Republican President Donald Trump and Democratic rival Joe Biden have battled fiercely over Trump’s leadership on the coronavirus pandemic, the economy and taxes in a fiery first debate marked by Trump’s repeated interruptions.
With moderator Chris Wallace trying in vain at times to control the debate, the two White House contenders talked over each other and lobbed insults in a breathtaking political brawl that made it hard for either man to make a point.
“Will you shut up, man? This is so unpresidential,” said an exasperated Biden after repeated interruptions during only the first segment of the debate on the Supreme Court.
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Biden called Trump a “clown” and a “racist” and told him: “You’re the worst president America has ever had.”
Trump for his part said: “There’s nothing smart about you, Joe.”
Biden questioned Trump’s leadership on the coronavirus pandemic, saying Trump had panicked and failed to protect Americans because he was more concerned about the economy.
“He panicked or he looked at the stock market,” Biden said of Trump, who has pushed for states to reopen their economies and played down the threat of the pandemic.
“A lot of people died and a lot more are going to die unless he gets a lot smarter, a lot quicker,” Biden said.
Trump objected to Biden using the word “smart.”
“You graduated either the lowest or almost the lowest in your class. Don’t ever use the word smart with me. Don’t ever use that word,” Trump said.
He defended his approach on the pandemic, which has killed more than 200,000 people in the US and put millions of Americans out of work.
“We’ve done a great job,” Trump said. “But I tell you, Joe, you could never have done the job we’ve done. You don’t have it in your blood.”
Biden, 77, has held a consistent lead over Trump, 74, in national opinion polls, although surveys in the battleground states that will decide the November 3 election show a closer contest.
The 90-minute debate, with a limited and socially distanced in-person audience because of the pandemic, was held at Case Western Reserve University in Cleveland.
Trump defended his effort to swiftly fill a US Supreme Court seat, saying he had the right despite Democratic objections.
“I will tell you very simply we won the election, elections have consequences. We have the Senate and we have the White House and we have a phenomenal nominee respected by all,” Trump said in defence of his nominee, conservative Judge Amy Coney Barrett.
Biden, talking over frequent interruptions from Trump, said the seat of the late Ruth Bader Ginsburg should be filled after the election, when it was clear who the president would be.
“We should wait, we should wait and see what the outcome of this election is,” Biden said, adding a more conservative Supreme Court would endanger the Affordable Care Act known as Obamacare.
Trump is moving quickly to fill Ginsburg’s seat in hopes of cementing a 6-3 conservative majority on the court.
Hours before the debate, Biden released his 2019 tax returns and his campaign called on Trump, who has come under fire for not releasing his returns, to do the same.
Biden took the step two days after the New York Times reported Trump paid just $US750 ($A1055) in federal income taxes in 2016 and 2017 – and none in 10 of the previous 15 years – following years of reporting steep losses from business enterprises.
Trump had long sought to keep his personal financial records secret.
“I paid millions of dollars in taxes, millions of dollars of income tax,” Trump said when asked about the New York Times report.
© AP 2020