The 90-minute debate quickly descended into chaos after Trump began to interrupt both Biden and the moderator, Fox News' Chris Wallace. The night didn't get much calmer from there.
Read highlights from Tuesday's debate below:
Chris Wallace, who moderated Tuesday debate, said Trump showed no signs of ill health
Chris Wallace, the moderator of the first presidential debate on Tuesday, said in an interview on Friday that Trump showed no signs of illness at the event.
But he also noted that Trump's family members present at the debate did not abide by the mask mandates put in place by the Cleveland Clinic.
"The interesting thing was that the Cleveland Clinic said that everybody in the hall with the exception of the president the vice president and myself had to wear a mask," Wallace said.
Trump's group wore masks as they entered the hall but took them off when they sat down. According to NBC News reporters who attended the debate, a doctor from the Cleveland Clinic tried to offer some of the group masks but was waived away.
Wallace added that Trump's positive test will recenter the focus of the election on the coronavirus pandemic.
"It's going to raise questions again about how seriously the president has taken the coronavirus," Wallace said.
Biden's debate prep team expected this
As the debate unfolded, two Biden advisers directly involved with his debate prep were asked the same question: Even in your wildest debate prep sessions, did it look like this?
Both answered the same way: yes.
They knew it could get that ugly, and some of their practice sessions mirrored what we saw on stage.
What they wouldn't say was whether Biden reacted as they hoped he would. One said Biden did, for the most part, respond in the way they practiced — to, as often as possible, turn away from Trump and speak directly into the camera.
Four takeaways from the first Trump-Biden debate
The first debate between Trump and Biden was a slugfest full of interruptions led by the president, with phases of substantive discussion and meaningful moments.
The showdown came as Biden led Trump by 8.1 points in the NBC News National Polling Average.
It was unclear that Trump made up ground in an evening during which he put his brash and petulant style on full display, seemingly to appear dominant and make Biden look weak. Trump's approach to date has hemorrhaged support among seniors, suburban women and white college graduates, and those constituencies are likely to decide the election.
Fact-check: Did Trump's trade deals shrink trade deficits with China and Mexico?
Biden, in an attempt to hit Trump on trade, said the president had negotiated new trade deals that made the country's trade deficit with various countries worse.
That is not true.
"He's done very little. His trade deals are the same way. He talks about these great trade deals. He talks about the art of the deal. China's perfected the art of the steal. We have a higher deficit with China now than we did before. We have the highest trade deficit with Mexico," Biden said
In 2016, Trump ran in part on a message that was aggressively critical of the free trade deals the U.S. had entered in the past. As president, he negotiated a new free trade deal with Mexico and Canada and, following a trade war, a preliminary "phase one" deal with China.
According to government data, the trade deficit — simply put, the net difference in the monetary value of a country's exports and imports with another country — with China has actually fallen considerably in the years since Trump took office.
According to government data, the U.S.'s trade deficit with Mexico has risen and fallen during the Trump administration.
Fact-check: Biden says 'Green New Deal is not my plan.' His plan borrows heavily from it.
Biden tried to put distance between the Green New Deal — an ambitious and comprehensive environmental justice policy plan supported by progressives like Sen. Bernie Sanders, I-Vt., and Rep. Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez, D-N.Y. — and his own plans to combat climate change and environmental racism and to push clean energy sources and environmental justice.
"That is not my plan. The Green New Deal is not my plan," Biden said.
While Biden doesn't explicitly support the Green New Deal, his own plans borrow very heavily from it — making his aggressive denials ring false.
Over the summer, Biden released a $2 trillion plan that emphasized building new energy-efficient infrastructure projects and cutting fossil fuel emissions.
Under his plan, Biden would, if elected, increase clean energy use in various areas (including transportation, electricity and buildings) and have the U.S. achieve net-zero emissions by 2050 at the latest. The plan would also create 10 million clean energy jobs, according to his campaign website, with a focus on renewable energy, small nuclear reactors and grid energy storage, among other initiatives.
