Joseph R. Biden Jr. was given an opportunity to lay out how President Trump has botched the country’s response to the coronavirus crisis, the key topic for the Democratic nominee and the subject where the president is most vulnerable.
“He said, ‘It is what it is,’” Mr. Biden said, referring to the president’s reaction to the grim milestone earlier this year that 100,000 people in the United States had been killed by the virus (the death toll is now over 200,000). “It is what it is, because you are who you are,” Mr. Biden said. He said the president did not ask President Xi Jinping of China to have people on the ground go to Wuhan to see how dangerous it was.
“We should be providing all the protective gear possible,” Mr. Biden said. “The money the House has passed in order to be able to go out and get people the help they need to keep their businesses open.”
He added, “You should get out of your bunker and get out of the sand trap and your golf course and go in your Oval Office and bring together the Democrats and Republicans and fund what needs to be done now to save lives.”
Mr. Biden said voters should not trust the president on his promises of a vaccine within weeks. “He puts pressure and disagrees with his own scientists,” Mr. Biden said. He challenged voters that it was hard to believe him “in light of all the lies he’s told you about the whole issue relating to Covid.”
Mr. Trump defended his administration’s response, claiming that many Democratic governors had said he did a phenomenal job. Some Democratic governors over the spring walked a careful line because they did not want to risk alienating Mr. Trump and jeopardizing their ability to received desperately needed federal resources. But many Democratic governors criticized him. Gov. J.B. Pritzker of Illinois, a Democrat, for instance, said the federal government had “not lived up to its expectations” when it came to making coronavirus tests available.
“We got the gowns, we got the masks, we made the ventilators,” Mr. Trump said, claiming Mr. Biden would have failed to do so.
Mr. Trump said that his comment suggesting that ingesting disinfectant could help combat the virus was “said sarcastically, you know that.”
No issue has threatened Mr. Trump’s re-election more than a health crisis he has been unable to talk his way out of — one that has hurt him with older adults who are anxious for their lives, and complicated his attempts to appeal to more Black voters, who have been disproportionately affected by the virus.
The president, frustrated that the economic gains he had claimed credit for and had expected to help him win re-election were wiped away, has deliberately tried to play down the seriousness of the virus, hoping it would simply disappear. In January, Mr. Trump dismissed it as “one person coming in from China,” even though he knew it was far more deadly than the common flu he compared it to in public. He has claimed falsely that the United States had “among the lowest case fatality rates of any major country anywhere in the world.” In fact, it ranks in the top third around the world.
He has repeatedly claimed that if his travel measures slowed the virus’s spread in the United States and that countless more lives would have been lost if he had not acted as he did, even though the travel measure did not ban travel from China and 40,000 people traveled to the United States from China from the end of January to April.
Even as coronavirus cases spike across parts of the country, Mr. Trump has insisted that states could reopen, children should go to school, people should be allowed to worship at church and that he should be able to hold campaign rallies. He has helped make the wearing of face masks, which his own experts say are the most important measure to stop the spread and keep Americans safe, the latest front of the culture war, rather than a measure embraced by all.
Despite his best efforts to talk up his administration’s response to the virus crisis — and his efforts to change the subject, completely — Mr. Trump has not been able to convince voters that his response was adequate, according to polls. A recent ABC News poll showed that 58 percent of voters disapproved of the president’s performance on the pandemic.
Former Vice President Joseph R. Biden Jr. has made one thing clear in Tuesday’s presidential debate: Don’t trust President Trump.
While Mr. Trump repeatedly spoke over Mr. Biden and over the moderator, Chris Wallace, Mr. Biden spoke directly to the camera, addressing viewers watching at home and sharing what public polling shows is a large distrust of the president.
On the search for a coronavirus vaccine, Mr. Biden, speaking directly to the camera, said: “We’re for a vaccine, but I don’t trust him at all, nor do you, I know you don’t. You trust scientists.”
Mr. Biden also reminded the audience that Mr. Trump had repeatedly prognosticated that the coronavirus would disappear on its own.
“This is the same man that told you by Easter this would be gone away,” Mr. Biden said. “By the warm weather it would be gone, like a miracle. And maybe you could inject bleach in your arm, and that would take care of it.”
Mr. Trump interjected, arguing that his infamous bleach remark had been “sarcastic.”
President Trump has one political gear — attack — and on Tuesday he lambasted his Democratic opponent, Joseph R. Biden Jr., and the debate moderator Chris Wallace in an attempt to draw both into a brawl, both to divert attention from his shortcomings and to deny Mr. Biden the opportunity to appear presidential.
