Trump, Biden bicker in first presidential debate full of personal insults

Joe Biden wearing a suit and tie: This combination of pictures created on Sept. 29, 2020, shows President Donald Trump and former Vice President Joe Biden squaring off during the first presidential debate at the Case Western Reserve University and Cleveland Clinic in Cleveland, Ohio.

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This combination of pictures created on Sept. 29, 2020, shows President Donald Trump and former Vice President Joe Biden squaring off during the first presidential debate at the Case Western Reserve University and Cleveland Clinic in Cleveland, Ohio.

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President Donald Trump and former Vice President Joe Biden take the debate stage Tuesday evening in the first of three meetings between the Republican and Democratic candidates running for the White House.


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Throughout the day — and throughout the debate, which starts at 6 p.m. Arizona time — reporters at The Arizona Republic and azcentral will keep you up to date on the much-anticipated event. You can watch a livestream of the debate at

7:45 p.m.: Climate change addressed after all, debate ends

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Environmental activists were incensed that moderator Chris Wallace’s list of proposed topics for Tuesday’s presidential debate did not include climate change. 

In a surprise move, the Fox News anchor dedicated a significant portion of the debate’s last half-hour to the topic.

Citing “raging” forest fires in the American West and President Donald Trump’s history of loosening environmental protections, Wallace asked: “What do you believe about the science of climate change, and what will you do in the next four years to confront it?”

Trump said he wants “crystal clean water and air” but without putting businesses “out of commission.” He blamed the wildfires ravaging California on poor forest management.

Wallace pressed again, asking: “What do you believe about the science of climate change?”

“I believe that we have to do everything we can to have immaculate air, immaculate water and do whatever else we can,” Trump responded.

“Do you believe that human pollution and greenhouse gas emissions contributes to the global warming of the planet?” Wallace said.

“I think a lot of things do, but I think, to an extent, yes,” the president said before again criticizing California’s forest management.

Asked why he’d rolled back Obama-era regulations involving carbon emissions and power plants if he believes in human-caused climate change, Trump said: “Because it was driving energy prices through the sky.” He made a similar argument in response to a question about relaxing fuel economy standards.

Wallace then asked Democratic nominee Joe Biden to respond to the president’s claim that his plans to limit fracking and the use of fossil fuels “would tank the economy and cost millions of jobs.”

“He’s absolutely wrong,” Biden said. “…We can get to net zero in terms of energy production by 2035, not only not costing people jobs but creating jobs, creating millions of good-paying jobs … by having a new infrastructure that, in fact, is green.”

Biden has proposed what a Guardian analysis called “the most ambitious clean energy and environmental justice plans ever proposed by the nominee of a major American political party.” Yet he has resisted saying he supports the Green New Deal, a legislative package that seeks to address climate change and economic inequality.

He did so again during the debate, saying he supports “the plan that I put forward.”

The debate concluded after the candidates addressed election integrity. Trump, as he has previously, would not commit to accepting the results of the election. The next Trump-Biden debate takes place Oct. 15 in Miami.

— Maria Polletta

7:30 p.m.: White supremacists not condemned

President Donald Trump declined to condemn white supremacists when directly asked by moderator Chris Wallace.

Wallace asked if Trump was willing to condemn white supremacists and militia groups and tell them to stand down and not add to the violence in American cities.

Trump pivoted instead to criticizing antifa, which is not a group but a philosophy of anti-fascism, and said the violence he’s seeing is coming from the left.

“Sure I’m willing to do that. I would say almost everything I see is from the left-wing, not from the right-wing. I’m willing to do anything, I want to see peace,” Trump said.

When asked specifically about the Proud Boys, a group that, according to USA TODAY, believes men – especially white men – are under siege, Trump responded that his message to them was to “stand back and stand by.”

He then sparred with Biden, who said that antifa is an idea and not a group, and then called antifa a “dangerous, radical group.”

The unwillingness to expressly condemn white supremacists drew responses from local Democratic politicians.

“Yeah, I caught that ‘stand by’ comment,” state Rep. Jennifer Longdon, D-Phoenix, wrote on Twitter.

Sen. Martín Quezada, D-Phoenix, questioned why Wallace moved on so quickly after Trump’s refusal to condemn white supremacists, calling it a #ModeratorFail.

— Rachel Leingang

7 p.m.: Trump events were not all outdoors

Moderator Chris Wallace questioned why President Donald Trump has held large events on the campaign trail, while Democratic nominee Joe Biden has largely avoided in-person campaigning.

