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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: Did Kellyanne Conway say violence and chaos 'help [Trump's] cause?'

Trump disputed a broadside from Biden that Kellyanne Conway, Trump's former campaign manager and a top White House aide, said riots and chaos "help [Trump's] cause." But Conway did make comments along those lines in late August.

"His own former spokesperson said, you know, riots, chaos and violence help us and violence help his cause. That's what this is all about," Biden said.

After Trump questioned whom Biden was quoting, he responded, "Kellyanne Conway."

Trump replied: "I don't think she said that."

Here's the exact quote, via video of Conway's appearance on "Fox and Friends" on Aug. 27: "The more chaos and anarchy and vandalism and violence reigns, the better it is for the very clear choice on who's best on public safety and law and order."

Conway announced Aug. 23 that she would be leaving the White House at the end of the month.

Proud Boys celebrate after Trump's debate callout

The Proud Boys, a far-right extremist group, pledged allegiance to Trump on Tuesday night after he told the group to "stand back and stand by" during the evening's debate.

"Proud Boys, stand back and stand by, but I'll tell you what, somebody's got to do something about antifa and the left, because this is not a right-wing problem. This is a left-wing problem," Trump said after Biden asked him to denounce the group.

Many people on social media who identify with the group echoed that language, saying they were "standing down and standing by." A known social media account for the group made "Stand back. Stand by" part of its new logo.

On the Proud Boys' account on the social media app Telegram, the group also appeared to take the statement as marching orders.

"Standing down and standing by sir," the account wrote. The account then posted two videos of the answer, including one with the caption "God. Family. Brotherhood," in which a man howled at the TV in response to Trump's response.

Megan Squire, a computer science professor at Elon University in North Carolina who tracks online extremism, said Trump's giving the Proud Boys orders was their long-sought "fantasy."

Read more here.

Fact-check: Trump falsely accuses Obama of 'spying' on his 2016 campaign

Trump once again accused the Obama administration of spying on his campaign — a claim that Trump has made on numerous occasions and which remains false.

"When I listen to Joe talking about a transition, there's been no transition from when I won. I won if you look at that election and if you look at Crooked Hillary Clinton, if you look at all of the different people, there was no transition, because they came after me trying to do a coup, coming after me spying on my campaign," Trump said. "They started from the day I won and even before I won."

A review conducted by the Justice Department's own watchdog found in December that the investigation into Russian interference in the 2016 election — a probe that deeply touched the 2016 Trump campaign — was justified.

The 434-page report by Justice Department Inspector General Michael Horowitz raised questions about the FBI's use of confidential human sources to gather information from individual members of the Trump campaign. FBI officials said it was a normal investigative technique, but the inspector general questioned whether there should be special guidelines when it comes to political campaigns.

The report did, however, clearly refute the notion that the FBI placed a "spy" in the Trump campaign.

"We found no evidence," the report said, that the FBI sent any confidential sources to join the Trump campaign, sent them to campaign offices or events or tasked them to report on the Trump campaign. 

The inspector general said he examined more than a million documents and interviewed more than 100 witnesses to reach the report's conclusions. 

Fact-check: Trump overstates job gains made under his administration

Trump claimed that he had brought back 700,000 manufacturing jobs that were lost during the Obama administration because "they gave up."

"They said it would take a miracle to bring back manufacturing. I brought back 700,000 jobs. They brought back nothing. They gave up on manufacturing," Trump said. 

Trump is overstating job gains made during his administration, according to federal employment data examining net job losses. 

About 1.4 million manufacturing jobs were lost during the Obama administration's eight years, many of them during a major recession that President Barack Obama inherited when he took office, which hit the industry hard.

Under Trump, the U.S. gained about half a million manufacturing jobs from 2016 to 2019, according to federal employment data. But about 200,000 of the manufacturing jobs gained under Trump have since been lost during the coronavirus pandemic.

'Train wreck,' 'Dumpster fire': Journalists and pundits give blistering reactions to first debate

Journalists and pundits weighed in offering blistering assessments of the first Biden and Trump debate.

  • Rachel Maddow (MSNBC): "This sort of debate should not happen in a democracy." 
  •  Joy Reid (MSNBC) "This is not the night I expected." She called it "embarrassing."
  • Nicolle Wallace MSNBC): A mess because of Trump's "desperate need for oxygen of air time," and he was an "abusive participant." "Chris Wallace did not act as a moderator. Trump did not act like a debater," Wallace said. 
  • Jake Tapper (CNN): "That was a hot mess inside a dumpster fire inside a train wreck."
  • Chuck Todd (NBC News): "It was a train wreck, but it was a train wreck by one person."
  • Dana Bash (CNN): "S---show."

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.