The president — an incumbent who runs with the alacrity of a challenger — repeatedly interrupted Mr. Biden, especially when the discussion turned to his attempts to dismantle the Affordable Care Act, a key vulnerability especially in the wake of the coronavirus pandemic.
At times, he appeared less like a participant than a heckler, diverting and interrupting both Mr. Wallace and Mr. Biden from asking and answering questions — and accusing both of being in cahoots.
“Here’s the deal, the fact is, that everything he’s saying so far is simply a lie. I’m not here to call out his lies, everybody knows he’s a liar,” Mr. Biden said.
“You graduated last in your class, not first in your class,” Mr. Trump interjected.
“Mr. President, can you let him finish, sir,” Mr. Wallace said.
But Mr. Trump kept interrupting him and eventually Mr. Wallace began chiding both men for not following the debate’s rules.
“Will he just shush for a minute,” said Mr. Biden, who was successful — at the start of the debate, at least — in not letting the president get under his skin.
Then, after being swept away on a torrent of Trump talk, Mr. Biden said, “Folks, do you have any idea what this clown’s doing?”
It didn’t take 15 minutes for President Trump to try to verbally steamroll both Chris Wallace, the debate moderator, and Joseph R. Biden Jr.
Mr. Trump repeatedly spoke over Mr. Wallace as he tried valiantly to ask why Mr. Trump hadn’t produced the health care plan he promised, then continued to interrupt Mr. Biden as he sought to answer questions.
Mr. Trump’s tactics serve to make him the story of the debate — a character trait that has run throughout his tenure as president and, during the past six months, the general election of the presidential campaign.
Even when Mr. Biden faced questions from Mr. Wallace that would have put him on the defensive, Mr. Trump couldn’t resist jumping in to offer his own commentary to slam Mr. Biden.
“He doesn’t want to answer the question,” Mr. Trump shouted as Mr. Biden sought to respond to a question about whether he would add justices to the Supreme Court.
Mr. Biden shot back: “Would you shut up, man?”
Almost as soon as the debate began, the topic shifted to health care — signaling just how pivotal both parties feel the issue is in the presidential election.
Joseph R. Biden Jr., the Democratic nominee, followed the strategy he has been telegraphing since the death of Justice Ruth Bader Ginsburg, using the opening issue — the Supreme Court — to talk about health care. Addressing the stakes of the Supreme Court battle, Mr. Biden said Mr. Trump wanted to dismantle the Affordable Care Act, a point he has hit repeatedly in the last week.
“What’s at stake here is the president has made it clear he wants to get rid of the Affordable Care Act,” Mr. Biden said.
“Your party wants to go socialist medicine,” Mr. Trump shot back, an apparent reference to the “Medicare for all” style health care plan supported by some Democrats, including Senator Bernie Sanders of Vermont.
Mr. Biden swiftly rebutted Mr. Trump’s characterization. “The party is me,” he said. “Right now, I am the Democratic Party.”
Mr. Biden and his advisers have tried to bring the conversation back to health care at nearly every turn, mindful that the strategy worked for the Democratic Party in the 2018 midterm elections.
Unlike some of his Democratic rivals, Mr. Biden does not support Medicare for all, a government-run health insurance system under which private insurance would be eliminated.
Instead, he wants to expand the Affordable Care Act — the health care law that was enacted when he was vice president — by offering a public option that would allow anyone to sign up for a government-run health plan.
His proposal would also lower the maximum percentage of income people could spend on premiums and enable more people to get subsidies to help pay for their health insurance.
President Trump on Tuesday mounted a simple defense of his right to confirm a replacement for Justice Ruth Bader Ginsburg before the Nov. 3 vote: “Elections have consequences,” he said.
“I will tell you very simply, we won the election,” Mr. Trump said at the first general election debate. “Elections have consequences. We have the Senate.”
In other words, he will do it because he can.
In the past, he has not addressed the hypocrisy on the part of Republicans, who refused to even consider President Barack Obama’s nominee after Justice Antonin Scalia died in February 2016, citing the coming election.
Mr. Trump claimed Tuesday night that Democrats would do what he is doing, if they had been able to do so.
“They had Merrick Garland but the problem is, they didn’t have the election, and they were stopped,” he said.
Mr. Biden, in his first comments on Tuesday about Judge Amy Coney Barrett’s nomination, argued that Mr. Trump was simply trying to push through his nominee because “what’s at stake here is the president has made it clear he wants to get rid of the Affordable Care Act.”
Mr. Biden said Judge Barrett seemed like a “very fine person,” being careful to avoid any criticisms of her Catholic faith that might give Republicans a new line of attack. But he said it wasn’t right to push it through before the election.
