Trump and Biden trade barbs, interruptions in chaotic presidential debate

Marked by angry interruptions and bitter accusations, the first debate between U.S. President Donald Trump and Democratic challenger Joe Biden erupted in contentious exchanges Tuesday night over the coronavirus pandemic, job losses and how the Supreme Court will shape the future of the nation’s health care.

Fitting for an 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 said so far is simply a lie,” Biden said. “I’m not here to call out his lies. Everybody knows he’s a liar.”

Trump and Biden arrived in Cleveland hoping the debate would energize their bases of support, even as they competed for the slim slice of undecided voters who could decide the election. It has been generations since two men asked to lead a nation facing such tumult, with Americans both fearful and impatient about the coronavirus pandemic that has killed more than 200,000 of their fellow citizens and cost millions of jobs.

The vitriol exploded into the open when Biden attacked Trump’s handling of the pandemic, saying that the president “waited and waited” to act when the virus reached U.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.

WATCH | ‘Will you shut up, man?’:

Democratic presidential candidate Joe Biden becomes exasperated with President Donald Trump’s interrupting during the first presidential debate. 0:34

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

Biden, who served eight years as Barack Obama’s vice-president, responded solemnly: “I know how to do the job.” 

The pandemic’s effects were in plain sight, with the candidates’ lecterns spaced far apart, all of the guests in the small crowd tested and the traditional opening handshake scrapped. The men did not shake hands and, 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 Barrett, declaring that “I was not elected for three years, I’m elected for four years.”

“We won the election. Elections have consequences,” said Trump. “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.

Audience members wearing face masks are seen separated for social distancing at the debate held on the campus of the Cleveland Clinic at Case Western Reserve University on Tuesday. (Brian Snyder/Reuters)

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