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First debate descends into chaos as Trump and Biden exchange attacks

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Trump, Biden face off in debate filled with interruptions, insults and chaos 04:12

The first presidential debate between President Trump and Joe Biden featured a chaotic series of bitter exchanges and name-calling, with the president repeatedly speaking over his Democratic rival and the moderator struggling to maintain control of the 90-minute affair.

"Will you shut up, man?" an exasperated Biden said in a comment that was emblematic of the tumultuous nature of the debate, which was held in Cleveland, Ohio. "It's hard to get any word in with this clown."

Moderator Chris Wallace of Fox News struggled to maintain control as he peppered the candidates with questions about the Supreme Court, the economy, the coronavirus pandemic and more. He repeatedly admonished the president for speaking over Biden and disregarding the rules both sides had agreed to.

The president leveled barrages of unfounded accusations against his Democratic rival and his family, invoking his son Hunter Biden's work in Ukraine and bringing up the younger Biden's history of drug abuse. Mr. Trump declined to condemn white supremacist groups and defended his response to the coronavirus pandemic that has claimed more than 200,000 American lives, trying to portray Biden as a socialist who isn't equipped to occupy the Oval Office.

"Did you use the word smart?" the president asked Biden at one point. "You graduated either the lowest or almost the lowest in your class. Don't ever use the word smart with me, Joe."

Biden, for his part, tried to direct his answers to the audience watching at home. He called Mr. Trump "the worst president America has ever had," blaming him for bungling the response to the pandemic and fueling racial divisions amid recent protests against police brutality.

"This is a president who has used everything as a dog whistle to try to generate racist hatred, racist division," Biden said.

The two candidates are scheduled to meet next in two weeks, on October 15, for the second debate in Salt Lake City, Utah.

The full first debate between President Trump and Joe Biden 01:39:00

Key moments


CBS News instant poll shows 48% of viewers think Biden won debate

A CBS News instant poll shows 48% of viewers thought Biden won, and 41% think Mr. Trump won. Another 10% thought the debate was a tie.

Earlier CBS News polling shows that the vast majority of likely voters planning to watch the debate had already decided on their candidate and were mostly watching to see how that candidate did, so those figures could be a reflection of previous loyalties.

But the vast majority of viewers — 83% — said the tone of the debate was negative, and the most common reaction to the debate was annoyance, according to the poll.

By Kathryn Watson

Trump declines to commit to not claim victory on Election Night

Chris Wallace asked both Mr. Trump and Biden whether they would commit to not declaring victory the night of the election, given that so many states can't even begin counting mail-in ballots until Election Day and mail-in voting is expected to reach record levels. The results, Wallace said, will likely not be known for days.

"I'm urging my supporters to go into the polls and watch very carefully because that's what has to happen," Mr. Trump said, not answering the question directly.

Mr. Trump also said "they cheat," without clarifying who "they" might be.

Biden gave a much more direct answer to whether he will decline to declare victory on Election Night.  

"Yes," he responded, adding that it's going to take time to count every ballot. 

The military, Biden said, has been voting by mail since the end of the Civil War. Biden said he will accept the certified results of the election. 

"The fact is, I will accept it, and he will too," Biden said, adding that if he isn't the winner, "I'll support the outcome." 

By Kathryn Watson

Biden: Trump "trying to scare people" into not voting

Biden criticized the president for promoting baseless claims that voting by mail leads to widespread voter fraud, saying that the president was trying to depress the vote and discourage people from voting.

"We're going to make sure that the people who want to vote in person are able to vote," Biden said, encouraging people to turn out in person if possible. "This is all about trying to dissuade people from voting because he's trying to scare people into thinking that it's not going to be legitimate."

"He cannot stop you from being able to determine the outcome of the election," Biden continued. However, he said that if the election is conclusive, then Mr. Trump would have no choice but to leave office. "If we get the votes, it's going to be all over."

Mr. Trump continued to promote theories that there was ongoing voting fraud, even though the FBI director has said that there is currently no evidence of any effort to coordinate voter fraud.

"As far as the ballots are concerned, it's a disaster," Mr. Trump said. "This is going to be fraud like you've never seen."

He also said that "we might not know for months" what the outcome of the election will be, and suggested that the Supreme Court may have to determine the results of the election.