Biden's plans adopt many of the same pillars of the Green New Deal. One of his campaign documents even says, "Biden believes the Green New Deal is a crucial framework for meeting the climate challenges we face." In addition, his release of the plans was celebrated by many of the same groups that had touted the Green New Deal.
Biden's plans would, however, omit some of the Green New Deal's more controversial elements, such as "Medicare for All," a federal jobs guarantee and a strict zero carbon emissions mandate.
Biden reacts to Proud Boys remark: 'This is Donald Trump's America'
Twitter users have some ideas for who could moderate the next debate
The view from Trumpworld tonight
Unsurprisingly, Team Trump is casting the evening as a success for the president and seeking to sow confusion about his "stand back and stand by" comment. It's also enthusiastic about doing more debates and leaning heavily into criticism of those suggesting there shouldn't be any more.
Of the Proud Boys non-denunciation, allies are trying to create confusion: Donald Trump Jr. appeared on CBS and tried to claim that the president said "stand down." When corrected, Trump Jr. claimed that it might have been a "misspeak" and said, "He's talking about having them stand down." Trump campaign communications director Tim Murtaugh also tried to say it was "stand down."
Another campaign aide was pleased that the Trump tax investigation story wasn't prominently featured. Some Trump allies are also playing up how Biden didn't name a law enforcement group that supports him, as well as his court-packing non-answer and his response on the coronavirus and the economy, and they're defending the president's behavior as simply a way of defending himself. And there's plenty of blame-the-ref talk, too, slamming Chris Wallace.
Still, a campaign adviser noted that no one really knows how this is going to play out with voters yet, acknowledging that it's going to take a day or so to see how it shakes out across America.
Fact-check: Biden says 1 in 1,000 Black Americans have been killed by coronavirus
Biden claimed earlier in the evening that "1 in 1,000 African Americans" have "been killed because of the coronavirus" and that "if he [Trump] doesn't do something quickly, by the end of the year, 1 in 500 will have been killed."
There is no question that Black Americans have been more severely affected by Covid-19 than whites — even the administration's public health agency agrees that Black Americans are disproportionately affected. A number of analyses and studies show that people of color in America have been hit harder by the coronavirus and are more likely to know someone who has died from it.
Biden appears to be referring a recent study from APM Research Lab found that the Covid-19 death rate for Blacks is 1 in 1,020 (97.9 deaths per 100,000). The report notes that "if they had died of COVID-19 at the same actual rate as White Americans, about 20,800 Black, 10,900 Latino, 700 Indigenous, and 80 Pacific Islander Americans would still be alive."
But the study doesn't address how the disparity in death rates will change by the end of the year. NBC News has reached out to the Biden campaign for additional information.
Fact-check: Did Trump suggest nuking a hurricane? He called that report 'fake news'
Biden said that the president of the United States said he wanted to "drop a nuclear weapon" on hurricanes. Trump retorted, "I never said that."
Here's what Biden was referring to: On Aug. 25, 2019, Axios reported that Trump had suggested "multiple times" that the U.S. should explore the use of nuclear bombs to combat hurricanes.
According to Axios: "During one hurricane briefing at the White House, Trump said, 'I got it. I got it. Why don't we nuke them?' according to one source who was there. 'They start forming off the coast of Africa, as they're moving across the Atlantic, we drop a bomb inside the eye of the hurricane and it disrupts it. Why can't we do that?' the source added, paraphrasing the president's remarks."
A senior administration official did not deny the exchange, telling the publication: "His goal — to keep a catastrophic hurricane from hitting the mainland — is not bad. ... His objective is not bad."
But Trump wrote in a tweet at the time that the report was "just more fake news."
Here’s how the two men who helped Trump prepare for the debate felt about his performance
Rudy Giuliani and Chris Christie, the two men Trump said helped him prepare for this debate, were asked how they thought the president performed.
"The problems the president had tonight can potentially be fixed," Christie said on ABC News.
Meanwhile, on Twitter, Giuliani wrote: "If the crooked press is at all fair, Trump dominated this debate," adding that Trump showed that he was "vigorous" and "tough."
Harris denounces Trump's debate performance, says he 'debased' the presidency
Kamala Harris criticized Trump for his debate performance, focusing on the combative tone he struck throughout the 90-minute event.
