Home / Dallas News / Biden blames Trump’s ‘ineptitude’ for pandemic death toll as rivals trade corruption claims in final debate

Biden blames Trump’s ‘ineptitude’ for pandemic death toll as rivals trade corruption claims in final debate

NASHVILLE – Joe Biden unleashed a blistering attack on President Donald Trump’s ability to lead the country through the pandemic, arguing Thursday night that he already has too much blood on his hands to deserve a second term.

“220,000 Americans dead,” he said at the outset of their second and final debate, holding up a black facemask he’d deliberately removed as he walked onstage. “Anyone who’s responsible for that many deaths should not remain as president of the United States….We’re about to go into a dark winter, a dark winter, and he has no clear plan.”

“It’s his ineptitude that caused the country to have to shut down,” Biden asserted.

Trump defended his leadership, insisting that the death toll from COVID-19 is well below projections of 2.2 million people — though that was only if no public health measures were taken, including the widespread mask use that he has mocked and or social distancing, contact tracing and shutdowns.

“We’re fighting it and we’re fighting it hard,” Trump said, acknowledging “spikes and surges” that he said have generally have subsided and promising that a vaccine will be announced “within weeks.”

Cases are rising in many places though, including in Texas.

“We’re learning to live with it. We have no choice. We can’t lock ourselves up in a basement like Joe does,” he said.

“We’re learning to live with it,” Biden echoed as he set up a zinger. “People are learning to die with it.”

After the Cleveland spectacle three weeks ago, pundits had generally expected Thursday night’s showdown to amount to another sandbox scuffle. Few predicted it would play out as a civil, low-octane exchange of ideas.

It was somewhere in the middle, with no egregious misbehavior, though the mutual contempt was unconcealed and the rancor unbridled as the rivals traded corruption allegations.

Just 12 days out from Election Day, both candidates came prepared.

Trump was far more restrained than at the first debate — combative, but focused on the attacks he’d come to deliver.

They squabbled about energy, with Trump repeating the false claim that Biden wants to halt all fracking.

“He is going to destroy the oil industry. Will you remember that, Texas? Will you remember that, Pennsylvania, Oklahoma?” Trump said.

Biden parried with a widely mocked claim Trump had made: “He thinks windmills cause cancer.” That drew a quick retort from the president, who boasted that under his policies, the United States is no longer a net importer of energy.

And, he said, “I know more about wind than you do. It’s extremely expensive, kills all the birds, it’s very intermittent, it’s got a lot of problems.”

Tens of millions of voters tune in to these events, and while hardly any tell pollsters they’re seriously undecided between the nation’s 45th president and its 47th vice president, each side hopes to use the debate to rev up enthusiasm.

President Donald Trump and former Vice President Joe Biden debate at Belmont University in Nashville, Tenn., on Oct. 22, 2020.
President Donald Trump and former Vice President Joe Biden debate at Belmont University in Nashville, Tenn., on Oct. 22, 2020.(BRENDAN SMIALOWSKI / POOL/AFP via Getty Images)
President Donald Trump during the second and final presidential debate Oct. 22, 2020, at Belmont University in Nashville, Tenn.
President Donald Trump during the second and final presidential debate Oct. 22, 2020, at Belmont University in Nashville, Tenn.(Morry Gash)
Former Vice President Joe Biden during the second and final presidential debate Oct. 22, 2020, at Belmont University in Nashville, Tenn.

Hanging over the proceedings: a pandemic that has cost more than 223,000 deaths this year. More than 17,000 have died in just the 23 days since Biden and Trump faced off in Cleveland, despite Trump’s claims in recent days that the crisis is waning and the country has “turned the corner.”

Trump’s incessant interruptions at the Sept. 29 showdown prompted the bipartisan debate commission to introduce a mute button, a first since televised presidential debates began in 1960.

Trump chafed but agreed to participate anyway.

With Biden in solid command in national polls, and leading in battleground states the president can’t win without, Trump’s need for this 90 minutes of prime-time exposure outweighed his annoyance at being muted for two minutes at a time.

Under the rules, each man’s mic was turned off only during his opponent’s initial statement in each 15-minute segment. Muting never seemed to interfere. Nor did the candidates try to talk over each other.

Character and corruption

With 12 days left, the clash in Nashville was Trump’s best chance to press corruption allegations against Biden involving his son Hunter Biden, even as Trump faced a new revelation this week of a secret bank account in China tied to his empire’s expansion efforts.

“I don’t make money from China. You do. I don’t make money from Ukraine, you do. I don’t make money from Russia. You made three and a half million dollars,” Trump said in Nashville, days after demanding that his rival face prosecution for unspecified crimes.

Trump and his attorney Rudy Giuliani have latched onto an unverified New York Post report last week about emails from a laptop said to belong to Hunter Biden, purportedly showing influence-peddling involving a Ukrainian energy firm he worked for.

Biden denies the allegations. Independent intelligence experts say the sketchy evidence and the timing so close to the election suggest a Russian disinformation tactic that Trump is amplifying.