"I'm counting on them to look at the ballots, definitely," Mr. Trump said. If Amy Coney Barrett is confirmed to the Supreme Court, the court would have a 6 to 3 conservative majority.

By Grace Segers

Trump says humans contribute to climate change "to an extent"

Wallace pressed Mr. Trump on whether he believes humans contribute to climate change, and it took a couple times for the president to answer directly.

"I believe that we have to do everything we can to have immaculate, air, immaculate water," the president said.

Pressed again if he believes humans contribute to climate change, the president said, "I think a lot of things do but I think, to an extent, yes." But he also said better forest management is important to prevent forest fires that have raged on the West Coast. 

Biden, asked about his plan for climate change, said it's about building for the future to reduce emissions. He said green energy jobs can create good-paying jobs, too. 

"There's so many things that we can do now to create thousands and thousands of jobs," he said. 

Biden said he will rejoin the Paris climate agreement, from which Mr. Trump has withdrawn.

Mr. Trump accused Biden of wanting to "take out the cows," a reference to climate activists highlighting the fact that cows contribute to emissions. 

Biden pointed to major natural disasters affecting the U.S., insisting they're partly the result of climate change. 

Mr. Trump claimed the Green New Deal, a progressive agenda to fight climate change, would cost $100 trillion. 

"The Green New Deal is not my plan," Biden said. 

Asked if he supports the Green New Deal, Biden responded, "No, I don't support the Green New Deal." 

By Kathryn Watson

Trump on Biden's late son: "I don't know Beau"

Trump on Biden's late son: "I don't know Beau" 01:29

After Mr. Trump touted his record, Biden argued that the president had weakened the country.

"Under this president, we've become weaker, sicker, poorer, more divided and more violent," Biden said. He also called the president "Putin's puppy," referring to the Russian president.

Biden criticized the president over reports that he has referred to military service members as "losers" and "suckers." He referenced his son, Beau Biden, who served in Iraq and died of brain cancer in 2015.

"I don't know Beau, I know Hunter," Mr. Trump said, referring to Biden's other son, whom the president has criticized for his ties to a Ukrainian gas firm.

Biden noted that his son Hunter had overcome an addiction problem, and said "I'm proud of my son."

By Grace Segers

Biden says he is "totally opposed" to defunding the police

Biden pushed back against Mr. Trump's accusation that he supports defunding the police, saying that he supports providing more assistance for police officers and reintroducing "community policing."

"I'm totally opposed to defunding the police officers," Biden said. "They need more assistance."

Biden also said that he had not spoken with the mayor of Portland, Oregon, where there have been violent protests for months.

"I've made it clear in my public statements that the violence should be prosecuted," Biden said. He blamed the president's inflammatory rhetoric for making the situation worse in these cities, saying Mr. Trump "just pours gasoline on the fire."

Although the president was quick to denounce antifa, he declined to condemn white supremacist supporters stirring unrest in cities across the country.

"I would say almost everything I see is from the left wing, not the right wing," Mr. Trump said about recent protests.

By Grace Segers

Trump says he ended racial sensitivity training because it's "racist" and espouses "sick ideas"

Moderator Chris Wallace asked Mr. Trump why he ended racial sensitivity trainings in the federal government that discussed things like white privilege.

"I ended it because it's racist," the president said. He said these trainings on things like critical race theory espoused "sick ideas." 

"Really they were teaching people to hate our country," Mr. Trump said. 

When Biden had a chance to respond, he called the president "racist." 

"The fact is that there is racial insensitivity, people have to be made aware of what other people feel like," Biden said, adding the country can "take this on and we can defeat racism." 

The president for his part insisted there was "tremendous division" during the Obama-Biden administration. 

"The Democrats who run these cities don't want to talk, like you, about law and order," Mr. Trump said. 

The president asked Biden whether he is in favor of law and order. 

"Law and order with justice, where people get treated fairly," Biden said. 

By Kathryn Watson

Biden says Trump tries to "generate racist hatred"

Biden slammed Mr. Trump's response to racial divisions in the country, recalling when the president said there were "very fine people on both sides" after a white supremacist rally in 2017.