"America was presented with a very clear choice," Harris, the Democratic vice presidential candidate, said in an interview with MSNBC, characterizing Trump's behavior as "angry" and "defensive."
Harris said Trump has "debased the office of the president of the United States."
"And that is our office. It's not his office," she added.
Harris will debate Vice President Mike Pence next week in Utah.
Fact-check: Did Kellyanne Conway say violence and chaos 'help [Trump's] cause?'
Trump disputed a broadside from Biden that Kellyanne Conway, Trump's former campaign manager and a top White House aide, said riots and chaos "help [Trump's] cause." But Conway did make comments along those lines in late August.
"His own former spokesperson said, you know, riots, chaos and violence help us and violence help his cause. That's what this is all about," Biden said.
After Trump questioned whom Biden was quoting, he responded, "Kellyanne Conway."
Trump replied: "I don't think she said that."
Here's the exact quote, via video of Conway's appearance on "Fox and Friends" on Aug. 27: "The more chaos and anarchy and vandalism and violence reigns, the better it is for the very clear choice on who's best on public safety and law and order."
Conway announced Aug. 23 that she would be leaving the White House at the end of the month.
Proud Boys celebrate after Trump's debate callout
The Proud Boys, a far-right extremist group, pledged allegiance to Trump on Tuesday night after he told the group to "stand back and stand by" during the evening's debate.
"Proud Boys, stand back and stand by, but I'll tell you what, somebody's got to do something about antifa and the left, because this is not a right-wing problem. This is a left-wing problem," Trump said after Biden asked him to denounce the group.
Many people on social media who identify with the group echoed that language, saying they were "standing down and standing by." A known social media account for the group made "Stand back. Stand by" part of its new logo.
On the Proud Boys' account on the social media app Telegram, the group also appeared to take the statement as marching orders.
"Standing down and standing by sir," the account wrote. The account then posted two videos of the answer, including one with the caption "God. Family. Brotherhood," in which a man howled at the TV in response to Trump's response.
Megan Squire, a computer science professor at Elon University in North Carolina who tracks online extremism, said Trump's giving the Proud Boys orders was their long-sought "fantasy."
Fact-check: Trump falsely accuses Obama of 'spying' on his 2016 campaign
Trump once again accused the Obama administration of spying on his campaign — a claim that Trump has made on numerous occasions and which remains false.
"When I listen to Joe talking about a transition, there's been no transition from when I won. I won if you look at that election and if you look at Crooked Hillary Clinton, if you look at all of the different people, there was no transition, because they came after me trying to do a coup, coming after me spying on my campaign," Trump said. "They started from the day I won and even before I won."
A review conducted by the Justice Department's own watchdog found in December that the investigation into Russian interference in the 2016 election — a probe that deeply touched the 2016 Trump campaign — was justified.
The 434-page report by Justice Department Inspector General Michael Horowitz raised questions about the FBI's use of confidential human sources to gather information from individual members of the Trump campaign. FBI officials said it was a normal investigative technique, but the inspector general questioned whether there should be special guidelines when it comes to political campaigns.
The report did, however, clearly refute the notion that the FBI placed a "spy" in the Trump campaign.
"We found no evidence," the report said, that the FBI sent any confidential sources to join the Trump campaign, sent them to campaign offices or events or tasked them to report on the Trump campaign.
The inspector general said he examined more than a million documents and interviewed more than 100 witnesses to reach the report's conclusions.
Fact-check: Trump overstates job gains made under his administration
Trump claimed that he had brought back 700,000 manufacturing jobs that were lost during the Obama administration because "they gave up."
"They said it would take a miracle to bring back manufacturing. I brought back 700,000 jobs. They brought back nothing. They gave up on manufacturing," Trump said.
Trump is overstating job gains made during his administration, according to federal employment data examining net job losses.
About 1.4 million manufacturing jobs were lost during the Obama administration's eight years, many of them during a major recession that President Barack Obama inherited when he took office, which hit the industry hard.
