The Race to the Oval Office: The Final Presidential Debate


Amintta Ragavanis

A depiction of the Democratic and Republican campaigns as the election draws nearer.

The second, and final, Presidential debate, moderated by Kristen Welker, was widely acknowledged as more civilized than the first. The mute button, instituted to prevent the candidates’ interruptions, was barely used because there were very few times it was needed. Answers on policy were clear, though not different than anything stated previously, and each candidate was straightforward. Six crucial topics were discussed, and with only twelve days until Election Day, each candidate made his case for why he should be the next president of the United States. 

The two candidates began by discussing how they will lead the country through the pandemic, which is claiming more lives each day. President Donald Trump gave his response first, discussing how the pandemic is a worldwide crisis, and cases have been spiking all around the world. He assured the American people that “We have a vaccine that’s coming, it’s ready…we’re rounding the corner; it’s going away.” Vice President Joe Biden began by saying, “Anyone who’s responsible for not taking control…who is responsible for that many deaths should not remain as president of the United States of America.” He explained his plan to combat COVID-19 would include making sure everyone is “encouraged to wear a mask,” beginning to “[invest] in rapid testing,” and setting up “national standards” for schools and businesses to follow when opening.  Trump then further discussed how a vaccine is on its way, and once it is ready, the head of logistics is “ready to go” to distribute it. After further criticism from Biden, Trump argued, “I say we’re learning to live with it. We have no choice… we can’t close up our nation, or you’re not going to have a nation. Biden starkly disagreed: “He says that we’re, you know, we’re learning to live with it. People are learning to die with it.” The candidates were also questioned on their plan to reopen the country, and Biden reasoned that he would institute more shutdowns, if necessary, and when places “do open, [he will] give the people the capacity to be able to open and have the capacity to do it safely.” The candidates then discussed the differences the red and blue states have had in their handling of the pandemic. Trump claimed, “We have the best testing in the world by far. That’s why we have so many cases.” The section ended shortly after.

The security of the election and of America was the next topic, and it got personal. Following a lot of reports about foreign interference with the election, Biden shared that any country interfering will “pay the price because they are affecting [American] sovereignty.” Trump was asked what he would do to stop the interference, but he spent his two minutes discussing Biden’s family’s alleged scandal with Russia; he believes that the family has taken millions of dollars from the country. He added that there has been “nobody tougher on Russia” than himself. Biden refuted the idea that he has ever taken money from a foreign nation and shifted the conversation to Trump’s tax returns; Trump said he will release them “as soon as [he] can” and that the IRS has treated him very poorly. He also explained that people have paid millions of dollars to spy on him. The candidates debated the ethics of Biden’s son and his work in China and with a Ukrainian energy company. China was the next topic of discussion: Trump said he closed all his business accounts there when he became President, and Biden said he would make it “play by the international rules.” President Trump said that he has made China pay: 28 billion dollars from China have gone to American farmers, the President shared. Biden used ethos to talk directly to American families; Trump followed by saying that it was a “typical political statement.” North Korea was talked about next, and the President explained that he feels he is the reason there has been no war. Biden believes that Trump has “legitimized North Korea.” The President argued that North Korea was left “a mess” by the Obama-Biden administration, and Biden claimed that Kim Jong Un would not meet with President Obama because Un did not want to talk about denuclearization. Biden said he would only meet with Kim Jong Un if they were to discuss making the “Korean Peninsula a nuclear-free zone.” Filled with information and personal attacks, this section contributed to the heated atmosphere of the debate.

The candidates also answered questions pertaining to the economy, beginning with one about healthcare. After discussing how he has gotten rid of the individual mandate of Obamacare, Trump revealed, “I’d like to terminate Obamacare, [and] come up with a brand-new, beautiful health care.” When asked about his healthcare plan, Biden explained, “What I’m going to do is pass Obamacare with a public option — become Bidencare,” while still allowing private insurance. Biden quickly disputed the claim that his healthcare plan was a “socialist plan.” He also explained, “I think health care is not a privilege, it’s a right…. people deserve to have affordable health care – period.” Trump responded, “…he was there for 47 years — he didn’t do it.” After Trump continued to attack Biden’s plan for destroying Medicaid and being a socialist plan, Biden remarked, “He’s running against Joe Biden. I beat all those other people because I disagreed with them.” Shortly after, Welker asked why Trump has not been able to help the eight million families who are living in poverty. Trump first voiced, “Because Nancy Pelosi doesn’t want to approve it. I do,” further explaining, “…we’ve already approved three plans… this one [Pelosi] doesn’t want.” Welker then asked Biden about his support for a $15 minimum wage. Biden declared the government is going to have to “bail…out” small business in schools because they “need the help.” Trump revealed his position on the issue: “For small businesses — by raising the minimum wage and helping, I think it should be a state option.” 

