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Tuesday night’s debate between President Trump and former Vice President Joe Biden had all the civility of a mud-slinging contest. With constant interruptions and insults, the event devolved into what Biden later called “a national embarrassment.” Moderator Chris Wallace of Fox News struggled to retain control as the men exchanged personal attacks -- and little of substance. Amna Nawaz reports.
It was anything but politics as usual.
The country is still talking tonight about what happened last night in Cleveland. It was billed as a presidential debate, but had all the civility of a children's food fight.
Amna Nawaz begins our extensive coverage.
After a bruising first debate, the candidates were back on the campaign trail today and back to trading barbs.
Former Vice President Joe Biden:
Trump has no plans, no ideas, didn't express a single plan that he had how he was going to move forward. I think it was just a national embarrassment.
President Donald Trump:
We're hitting what people want, law and order, which Biden was unable to even talk about it because he'd lose the radical left, his radical left followers. I don't think there's too many of them left.
The night before began with a civil, socially distanced greeting, but quickly devolved into chaos.
It's on the ballot, in the court.
I don't think so.
In the court. Well …
There's nothing happening there.
Moderator Chris Wallace's very first question on the Supreme Court vacancy set off the first back and forth.
We won the election. Elections have consequences. We have the Senate, we have the White House, and we have a phenomenal nominee.
The issue is, the American people should speak. Vote now.
Are you going to pack the court?
Make sure you, in fact, let people know.
He doesn't want to answer the question.
I'm not going to answer that question because…
The president repeatedly sought to paint Biden as a far-left candidate.
If you say those words, you're going to lose all of your radical left supporters.
My party is me. Right now, I am the Democratic Party. I am the Democratic Party right now.
And they're going to dominate you, Joe. You know that.
And Mr. Trump defended his pandemic response, as the U.S. death toll crossed 206,000 American lives.
He said it is what it is. Well, it is what it is because you are who you are. That's why it is.
The president has no plan.
If we would've listened to you, the country would have been left wide open. Millions of people would have died, not 200,000. And one person is too much.
On the racial justice protests against police brutality, the president returned to his message of law and order.
He has no law enforcement support.
That's not true.
Name one group that supports you.
I'm totally opposed to defunding the police officers. They need more assistance.
As Biden argued the president's rhetoric is fueling racial tension..
This is a president who has used everything as a dog whistle to try to generate racist hatred, racist division.
But are you willing tonight to condemn white supremacists and…
In one stunning moment, when asked by the moderator to explicitly condemn white supremacists, the president dodged.
I will tell you what. Somebody's got to do something about Antifa and the left, because this is not a right-wing problem.
Mr. Trump spent much of the 90 minutes heckling and interrupting the former vice president, at times sparking frustration.
Will you shut up, man?
Listen, who is on your list, Joe?
The moderator struggled to maintain control.
I think that the country would be better served if we allow both people to speak with fewer interruptions. I am appealing to you, sir, to do that.
Well, and him too.
Well, frankly, you have been doing more interrupting than he has.
And personal attacks punctuated the debate.
You're the worst president America has ever had. Come on.
Hey — hey, Joe, let me — let me just say, Joe, I have done more in — in 47 months, I have done more than you've done in 47 years, Joe.
Building to a heated exchange, after Biden cited reports of the president disparaging military members as losers, and the president attacked one his sons.
My son was in Iraq. He spent a year there. He got the — he got the Bronze Star. He got the Conspicuous Service Medal. He was not a loser. He was a patriot.
And I resent like hell …
Are you talking about Hunter? Are you talking about Hunter?
I'm talking of my son Beau Biden. You're talking about Hunter.
I don't know — I don't know Beau. I know Hunter. Hunter got thrown — Hunter got thrown out of the military. He was thrown out, dishonorably discharged for cocaine use.
That's not true, he wasn't dishonorably …
And he didn't have a job until you became vice president. And once you became vice president …
None of that is true.
I was not impressed with the lack of decorum.
Six voters from both parties and across the country joined me to watch the debate. They all came away feeling more frustrated than informed.
To see the kind of behavior that was exhibited, it was very disappointing.
I was very disappointed that they were fighting with each other. They were very personal in some of their discussions, just bringing family into it.
I don't think either one was able to express their — express any substance and point. And it was all a rehash of the things that I had heard earlier.
Raise your hand if you feel like you learned something. Nobody learned anything new.
The Commission on Presidential Debates issued a statement today, saying — quote — "Last night's debate made clear that additional structure should be added to the format of the remaining debates to ensure a more orderly discussion of the issues."
Vice President Mike Pence and Senator Kamala Harris will debate on October 7. The next presidential debate is scheduled for October 15.
For the "PBS NewsHour," I'm Amna Nawaz.
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Amna Nawaz serves as co-anchor of PBS NewsHour.
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