Lacks Evidence “Look at the states having a spike, they are the red states, the states in the Midwest, that is where the spike is occurring significantly.” – Exaggerated “We’re rebuilding it, and we’re doing record numbers. 11.4 million jobs in a short period of time.” -Misleading
“Look at China. Look how filthy it is. Look at Russia. Look at India. It is filthy. The air is filthy.” – Misleading
“They even have a statement that we have to give 10 percent to the ‘big man.’ You’re the big man, I think.” – Misleading
“Catch and release is a disaster. A murderer would come in, a rapist would come in, a very bad person would come in. we would take their name, we have to release them into our country.” – Exaggerated
“He went on with fracking, ‘We are not going to have fracking.’ Then he goes to Pennsylvania once he got the nomination, and he just, ‘We’re going to have fracking.’” – Misleading
“She [Senator Kamala Harris] is more liberal than Bernie Sanders.” – Exaggerated
“I prepaid millions and millions of dollars in taxes.” – Misleading
“His own person that ran that for him [Ron Klain], who, as you know, was his chief of staff, said it was catastrophic [H1N1 pandemic], it was horrible, we didn’t know what we were doing.” – Misleading
“He’ll close down the country if one person in our massive bureaucracy says we should close it down.” – Exaggerated
“I’m listening to all of them, including Anthony, I get along very well with Anthony, but he did say do not wear a mask.” – Misleading
“He said- this is a terrible thing- ‘You are a xenophobe.’ I think he called me racist, even, and because I was closing into China. Now he says I should have closed it earlier.” – Misleading
“Joe got $3.5 million from Russia, and it came through Putin, because he was very friendly with the former mayor of Moscow, and it was the mayor of Moscow’s wife, and you got $3.5 million, your family got $3.5 milion.” – Misleading
“We have a vaccine that’s coming, it’s ready, it’s going to be announced within weeks.” – Lacks evidence
“I had something that they gave me, a therapeutic, I guess they would call it- some people would say it is a cure- I was in for a short period of time and I got better very fast, or I would not be here tonight.” – Lacks Evidence
“As you know, 2.2 million people, modeled out, were expected to die… The mortality rate is down, 85 percent. The excess mortality rate is way down and lower than any country.” – Misleading
“We have the best carbon emission numbers that we’ve had in 35 years under this administration.” – Misleading
“They say I’m immune, whether it’s four months or a lifetime, nobody’s been able to say that. But I’m immune.” – Lack Evidence
“They did it. We changed the policy. They built the cages.” – Misleading
“First of all, I called my accountants- under audit. I’m going to release them as soon as we can. I want to do it.” – Misleading
“Biggest beneficiary, the Black and Hispanic communities [of the Opportunity Zone program].” – Lacks Evidence
“We have the trillion trees program; we have so many different programs.” – Misleading
“99.9 of young people recover. 99 percent of people recover.” – Lacks Evidence
False “He has caused the deficit with China to go up, not down.” “I was put through a phony witch hunt.” (Russian connections to 2016 election)
“We are rounding the turn.” (Coronavirus pandemic)
“He never did a thing except in 1994 when he did such harm to the Black community, and he called them super predators, and he said it, super predators.”
“China is paying. They are paying billions and billions of dollars.”
“I know more about wind than you. It… kills all the birds.”
“We are trying very hard, but a lot of these kids come out without the parents. They come over through cartels and through coyotes and through gangs.”
“They want to take buildings down because they want to make bigger windows into smaller windows. As far as they are concerned, if you had no window, it would be a lovely thing.”
“He wants to raise everybody’s taxes.”
“They tried to meet with him [Kim Jong Un]. he wouldn’t do it, he didn’t like Obama, he didn’t like him.”
“He doesn’t come from Scranton.”
“Nobody has done more for the Black community than Donald Trump. If you look, with the exception of Abraham Lincoln, possible exception, nobody has done what I’ve done.”
“What has been proven to happen when you do that [raise the minimum wage], these small businesses fire many of their employees.”
“We have the best testing in the world by far- that is why we have so many cases.”
“We have 180 million people out there that have great private health care, far more than what we are talking about with Obamacare. Joe Biden is going to terminate all of those policies.”
“What I would like to do is a much better health care- much better- will always protect people with pre-existing.”
“There has been nobody tougher on Russia.”
“The [Chinese] bank account was in 2013. That’s what it was. It was opened- it was closed in 2015, I believe.”