Trump defended the practice, saying his events have been outdoors, which scientists say is safer than indoor events.

But that’s not true. Trump, and his campaign surrogates, have held events in Arizona since the pandemic began that have been indoors, lacked social distancing and were mostly unmasked.

This summer, he held a rally indoors in Oklahoma, attended by the late Herman Cain. After the event, Cain tested positive for COVID-19 and eventually died from complications of the disease. It’s not known for certain if the event is where he contracted the virus.

“We have tremendous crowds,” Trump said, adding that Biden would hold large rallies, too, if people would show up at them.

“If you could get the crowds, you would’ve done the same thing,” Trump said.

Biden hit back, saying the president’s events and lack of masking showed disregard for people who attended.

“He’s been totally irresponsible,” Biden said.

— Rachel Leingang

6:45 p.m.: Debate quickly devolves

Decorum at the inaugural debate between President Donald Trump and Democratic nominee Joe Biden took minutes to devolve, with both candidates interrupting and bickering within the first half-hour.

At one point, when Biden attempted to answer a question from moderator Chris Wallace about possibly “packing” the Supreme Court with liberal justices, the president repeatedly talked over him. 

“Are you going to pack the court?” Trump said as Biden tried to speak. 

Trump kept going, saying: “He doesn’t want to answer the question.”

“Why won’t you answer that question?” Trump pressed, as Biden tried again to answer the question. The president persisted, slamming the “radical left” before Biden finally snapped.

“Will you shut up, man?” he said to Trump. 

Wallace, a Fox News anchor, intervened, trying to regain control of the conversation. “Gentlemen, I think we’ve ended this segment,” he said. 

In response, Biden said, sarcastically: “That was a really productive segment, wasn’t it?” Then, to Trump: “Keep yapping, man.”

Eager to get the final word, Trump retorted: “The people understand, Joe — 47 years, you’ve done nothing.”

— Maria Polletta

6 p.m. Moderator has a big job

If Fox News anchor and debate moderator Chris Wallace does his job well tonight, you won’t read much about him on Wednesday morning.

There are few, if any, moderating opportunities as high-profile as a presidential debate, especially the first in a series. Wallace will have to encourage discussion and press the candidates without becoming a distraction, according to Kristin Arnold, a Scottsdale-based expert on moderating panels and debates.

“This is the granddaddy of all debates, of all moderation,” she said.

Moderators set the tone and pace of a debate. A good one asks probing questions, lets discussion flow when needed, goes deeper on certain topics, keeps good time and ensures each candidate gets a fair shake, Arnold said. 

Trump and Biden will almost certainly break some of the debate rules, she said, so it’s Wallace’s job to enforce them. She said it’s key for a moderator to know when to intervene and how to do so “gracefully but firmly.”

Wallace’s style allows for conversation to flow until or unless it isn’t serving the audience anymore, she said. At that point, he’ll intervene to keep the conversation on topic.  

But his role shouldn’t steal any focus from the candidates. 

“If you’ve done a good job, it’s almost like you’re transparent. It’s like, ‘Oh, look at what the candidate said.’ But if you do a really crappy job, then everybody points fingers at you,” Arnold said.

— Rachel Leingang

5:45 p.m.: Watch debate live on

President Donald Trump and Democratic challenger Joe Biden will soon take the stage for the first of three presidential debates before the Nov. 3 election.

The debate will begin at 6 p.m. Arizona time at Case Western Reserve University and Cleveland Clinic in Cleveland. Chris Wallace, a Fox News anchor, will moderate the discussion. 

The 90-minute debate will be broken into six 15-minute segments “dedicated to topics announced in advance in order to encourage deep discussion of the leading issues facing the country,” according to the nonpartisan Commission on Presidential Debates.

Those topics include:

  • Each candidate’s record
  • The Supreme Court
  • The COVID-19 pandemic
  • The economy
  • “Race and violence in our cities”
  • Election integrity

Biden and Trump will square off twice more before Election Day, on Oct. 15 and 22. Vice President Mike Pence will debate Biden’s running mate, U.S. Sen. Kamala Harris, D-Calif., on Oct. 7. 

Arizona voters represent a particularly important audience this year, given the state’s status as a crucial election battleground.

Historically, swing voters aren’t the ones who watch debates, according to Republican political consultant Chuck Coughlin. But things could be different this year.

“Predictions can be thrown out the window in 2020,” Coughlin said.

Watch tonight’s debate live on

— Maria Polletta and Rachel Leingang

5:30 p.m.: What’s not on the list 

One topic absent from tonight’s topic list: climate change. 

