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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:

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."

Read the GOP's summary of the report here and the Biden campaign's criticism of the probe here.

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."

Numerous fact checks have found that there's no evidence that Trump's policies have meaningfully slashed drug prices, as he's repeatedly claimed, let alone by "80 to 90 percent."

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.”

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.