"No president has ever said anything like that," Biden said. He also criticized the president for ordering the dispersal of protesters in Lafayette Square outside the White House after the death of George Floyd earlier this spring, so Mr. Trump could appear in a photo opportunity in front of a historic church.

"This is a president who has used everything as a dog whistle to try to generate racist hatred, racist division," Biden said, adding that "this man has done virtually nothing" for Black Americans.

Mr. Trump then criticized Biden for supporting the 1994 crime bill which enforced harsher penalties for drug offenses, and touted his signature on the First Step Act which limited penalties.

"I'm letting people out of jail now," Mr. Trump said. "You've treated the Black community about as bad as anybody in this country."

By Grace Segers

Trump goes after Hunter Biden for work in Ukraine

After Biden said China has "perfected the art of the steal" under Mr. Trump's presidency, Mr. Trump found his moment to strike. 

The president went after Hunter Biden, the former vice president's son who sat on the board of a Ukrainian energy company while his father was in office. Mr. Trump insisted Hunter Biden made millions of dollars, and claimed without evidence that he received money from the former mayor of Moscow.

Biden emphatically insisted his son did not receive millions of dollars from the former Moscow mayor. A lawyer for Hunter Biden has also denied the claim, saying the younger Biden was not involved in a partnership named as receiving $3.5 million in a recent Senate report.

Mr. Trump and his allies have long gone after Hunter Biden as a way to attack the former vice president. The president was impeached for pressuring the president of Ukraine to investigate Hunter Biden's work in the country.

Biden finally had enough.

"It's hard to get any word in with this clown," the former vice president said of the current president. 

"His family we could talk about all night," Biden said, pointing to the president's children who work in the White House and on the president's campaign. 

By Kathryn Watson

Fact check: Are there 100 million Americans with pre-existing conditions?

 BIDEN CLAIM: "There is a hundred million people that have pre-existing conditions, and they'll be taken away as well, those pre-existing condition — those insurance companies are going to love this. That's not appropriate to do this before this election."
FACT CHECK: Mostly true.

In 2017, the Department of Health and Human Services released a study which found that 23% to 51% of non-elderly Americans (those under age 65) — or 61 million to 133 million people — have pre-existing health conditions.

By Sara Cook

Trump claims he has paid "millions of dollars" in income tax

Wallace asked Mr. Trump about a report in the New York Times which found that the president only paid $750 in income tax in 2017, the year he entered the White House.

"I paid millions of dollars in taxes. Millions of dollars in income tax," Mr. Trump said. He repeated that his tax returns were currently under audit, and said, "As soon as it's finished, you'll see it." Mr. Trump has been saying that his tax returns are under audit by the IRS since the 2016 election, although being under audit doesn't prohibit the release of tax returns.

Mr. Trump claimed that he had also taken advantage of tax policies established by the Trump administration. Biden criticized the tax overhaul passed in 2017, and said that Mr. Trump had not handled the economy well during his first term.

"You are the worst president America has ever had, come on," Biden said.

By Grace Segers

Trump says Biden will "shut down the whole country," and Biden says economy can't be fixed "until you fix the COVID crisis"

Asked about progress in economic recovery, Mr. Trump said Biden will "shut down the whole country." 

"We don't need somebody to come in and say let's shut it down," the president said of his opponent. 

Responding, Biden said "millionaires" and "billionaires" like Mr. Trump have done very well during the pandemic. 

"This guy paid a total of $750 in taxes," Biden said, bringing up the explosive New York Times report about the president's finances. 

The former vice president said the president is handling the reopening of the economy irresponsibly. 

"You can't fix the economy until you fix the COVID crisis," Biden said. 

Mr. Trump, even though he didn't have time left, chimed in to say it's so "sad" what's happening to New York City, with businesses closed. 

"People want their places open," he said.  

By Kathryn Watson

Trump mocks Biden for wearing "the biggest mask I've ever seen"

Wallace questioned why Mr. Trump is not frequently seen wearing a mask, even though his own CDC director said that wearing a mask could significantly help mitigate the spread of the virus.

"When needed, I wear masks," Mr. Trump said, pulling out his own mask as proof. He also mocked Biden for wearing masks at every public appearance, saying that Biden "shows up with the biggest mask I've seen."

