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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:

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.”

Fact-check: Trump on the Obama administration's response to swine flu

"Well, you didn't do that well on swine flu, H1N1, you were a disaster. Your own chief of staff said you were a disaster," Trump said to Biden.

Trump's exaggerating here. Ron Klain, Biden's former chief of staff, has criticized the Obama administration's swine flu response, not Biden specifically.

"We did every possible thing wrong — 60 million Americans got H1N1," Klain said at a biosecurity summit in May 2019. "It is purely a fortuity that this isn't one of the great mass casualty events in American history. It had nothing to do with us doing anything right. It just had to do with luck."

Klain later told Politico that his comments referred to the administration's difficulties producing enough of the vaccine it developed, and he argued that the Obama team quickly adapted to the pandemic — quickly responding and distributing supplies from the federal stockpile, for example — and made very different choices from the Trump administration's. 

It's also worth noting that the swine flu is estimated to have killed 12,000 people in the U.S., far fewer than the more than 200,000 who have died of Covid-19 to date. The Obama administration also got generally high marks for its response to the swine flu. While government reports after the fact identified room for growth, they also highlighted successes, like rapid research and development of a vaccine that arrived in less than six months. There's little contemporaneous reporting on the Obama administration's response that portrays the kind of unmitigated disaster Trump is suggesting occurred.

Fact-check: Trump says his pandemic response was 'great.' The U.S. leads in cases and deaths.

Trump boasted about his coronavirus response, saying, "We've done a great job."

This is false, according to all available metrics. The U.S. is still struggling badly with the Covid-19 pandemic. The U.S. has more cases than any other country, at more than 7 million, and more deaths than any other country, recently having surpassed 200,000. The U.S. has an uncontrolled outbreak, reporting just shy of 37,000 new Covid-19 cases Monday. For comparison, far smaller countries, like Italy, Germany and Japan, are reporting between a few hundred and 3,000 new cases a day.

Other countries are struggling — India is the most affected country by caseload, while Brazil is the third most affected — but the U.S. outbreak remains the second worst to be documented. It would be more accurate to say the U.S. has done worse than most other countries. As of Tuesday, the U.S. has the fifth-highest number of deaths per 100,000 people in the world, according to Johns Hopkins University

Most countries in Africa have fared significantly better than other parts of the world, particularly the U.S. South Africa, the hardest-hit country on the continent, has recorded more than 671,000 cases and 16,508 deaths as of Tuesday. That represents 28 deaths per 100,000 people, compared to more than 62 deaths per 100,000 in the U.S. 

For European countries, the U.S. is doing better than Spain, which has experienced just over 67 deaths per 100,000 people, but worse than Italy (59.3), France (47.4) and Germany (11.4).

American voters do not approve of Trump's response to the pandemic: 57 percent of Americans disapprove of his handling of the pandemic, according to a September NBC News/Wall Street Journal poll.

Trump claims he paid 'millions' in taxes in 2016 and 2017 after New York Times reports he paid $750 each year

Trump was questioned repeatedly about The New York Times' story this week in which it said that it obtained decades of the president's tax returns and that he paid just $750 in federal income taxes in 2016 and again in 2017.

Trump said he paid "millions of dollars" in taxes those years, but he said he was taking advantage of the tax laws on the books, because, as a developer, "I don't want to pay tax."

Trump then blamed Biden for the tax code he took advantage of, to which Biden pledged to eliminate the president's 2017 tax cuts.

Lots of attacks happening — and we're tracking those, too

While answering questions about Covid-19 and the economy, both candidates took swings at each other. We're following the topics discussed by Trump and Biden — and the attacks that come with it. 

Follow along live here

Trump defends his large campaign rallies

Trump has broken state and local coronavirus guidelines in nearly every single of the more than 20 campaign rallies he has held since June, a move that he did not back down from when pressed by Wallace.

"People want to hear what I have to say,” Trump said, falsely claiming that there has been “no negative effect."

Biden criticized Trump for being “totally irresponsible,” to which Trump responded: "If you could get the crowds, you would have done the same thing."

Chris Wallace notes public reluctance to take a coronavirus vaccine

Debate moderator Chris Wallace just noted that "polls already show that people are concerned about the vaccine and are reluctant to take it." 

That's a finding seen across a number of polls, including the NBC News|SurveyMonkey poll. 

Only 38 American adults said they would take a government-approved vaccine for coronavirus if it becomes widely available, according to the latest NBC/SurveyMonkey polling released Tuesday. Twenty-four percent said they wouldn't take the vaccine and 36 percent said they're not sure. 

And last week's data found that 52 percent of adults said that they did not trust President Trump's comments on the vaccine, while 26 percent said they did. 

Less than halfway through, it's not Twitter's favorite debate

Fact-check: How many people are there in the U.S. with pre-existing conditions?

Trump and Biden came out of the gate with conflicting statements over how many people in the U.S. have pre-existing health conditions. Biden said that there are 100 million such people — and that they would lose their health care coverage should the Affordable Care Act be eliminated. Trump insisted that Biden's number was wrong.

"There's 100 million people who have pre-existing conditions, and they'll be taken away, as well," Biden said. Trump shot back, "There aren't 100 million people with pre-existing conditions."

Studies show a range that would technically make both men correct.

The Kaiser Family Foundation estimated in 2018 that at least 53.8 million adults had pre-existing conditions that would make them unable to buy insurance.

Another study, conducted by Avalere, a health care consulting firm, estimated that 102 million Americans had pre-existing conditions that would make them unable to buy insurance.

A 2017 study from the Department of Health and Human Services estimated that 133 million people had pre-existing conditions that would make them unable to buy insurance.

Fact-check: Trump says GOP health plans protect people with pre-existing conditions

Trump claimed: "Obamacare is no good. We made it better. And I had a choice to make very early on. We took away the individual mandate. We guarantee pre-existing conditions."

It's true that Republicans eliminated the Affordable Care Act's individual mandate — a provision designed to force people to purchase health care coverage or pay fines through their taxes — as part of their 2017 tax bill. But Trump is wrong about pre-existing conditions. We've fact-checked this at length before, and it's still false.

Trump has long insisted that he and the GOP will protect people with pre-existing conditions from losing their health insurance — but he has pursued legislation, litigation and executive actions to dismantle those protections under the Affordable Care Act.

A Republican bill backed by Trump included ACA state waivers that would allow insurers to charge higher prices for people with pre-existing conditions, potentially pricing them out of the market. It passed the House and died in the Senate in 2017. Trump has also used executive actions to expand the use of short-term insurance plans that aren't required to cover pre-existing conditions.

Trump recently signed a symbolic executive order affirming the protections Obamacare created, but his administration is backing a Republican-led lawsuit claiming that the actual protections in the law should be struck down. Republicans have yet to offer a plan that would restore protections for pre-existing conditions.

Biden: Trump 'panicked' on Covid-19

Biden criticized Trump for his response to the coronavirus pandemic, portraying the president as someone who cracked under pressure. 

"The president has no plan. He hasn't laid out anything. He knew all the way back in February how serious this crisis was," Biden said, referring to Trump's interview with Bob Woodward. 

"He's on tape as acknowledging he knew it. He said he didn't tell us or give people a warning of it because he didn't want to panic the American people. You don't panic. He panicked." 

Biden opened his response to Chris Wallace's question by acknowledging the more than 200,000 people who have died in the U.S. — a devastating number that Trump has largely avoided recognizing publicly.