“The election has already started,” he said. “Tens of thousands of people have already voted. The thing that should happen is, we should wait. We should wait and see what the outcome of this election is.”
President Trump and former Vice President Joseph R. Biden Jr. have begun the first general election debate of the 2020 campaign.
Mr. Trump and Mr. Biden did not shake hands as they stepped to their lecterns, a nod to coronavirus restrictions, according to Chris Wallace of Fox News, the debate moderator. The debate is planned for 90 minutes with no commercial breaks.
“How you doing, man,” Mr. Biden said, as he extended his arms in an air hug to Mr. Trump.
Television cameras showed the first lady, Melania Trump, Dr. Jill Biden and the extended Biden and Trump families entering the debate hall at Case Western Reserve University in Cleveland.
Mr. Wallace reminded the audience that the Cleveland Clinic has designed health and safety precautions for the debate and welcomed the candidates to the stage. Then he began the debate with the first subject: The Supreme Court.
The defining trait of a 2020 presidential election otherwise defined by disruption, disease and unease has been the uncanny stability of its core metrics: Joseph R. Biden Jr. has held a substantial and steady, if not insurmountable, lead over President Trump for months.
The first face-to-face debate between Mr. Biden and Mr. Trump ushers in the Black Swan season of American politics, a time when the unpredictable becomes the commonplace.
The president did not perform especially well in his first debate against Hillary Clinton four years ago, but he won the election anyway, and in shocking fashion. Mr. Biden has (thus far) proven himself to be a more elusive target but he is a shakier, less limber debater than Mrs. Clinton, unnerving even his loyal supporters.
Yet there is no guarantee that Mr. Trump’s trusty wingmen — uncertainty and chaos — will not turn on him this time around. In 2016, Mr. Trump faced Mrs. Clinton’s searing questioning of his fitness to serve, but in 2020 he is facing his own tax returns. Complexity often dilutes the impact of big scoops, but the complex accounting The New York Times released of his humbling financial history can also be reduced to a single, tweet-able nugget: $750, as in the total amount the billionaire paid in federal income taxes in 2016 and 2017.
Mr. Biden pounced on that report hours before the debate, releasing his family’s 2019 tax returns voluntarily to mark the contrast. They revealed that Mr. Biden and his wife, Jill, paid about $300,000, which had reporters pulling up their iPhone calculators to determine how much bigger his payment was (it was roughly 400 times as large).
What makes the tax story especially dangerous for Mr. Trump is that it feeds the larger narrative hammered out metronomically by the Biden campaign: that of a “Scranton vs. Park Avenue” race between a middle-class regular guy and a selfish oligarch who failed to address a pandemic that has killed more than 200,000 Americans.
In that sense, the terms of Tuesday’s debate are very clear, if the outcome is anything but.
Mr. Biden is likely to bring every discussion (if he maintains message discipline) back to the coronavirus — and Mr. Trump will try to answer for himself, and counterattack by raising the specter of urban unrest, questions about Hunter Biden, and his baseless accusation that Mr. Biden is either a) taking drugs or b) suffering from a mental disability that could use some medication: Covid-19 vs. non compos mentis.
It is likely to get ugly, if Tuesday’s pregame sparring was any indication.
Mr. Trump’s supporters, in a storm of unfounded accusations against Mr. Biden, accused him of trying to rig the rules of the debate to compensate for his mental shortcomings. Some spread rumors he would be wearing a hidden earpiece to receive secret help during the debate. At one point early Tuesday, a Fox News host had to cut off Rudolph W. Giuliani, who has been helping prepare Mr. Trump for the debate, for offering a medical diagnosis of Mr. Biden.
About 90 minutes before the debate, Mr. Biden poked fun at the earpiece flap and Mr. Trump’s demands for drug testing, posting on Twitter a photo of a pair of earbuds and a container of ice cream. “It’s debate night,” Mr. Biden wrote, “so I’ve got my earpiece and performance enhancers ready.”
The first presidential debate was still hours away, but the quadrennial debate about debate rules was already raging in full force, or perhaps full farce.
President Trump’s re-election campaign sought to cast doubt on the integrity of the debate even before it began, putting out a statement on Tuesday claiming that the Biden campaign had reversed its decision to allow a “pre-debate inspection for electronic earpieces” and that his campaign had asked for “multiple breaks during the debate.”
The Biden campaign denied the accusations.
Mr. Trump’s staff “seems concerned that he will not do well tonight, and they’re already laying the groundwork for how they’re going to lie about why,” Kate Bedingfield, a Biden deputy campaign manager, said during a pre-debate call with reporters. “It is completely absurd. Of course he is not wearing an earpiece, and we never asked for breaks.”
