Second Presidential Debate: A Recap of the Facts

Patrick Barnette and Hafsa Erfan

Last night was the second, and the final presidential candidate debate for the upcoming 2020 election. The candidates, President Donald Trump and Joe Biden, had their fair share of inconsistencies, but unlike the previous debate, they were both able to succinctly address the policies they are running on.

A few things have changed about the Presidential Debate last night ever since the first one on September 29th. The moderator was Kristen Welker, a NBC News White House correspondent and co-anchor of “Weekend Today”. Despite President Trump’s positive COVID-19 diagnosis, the event was held in-person, though with a smaller crowd in social distancing and a mask mandate. The actual second Debate, originally planned for October 15th, was cancelled because the President would not agree to an online event. Two candidates hosted opposite town halls instead.

Still following the format of the first Debate, a new muting rule was now employed. This means each candidate had two minutes of uninterrupted time at the beginning of each 15-minute segment to elaborate on their stance. Afterward, they could discuss issues with each other with both microphones open.

Fighting COVID-19

Kristen Welker started off with a series of questions for the candidates on one of the most pressing issues right now: COVID-19. Both President Trump and Biden agreed that it was a topic of the utmost importance and proposed plans demonstrating how they would handle the epidemic.

Throughout this section, President Trump claimed that, as the president currently in office, he and his team were doing the best they could, comparing numbers of estimated mortality rates to current mortality rates. Contrary to this claim, the New York Times’ Mike Baker provided evidence that “more than 74,000 new coronavirus cases were tallied in the United States today. That’s the second-highest daily total of the entire pandemic.” The President also repeatedly stressed that he would reopen everything that had been shut down due to safety precautions for COVID, such as schools (on the basis that younger people have better immunity), small businesses, and larger franchises because ‘a nation that’s shut down wouldn’t be a nation at all’. In addition to that, President Trump ensured that a vaccine will be coming out soon and that it would immediately decrease the number of citizens infected.

Biden’s plan, on the other hand, aligns more closely with safety and health regulations offered by scientists and organizations. The ex-VP is open to a continued shutdown of schools and other public spaces if necessary. He also claimed that only red states were having a greater increase in new cases, though in reality, a total of six blue states have seen an increase in new cases according to NPR. While the President tried to improve the current economy by reopening facilities throughout the nation, Biden suggested an approach that would allow those who are struggling the most right now—small business owners and people in unemployment—to continue their work while staying safe through a system of socially distanced spaces, required masks, and an increased pay for employees. In turn, the government would offer grants to small businesses to avoid mass debt in the economy.

President Trump believes that COVID-19 would “go away,” and that Biden’s plan will completely ruin the economy, no matter a person’s socioeconomic status. In response, Biden asserted “Anyone who’s responsible for that many deaths should not remain as president of the United States of America. We’re in a circumstance where the president, thus far, still has no plan.” 

National Security: North Korea

The topic of North Korea was brought up repeatedly in last night’s debate between the two 2020 presidential candidates. Overall, both candidates seem like they were just trying to counter one another on this issue, without any real substance behind each of their policies. 

After a heated back-and-forth about personal corruption, and each’s history with foreign financial assets, Welker broached the subject of President Trump’s relationship with North Korea (DPRK). Biden did not hesitate to accuse his opponent of being too close with several foreign dictators, taking special note of Kim Jong-Un, the national leader of North Korea. Biden claimed that the President’s policy in regards to this country was “legitimizing North Korea”, and that the United States and DPRK were not “better off” (as the President claimed), than in 2016. In response, the President claimed that his de-escalation has made the United States safer, citing a meeting with Obama in 2016 where the outgoing president told him “there will be a war”, suggesting that he has avoided a nuclear conflict.

When prompted on the same subject, Biden proposed a more strongman policy, claiming that he would “control” the DPRK, and “make [North Korea] be part of the deal.” The deal, in reference to DPRK’s nuclear and ICBM missile program. Biden also suggested a universal de-nuclearization of the Korean peninsula, but ran out of time to elaborate.

Although North Korea and its nuclear capabilities are a complex issue, both candidates’ positions seem contradictory to their usual rhetoric. Historically, de-escalation in foreign affairs is a left-wing priority; an example includes the 2008 Iran deal that Joe Biden supported alongside Obama. President Trump is a constant critic of this deal, even commenting on it at the Debate last night, even though his relationship with North Korea has been much more reminiscent of the Iran deal than even Biden’s plan. Biden’s traditionally conservative “hawk” approach, saying that he would “control” the DPRK, resembled language that harkens back to his opponent’s “Fire and fury” comments about North Korea in 2017, expressions that drew significant criticism from Democrats.