Mr. Trump also defended his decision to hold large campaign rallies where there is limited social distancing and wearing a mask is not enforced. He noted that many of the rallies are held outside, which is considered to be safer than holding indoor events.

"People want to hear what I have to say," Mr. Trump said, claiming that more people want to see him than Biden.

By Grace Segers

Trump says he disagrees with head of his own vaccine task force

Mr. Trump disagreed with the head of his Operation Warp Speed, the administration's effort to fasttrack a COVID-19 vaccine. Moncef Slaoui, chief adviser to Operation Warp Speed, has said a potential vaccine won't be widely available until summer 2021.

"I disagree with him," Mr. Trump said. 

The president pivoted to insist Biden and Harris are sowing doubt about the vaccine. 

When Biden pointed to Mr. Trump suggesting people could inject bleach to fight the virus, a suggestion the president suggested in all earnestness that his scientists research, Mr. Trump balked. 

"That was said sarcastically, you know that," Mr. Trump said.

Asked about any skepticism over the vaccine, Biden said the president "puts pressure and disagrees with his own scientists." 

By Kathryn Watson

Trump defends his response to the coronavirus

Trump defends his response to coronavirus pandemic 01:51

Biden criticized Mr. Trump's response to the coronavirus pandemic, which has claimed the lives of more than 200,000 Americans.

"The president has no plan. He hasn't laid out anything. He knew all the way back in February how serious this crisis was," Biden said, seemingly referring to when Mr. Trump told journalist Bob Woodward in February that the virus was "deadly stuff" while downplaying the risks in public.

Biden said that if he were president, he would ensure that hospitals had the equipment necessary to treat patients and protect health care workers, and that schools were properly funded.

Mr. Trump touted his decision to restrict travel from China at the end of January, claiming that it saved millions of lives.

"It's China's fault, it should have never happened," Mr. Trump said, adding that he had received praise from governors as doing a "phenomenal job."

"Many of your Democrat governors said President Trump did a phenomenal job," Mr. Trump claimed. He also claimed that  "we're weeks away from a vaccine," and said that "far fewer people are dying."

He praised his administration's response to the coronavirus, claiming that the press was trying to undermine him.

"It's just fake news. They give you good press, and give me bad press," Mr. Trump said, referring to Biden. "I'll tell you, Joe, you could've never done the job that we did."

By Grace Segers

Biden to Trump: "Will you shut up, man?"

As the president continued to talk over Biden while he tried to answer a question about the Supreme Court, an exasperated Biden had clearly had enough.

"Will you shut up, man?" the former vice president said to the current president. 

But Biden declined to answer directly whether he would support packing the court, meaning adding more justices to the current bench of nine. Biden said he would not answer the question, and that the people should determine the next Supreme Court justice. 

By Kathryn Watson

Biden calls Trump a "clown," defends his positions on health care

Biden and Mr. Trump spoke over each other for several minutes as they debated Biden's positions on health care. Biden explained that he wanted to add a public option to expand the Affordable Care Act, but Mr. Trump accused Biden of capitulating to Senator Bernie Sanders and the far left of the Democratic Party.

"The fact of the matter is, I beat Bernie Sanders," Biden said. As Mr. Trump called Biden a "socialist," Biden repeatedly criticized the president for not having a plan of his own for health care.

"Everybody knows he's a liar," Biden said about Mr. Trump, becoming visibly exasperated as the president interrupted him. "Folks, do you have any idea what this clown is talking about?"

"He has no plan for health care," Biden said about the president. Although Mr. Trump supports repealing the ACA, his administration has not offered a detailed plan for how to replace it.

By Grace Segers

Biden: "I am the Democratic Party right now"

Biden: "I am the Democratic Party right now" 01:10

It didn't take long after the first question for Mr. Trump and Biden to get into the first spat of the night, giving a preview of the next 90 minutes to come. 

The president took issue with Biden's stance on the Supreme Court, saying, "I'm not elected for three years, I'm elected for four years." 

"As far as the say is concerned, the people already had their say," Biden said. 

Mr. Trump also insisted Biden was "totally wrong" that 100 million Americans have preexisting conditions, in reference to the Affordable Care Act. But according to the Department of Health and Human Services, 50 to 129 million Americans have some type of preexisting health condition, and that doesn't include elderly individuals. 

