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First Presidential debate: Full coverage and fact checks

It was the first time the two candidates faced off on the debate stage after months of tweets and attack ads.
President Donald Trump and Joe Biden will meet during the first presidential debate in Cleveland on Tuesday night.Chelsea Stahl / NBC News

President Donald Trump and Democratic presidential nominee Joe Biden faced off on the debate stage Tuesday for the first time.

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:

Inside the debate hall: Face masks and social distancing

CLEVELAND — Face masks, tickets and a wristband proving a recent negative COVID-19 test result are required to enter the hall for the first 2020 presidential debate and the precautions continue inside. 

The debate is taking place Tuesday night on the campus of the Cleveland Clinic, one of the nation's premier health centers, so health security is as tight as the traditional physical security typical of major events involving the president.

Anyone entering the debate hall has to pass through airport-style security run by the Secret Service at the perimeter then be checked by agents once again at the entrance to the hall itself before getting their temperature taken and displaying the wristband that shows a recent negative test from the on-site rapid testing center. 

The debate is taking place inside the atrium of the clinic's Samson Pavilion, which has high ceilings and plenty of space to enhance ventilation. The audience has been limited to a much smaller-than-usual 80 to 100 invited guests, allowing for chairs to be blocked off between groups and plenty of spacing between the rows. 

Social distancing in place for the audience of the first 2020 presidential debate at the Cleveland Clinic.Alex Seitz-Wald

Trump and Biden campaigns spar before debate commences

Before the main event even kicked off tonight, the Trump and Biden campaigns were already throwing barbs Tuesday afternoon.

After the Trump campaign claimed Biden would not allow a pre-debate inspection to determine if he was wearing an earpiece, the Democratic nominee’s campaign said Team Trump was lying.

“If we’re playing that game, then you know, the Trump team asked Chris Wallace not to mention the number of deaths from Covid once during the debate. You can consider that confirmed from the Biden campaign. See how easy that was to try to throw up a distraction?” Kate Bedingfield, the Biden campaign’s communications director said facetiously on a conference call.

Bedingfield was trying to show that anyone can lie, but some of the Internet took her claim to be true and the Trump campaign refuted it: “The Biden campaign is trying to distract from the facts that he won’t submit to an inspection for earpieces, won’t take a drug test, and needs multiple breaks during the 90-minute debate,” Trump campaign communications director Tim Murtaugh said in an email.

The earpiece claim, which appeared to originate from a reporter’s tweet citing one anonymous source, quickly spread on Facebook, reaching people in the swing states of Pennsylvania, Ohio, North Carolina, and Florida more than anywhere else.

Trump has arrived at debate site

President Trump and first lady Melania Trump landed in Cleveland just before 4 p.m. along with a mix of family and staffers.

National security adviser Robert O’Brien, Rudy Giuliani, Rep. Jim Jordan of Ohio, Ivanka Trump, Jared Kushner, Hope Hicks, Kayleigh McEnany, Jason Miller, Bill Stepien and Derek Lyons were all seen getting off the plane. 

The group pulled up to the debate site a short while later.

Biden releases 2019 tax return ahead of first debate as Trump comes under fire for tax avoidance

Joe Biden’s presidential campaign on Tuesday released the 2019 tax returns for the former vice president and his running mate, Sen. Kamala Harris, D-Calif., hours ahead of the first 2020 general election debate.

The returns come as questions regarding President Trump’s tax returns, which he has refused to release publicly claiming that he’s under audit by the IRS, are bound to come up at the debate in Cleveland.

bombshell New York Times report from Sunday night found that President Donald Trump paid only $750 in federal income taxes in 2016 and again in 2017. The Times found that, based on two decades of Trump’s tax information that it obtained, the president didn’t pay any income taxes in 10 of the last 15 years.

Biden and his wife, Jill, reported $944,737 in taxable income last year and they paid $299,346 in federal income taxes, according to the documents.

The 2019 tax return for Harris and her husband, Doug Emhoff, show that they reported $3,018,127 in taxable income and paid $754,809 in federal income taxes.

Read more here.

5 things to watch for tonight

The first debate of the 2020 presidential election is one of President Trump's last best chances to shake up a race that Joe Biden is leading.

The polling has so far seemed largely impervious to news events, with Biden’s lead staying consistent through a pandemic, Supreme Court fight and more, and the president is running out of time to change that dynamic with just five weeks left until Election Day.

The debate is expected to draw an audience of up to 100 million, making it a rare political moment in which the public's attention will be fixed to the same political event for 90 minutes, largely unfiltered by partisan or ideological media outlets.

Here are five things to watch.

The table is set for Biden to neutralize one of Trump's main attack lines during first debate

For months, President Trump has taken shot after shot after shot at Joe Biden over his mental fitness. On Tuesday, that line of attack will be put on trial at the first presidential debate, giving Biden his best opportunity yet to, as he has said, "compare my cognitive capability to the cognitive capability of the man I'm running against."

While Biden has suffered from some verbal slip-ups along the campaign trail as well as a slate of primary debates that were somewhat of a mixed-bag for the nominee, what political observers described as the "low expectations" being set by Trump should play to the former vice president's advantage in Cleveland.

"The ironic thing about the constant hyperbolic attacks by the president and his campaign on the former vice president's mental health or physical health is they've created a situation where if he doesn't pee himself — like Bradley Cooper in 'A Star Is Born' — he will have exceeded expectations," said Michael Steel, who helped prepare Paul Ryan for his 2012 vice presidential debate against Biden.

Read more here.

Everything you need to know about the first Trump-Biden face off

President Donald Trump and Joe Biden come face-to-face for their first debate Tuesday night amid increasingly nasty attacks on each other.

Trump has called Biden a socialist puppet who wants to destroy the suburbs and "hurt God." Biden says Trump is a fraud whose failed leadership during the coronavirus crisis has "caused people to die."

Here's what you need to know.