“His buddy Rudy Giuliani is being used as a Russian pawn,” Biden asserted, counterpunching more than he had in the first debate. “I don’t know why this president is unwilling to take on [Russian President Vladimir] Putin, when he’s actually paying bounties” for the deaths of U.S. troops in Afghanistan, and interfering in U.S. elections.

“Nobody’s tougher than me on Russia,” Trump said, insisting that Biden and his family have received millions from Russia, one of many dubious claims he has leveled in his effort to paint Biden as corrupt.

Trump, who survived impeachment, has seen his campaign chairman, personal lawyer, national security adviser and others in his inner circle sent to prison.

He was on a mission to fight Biden to a draw in the category of untrustworthiness, as Biden was keen to frame the election as a referendum on Trump.

“You know his character, you know my character,” Biden said, looking into the camera. “You know our reputations for honor and telling the truth. The character of the country is on the ballot. Our characters on the ballot.”

Trump reiterated unfounded allegations linking Biden to kickbacks and influence-peddling involving China, Ukraine and Russia.

“Don’t give me this stuff about how you’re this innocent baby,” he said, calling Biden just another “corrupt politician.”

“There are 50 foreign national intelligence folks who are saying that what he’s accusing me of is a Russian plant,” Biden said. “Five former heads of the CIA, both parties, say that what he’s saying is a bunch of garbage. Nobody believes that except them him and his good friend Rudy Giuliani.”

Police and racism

Biden was at least as caustic as a president who has taken needling to the level of art form.

When the conversation turned to the upheaval that racked Portland, Minneapolis, Washington and other cities this summer in the wake of police violence involving Black suspects, Biden accused the president of inflaming rather than calming tensions.

“Abraham Lincoln here is one of the most racist presidents we’ve had in modern history,” Biden said. “He pours fuel on every single racist fire. … This guy has a dog whistle about as big as a foghorn.”

Trump reminded voters that Biden was the architect of legislation that led to long prison terms for tens of thousands of Black people caught with small amounts of crack cocaine, a law Biden now agrees was a “mistake.”

For Biden, this was a final chance to offer a vision more compelling than just ousting Trump and a promise to restore normalcy and competence to the White House. Many Democrats have found that motivation enough. But many progressives and independents remain uninspired, which could dampen turnout.

Too radical

Trump tried his best to paint Biden as a frightening radical: “If he’s elected, the stock market will crash.”

Biden shot back that the stock market isn’t the only or the best metric for judging economic progress.

“That’s his only measure. What happens to the ordinary people out there?” Biden said.

“401Ks are through the roof,” Trump responded.

He also pressed his allegation that Biden would take the country down the road to socialism, especially when it comes to health care, by expanding on the decade-old Affordable Care Act.

“He wants socialized medicine,” Trump said. “You’re going to have socialized medicine.”

“It’s ridiculous,” Biden said, calling it rich for someone who “hasn’t done a thing for people on health care” to lecture him on the topic.

Besides, Biden said, the Democratic candidates who advocated for single-payer, government-controlled health care all lost, to him. “He thinks he’s running against somebody else. He’s running against Joe Biden. I beat all those other people because I disagreed with them.”

Frank Fahrenkopf, a former GOP chairman who co-chairs the debate commission, noted that the first debate drew 78 million viewers, according to Nielsen, not counting anyone who watched on C-SPAN and online. “We think this debate tonight will reach 100 million people,” he said.

That would be a record.

Officially, the half-dozen topics on the table were to be the coronavirus, race relations, climate change, national security, American families and leadership.

The debate was held at Belmont University’s Curb Event Center, site of a 2008 town hall presidential debate between Barack Obama and John McCain.

Just 200 guests were allowed into the 5,500-seat arena Thursday night, and they were required to wear medical-grade masks.

Each seat came with a printed program and a pack of anti-bacterial wipes sponsored by C-SPAN. Attendees were tested earlier in the day for COVID-19. Trump took his test aboard Air Force One en route.

The lecterns were set 12 feet 8 inches apart, each more than 16 feet from moderator Kristen Welker of NBC.

With the candidates’ cooperation, mostly, she managed to keep the conversation moving without it becoming a train wreck of the Cleveland sort.

At one point Welker asked about the recent revelation that more than 500 immigrant children separated from parents under Trump’s zero-tolerance policy in 2017 still haven’t been reunited with their families because the government can’t locate the parents.

“We’re trying very hard,” Trump said, trying to turn the tables on Biden by insisting that the cages in which some migrants were held were built during the Obama administration. “Who built the cages?”

As for the children, he said, “They are so well taken care of,” and in any case many of them were being smuggled into the country by criminal cartels.

Not so, said Biden.

“Their parents were with them. … It makes us a laughingstock and violates every notion of who we are as a nation,” he said. “Parents, their kids were ripped from their arms. … And now those kids are alone, nowhere to go. It’s criminal.”

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