NASHVILLE (BP) – President Donald Trump and Democratic nominee Joe Biden sparred over issues involving human dignity Thursday evening (Oct. 22) during their final debate before election day.
Less than two weeks before the Nov. 3 election, Trump and Biden debated racial justice and immigration as part of the event at Belmont University. While another human dignity issue, abortion, gained a short discussion during the first debate Sept. 29, it was not a part of the most recent debate.
Moderator Kristen Welker, a White House correspondent for NBC News, asked the candidates to talk about “the way black and brown Americans experience race in this country.”
In a claim he has made previously, the president said, “Nobody has done more for the black community than Donald Trump,” although he acknowledged President Lincoln might be an exception. “I am the least racist person in this room,” he said.
Trump cited criminal justice reform, prison reform, opportunity zones in economically depressed communities and help for historically black colleges and universities as his administration’s accomplishments that have aided African Americans.
Biden said the United States has “never lived up” to its proclamation in the Declaration of Independence “that we hold these truths to be self-evident, all men and women are created equal. … But we’ve always constantly been moving the needle further and further to inclusion, not exclusion.”
Trump is the first president to say, “That’s the end of that. We’re not going to do that anymore,” Biden said. Citing Trump’s rhetoric during his presidency, Biden said he “is one of the most racist presidents we’ve had in modern history. He pours fuel on every single racist fire, every single one.”
In response to a question from Welker, Biden said it was a mistake for him to support crime bills in the 1980s and 1990s that helped imprison tens of thousands of young black men who were arrested for possession of small amounts of drugs.
He has been trying to change the law, Biden said. “That’s why I’ve been arguing that in fact we should not send anyone to jail for a pure drug offense. They should be going into treatment across the board.”
In an approach Trump used at other times in the debate, he challenged Biden, asking him why he didn’t make a change in the eight years he was vice president under President Barack Obama. “You put tens of thousands of mostly black young men in prison. Now you’re saying you’re going to undo that,” Trump said. “Why didn’t you get it done?”
On immigration, Welker asked about a report Wednesday (Oct. 21) that the parents of 545 children cannot be found after their separation at the southern United States border under a previous Trump administration policy.
His administration is working on reuniting the families, but many children come across the border by means of drug cartels, gangs and smugglers known as coyotes, Trump said.
Biden rejected the president’s explanation, saying the 545 children in question came with their parents. “Their kids were ripped from their arms and separated. … It’s criminal,” he said. “And it makes us a laughingstock and violates every notion of who we are as a nation.”
Welker asked Biden why voters should trust him since the Obama administration failed to deliver on its promise to reform immigration.
The Obama administration “took too long to get it right,” Biden said. If elected, he will send Congress legislation to provide a path to citizenship for the more than 11 million undocumented immigrants in the country, Biden said. He said he also will restore protections under the Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals program to those who were brought across the border as children.
On other topics:
- Biden said he would move the country away from dependence on the oil industry.
During a discussion of climate change, Trump asked the Democratic nominee if he would “close down the oil industry.” He has “a transition from the oil industry, yes,” Biden replied. Trump said, “Oh, that’s a big statement.”
When Welker asked him why he would do so, Biden said, “Because the oil industry pollutes significantly.”
Under his administration, the United States has “the best carbon emission numbers that we’ve had in 35 years,” Trump said. Biden said, however, the country needs “to move toward net zero emissions. The first place to do that by the year 2035 is in energy production, by 2050 totally.”
- Trump said a vaccine for COVID-19 will be “announced within weeks.”
When asked by Welker, Trump said it was “not a guarantee, but it will be by the end of the year. But I think it has a good chance.”
Biden said Americans are “about to go into a dark winter. … And there’s no prospect that there’s going to be a vaccine available for the majority of the American people before the middle of next year.”
He did not refer to a mask mandate, as he had in the past, but Biden said he would “make sure we have everyone encouraged to wear a mask all the time.”
Trump said, “I don’t think we’re going to have a dark winter at all. We’re opening up our country. We’ve learned and studied and understand the disease, which we didn’t at the beginning.”
- Trump said Biden wants to implement “socialized medicine,” a charge the Democratic nominee rejected while saying, “Everyone should have the right to have affordable healthcare.”
As with the previous presidential debate and the only vice presidential debate, no questions were asked about religious liberty, a matter of particular interest to Southern Baptists and other evangelical Christians. Religious freedom has gained attention especially during the COVID-19 pandemic because some states and localities have implemented restrictions that treat churches and other religious bodies unequally with some businesses.
Nor was there a discussion Thursday of the pending confirmation of Amy Coney Barrett to the Supreme Court. The Senate is expected to vote Monday (Oct. 26).
The event in Nashville was to be the third presidential debate, but the Commission on Presidential Debates canceled the scheduled Oct. 15 debate when Trump refused to participate after the panel changed it to a virtual format. The commission made the change for the health of all involved after Trump announced Oct. 2 he had tested positive for COVID-19.