US President Donald Trump and Democratic nominee Joe Biden kicked off their first presidential debate Tuesday night by sparring over everything from the Supreme Court nomination, coronavirus and Biden’s sons.
President Trump and his challenger fiercely clashed in one of the most chaotic and rancorous White House debates in years.
Amid angry shouting and name calling, the two also fought over race and the economy during the 90-minute forum in Cleveland, Ohio.
The first of three showdowns between Trump, 74, and Biden, 77, devolved into attacks on Hunter Biden, smarts and schoolyard name-calling. As Trump went on offense, Biden tried to shut him down by calling the president a “clown” and a “liar.”
Trump came out swinging, but Biden held his own and didn’t fall into previous debate pitfalls where he cut his time short or stumbled to get out responses. The two men often talked over each other in a brawl that got unwieldy at times.
The president touted his record in the White House on boosting the economy and how he handled the pandemic, proclaiming: “There has never been an administration or president who has done more than I’ve done in a period of three and a half years, and that’s despite the impeachment hoax.”
But Biden said under Trump the country has become weaker, sicker, poorer and more violent.
“You’re the worst president America has ever had,” Biden said at one point.
Biden sought to define himself as the steady leader of the Democratic Party and distanced himself from Bernie Sanders’ health care plan and Rep. Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez’s Green New Deal.
“You just lost the left,” Trump told Biden.
The forum focused on six topics in 15-minute segments – the candidates’ records, the Supreme Court, the pandemic, race, election integrity and the economy.
In a vitriolic back and forth punctuated by insults, Mr Biden, 77, accused Mr Trump, of stoking “racist hatred”, and labelled him “Putin’s puppy” in reference to Russia’s president.
Due to the coronavirus pandemic, the debate at Case Western Reserve University had a small, socially distanced audience and the traditional opening handshake was skipped.
Mr Biden rubbished Trump’s leadership on the coronavirus pandemic, which has killed more than 200,000 Americans.
“He panicked or he looked at the stock market,” the Democrat said of the president, who wants states to reopen their economies. “A lot of people died and a lot more are going to die unless he gets a lot smarter, a lot quicker,” Biden said.
Mr Trump objected to Mr Biden using the word “smart.”
“You graduated either the lowest or almost the lowest in your class,” the president said. “Don’t ever use the word smart with me. Don’t ever use that word.”
According to analysts, nothing about this hour-and-a-half free-for-all seems likely to alter the dynamics of the presidential contest or change the minds of the one in 10 American voters who say they are still undecided.
As the two tussled over healthcare, President Trump, a Republican, accused his rival of being beholden to socialists in his party, saying: “They’re going to dominate you, Joe, you know that.”
“Right now I’m the Democratic party,” retorted Mr Biden.
Biden went on: “Here’s the deal: everything he’s saying so far is simply a lie. I’m not here to call out his lies. Everybody knows he’s a liar.”
Trump hit back: “Joe, you’re the liar.”
The president then defended his effort to swiftly fill a US Supreme Court seat to cement a 6-3 conservative majority on the bench.
Trump also challenged his rival to say whether he would pack America’s highest court, adding more justices to tilt its ideological balance, as some Democrats have urged.
The president also demanded Biden release a list of his own judicial nominees. But Biden would not be drawn. “Will you shut up, man?” the Democrat said.
“Who’s on your list, Joe?” Mr Trump pressed. “He’s going to pack the court.” The moderator, Chris Wallace, cut in to move the debate on. “Keep yapping, man,” Mr Biden said.
Trump replied: “The people understand, Joe. Forty-seven years, you’ve done nothing.”At one point the president questioned why a company co-founded by his challenger’s son, Hunter Biden, had received $3.5m (£2.7m) from a Moscow billionaire, according to a report released by Senate Republicans.
Biden denied the claim, and the two shouted over one another.
As the moderator tried to cut in, the Democrat said: “It’s hard to get any word in with this clown. Excuse me, this person.”
He added: “I mean, his family we could talk about all night.”
Later, Biden referred to claims by anonymous sources that Trump had once called members of the military “losers”, a report denied by the president and a number of his former and current aides.
The Democrat angrily said his late son, Beau, who served in Iraq and was awarded the Bronze Star, was not a loser.
“He was not a loser, he was a patriot!” said Biden. Trump cut in: “Really? Are you talking about Hunter?”
“I’m talking about my son, Beau Biden,” said the Democrat.”I don’t know Beau,” said Trump. “I know Hunter. Hunter got thrown out of the military. He was thrown out, dishonourably discharged for cocaine use. And he didn’t have a job until you became vice-president.
“And once you became vice-president he made a fortune in Ukraine, in China, in Moscow and various other places. He made a fortune and he didn’t have a job.”
Shouting over Trump, Mr Biden said: “My son, like a lot of people, like a lot of people you know at home, had a drug problem.
“He’s overtaken it. He’s fixed it. He’s worked on it. And I’m proud of him.”