Under Trump, the U.S. gained about half a million manufacturing jobs from 2016 to 2019, according to federal employment data. But about 200,000 of the manufacturing jobs gained under Trump have since been lost during the coronavirus pandemic.
'Train wreck,' 'Dumpster fire': Journalists and pundits give blistering reactions to first debate
Journalists and pundits weighed in offering blistering assessments of the first Biden and Trump debate.
- Rachel Maddow (MSNBC): "This sort of debate should not happen in a democracy."
- Joy Reid (MSNBC) "This is not the night I expected." She called it "embarrassing."
- Nicolle Wallace MSNBC): A mess because of Trump's "desperate need for oxygen of air time," and he was an "abusive participant." "Chris Wallace did not act as a moderator. Trump did not act like a debater," Wallace said.
- Jake Tapper (CNN): "That was a hot mess inside a dumpster fire inside a train wreck."
- Chuck Todd (NBC News): "It was a train wreck, but it was a train wreck by one person."
- Dana Bash (CNN): "S---show."
Fact-check: Trump says poll watchers were 'thrown out' in Pennsylvania. What really happened?
Trump said his campaign's poll watchers were "thrown out" of voting sites in Philadelphia.
"Today, there was a big problem: In Philadelphia, they went in to watch, they were called poll watchers, a very safe, a very nice thing. They were thrown out. They weren't allowed to watch. You know why? Because bad things happen in Philadelphia," he said toward the end of the debate.
That's because the poll watchers weren't approved to be at that particular location.
A Philadelphia Inquirer reporter at a Board of Elections satellite office said Tuesday that a woman who said she was hired by the Trump campaign as a poll watcher wasn't allowed into the office.
But a spokesman for the city commissioner's office said that's because satellite voting officials don't qualify as voting places, so poll watchers can't be given poll watcher certificates to allow them to observe the process.
"The Satellite Offices are Board of Election Offices that provide voter services to residents of Philadelphia for registration, absentee, and mail-in ballots. Individuals are able to go to those offices for those types of services," said Nick Custodio, a Philadelphia deputy commissioner, told NBC News in a statement.
"The Satellite Offices are not Polling Places. Poll watcher certificates have not been issued for any individuals for anything other than poll watching activities on Election Day at Polling Places," the statement continued.
"Individuals who are not seeking to receive services from a Satellite Office are not permitted to be there for other purposes. This is particularly important in the current environment as City buildings and offices remain closed to the public due to COVID-19."
Ben Kamisar contributed.
Wallace struggles to end debate
After more than 90 minutes of near-constant combat and very little debating of the issues, Wallace struggled to get the event across the finish line.
Pleading that the debate was over, Wallace was finally able to get the conversation to end.
A fitting end to this first debate.
Fact-check: Did Obama hand Trump the 'slowest recovery' or a 'booming economy'?
Trump rattled off a series of claims that suggested he kick-started a struggling economy.
He claimed that the Obama-Biden administration "had the slowest recovery since — economic recovery since 1929."
"It was the slowest recovery. Also, they took over something that was down here. All you had to do is turn on the lights, and you pick up a lot," he said.
"When the stock market goes up, that means jobs. It also means 401(k)s," he continued.
Biden replied: "Look, we inherited the worst recession short of a depression in American history. I was asked to bring it back. We were able to have an economic recovery that created the jobs that you talked about. We handed him a booming economy. He blew it."
"It wasn't booming," Trump replied.
Several key economic indicators show that the economy was well into recovery during the Obama administration, before Trump took office. Furthermore, other metrics show that Trump did not significantly grow the economy any more than the Obama White House did.
Looking at the broadest measure of economic health, gross domestic product, the numbers show that average quarterly economic growth under Trump, 2.5 percent, was almost exactly what it was under President Barack Obama in his second term, 2.4 percent.
The Trump administration has rightly taken credit for having low unemployment during his presidency, but the idea that Trump rebuilt the economy is misleading. Unemployment under Obama had already been trending downward. In December 2019 — before the coronavirus pandemic hit the U.S. — the unemployment rate was a scant 3.5 percent, the lowest it had been in 50 years. However, as good as that number was, when Trump took office, the rate was already at 4.7 percent. That figure is quite low by historical standards (lower than during all of the 1980s, as well as most of the 1990s and the 2000s). In fact, Obama saw a much steeper drop in unemployment in his second term, a 3.3-point drop in the rate, than Trump did in his first three years, a decline of 1.2 points.
