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How contentious debate highlighted differences between Trump and Biden

The first debate between President Trump and former Vice President Joe Biden, held in Cleveland Tuesday night, quickly turned into a verbal brawl, with both candidates talking over each other at times. But Trump’s constant interruptions provoked particular frustration from moderator Chris Wallace of Fox News. Yamiche Alcindor and Lisa Desjardins join Judy Woodruff to discuss the political fallout.

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  • Judy Woodruff:

    To give us a closer look at how both campaigns are moving ahead after last night's debate, I'm joined by our own Yamiche Alcindor and Lisa Desjardins.

    So, hello to both of you.

    Yamiche, to you first.

    You have been looking at some of the moments from this debate that gives us a sense of where this race stands for both of these men.

  • Yamiche Alcindor:

    The key moment that stands out is the one that both the Biden campaign and the Trump campaign are focused on today, and that is the president's refusal on the debate stage to condemn white supremacists outright.

    The president today is defending himself and has said that he has been seeking to clarify and really clean up his statements. He says that he didn't know who the Proud Boys were. He also says that what he meant by stand back and stand by is for those white supremacist groups to stand back and stand away from the issues that are at hand, so that law enforcement can do their jobs.

    Now, of course, that is not what he said on the debate stage yesterday, but the Trump campaign has been messaging that today.

    Another thing to note is that the president, as I said, is saying that he doesn't know who the Proud Boys are, when, in 2016, when he was asked to condemn David Duke, a former grand wizard of the Ku Klux Klan, he said the same thing in 2016, saying he didn't know who David Duke was, and he also didn't know anything about white supremacy groups.

    Another thing to note is that the Biden campaign is seizing on the president's comments on this. The Biden campaign is saying that it was a national embarrassment. Joe Biden came out today himself, saying that the president essentially should not have been saying the things that he was saying.

    He also had his own message for white supremacists. He said, cease and desist.

    What we can see going forward is that the Trump campaign is going to continue to have to talk about this issue. And that means that they're not talking about what they want to be talking about, including the president's response to the coronavirus, the economy, the president's possible plans on health care.

    So, this is really putting the Trump campaign in a tough position. They're trying to message that Joe Biden is the one that is bad for black Americans and bad for black communities, but Joe Biden continues to have a formidable lead among black voters.

    So the Trump campaign is struggling in that messaging.

  • Judy Woodruff:

    And, Lisa, as we're hearing, so much of the focus today on what happened last night is on the insults back and fourth, the angry language.

    But you have keyed in as well on some important policy points that emerged between the two of them.

  • Lisa Desjardins:

    Let's do something completely crazy and talk about policy and the problems in this country.

    Judy, embedded in the mud of that debate, you could find some important policy differences. And I want to start, first of all, with the coronavirus itself.

    There was an important, but very fast exchange that I think summed up one of the main differences between these two men. Of course, they have very large differences over how much credence they give to which experts, how often they talk about the death toll and when. What is the reality of the situation? Those are all big differences.

    But the question now is an approach going forward. And there was an exchange, Judy, where you could — you heard President Trump say, people want their schools open, people want things to be open, and then former vice President Trump — Biden responded, "People want to be safe."

    That's an important policy difference that sort of got lost in all the heat last night, which is, what is there to the priority of these two men? Is it the safety of the American people, or is it the economy? Big difference between the two of them there.

    Another one I want to talk about, Judy, the other one, of course, is health care. Huge issue for the Biden campaign. It's something they talk about especially a lot.

    And let's look at a graphic to talk about some of the differences on that. First of all, when you look at what they — what President — Vice President Biden talked about, he — his plan is to expand Obamacare and to add that public option, which would be a government-run insurance plan that people could choose if they want it.

    But what you heard from President Trump last night is that Obamacare is too expensive, too unwieldy. However, when asked specifically for a replacement, the president did not offer a plan. Instead, he talks more about prescription drug prices coming down, again, didn't get too much into specifics on how that would happen.

    Another issue, preexisting conditions. You heard from Vice President — former Vice President Biden lots of concern about preexisting conditions. He named 100 million Americans, which we know experts have said are thought to be the group who has preexisting conditions. That could affect their insurance.

    President Trump, how does he see that? He said that there's — instead, there's too much concern for government, too much government entering the health care arena, and he said that Biden's plan would be in the direction of socialism.

    So there you see again, Judy, the difference in their policy priorities. Is it people with preexisting conditions or is it a concern that government will go too far, as President Trump was expressing?

  • Judy Woodruff:

    So, Lisa, staying with you, and beyond the debate, there was some news today, new talks between the parties about a coronavirus, COVID relief bill. Tell us where that has ended up.

  • Lisa Desjardins:

    This will be quick.

    We can say that talks have restarted. There are some signs of hope. But, also, Senate Republican leader Mitch McConnell says they're still very far apart. We will keep watching.

  • Judy Woodruff:

    And, finally, back to you, Yamiche.

    Tell us where things go from here.

  • Yamiche Alcindor:

    Well, where things go is that both campaigns are going to be messaging and trying to convince voters that, even with the food fight and the brawl that they saw yesterday, that that candidate, either Joe Biden or President Trump, are the people — or is the person that should be elected to move forward and to see this country through this pandemic.

    Lisa just hit on a point that's really important, which is that these COVID-19 talks are continuing to happen. The White House is focused on coming up with a plan and a proposal to try to be able to say the president is continuing to work on this issue.

    But Joe Biden says that President Trump is doing a lot of things to distract away from the coronavirus. He says that last night should be a wakeup call to Americans to show what's at stake during the debate.

    And on the campaign trail today, he pointed at the fact that he believes President Trump is focused more on himself than on the American people.

    I also want to put up a chart, because, as all of this is going on, the pandemic continues to kill and infect Americans. So if we could put up that chart for people, this is the daily coronavirus deaths in developed nations. Now, this is the United States compared to modernized industrialized nations.

    And what you will see is that, in March and April, the two lines there, the purple one being the United States, that they were somewhat in line and on the same level. But, as you have seen the months go on, in April to June to August to September, you see that the United States has higher deaths per million.

    So the president continues to say that the United States is doing well, as compared to other nations. But this chart shows just how bad the United States is doing when you compare it to other modern industrialized nations.

    Health experts say that is the story that people should be focused on, the fact that the United States is continuing to lose more people than many the people that are in the same position as the United States.

  • Judy Woodruff:

    So important for us all to remember that and to keep track of it and to report on it every day.

    Yamiche Alcindor, Lisa Desjardins, we thank you.

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