That’s despite recently released poll results showing most Arizona voters are concerned about climate change and want officials to take action. 

Despite a persistent partisan divide, the survey found that 71% of voters overall either agreed or strongly agreed with the statement that the federal government “needs to do more to combat climate change.” 

Similarly, 70% of those questioned said the state government needs to do more to fight climate change.

The poll also revealed that most voters don’t believe Arizona has sufficient water to meet all of its needs for the next 50 years.

The phone survey of 800 registered voters was commissioned by the Nina Mason Pulliam Charitable Trust and analyzed by researchers at Arizona State University’s Morrison Institute for Public Policy.

It was conducted in January, months before this summer’s record-breaking heat, giant Western wildfires and mysterious die-offs of migratory birds in the desert Southwest. 

This year’s extreme summer has contributed to increased urgency around climate and water supply issues for many Arizona voters. But the country’s next leader won’t be talking about that tonight.

— Ian James and Maria Polletta

5:15 p.m.: Gallego serving as envoy

Rep. Ruben Gallego — an Arizona Democrat working to tout Joe Biden’s outreach to Latino communities — is in Cleveland this evening as one of a handful of prominent surrogates for the Democratic presidential nominee’s campaign. 

Biden’s popularity among Latino voters has come into question in recent weeks, as polls showed President Donald Trump doing better with that demographic group than he did four years ago.

Trump still trails his Democratic rival overall, however, and Gallego believes Biden will easily win over Latinos at the polls.

“Joe Biden’s going to produce and put out more Latino votes than Hillary Clinton did in 2016, without a doubt,” Gallego said. “I just know from the excitement I see out there, and what we saw in the primary so far. We’re going to win the Latino vote handily in Arizona.”

Gallego acknowledged a different and more complicated battle for Latino votes in Florida. But he sees the Democratic ticket ahead there, too.

“It’s a very different mix. The Cuban population is traditionally conservative,” Gallego said. “But we can’t deny that there’s hundreds of thousands of new Puerto Ricans that have moved from the island to the mainland that do not appreciate how this president has treated them for the last four years.”

Gallego’s presence at the debate is another sign of his importance to the Biden campaign effort nationally. He recently made a virtual appearance for Democrats at a key event in Iowa and has been on calls with reporters nationally promoting Democratic candidates.

— Ronald J. Hansen

5 p.m.: Supreme Court  

President Donald Trump and Democratic nominee Joe Biden are expected to discuss the Supreme Court tonight, a topic that has ratcheted up in importance following the Sept. 18 death of Justice Ruth Bader Ginsburg, a Democrat.

Ginsburg’s death immediately became political: Nationally, Republicans have insisted on a quick process to ensure Trump chooses the next justice, cementing a conservative court for at least a generation, while Democrats have cried foul over a rushed process so close to Election Day. 

Arizona’s elected leaders have similarly split along party lines over potential Supreme Court replacement Amy Coney Barrett. 

U.S. Sen. Martha McSally, an Arizona Republican facing a tough reelection fight this year, called Barrett “a highly qualified nominee who I look forward to meeting with and evaluating in the upcoming weeks” in a statement. 

“After a thorough review of Judge Barrett’s merits, the Senate should vote without delay on her nomination,” McSally said. 

McSally’s Democratic opponent, Mark Kelly, disagreed, saying that “Washington shouldn’t rush that process for political purposes.” Because the Senate election is a special election, Arizona elections attorneys have said Kelly could take office by the end of November, possibly affecting the confirmation vote.

U.S. Sen. Kyrsten Sinema, a Democrat, has said she will “carefully consider whether this nominee is professionally qualified,” noting her interest in a justice who can be “trusted to faithfully interpret and uphold the rule of law.”

Gov. Doug Ducey and congressional Republicans from Arizona, none of whom will have a vote on Barrett’s nomination, have praised the president’s pick.

— Rachel Leingang

4:30 p.m.: Arizona a vote-by-mail success story

A topic scheduled for part of the debate tonight involves the integrity of the election itself. That means viewers will probably hear a lot about voting by mail.

Many states have sought to expand this voting option to make it easier for voters to cast ballots without physically going to polling places during a pandemic.

Arizona is way ahead of some parts of the country, having expanded the ability to vote by mail decades ago and turning it into a widely used option for Republicans and Democrats alike.

But President Donald Trump has claimed, without offering any proof, that Democrats are trying to rig the election through mail-in ballots.