A recent report revealed that more than 500 immigrant children are displaced because their parents are missing; therefore, immigration was a hot topic during the debate. Trump was first questioned about the reversal of his zero-tolerance policy, and the recent report. He said that “Children are brought [to the U.S.] by coyotes and lots of bad people.” He also said that, though it is hard because of the illegal ways children come to America, his administration is working on reuniting these children with their families. Biden responded by saying that these children were brought here by their parents. Biden pressed the President on the circumstances of the children, and the President pressured Biden about the origin of the cages immigrant children are detained in at the border. Biden shared that if elected, he will make it a priority to grant citizenship to immigrant children. Trump explained why he got rid of the catch and release policy, and Biden criticized him for being the “first President in the United States of America that anybody seeking asylum has to do it in another country.” The President explained that the policy kept dangerous people in America, and that many people who were offered a court date never returned for the hearing. Biden ended the segment by explaining, “You have 525 kids not knowing where in God’s name they’re going to be and lost their parents.” 

The next segment focused on race relations in America. Biden shared his thoughts on how America has progressed, and how he will improve the country’s situation: “There is institutionalized racism in America…Do we hold these truths to be sovereign, are all men and women are created equal? Guess what — we have never ever lived up to it.” He explained that he will “provide for economic opportunity, better education, better healthcare…,” and more. Trump claimed that “Nobody has done more for the Black community than [himself.]” He elaborated, sharing his criminal justice reforms, opportunity zones, and long-term funding. Biden discussed his goal of “[Eliminating] minimum mandatories and setting up drug courts.” He also denied that he ever called blacks “super predators.” Trump accused Biden of not doing any of these things earlier in his career, adding that he ran for President because Biden did a “poor job.” Biden responded with the claim that “the character of the country is on the ballot.” Trump defended himself on the allegations that he thinks the Black Lives Matter movement is a symbol of hate, saying that he is “the least racist person in this room.” Biden explained that it was a “mistake” to pass laws against drug use, and that he has been working on setting up drug courts. Trump pressed him on why none of this has been accomplished; it was not able to be accomplished because there was a “Republican Congress,” Biden responded. Trump ended the segment by saying that Biden would have to do what he did himself and “talk [the other party] into it.” 

Another issue at the forefront of the debate was climate change. When asked about his plan to combat climate change, Trump first discussed his decision to withdraw America from the Paris Accord and declared, “We have the cleanest air, the cleanest water, and the best carbon emission standards that we’ve seen in many, many years.” Biden claimed his climate plan is “going to create millions of jobs and it’s going to clean the environment.” Trump then criticized Biden’s plan because it costs $100 trillion and, therefore, it is “an economic disaster.” After Biden disputed this claim, the candidates discussed wind power, and Trump discussed how America is “energy independent for the first time.” The conversation then turned to fracking. Biden revealed that he does not want to ban fracking, but rather, he wants to “make sure that we can capture the emissions from fracking.” When asked why families who live near potentially harmful oil refineries and chemical plants should vote for him, Trump mentioned, “The families that we’re talking about are employed heavily and they are making a lot of money…economically, we saved it.” Biden soon after stated, “I’d stop giving to the oil industry– I’d stop giving them federal subsidies.” The candidates were then faced with a final question. 

This final question was: What would each candidate say to the Americans who didn’t vote for him in his inauguration address, if elected? Trump discussed how he is helping to rebuild America and claimed, “Success is going to bring us together.” He concluded by discussing how Biden wants to raise taxes and “put new regulations on everything,” stating that if Biden wins “it’ll be a very, very sad day for this country.” Biden ended the debate by explaining he would tell the American people: “I’m the American president. I represent all of you whether you voted for me or against me. And I’m going to make sure that you’re represented. I’m going to give you hopewhat is on the ballot here is the character of this country. Decency. Honor. Respect. Treating people with dignity…. I’m going to make sure you get [a chance].” Now it is up to the American people to vote: the race to the oval office is less than a week from its conclusion.