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Taunts Overpower Trump, Biden Visions  09/30 06:13

   The first debate between President Donald Trump and Democratic challenger 
Joe Biden deteriorated into bitter taunts and near chaos Tuesday night as Trump 
repeatedly interrupted his opponent with angry -- and personal -- jabs that 
sometimes overshadowed the sharply different visions each man has for a nation 
facing historic crises.

   CLEVELAND (AP) -- The first debate between President Donald Trump and 
Democratic challenger Joe Biden deteriorated into bitter taunts and near chaos 
Tuesday night as Trump repeatedly interrupted his opponent with angry -- and 
personal -- jabs that sometimes overshadowed the sharply different visions each 
man has for a nation facing historic crises.

   In the most tumultuous presidential debate in recent memory, Trump refused 
to condemn white supremacists who have supported him, telling one such group 
known as Proud Boys to "stand back, stand by." There were also heated clashes 
over the president's handling of the pandemic, the integrity of the election 
results, deeply personal attacks about Biden's family and how the Supreme Court 
will shape the future of the nation's health care.

   But it was the belligerent tone that was persistent, somehow fitting for 
what has been an extraordinarily ugly campaign. The two men frequently talked 
over each other with Trump interrupting, nearly shouting, so often that Biden 
eventually snapped at him, "Will you shut up, man?"

   "The fact is that everything he's saying so far is simply a lie," Biden 
said. "I'm not here to call out his lies. Everybody knows he's a liar."

   The presidential race has been remarkably stable for weeks, despite the 
historic crises that have battered the country this year, including a pandemic 
that has killed more than 200,000 Americans and a reckoning over race and 
police brutality. With just five weeks until Election Day and voting already 
underway in some key states, Biden has maintained a lead in national polls and 
in many battlegrounds.

   It's unclear whether the debate will do much to change those dynamics.

   Over and over, Trump tried to control the conversation, interrupting Biden 
and repeatedly talking over the moderator, Chris Wallace of Fox News. The 
president tried to deflect tough lines of questioning --- whether on his taxes 
or the pandemic --- to deliver broadsides against Biden.

   The president drew a lecture from Wallace, who pleaded with both men to stop 
talking over each other. Biden tried to push back against Trump, sometimes 
looking right at the camera to directly address viewers rather than the 
president and snapping, "It's hard to get a word in with this clown."

   Again refusing to commit to honoring the results of the election, Trump 
spread falsehoods about mail voting. Without evidence, he suggested that the 
process --- surging in popularity during the pandemic --- was ripe for fraud 
and incorrectly claimed impropriety at a Pennsylvania voting site.

   But despite his efforts to dominate the discussion, Trump was frequently put 
on the defensive and tried to sidestep when he was asked if he was willing to 
condemn white supremacists and paramilitary groups.

   "What do you want to call them? Give me a name. Give me a name," Trump said, 
before Biden mentioned the far right, violent group known as the Proud Boys. 
Trump then pointedly did not condemn the group, instead saying: "Proud Boys, 
stand back, 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."

   Biden attacked Trump's handling of the pandemic, saying that the president 
"waited and waited" to act when the virus reached America's shores and "still 
doesn't have a plan." Biden told Trump to "get out of your bunker and get out 
of the sand trap" and go in his golf cart to the Oval Office to come up with a 
bipartisan plan to save people.

   Trump snarled a response, declaring: "I'll tell you Joe, you could never 
have done the job that we did. You don't have it in your blood."

   "I know how to do the job," was the solemn response from Biden, who served 
eight years as Barack Obama's vice president.

   The pandemic's effects were in plain sight, with the candidates' lecterns 
spaced far apart, all the guests in the small crowd tested and the traditional 
opening handshake scrapped. While neither candidate wore a mask to take the 
stage, their families did sport face coverings.

   Trump struggled to define his ideas for replacing the Affordable Care Act on 
health care in the debate's early moments and defended his nomination of Amy 
Coney Barrett, declaring, "I was not elected for three years, I'm elected for 
four years."

   "We won the election. Elections have consequences. We have the Senate. We 
have the White House and we have a phenomenal nominee, respected by all."

   Trump criticized Biden over the former vice president's refusal to comment 
on whether he would try to expand the Supreme Court in retaliation if Barrett 
is confirmed to replace the late Justice Ruth Bader Ginsburg. That idea has 
gained momentum on the party's left flank, but Biden tried to put distance 
between himself and the liberal wing, declining to endorse the Green New Deal 
and rejecting the assertion that he was under the control of radicals by 
declaring "I am the Democratic Party now."

   The scattershot debate bounced from topic to topic, with Trump again 
refusing to embrace the science of climate change while Biden accused Trump of 
walking away from the American promise of equity for all and making a 
race-based appeal.

   "This is a president who has used everything as a dog whistle to try to 
generate racist hatred, racist division," Biden said.

   Recent months have seen major protests after the deaths of Black people at 
the hands of police. Biden said the country faces a problem with systemic 
racism and that while the vast majority of police officers are "decent, 
honorable men and women" there are "bad apples" and people have to be held 
accountable.

   Trump in turn claimed that Biden's work on a federal crime bill treated the 
African American population "about as bad as anybody in this country." The 
president pivoted to his hardline focus on those protesting racial injustice 
and accused Biden of being afraid to use the words "law and order," out of fear 
of alienating the left.

   "Violence in response is never appropriate, "Biden said. "Never appropriate. 
Peaceful protest is."

   The attacks turned deeply personal when Trump returned to a campaign attack 
line by declaring that Biden's son, Hunter, had inappropriately benefitted from 
his father's connections while working in Ukraine. Biden rarely looked at Trump 
during the night but turned to face the president when he defended his sons, 
including Beau, an Army veteran who died of cancer in 2015, after the commander 
in chief's reported insults of those who served in the military.

   A new report from two Republican-led Senate committees alleged that Hunter 
Biden's work in Ukraine at the same time his father was vice president raised 
conflict-of-interest concerns for the Obama administration, but the report did 
not link Joe Biden to any wrongdoing or misconduct. Trump was impeached for 
pushing Kiev to investigate the Biden family.

   The debate was arguably Trump's best chance to try to reframe the campaign 
as a choice between candidates and not a referendum over his handling of the 
virus that has killed more people in America than any other nation. Americans, 
according to polling, have soured on his leadership in the crisis, and the 
president has struggled to land consistent attacks on Biden.

   In the hours before the debate, Biden released his 2019 tax returns just 
days after the blockbuster revelations about Trump's long-hidden tax history, 
including that he paid only $750 a year in federal income taxes in 2016 and 
2017 and nothing in many other years. The Bidens paid nearly $300,000 in taxes 
in 2019.

   Trump, in the debate, insisted he paid millions in taxes --- but refused to 
say how much he paid in federal income taxes --- and insisted he had taken 
advantage of legal tax incentives, another angry exchange that led to Biden 
declaring that Trump was the "worst president" the nation has ever had.

 
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