Pressed on whether the campaign had ever agreed to a pre-debate inspection, Symone Sanders, a senior adviser, said the question was “absolutely ridiculous” and characterized the assertions by the Trump campaign as “false, crazy, random, ridiculous” but did not answer the question.
Ms. Bedingfield, seemingly trying to make a point about spreading disinformation, declared, “If we’re playing that game, then you know, the Trump team asked that Chris Wallace never mention the number of Covid deaths once during the debate.” She added, “You can consider that confirmed from the Biden campaign. See how easy that was to try to throw up a distraction? It is pathetic, it’s weak.” The Biden campaign declined to say if she was serious; the Trump campaign said the claim was untrue.
Allies of Joseph R. Biden Jr. are bracing for ugly personal attacks from Mr. Trump on the debate stage — and they know that Mr. Biden has a temper and is deeply protective of his family.
Their hope: that Mr. Biden can channel any fury at Mr. Trump’s provocations into righteous anger on behalf of American voters.
Mr. Biden — who once called a voter who questioned his son Hunter’s overseas business dealings a “damn liar” — has been known to lash out when under attack. Whether he can do so productively will be among his most important tests on Tuesday.
Ms. Sanders said that Mr. Biden would “be focused on speaking directly to the American people,” including about his plan to handle the coronavirus pandemic.
And she said Mr. Biden would not be fact-checking Mr. Trump during the debate.
“It is not Joe Biden’s job in this debate to fact-check Donald Trump. That’s the moderator’s job. That’s the independent press’s job,” she said.
The Biden campaign also announced that his guests at the debate would include Kristin Urquiza, whose Trump-supporting father died of the coronavirus; Gurneé Green, a small-business owner from Ohio; and James Evanoff Jr., a member of the United Steel Workers union.
President Trump is planning to bring a woman he pardoned right after she spoke in support of him at the Republican National Convention and an Ultimate Fighting Champion performer as guests to the first debate, officials said.
Alice Johnson was pardoned by the president in late August. Colby Covington, the fighter, has been a strong Trump supporter for some time.
Mr. Trump’s adviser Jason Miller had teased an “intriguing” guest list on Twitter on Monday night, but the other guests are said to be a range of Trump advisers and family members. (In 2016, Mr. Trump’s “surprise guests” for the second debate against Hillary Clinton were women who had accused her husband of sexual misconduct.)
Mr. Trump traveled to the debate site with aides including his campaign manager, Bill Stepien; his political adviser, Mr. Miller; his White House adviser, Stephen Miller; the White House chief of staff, Mark Meadows; and the national security adviser, Robert O’Brien. The president’s personal lawyer, Rudolph W. Giuliani, will also join the group at the debate.
Over the last few weeks, some of those advisers have worked with Mr. Trump in private sessions at the White House and at his private club in Bedminster, N.J., to engage in some level of debate preparation. Despite Mr. Trump’s efforts to play down his preparations, he has held more than a half-dozen sessions with advisers, led by Chris Christie, the former governor of New Jersey.
Mr. Trump often has trouble focusing on the task at hand, and aides have privately said they don’t think he’s heading into the debate having internalized what advisers have coached him to do.
Aides have tried to drill down on ways in which he can be on offense during the debate, as opposed to simply parrying things that Joseph R. Biden Jr., his Democratic opponent, says. Two people familiar with the briefings said that aides had tried to impress upon the president that Mr. Biden was likely to call him a “liar” at the outset of the debate, and that they had urged him not to react.
Mr. Trump has made clear to advisers he plans to bring up Mr. Biden’s son Hunter repeatedly and to raise questions about his overseas work.
The two advisers who have tried to prepare Mr. Trump for what he might face — unleashing a torrent of insults at him — have been Mr. Christie, who played Mr. Biden in preparatory sessions, and Kellyanne Conway, the former White House counselor, according to people familiar with what took place.
One issue that advisers have grappled with in the last two days is how Mr. Trump will handle questions about his taxes, after The New York Times reported that he had paid only $750 in federal income taxes in 2016 and 2017. Aides expect Mr. Biden to highlight the issue during the debate, and the Bidens released their 2019 tax returns on Tuesday, showing that they had paid $288,000 in federal income tax.
Some Trump aides have suggested that Mr. Trump highlight the number of jobs provided by his company, as well as revisit a line he’s used in the past, that he’s simply taking advantage of a lax tax code.
But senior campaign officials said Mr. Trump was in an upbeat mood and was not participating in any last-minute debate prep en route to Cleveland, because he was “ready to go.”