Climate Change

The discussion over Environmental Policy only lent further to the confusing nature of the debate so far. Each candidate repeated the policies that they had been campaigning on since the primaries.

Trump criticized the Paris Agreement and justified his decision to leave the deal. He compared the United States to other countries still in the accord, saying “look at China… look at Russia, look at India [they are] filthy!” Trump followed up these comments by saying that staying in the accord and focusing on renewables would cost the United States “hundreds of thousands of jobs.” Biden, on the other hand, stressed the threat that climate change poses to humanity, and expressed interest in going 100% renewable in energy production by 2035, while also stimulating the economy.

In the candidates’ responses, however, they began to contradict themselves and disregard some basic facts in general. First, President Trump claims that “[New York Congresswoman Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez] developed your plan.” Trump was likely referring to Ocasio-Cortez’s “Green New Deal”, an economic energy overhaul which Biden does not support. Trump also asserted that Biden’s economic plan would cost the U.S. “100 trillion dollars”. Again, this is simply untrue, with most economists estimating Biden’s plan to cost 2 trillion from 2021 to 2025, and multiple studies have estimated that his plan will create millions of new jobs. Biden also had a contradictory moment, assertively saying that he “will not ban fracking.” Fracking, a method of extracting oil and natural gas through cracks in the Earth’s crust, would need to be eliminated under Biden’s plan of having 100% renewable energy. 

Race in America: Immigration/ Criminal Justice Reform

Two issues that seemed to go hand-in-hand last night were immigration policy and criminal justice reform. President Trump aggressively went after Biden’s history in authoring and voting for the 1994 Crime Bill, the Obama administration’s role in separating immigrant children from their families on the Mexican border, and the White House’s inaction on criminal justice reform.

The 1994 Crime Bill was a law co-authored by Joe Biden and Tom Scotto in 1994. Among many initiatives it enforced, this bill incentivized prisons to hold offenders for longer than needed, eliminated the ability for violent criminals to receive higher education, and introduced a 3-strikes rule that would result in a life sentence after three instances of violent crime by one offender. The law also exacerbated the mass-incarceration of Black men, usually in relation to minor drug charges.

President Trump greatly criticized the Obama administration’s creation of cages that hold immigrant children at the border, the blame for which mostly fell on the President when the issue was brought into public eye. He used these examples to put himself ahead of Biden on race issues, but some of the points he made don’t hold any water. For one, President Trump has actually granted 1,891 fewer pardons and commutations than Obama, meaning that Obama and Biden were far ahead in terms of rectifying false and severe imprisonments, despite his claims. As for border policy, although the Obama administration had constructed the cages that hold separated children at the border, the Trump administration is the first to regularly use these facilities as a base policy. The Obama administration only used them in cases of suspected human trafficking, or danger to the child. 

American Families: Healthcare

Throughout this segment, Obamacare, the landmark healthcare law that dated back to 2010 under the Obama administration, was mentioned multiple times. Also known as the Affordable Care Act, it aims to provide affordable public health insurance coverage to all Americans, especially citizens of lower to middle class who cannot afford private healthcare.

President Trump is in favor of removing this law, believing that Obamacare and the Biden campaign are supporting the idea of social medicine and will eradicate private healthcare. Biden countered that his plan is to create a system where healthcare would be more affordable and beneficial to individual Americans and not just a specific group of people, and most importantly, providing healthcare to those who need it most, including patients with pre-existing conditions.

Biden claimed that the President is favoring the middle to upper classes in this matter based on their viewpoints of governmentally provided healthcare. “Public option is about destroying social medicine and social security,” said President Trump in accusation of Biden for planning on going ‘public option all the way,’ although this is not what Biden’s plan entails. He based his claim on the fact that only two million people rely on Obamacare compared to the “180 million people out there that have great private healthcare.” Now it just depends on what voters value more at the booth: more people with private healthcare (which would still exist in the Biden administration) or less fortunate people with better healthcare. 

Overall, both candidates had their fair share of inconsistencies. Unlike the previous debate, they both succinctly addressed the policies they are running on shared their plan for their prospective administrations starting in 2021.

The election is on November 3rd, so be sure to stay informed, and if you can vote, please do so!