First 2020 presidential debate

By Melissa Macaya, Veronica Rocha, Kyle Blaine and Jessica Estepa, CNN

Updated 1324 GMT (2124 HKT) September 30, 2020
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11:12 p.m. ET, September 29, 2020

Fact check: Trump claims Biden called him xenophobic for travel restrictions

From CNN's Tara Subramaniam

Defending his response to the coronavirus pandemic, President Trump referenced the travel restrictions his administration imposed on foreign nationals who had been in China, then attacked Biden for remarks he had made the same day.

Addressing his opponent, Trump said, “I closed it, and you said, ‘He's xenophobic. He’s a racist and he’s xenophobic,’ because you didn't think I should have closed our country.”  

11:33 p.m. ET, September 29, 2020

Van Jones: Trump failed to condemn white supremacists on the global stage, in front of my children

From CNN's Maureen Chowdhury

CNN's Van Jones slammed President Trump for not condemning white supremacists during the debate.

"Only three things happened for me tonight:

  1. Donald Trump refused to condemn white supremacy.
  2. The President of the United States refused to condemn white supremacy.
  3. The commander-in-chief refused to condemn white supremacy on the global stage, in front of my children, in front of everybody's families and was given the opportunity multiple times."

Jones added that the President gave a "wink and a nod" to the Proud Boys, the white supremacist group.

Jones also said that Trump failed across the board during the chaotic debate.

"Everybody I know is either disgusted, sad or angry. I don't know a single person, even my Republican friends are disgusted," Jones said, "I don't know what he was doing up there, but there's not a single thing that he needed to do tonight that he did, except offend a lot of people."
See the moment:
11:07 p.m. ET, September 29, 2020

Trump and Biden clash on election legitimacy: "This is not going to end well"

From CNN's Betsy Klein

President Donald Trump and Democratic presidential candidate former Vice President Joe Biden during the first presidential debate Tuesday, Sept. 29, in Cleveland, Ohio.
President Donald Trump and Democratic presidential candidate former Vice President Joe Biden during the first presidential debate Tuesday, Sept. 29, in Cleveland, Ohio. Julio Cortez/AP

President Donald Trump and former vice president Joe Biden clashed Tuesday on the legitimacy of election results, with the President continuing blatant efforts to foster mistrust in mail-in ballots on the debate stage. Trump baselessly cast doubt on the outcome and Biden said he would abide by independent certification of the results.

Asked what they were prepared to do to reassure the American people that the next president will be the legitimate winner, the opponents offered starkly different responses.

Biden noted remarks from Trump’s acting Homeland Security Sec. Chad Wolf and FBI director Christopher Wray, asserting that “there is no evidence at all that mail-in ballots are a source of being manipulated and cheating.”

“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. Show up and vote. You will determine the outcome of this election. Vote, vote, vote,” Biden said.

In his response, Trump initially invoked his 2016 rival, Hillary Clinton, before going on to sow doubt in the 2020 results, calling ballots “a disaster,” drawing a distinction, as he often does, between solicited ballots, which he said are “okay,” and unsolicited ballots.

But voting-by-mail rarely results in fraud. And although Trump has tried to spin the two as fundamentally different before, absentee and mail-in voting are essentially the same, both subject to several degrees of verification. 

“They’re sending millions of ballots all over the country. There’s fraud. They found them in creeks, they found some with the name Trump – just the other day in a wastepaper basket. They’re being sent all over the place,” Trump said, without evidence, later claiming that Virginia mailmen are “selling the ballots” and other ballots are being “dumped in rivers.”

“This is going to be a fraud like you’ve never seen,” Trump said. “This is a horrible thing for our country. This is not going to end well.”

Some context: Trump's insistence that an increase in mail-in voting this November will result in massive fraud is unfounded. 

While rare instances of voter fraud from mail-in ballots do occur, it is nowhere near a widespread problem in the US election system.

Mail ballot fraud is exceedingly rare in part because states have systems and processes in place to prevent forgery, theft and voter fraud. These systems would apply to both absentee ballots and mail-in ballots for in-state voters.

10:57 p.m. ET, September 29, 2020

Trump declines to say he will concede election if he believes results have been "manipulated"

From CNN's Dan Merica

President Donald Trump speaks during the first presidential debate against former Vice President and Democratic presidential nominee Joe Biden.
President Donald Trump speaks during the first presidential debate against former Vice President and Democratic presidential nominee Joe Biden. Olivier Douliery/Pool/Getty Images

President Trump said he would not “go along” with conceding the election if he believes the results have been “manipulated,” continuing to press unfounded conspiracy theories about voters casting ballots by mail.

“Will you urge supporters to stay calm during this extended period not to engage in any civil unrest and pledge tonight that you will not declare victory until the election has been independently certified,” asked moderator Chris Wallace.

“I’m urging supporters to go into the poll and watch very carefully,” Trump said tonight, beginning to slam vote by mail. “If it’s a fair election, I’m 100% on board. But If I see tens of thousands of ballots being manipulated, I can’t go along with that.”

Biden responded to the question by agreeing to “not declare victory” until the election if certified.

“This is all about trying to dissuade people from voting because he is trying to scare people into thinking that it is not going to be legitimate,” Biden said. “Show up and vote. You will determine the outcome of this election.”
11:15 p.m. ET, September 29, 2020

CNN's Jake Tapper: Tonight's debate was "a hot mess, inside a dumpster fire"

From CNN's Josiah Ryan

CNN's Jake Tapper described tonight's chaotic presidential debate as "a hot mess, inside a dumpster fire, inside a train wreck." 