The false claim that Joseph R. Biden Jr. received questions to Tuesday night’s presidential debate in advance has been circulating on right-wing media sites.
A post on Twitter by the radio personality Todd Starnes was shared over 18,000 times and was used as the basis for stories on a number of right-wing sites, including Infowars and Gateway Pundit.
The debate, moderated by Chris Wallace of Fox News, will be the first time that President Trump and Mr. Biden, the Democratic nominee, face off.
A representative for Fox News said the claim was “entirely false, and any assertion otherwise is patently absurd.”
Asked whether it had access to the questions before the debate, a spokesman for the Biden campaign, Andrew Bates, said, “No.”
On Tuesday, right-wing sites also shared the false claim that Mr. Biden was being outfitted with a hidden earpiece before the debate.
Former Gov. Chris Christie of New Jersey helped lead President Trump’s preparations for Tuesday’s debate, advising the president in the Oval Office and appearing at a White House news conference over the weekend.
On Tuesday, Mr. Christie will be offering his thoughts on the debate — as an on-air analyst for ABC News.
Mr. Christie, a paid contributor at ABC since 2018, will be a featured pundit in the network’s prime-time coverage. He will be joined by Rahm Emanuel, who served as White House chief of staff when Joseph R. Biden Jr. was vice president.
ABC plans to disclose Mr. Christie’s role in Mr. Trump’s debate prep during its telecast.
Earlier Tuesday, Mr. Christie appeared on “Good Morning America,” the ABC morning show, to preview Mr. Trump’s chances. The lead anchor, George Stephanopoulos, noted that the former governor had helped Mr. Trump prepare this year and in 2016.
Mr. Christie offered viewers a rosy view of Mr. Trump’s debate prospects. “The president hasn’t debated in four years,” he said, “but I don’t think he’ll have any problem when he gets on the stage tonight.”
It edged out the last episode of “Seinfeld,” but fell short of recent Super Bowls and the “M.A.S.H.” finale.
Still, the opening bout in September 2016 between Donald J. Trump and Hillary Clinton notched the biggest audience for a presidential debate since televised debates began in 1960. Roughly 84 million viewers tuned in live, and that was not counting online, mobile and C-SPAN viewers.
Network executives are expecting a giant audience for tonight’s meeting between Mr. Trump and Joseph R. Biden Jr., in part because it’s the first time the two candidates will meet face-to-face. But a record may not be in the cards. Nielsen ratings, which measure live TV viewers, are likely to dip from four years ago because so many Americans now watch events on the internet or via streaming services.
Before 2016, the previous record-holder for a presidential debate was the sole 1980 matchup of Jimmy Carter and Ronald Reagan, which drew 80.6 million viewers.
Mr. Trump is a proven TV draw: his three meetings with Mrs. Clinton in 2016 had a higher average viewership (74 million) than the debates in 2012 (64 million) and 2008 (57.4 million). In an age where the highest-rated shows on TV barely break the 10-million-viewer mark, presidential debates remain one of the last genuine mass-media events.
Chris Wallace, the Fox News anchor moderating tonight’s debate, will center the debate around six topics: the Supreme Court, the coronavirus outbreak, the integrity of the election, the economy, “race and violence in our cities” and the two candidates’ political records.
Here’s a look at what polling tells us about where the public stands on some of those issues — and how President Trump and Joseph R. Biden Jr. might be able to score points with undecided voters.
The Supreme Court vacancy and Roe v. Wade
Just before Mr. Trump nominated Judge Amy Coney Barrett to the Supreme Court on Saturday, polls showed that most voters preferred that the winner of the November election choose the next justice. But now that she has been chosen, the public’s attention turns to the high-stakes confirmation fight.
If Judge Barrett were to help overturn Roe v. Wade, as Mr. Trump said on Sunday she “certainly” could, that would go against the will of most Americans, who support keeping abortion legal. In a recent Times/Siena poll, voters said by more than two to one that they would be less likely to back Trump if he appointed a justice who would overturn Roe.
The coronavirus pandemic
Since May, the pandemic has been a political weak point for Mr. Trump — in part because most Americans have consistently disagreed with his focus on a speedy reopening. By a 15-point margin, respondents to the Times/Siena poll said they disapproved of how he had handled the virus.
At the debates, look for Mr. Biden to return to the virus often, hammering the president on what he sees as his greatest vulnerability.
If there is one area in which Mr. Trump retains some advantage, it is the economy. By a 12-point margin, respondents to the Times/Siena poll gave him positive marks on that front.
But where the economy intersects with the virus, things grow dicier for the president. Fifty-five percent of likely voters said he was at least partly responsible for the economic downturn, according to the Times/Siena poll