The numbers under Trump appear to be the continuation of a trend, not something new. Job creation numbers offer more evidence for that. On average, more jobs were added monthly in Obama's second term than there were in Trump's first three years.
On average, the country created 215,000 new jobs a month in Obama's second term. In Trump's first three years, the figure was 182,000. They are both good numbers, and if you look at the jobs data plotted on a graph, the rise since 2011 actually looks pretty consistent.
One indicator suggests a change under Trump: the rise in the stock market. On Dec. 31, 2019, the Dow Jones Industrial Average was at 28,538. That was up by 56 percent from 18,332, where it was the day Trump was elected in 2016.
From Obama's second Election Day until 2016, the Dow climbed by 38 percent.
The candidates on whether they would wait to declare victory
Chris Wallace asked the candidates for a direct answer about whether they would wait to declare victory until the election results have been independently certified and whether they would ask their supporters to remain calm until a winner is declared.
Their answers differed significantly.
Trump: "I am urging my supporters to go into the polls and watch very carefully."
'Rigged': Trump continues, without evidence, to cast doubt on the 2020 election
Trump again continued to cast doubt on the election by attacking mail-in voting and claiming that the election is going to be "rigged."
This is a familiar attack line from Trump, who has presented no evidence for his claims.
There is no evidence of massive voter fraud, and election experts have repeatedly noted that if fraud happens — such as a recent case in New Jersey in which a new election was called because of allegations of mail-in ballot fraud — it is easily found.
But the president's comments have continued to cause consternation among constitutional and election experts. He has urged his supporters to be poll watchers and has not committed to a peaceful transition of power if he loses.
Fact check: Did Trump call veterans 'losers'?
Biden made this claim Tuesday evening, and it accurately reflects media reports citing multiple sources.
"And speaking of my son, the way you talk about the military, the way you talk about them being losers and just being suckers — my son was in Iraq. He spent a year there. He got the Bronze Star. He got a service medal. He was not a loser. He was a patriot, and the people left behind there were heroes," Biden said, speaking of his son Beau Biden.
Biden appears to be referring to a recent report in The Atlantic, which zeroed in on Trump's rhetoric about service members. Citing four people with firsthand knowledge of the discussions, the magazine reported that Trump canceled a visit to Aisne-Marne American Cemetery near Paris in 2018 because he feared his hair would become disheveled in the rain. The Atlantic then was first to report that in a conversation with senior staff members, Trump said: "Why should I go to that cemetery? It's filled with losers."
Trump also was reported to have called the more than 1,800 fallen Marines "suckers" for getting killed during the World War I battle. The Atlantic's report was confirmed by The Associated Press, while The Washington Post reported similar rhetoric about fallen service members. The president denied the Atlantic report as "fake."
6 debate topics turned into ... 15
Trump and Biden had been expected to touch on a variety of subjects. The Commission on Presidential Debates last week announced that the debate would feature six 15-minute segments dedicated to the following topics: the Trump and Biden records, the Supreme Court, Covid-19, the economy, race and violence in American cities and the integrity of the election.
Trump tries to tie Biden to the Green New Deal, which he does not support
The candidates went back and forth over their climate positions (including where they stand on farting cows), during which Trump tried to paint Biden as beholden to the left wing of the Democratic Party, which supports an ambitious plan to tackle climate change known as the Green New Deal.
"That is not my plan. The Green New Deal is not my plan," Biden said.
"Oh, you don't? Well, that's a big statement," Trump said in a mocking voice.
Biden has proposed his own plan for economic reinvestment, which would create "10 million clean energy jobs," according to his campaign website, with a focus on renewable energy, small nuclear reactors and grid energy storage, among other initiatives.
The Biden plan adopts many of the same pillars of the Green New Deal but omits some of the more controversial elements, such as "Medicare for All," a federal jobs guarantee and a strict zeroing carbon emissions mandate.