From there, Mr. Trump and Biden spoke over each other on the Affordable Care Act and Mr. Trump took a shot at Biden over members of the military who died while he was vice president. The president also claimed Biden didn't want him to "ban China, which was heavily infected" in the early days of the coronavirus pandemic. 

Biden insisted that he isn't the far-left socialist that Mr. Trump is making him out to be. 

"My party is me. I am the Democratic Party right now," Biden said. "The platform of the Democratic Party is what I approved of."

By Kathryn Watson

Trump on filling Supreme Court seat: "Elections have consequences"

The first question was about the nomination of Judge Amy Coney Barrett to fill the vacant Supreme Court seat, and Biden's belief that the vacancy should not be filled ahead of the election. Mr. Trump argued that he had the right to fill the seat before November, because the Republican Party had control of the Senate and the White House.

"We won the election. Elections have consequences. We have the Senate, we have the White House, and we have a phenomenal nominee," Mr. Trump said. He also implied that he was not opposed to the Senate confirming the nominee after the election, saying, "I have a lot of time after the election, as you know."

Mr. Trump also addressed how Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell blocked the confirmation of Merrick Garland to the Supreme Court four years ago, when President Obama was in office.

"They had Merrick Garland, but the problem is, they didn't have the election, so they were stopped," Mr. Trump said. "So we won the election and we had the right to do it."

However, Biden argued that the election had already begun, with millions of people already casting absentee ballots or voting early.

"The American people have a right to have a say in who the Supreme Court nominee is," Biden said. "They're not going to get that chance now because we're in the middle of the election already."

"We should wait and see what the outcome of this election is," Biden added, saying that he was "not opposed to the justice" as a person. He raised concerns that she might rule to overturn the Affordable Care Act.

"It's just not appropriate to do this before the election," Biden said.

By Grace Segers

Trump and Biden arrive at the debate site

Mr. Trump arrived at the Samson Pavilion at 8:31 p.m, with Biden arriving at 8:33 p.m.

The two contenders will make final preparations before taking the stage. When the debate begins at precisely 9 p.m., the two men will not shake hands and will not give opening statements.

By Kathryn Watson

Kamala Harris to watch debate from Howard University

Harris will watch the debate at Howard University, her alma mater, a campaign aide told CBS News. She will be joined by her husband, Douglas Emhoff. She has a campaign office at the university.

Vice President Mike Pence is watching the debate at a watch party in Lititz, Pennsylvania.

By Timothy Perry

Biden and Trump to square off in first face-to-face meeting in 4 years

After months of long-distance attacks, President Trump and former Vice President Joe Biden are facing off in Cleveland for their first presidential debate. Ed O'Keefe reports.

Trump and Biden face off in first presidential debate 03:49

Trump is "prepared for any question that Chris Wallace throws at him"

The president is sure to face a question or two about his tax returns, after a New York Times expose revealed he paid just $750 in taxes in 2016 and 2017, due to losses and accounting maneuvers. 

One senior campaign aide said they were initially "wroried" that the president hadn't spent enough time preparing for questions on his taxes, or other topics, but said the president has made up ground with Rudy Giuliani and former Governor Chris Christie. 

A senior White House official said the president "is prepared for any question that Chris Wallace throws at him tonight." 

By Fin Gómez

Voters who plan to watch the debate are rooting for their candidate, few say they are still trying to decide

In an election where almost everyone says they've already made up their minds, few debate watchers on Tuesday say they are trying to decide who to vote for. Instead, they're rooting for their candidate, looking to see how they do, and they're also playing political consultant, offering some views on debate strategy for their candidates. CBS News surveyed a representative group of likely voters who say they plan to watch tonight.

Voters who plan to watch say they are tuning in primarily to see how their favorite candidate does, but they also have some views on debate strategy for their candidate.

Both Biden and Trump voters want their candidates to explain their plans and inspire confidence. Both items are at the top of the list when asked what their candidate should do tonight. This is the case for both Biden's and Mr. Trump's supporters.

Many of Biden's voters think he needs to avoid mistakes tonight. Fifty-seven percent of Biden's supporters say he should avoid mistakes, by comparison, just 40% of  Mr. Trump's voters say that about their candidate.