"That was the worst debate I have ever seen," said Tapper. "In fact, it wasn't even a debate. It was a disgrace and it's primarily because of Trump who spent the entire time interrupting not abiding by the rules he agreed to." 

"I can tell you one thing for sure, the American people lost tonight because that was horrific," he added.

CNN anchor Wolf Blitzer said the tone and tenor of the exchange was the most chaotic he'd ever seen and could endanger two more debates planned between President Trump and Joe Biden later this fall. 

"Clearly, this was the most chaotic presidential debate I've ever seen and I suspect most of you if not all have ever seen," said Blitzer, just moments after the debate had concluded.

"It will certainly raise a lot of questions... about the future of a presidential debate between these two candidates," he added. "I wouldn't be surprised, by the way, if this is the last presidential debate between the President of the United States and the former vice president."

Currently, Trump and Biden are slated to face off twice more before the election, once in Miami and once in Nashville.

Here is the moment:

2:18 a.m. ET, September 30, 2020

Here's who talked the most in the first debate

We tracked how much time both candidates spoke in tonight's debate. President Trump edged out former vice president Joe Biden speaking more than 39 minutes while Biden spoke for over 37 minutes.

10:49 p.m. ET, September 29, 2020

Trump refuses to condemn white supremacists

From CNN's Maegan Vazquez

President Donald Trump participates in the first presidential debate against Democratic presidential nominee Joe Biden.
President Donald Trump participates in the first presidential debate against Democratic presidential nominee Joe Biden. Win McNamee/Getty Images

President Trump refused to call out white supremacists for inciting violence at anti-police brutality demonstrations across the country, saying during Tuesday’s debate that the violence wasn’t an issue cause by the right.

When debate moderator Chris Wallace asked Trump if he was ready to condemn white supremacists and say they need to stand down during ongoing demonstrations across the country, Trump told one group to “stand back and stand by.” He also asserted that violence at the protests was not an issue caused by conservatives.

“Sure, I’m willing to (tell them to stand down), but I would say almost everything I see is from the left wing, not from the right wing. I’m willing to do anything. I want to see peace,” Trump said.

“Say it. Do it. Say it,” Biden responded, encouraging Trump to condemn the groups.

“Who would you like me to condemn?” Trump asked Wallace. “Proud Boys — stand back and stand by. But I’ll tell you what. I’ll tell you what. Somebody’s got to do something about Antifa and the left because this is not a right wing problem(.)”

Members of the Proud Boys, a far-right group, have been seen in their black and yellow polo shirt uniform at multiple 2020 Trump campaign rallies. 

CNN has reported on how white supremacists have posed as Antifa online, calling for violence. Before it emerged the account was run by white supremacists, Donald Trump Jr., the President's son, pointed his 2.8 million Instagram followers to the account as an example how dangerous Antifa is.

And the President has previously defended the actions of Trump supporters who apparently fired pepper spray and paintballs at demonstrators. Trump also previously said that Kyle Rittenhouse — who faces homicide charges as well as a felony charge for attempted homicide in Kenosha, Wisconsin — "probably would have been killed" had he not acted as an armed vigilante during anti-police violence protests, claiming that the 17-year-old had been "very violently attacked."

Watch the moment:

10:32 p.m. ET, September 29, 2020

Trump keeps trying to bring the debate back to Hunter Biden

From CNN's Kevin Liptak:

President Donald Trump and Democratic presidential candidate and former Vice President Joe Biden appear in the first Presidential debate.
President Donald Trump and Democratic presidential candidate and former Vice President Joe Biden appear in the first Presidential debate. Meg Vogel/Cincinnati Enquirer/USA Today Network

Just as his advisers previewed ahead of time, President Trump keeps working to bring the debate back to Hunter Biden, an attack they hoped would goad Joe Biden into losing his cool.

This time the issue arose as Biden sought to criticize the President for reportedly calling US war dead “losers.” Raising his late son Beau — who served in Iraq before succumbing to brain cancer in 2015 — the former vice president declared he wasn’t a “loser.”

Instead of rebutting the claims about his views of the military, Trump sought to return the debate to Hunter Biden.

"I don't know Beau Biden,” Trump scoffed.

As Trump launched into an attack on Hunter Biden, including raising his past issues with drug addiction, Biden again turned to the camera and addressed the issue, even as Trump was seeking to interrupt. 

"My son had a drug problem, but he's overcome it and I'm proud of him,” Biden said.

10:29 p.m. ET, September 29, 2020

Trump is controlling tonight's debate — that doesn't mean he's winning it

Analysis from CNN's Jeff Zeleny

President Donald Trump speaks during the first presidential debate against former Vice President and Democratic presidential nominee Joe Biden.
President Donald Trump speaks during the first presidential debate against former Vice President and Democratic presidential nominee Joe Biden. Morry Gash/Pool/Getty Images

President Trump is controlling tonight’s debate – that doesn’t mean he’s winning it.

For much of the first hour, Trump dominated the discussion, talked over his rival, steamrolled the moderator – often without any interruption. 

It’s clear that the President is trying to win the moment, while Joe Biden seems to be playing more of a long game. Yet at times, he seemed to all recede from the stage. To those listening – and not watching – he went for stretches of time without speaking, intent on biting his tongue. 

Judging the winner may be an impossible task. Finding the loser is easy: American voters.

It’s an open question whether any undecided voters – believe it or not, they do exist – were given any measure of clarity. Perhaps that was the President’s aim — to muddy the waters and run out the clock.

But with more than one million ballots already cast, it’s hard to see how the first debate changed the trajectory of the race. And Trump needed that tonight.