Harris on family talk
Fact-check: Biden says violent crime fell under Obama, rose under Trump
Biden said: "Violent crime went down 17 percent, 15 percent in our administration. It's gone up on his watch."
Biden's attack is half-true. Asked about this claim, the Biden campaign pointed to a FactCheck.org review of FBI violent crime data during the Obama administration, which found that the violent crime rate fell by nearly 16 percent when adjusted for population. While that number appears to check out, his attack on Trump is unfounded: While homicide has been on the rise, violent crime has remained largely flat under the Trump administration.
'I don't know Beau': Trump dismisses Biden’s dead son, pivots to attacks on Hunter
Biden referred to a recent Atlantic story that reported that Trump had disparaged American service members, touching on his own son's service.
"He was not a loser. He was a patriot, and the people left behind there are heroes," Biden said of service members, including Beau Biden, his son who died in 2015 from cancer and served in Iraq.
"I don't know Beau," Trump said, dismissing the reference. He then pivoted to a mention of Biden's living son, Hunter, describing the younger Biden as an addict who had been dishonorably ejected from the military. "I know Hunter. Hunter got thrown out of the military. ... He was dishonorably discharged."
"That's not true," Biden interjected.
"For cocaine use," Trump responded, adding one of his repeated unproven claims that Hunter Biden's global business dealings amount to graft made possible by his father's status. "And he didn't have a job until you became vice president."
Hunter Biden was discharged from the Navy Reserve in 2014 after having tested positive for cocaine. Hunter Biden, his father said on the debate stage, also underwent treatment, overcoming addiction, a problem with which millions of Americans have struggled.
"I'm proud of my son," he said.
Beau Biden, a former attorney general of Delaware, died of cancer in 2015. Neither Trump nor his sons have served in the military. Both Eric Trump and Donald Trump Jr. have worked the bulk of their adult lives for Trump companies, like their father.
Analysis: Relying on white supremacist votes
It shouldn't be hard to condemn white supremacists. For Trump, though, it appears to be bad politics.
Asked to reject people so motivated by racism that they form groups devoted to it, Trump failed to do so. He seemed like he might do it.
"Stand back and stand by," he said after asking whom he was supposed to condemn. But instead of attacking white supremacists, he launched a rhetorical assault on "antifa." Antifa is not a white supremacist group.
The moment recalls Trump's refusal to denounce Ku Klux Klan leader David Duke during the 2016 campaign and his determination that there were "very fine people" on both sides of a white supremacist demonstration in Charlottesville, Virginia, in 2017.
Fact-check: Did Biden call Black Americans 'superpredators'?
"Look at the crime bill, 1994, where you called them 'superpredators,' African Americans are 'superpredators,'" Trump said. "And they've never forgotten that."
This is mostly false. It was Hillary Clinton, then the first lady, who used the word "superpredator" to advocate for the 1994 crime bill that Biden co-wrote more than 30 years ago. Biden did warn of "predators" in a floor speech in support of his bill, however.
Fact-check: Biden says Trump 'paid a total of $750 in taxes'
Biden, during a prolonged exchange over the amount of federal taxes Trump has paid, said, "This guy paid a total of $750 in taxes."
Trump retorted by saying, "I've paid millions of dollars in taxes, millions of dollars of income tax."
Biden's claim accurately reflects new reporting by The New York Times for 2016 and 2017.
Trump's federal income tax bill was just $750 the year he won the presidency, The Times reported after obtaining and reviewing more than two decades of the president's tax information. During his first year in office, his bill remained $750. The information doesn't include his returns from 2018 and 2019.
According to The Times, Trump had paid no income taxes at all in 10 of the 15 years before 2016, because he reported losing much more money than he made during that time. NBC News hasn't seen or verified any of the documents reported by The Times.
Fact-check: Does Trump support cutting police funding?
"His budget calls for a $400 million cut in local law enforcement assistance," Biden said, reiterating his own opposition to defunding the police.