As the President has made these claims, many Republican politicians in Arizona have echoed his rhetoric.

Gov. Doug Ducey has repeatedly insisted, however, that Arizona’s longstanding system of voting by mail makes it “easy to vote and hard to cheat.”

Gov. Doug Ducey on the history of mail-in ballots in Arizona



His own social media posts show he received his ballot in the mail during the primary election and returned it at one of the county’s drop boxes. And the Arizona Republican Party earlier this year sent out mailers encouraging its supporters to request mail-in ballots.

If Trump again tries to raise doubts about the legitimacy of voting by mail tonight, Arizona won’t help him prove his point.

— Andrew Oxford

4 p.m.: Arizona polling favors Biden

In the seven months leading up to the debate, Democratic nominee Joe Biden has led in more than two dozen Arizona-only polls taken by various polling firms tracked by Real Clear Politics. President Donald Trump has led in four, with two ties. 

September results from a poll conducted by Monmouth University in New Jersey — one of just six U.S. pollsters with an A+ rating from website FiveThirtyEight — offered a range of possible outcomes under different turnout scenarios.

  • Among registered voters, Biden led Trump 48% to 44%.
  • In a high-turnout model, Biden led Trump 48% to 46%. 
  • In a low-turnout model, meaning lower turnout than in 2016, the presidential race was tied at 47%. 

Monmouth found almost half of Arizonans — 48% — were not at all likely to vote for Trump, while 38% said they wouldn’t vote for Biden.   

Trump won Arizona by 3.5 percentage points in 2016.  

“Both candidates are solidifying their support in the most partisan areas of the state, but the big prize is still Maricopa County. And we see a notable swing away from Trump there compared to four years ago,” said Patrick Murray, director of the independent Monmouth University Polling Institute. 

It’s unclear whether tonight’s debate will do much to change the trends observed by pollsters in recent weeks. 

Independent voter John Huguelet, 49, of Phoenix, told The Arizona Republic he believes most voters already have made up their minds, given the dramatic and polarizing differences between this year’s nominees. 

“I haven’t really talked to many people who can’t decide between the two,” he said. “I can’t think of anyone that I’ve discussed this with that they’ve said, ‘Well, I’m waiting until the debates to formulate a decision.'”

— Ronald J. Hansen, Rachel Leingang and Maria Polletta

3:30 p.m.: Daughter of Arizonan who died of COVID-19 is Biden guest

Kristin Urquiza, the former Arizona resident who called for President Donald Trump to resign after he admitted downplaying the COVID-19 threat, will attend the debate as one of Democratic nominee Joe Biden’s guests, his campaign announced Tuesday. 

Urquiza earlier this year drew national attention for a searing obituary of her father, Tolleson resident Mark Anthony Urquiza. He died June 30, as Arizona grappled with one of the worst coronavirus outbreaks in the world following a mid-May loosening of shutdown restrictions. 

In the obituary, Kristin Urquiza cited the “carelessness of the politicians who continue to jeopardize the health of brown bodies through a clear lack of leadership, refusal to acknowledge the severity of this crisis, and inability and unwillingness to give clear and decisive direction on how to minimize risk.”

National media attention helped Urquiza, an environmental lobbyist, raise more than $30,000, which she used to cover her father’s funeral expenses and get a COVID-19 prevention organization off the ground. Democratic leaders took notice of Urquiza’s coronavirus-related advocacy efforts, tapping her to speak about her father and the policy failures she believes contributed to his death during the first day of the Democratic National Convention. 

Biden’s other guests include Gurneé Green, a small-business owner from Cleveland Heights, and James Evanoff Jr., a Cleveland service technician. They “represent the working families he will fight for as President,” the Biden campaign said. 

As of Tuesday afternoon, the nonpartisan debate commission was not yet aware of whom Trump had invited as his guests, according to a report from the Washington Post. 

Less than two hours before one of his 2016 debates with Democratic challenger Hillary Clinton, Trump livestreamed an appearance with three women who had accused her husband, former President Bill Clinton, of sexual misconduct. They attended the debate as his guests that year, according to CNN. 

— Maria Polletta

3 p.m.: COVID-19 and the presidential debate

COVID-19 will loom large Tuesday evening: The list of debate topics includes the pandemic, with questions sure to focus on how President Donald Trump managed the nation’s response and what Democratic challenger Joe Biden would do differently.

It’s possible Arizona could come up during the discussion, considering Trump has previously highlighted the evolution of the virus in the state and the governor’s response to it. 

