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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:

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.”

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.