That is mostly true, although Biden actually undercounts the proposed cuts. While Trump has opposed calls from some Democrats to reduce police funding in response to the deaths of George Floyd and other Black Americans over the summer, the Trump administration's budget proposal does, indeed, call for big cuts for several police programs.
In the Justice Department's budget plan for fiscal year 2021, the Trump administration requested $1.51 billion for over 50 programs funding state and local law enforcement. That number would cut about $515 million from previous fiscal years, in part by slashing budgets for a number of Obama-era programs, including initiatives that provided body cameras for police officers.
Trump portrays Biden as both too tough and too weak on crime
During an exchange on racism in America, Trump essentially argued that Biden was too tough on crime and is too weak on crime.
First, Trump condemned Biden for authoring the 1994 crime bill while, in almost the same breath, saying Biden wouldn't even say the words "law enforcement."
Biden later said he stands for law and order if it is applied equally regardless of race or creed.
Trump balks at denouncing white supremacy
In another heated exchange, Trump declined to denounce the far right and white supremacists and told the Proud Boys — a violent, far-right group — to "stand back and stand by."
Trump instead tried to pivot to antifa's being a more serious problem. Biden pointed out that the FBI has said the far right is the biggest threat to the U.S. in terms of domestic violence.
His own FBI director said this month that antifa is an ideology, not a group.
Trump and Biden struggle to stay on topic ... with 15 minutes left
We're still updating live here.
Fact-check: Trump says he took advantage of a tax code Biden could have fixed
During an acrimonious exchange, the president defended the low tax bill he is reported to have paid by suggesting that if Biden wanted him to have not taken advantage of the tax code, he should have acted to fix it during his tenure in the Senate.
"The tax code that put him in a position that he pays less tax than a schoolteacher is because of — he says he's smart because he can take advantage of the tax code. And he does take advantage of the tax code," Biden said.
Trump replied: "But why didn't you do it over the last 25 years? Why didn't you do it over the last 25 years?"
In reality, despite being in Senate for 36 years, Biden was never technically in a position to rewrite the federal tax code.
While in the Senate from 1973 to 2009, Biden was chair of the Judiciary and Foreign Relations committees and had no direct hand in writing tax laws. That's the job of the Finance Committee.
Trump, on the other hand, takes advantage of several loopholes to avoid paying taxes, including some for which he personally lobbied.
Among them is a law passed in 1986 to limit investors not actively involved in a business from taking deductions and attributing losses against their incomes. An "at risk" rule was also added to prevent taxpayers from deducting losses greater than their investments. But Congress largely exempted real estate developers, like Trump.
At the same time that his investments in Atlantic City, New Jersey, were suffering, Trump appeared before Congress in 1991 to advocate for "tax shelters" that would "incentivize" "investment in real estate" to help boost the economy during the recession.
Biden calls Trump racist
"He’s the racist," Biden said in a back and forth over Trump’s decision earlier this year to expand a ban on racial sensitivity training to federal contractors.
Trump said he banned the training "because it's racist" and taught anti-American sentiments, making an explicit appeal to the white identity politics that have become a hallmark of his political career.
Fact-check: Trump's attacks on Hunter Biden for foreign business dealings
Trump and his allies have attacked the former vice president's son Hunter Biden for his foreign business dealings.
Trump echoed one of the biggest claims from the recent Senate GOP Homeland Security Committee's "conflicts of interest investigation" into Hunter Biden — Trump claimed on the debate stage that "the mayor of Moscow's wife gave your son $3.5 million. What did he do to deserve it?"
The report, authored by Republican Sens. Ron Johnson of Wisconsin and Chuck Grassley of Iowa, claimed that Elena Baturina, the former wife of the late former mayor of Moscow, wired $3.5 million to a firm associated with Hunter Biden.
Hunter Biden's legal team told NBC News that Biden had "no interest" in the firm that received the money, so "the claim he was paid $3.5 million was false."
And on the debate stage, Joe Biden said the claim had been "totally discredited."
The Senate GOP-led "conflicts of interest" report largely resurfaced outstanding allegations, specifically as to Hunter Biden's role on the board of a Ukrainian energy company, as well as what the committee called "questionable financial transactions between Hunter Biden and his associates and foreign individuals."
