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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 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."

Biden: "Yes." 

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."

'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.

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.

Here's what happened instead

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.