“Will he just shush for a minute?” “Let me shut you down, Joe.” “Keep yapping, man.” “It’s hard to get a word in with this clown.”
Donald Trump and Joe Biden dressed for combat Tuesday night, slashing their way through a chaotic presidential debate that generated far more heat than light.
“Under this president we’ve become weaker, sicker, poorer, more divided and more violent,” Biden said.
“There’s nothing smart about you, Joe,” Trump said. “47 years, you’ve had nothing.”
Moderator Chris Wallace, used to the calm of Sunday morning Fox News interviews, grew frustrated with interruptions and digressions. He upbraided the president for ignoring the debate rules his campaign agreed to.
“If you want to switch seats,” Wallace said, cut off again from two booming voices on stage.
He prodded and led the two political titans through a range of topics, among them the Supreme Court, race riots, the U.S. economy, health care, environmental science and the Covid-19 pandemic.
“China ate your lunch, Joe,” Trump said, saying his opponent would have knuckled under to Beijing instead of blocking travel between the U.S. and China after the pandemic first asserted itself.
The Supreme Court was in focus because Trump made his third nomination to the high court less than a week ago. Biden said no high-court vacancies should be filled before the next inauguration.
“Will you shut up, man?” Biden asked, as Trump interrupted him again, one of dozens of moments that made the debate more UFC than USA.
“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 said of Judge Amy Coney Barrett and his desire to put a third justice on the high court in as many years.
Former President Barack Obama seated two justices in eight years.
Biden insisted American voters “have a right to have a say” in lifetime appointments to the nation’s highest judicial body, calling for the decision to go to November’s victor.
“The people already had their say,” Trump said, pointing to the 2016 election.
Republicans are moving quickly to confirm Barrett. Justice Ruth Bader Ginsburg died Sept. 18 from metastatic pancreatic cancer at the age of 87. The White House officially sent Barrett’s nomination to the Senate hours before the debate.
Barrett’s potential confirmation would mean conservatives hold a 6-3 majority. She met with Republican senators on Capitol Hill on Tuesday; Democrats have warned that she could usher in a reversal of the landmark Roe v. Wade decision that legalized abortion, and the Affordable Care Act.
Barrett, a devout Catholic and mother to seven children, staunchly opposes abortion.
Biden has urged Senate Republicans not to move forward with confirming Ginsburg’s replacement before the election.
“If Donald Trump wins the election, then the Senate should move on his selection and weigh the nominee he chooses fairly,” Biden said in a Sept. 20 speech at the National Constitution Center in Philadelphia. “But if I win this election, President Trump’s nominee should be withdrawn and I should be the one who nominates Justice Ginsburg’s successor.”
Biden has not released any of his own potential Supreme Court nominees, as Trump did during the 2016 election and again in 2017 and 2020.
Democrats have accused Republicans of hypocrisy for moving forward with Barrett’s nomination when Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell, a Republican, refused to do so in President Barack Obama’s final year in office after the death of Justice Antonin Scalia, citing the closeness to the election.
There have been growing calls among Democrats for Biden to pack the court if he defeats Trump and Barrett is confirmed, but Biden has so far not supported the proposal.
The debate in Cleveland, Ohio, was the first of three showdowns between Trump and Biden before Election Day. The audience was limited, compared with past presidential debates, because of the coronavirus pandemic.
Trump and Biden will meet again Oct. 15 and Oct. 22 for the final two debates in Miami, Florida, and Nashville, Tennessee. Vice President Mike Pence and Sen. Kamala Harris will face off Oct. 7 in Salt Lake City, Utah, for the only vice presidential debate.
(Elizabeth Thorpe and K.B. Mensah contributed reporting. Edited by David Martosko and Allison Elyse Gualtieri)
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