From March to May, COVID-19 cases were relatively low in Arizona, as the state and country prepared for a coming wave by ramping up hospital resources and testing. Most people remained at home under an emergency order from Gov. Doug Ducey.

In May, the governor started allowing businesses to reopen, with little enforcement of new health and safety measures designed to mitigate viral spread. But the virus had not subsided, and throughout June and July, Arizona’s COVID-19 cases took off.

The state had one of the worst COVID-19 surges in the world at one point, with the level of cases threatening to overrun the hospital system. Thousands of Arizonans have lost their lives.

Ducey eventually responded with additional closures of certain businesses, including bars and gyms. He implemented measures that called for enhanced safety upon reopening, such as limited capacity. Most of the state enacted local mask ordinances; Ducey demurred on a statewide order but began wearing a mask during press conferences.

Cases began to subside, and the state went from an example of the worst-case scenario to an example of how to bend the curve through targeted interventions. The turnaround landed Ducey an invite to the White House, where Trump praised the governor for improving the state’s COVID-19 situation while managing economic implications.

“He was hit very hard, and he hit back even harder,” Trump said of Ducey.

Cases in Arizona have remained relatively low in recent weeks as more businesses and schools have reopened, and hospitalizations have dropped off. But it remains to be seen how the state will fare this fall — and which candidate’s proposed path forward appeals most to Arizona voters. 

— Rachel Leingang 

2 p.m.: Biden in Arizona … sort of

Democratic nominee Joe Biden has yet to visit Arizona in person, relying on telephonic and virtual events during the COVID-19 pandemic.

On Monday, for instance, the former vice president’s team hosted a press call in Arizona with U.S. Rep. Greg Stanton, D-Ariz., to encourage voters to cast their ballots the first week after receiving them in the mail. And much of Biden’s get-out-the-vote efforts take place online.

The former vice president’s decision not to visit Arizona in person yet has prompted the Trump campaign to repeatedly slam his absence in the swing state.

Geoff Burgan, the Biden campaign’s Arizona communications director, has countered that the blitz of Trump campaign visits to Arizona stems from “pure, unadulterated panic” that the state could go for Biden.

Burgan said most Biden campaign events have been virtual for safety reasons, and some states have started socially distanced in-person events as well.

“We expect to see more of those in Arizona here shortly, and we’re looking forward to that,” he said.

On Tuesday morning, Mission for Arizona, an effort to elect Mark Kelly and Democrats in general in Arizona, opened a supply center in central Phoenix  one of the first in-person options for Biden supporters to turn out in person. 

People who grabbed signs Tuesday morning said they wouldn’t want to attend events because of the pandemic but were grateful to get signs and see other supporters.

Biden will be all over the state tonight, though only on residents’ television and computer screens.

— Rachel Leingang

1 p.m.: Arizonans already familiar with Trump’s message 

Arizonans watching tonight’s debate might be more familiar than much of the rest of the country with what President Donald Trump has to say. 

Trump, who won Arizona in 2016, appears determined to secure victory again in the crucial swing state. He has made at least five trips to Arizona this year alone, catering to key demographics including Latino voters, suburban women and military families.

Most recently, the president hosted a Latinos for Trump panel in Phoenix, where he sought to convince Latino voters his administration could revive the economy in the wake of pandemic-related shutdowns, protect families and preserve religious liberties. 

Trump’s allies also have flocked to Arizona in recent weeks. On Sept. 16, the president’s daughter and adviser Ivanka Trump visited the state for the first time since 2016 to phone bank with volunteers and host an economic roundtable with Gov. Doug Ducey.

The next day, second lady Karen Pence visited Luke Air Force Base and led a discussion on licensing for military spouses. Then, Vice President Mike Pence arrived for a stop focused on veterans’ issues.

Donald Trump Jr. headlined a “Students for Trump” rally in Chandler the next week, appearing with Charlie Kirk, founder and president of conservative and controversial group Turning Point USA.

“I think this is going to be the new normal for the Trump campaign here on out,” GOP consultant Doug Cole said of the back-to-back visits at the time. “Arizona is an important early voting state, and a large portion of our votes will be cast here next month. That’s why I think there’s a big push now.”

Will Arizona get a shoutout from either candidate tonight? Recent history shows it’s on the mind of the president.

— Maria Polletta

Reach the reporter at [email protected] or 602-653-6807. Follow her on Twitter @mpolletta.

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This article originally appeared on Arizona Republic: Trump, Biden bicker in first presidential debate full of personal insults

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