CBS News

Mr. Trump's backers (33%) are twice as likely as Biden's (14%) to say their candidate needs to "be entertaining."

Showing a more personal side is important too. Majorities of each candidate's supporters say their candidate should "show who he is as a person" — more of Biden's voters feel he needs to do that than Trump's voters think their candidate does.

CBS News

While most voters who plan to watch tonight are doing so to see how their candidate performs, many say they are tuning in "just for the entertainment about it." Few — just 6% — say they are watching because they are still deciding who to vote for.

CBS News

This CBS News survey of 7,447 registered voters, including 4,622 likely voters who plan to watch the debate, was conducted by YouGov between September 25-28, 2020.

The sample was weighted according to gender, age, race, and education based on voter registration lists, the U.S. Census American Community Survey, and the U.S. Census Current Population Survey, as well as 2016 Presidential vote. The margin of error is +/- 1.8 pts.

By Jennifer De Pinto

Biden and Harris release 2019 tax returns ahead of first debate

Democratic nominee Joe Biden and running mate Senator Kamala Harris released their 2019 tax returns ahead of the first presidential debate on Tuesday, drawing attention to a New York Times report revealing that President Trump paid just $750 in federal income tax in 2017, the year he entered the White House.

Biden's tax return shows that he and his wife, Jill, earned $944,737 in taxable wages in 2019 and paid $299,346 in total taxes, a rate of 31.6%. Biden listed his occupation as "executive," and Jill Biden wrote that she was a "teacher." Harris and her husband, Doug Emhoff, earned $3,018,127 in taxable income and paid $1,185,628 in total taxes, a rate of 39.2%, according to her return. Harris and Emhoff owed $432,205 in taxes, while the Bidens got a $46,858 refund.

Biden has released 22 years of tax returns, and Harris has released 15 years, according to the campaign. Mr. Trump has not released any of her tax returns to the public, citing a years-long IRS audit. Individuals under audit are not prohibited from releasing their tax returns.

Read more about Biden and Harris' tax return release here

By Grace Segers

Presidential debates: When the whole world is watching

 In 1961, Walter Cronkite asked former President Dwight Eisenhower whether a sitting president should participate in campaign debates.

"I can't think of anything that's worse. Any man that is an incumbent has to stick to the facts. He's a responsible man debating with someone who, if he chooses, can be irresponsible."

President Trump does not share Ike's concern about sticking to the facts. The opposite; he has so boosted the fact-checking industry, it counts as government stimulus.

Read more analysis on presidential debates from "60 Minutes" correspondent and CBS News political analyst John Dickerson here or watch in the player below.

Presidential debates: When the whole world is watching 02:57
By John Dickerson

How Biden and Trump are preparing for the first debate

Leading up to his first debate with Joe Biden Tuesday, President Trump has dispensed with traditional formal rehearsals and scripted practices. Now, Trump campaign senior adviser Jason Miller and counselor to the president Hope Hicks feed the president flash cards and videos in between stops on Air Force one to prepare for Tuesday night

Mr. Trump has frequently cited his study of the Democratic presidential nominee. "I don't want to watch, but I have an obligation, you know. I am competing with somebody. You don't want to compete with somebody and say, I'm not gonna watch my competition," Mr. Trump told supporters at an airport hangar rally in Bemidji, Minnesota, last week. 

Read more about Trump and Biden's campaign prep here and watch the report in the player below.

Trump and Biden prepare for first debate amid report on Trump tax records 10:27

 Nicole Sganga, Bo Erickson and Fin Gomez


How to watch the first presidential debate

  • What: First presidential debate between Donald Trump and Joe Biden
  • Date: Tuesday, September 29

  • Location:  Health Education Campus of Case Western Reserve University and Cleveland Clinic

  • Time: 9-10:30 p.m. ET

  • Debate coverage on CBS broadcast stations and CBSN: 9-11 p.m. ET 

  • CBSN debate coverage: Preshow coverage at 8:30 p.m. and post-show coverage begins at 11 p.m.

  • Online stream: Live on CBSN — in the player above and on your mobile phone, connected TV or gaming console. Download the free CBS News app for full CBSN coverage and live convention updates. CBSN streaming is available on all major platforms, including iOS, Android, Roku, Amazon, Apple, Samsung and Pluto

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