Largely focusing on those optics, the report doesn't say Hunter Biden's work changed U.S. policy. Biden campaign spokesman Andrew Bates slammed the report as an "attack founded on a long-disproven hardcore right-wing conspiracy theory" that Johnson "has now explicitly stated he is attempting to exploit to bail out Donald Trump's re-election campaign."
Head hurt? You're not alone.
'Racist' jab from Biden gets no response
Fact-check: Did Trump lower drug prices?
"I'm cutting drug prices. I'm going with favored nations, which no president has the courage to do, because you're going against Big Pharma. Drug prices will be coming down 80 or 90 percent," Trump said.
"He has no plan for health care," Biden argued. "He hasn't lowered drug costs for anybody."
Brand name drug prices are on the rise, too.
What the candidates discussed when it came to race
Follow along live here.
Trump's anti-China rhetoric led to a surge in pandemic racism against Asian Americans
Throughout the debate, Trump boasted of his record on controlling Covid-19 by taking a tough stand on travel from China, repeatedly referring to the coronavirus as the "China plague."
His rhetoric against China and his calling the virus the China virus has led to surges in bias incidents and hate crimes against Asian Americans. Young Asian Americans, in particular, have reported a surge in racist incidents. Asian American business owners have also cited pandemic-related racism as a reason they were forced to close their businesses.
Trump leans on a go-to attack: Hunter Biden
Trump berated Biden over the foreign business involvements of his son Hunter Biden.
Trump's strategy seemed to be to launch as many smears against Hunter Biden as possible, interrupting Joe Biden's defenses and creating a few minutes of complete chaos onstage.
Hunter Biden has been red meat for Trump's base on the campaign trail ever since his impeachment proceedings began. There's rarely much truth to these attacks.
"He doesn't want me to answer because he knows I have the truth," Biden said.
Fact-check: Trump says 'no negative effects' from his rallies, ignoring Covid-19 cases
Trump said "we've had no negative effect" from the coronavirus at his rallies, a claim that ignores the spate of Covid-19 cases that have been linked to the campaign events.
A handful of Trump's own campaign staff members tested positive for Covid-19 in the days surrounding his late-June rally in Tulsa, Oklahoma, including members of the Secret Service. Former Republican presidential candidate Herman Cain tested positive days after the rally and ultimately died because of complications from the virus. While Cain attended the rally and was photographed without a mask on, it's unclear where he contracted the virus.
Tulsa's top health official said the rally "likely contributed" to a surge in cases after the rally.
Biden calls Trump the ‘worst president we’ve ever had’
Biden isn’t worried about being polite during this debate, having thrown off-the-cuff zings at Trump, who has repeatedly interrupted him.
Trump hit Biden saying he has done more in 47 months than Biden has in 47 years in public office, but Biden hit back.
“You are the worst president America has ever had,” Biden said after Trump accused him of not doing anything while in office.
This exchange has been the tone of the debate since the first question.
Shape of economic recovery
Wallace said the economic recovery from the pandemic has been faster than expected but the two candidates argued about the “shape” of the economy.
If the economy was charted on a graph would it be a “V” where it goes down from where it was before and then rebounds, as Trump claims? Or will it be a “K” shape, where the fortunes of a few continue to increase while those in lower incomes and jobs more exposed to coronavirus risks continue to decline?
Experts say that the recovery is a tale of two diverging recoveries. After soaring to Great Depression levels during pandemic lockdowns, unemployment has fallen to 8.4 percent in the most recent report. Stock indexes are hitting historic highs. Mortgage rates are rock bottom and sales of new homes have hit 13-year highs.
But over 30 million Americans face the risk of eviction and many temporary layoffs are turning into permanent job losses as the pandemic drags on. Without a widely available vaccine, large portions of the economy, such as travel, hotel and restaurants, will not be able to fully recover.
“The ‘V-shaped’ recovery is a mirage,” Nick Mazing, director of research at data provider Sentieo told NBC News. “We are seeing a permanent reduction in the size of several sectors in the economy.”