CLEVELAND — The first debate between President Donald Trump and Democratic challenger Joe Biden deteriorated into a bitter showdown Tuesday as the president repeatedly interrupted his opponent with angry — and personal — taunts that sometimes overshadowed the sharply different visions each man has of a nation facing historic crises.
In the most chaotic presidential debate in recent memory, Trump refused to condemn white supremacists who have supported him, telling one such group known as Proud Boys to “stand back, stand by.” There were also heated clashes over the president’s handling of the pandemic, the integrity of the election results, deeply personal attacks about Biden’s family and how the Supreme Court will shape the future of the nation’s health care.
But it was the belligerent tone that was persistent, somehow fitting for what has been an extraordinarily ugly campaign. The two men frequently talked over each other with Trump interrupting, nearly shouting, so often that Biden eventually snapped at him, “Will you shut up, man?”
“The fact is that everything he’s saying so far is simply a lie,” Biden said. “I’m not here to call out his lies. Everybody knows he’s a liar.”
The presidential race has been remarkably stable for weeks, despite the historic crises that have battered the country this year, including a pandemic that has killed more than 200,000 Americans and a reckoning over race and police brutality. With just five weeks until Election Day and voting already underway in some key states, Biden has maintained a lead in national polls and in many battlegrounds.
It’s unclear whether the debate will do much to change those dynamics.
Over and over, Trump tried to control the conversation, interrupting Biden and repeatedly talking over the moderator, Chris Wallace of Fox News. The president tried to deflect tough lines of questioning — whether on his taxes or the pandemic — to deliver broadsides against Biden.
The president drew a lecture from Wallace, who pleaded with both men to stop talking over each other. Biden tried to push back against Trump, sometimes looking right at the camera to directly address viewers rather than the president and snapping, “It’s hard to get a word in with this clown.”
Again refusing to commit to honoring the results of the election, Trump spread falsehoods about mail voting. Without evidence, he suggested that the process — surging in popularity during the pandemic — was ripe for fraud and incorrectly claimed impropriety at a Pennsylvania voting site.
But despite his efforts to dominate the discussion, Trump was frequently put on the defensive and tried to sidestep when he was asked if he was willing to condemn white supremacists and paramilitary groups.
“What do you want to call them? Give me a name. Give me a name,” Trump said, before Wallace mentioned the far right, violent group known as the Proud Boys. Trump then pointedly did not condemn the group, instead saying, “Proud Boys, stand back, stand by. But I’ll tell you what, somebody’s got to do something about Antifa and the left because this is not right-wing problem. This is a left wing problem.”
Biden attacked Trump’s handling of the pandemic, saying that the president “waited and waited” to act when the virus reached America’s shores and “still doesn’t have a plan.” Biden told Trump to “get out of your bunker and get out of the sand trap” and go in his golf cart to the Oval Office to come up with a bipartisan plan to save people.
Trump snarled a response, declaring that “I’ll tell you Joe, you could never have done the job that we did. You don’t have it in your blood.”
“I know how to do the job,” was the solemn response from Biden, who served eight years as Barack Obama’s vice president.
The pandemic’s effects were in plain sight, with the candidates’ lecterns spaced far apart, all of the guests in the small crowd tested and the traditional opening handshake scrapped. The men did not shake hands and, while neither candidate wore a mask to take the stage, their families did sport face coverings.
Trump struggled to define his ideas for replacing the Affordable Care Act on health care in the debate’s early moments and defended his nomination of Amy Coney Barrett, declaring that “I was not elected for three years, I’m elected for four years.”
“We won the election. Elections have consequences. We have the Senate. We have the White House and we have a phenomenal nominee, respected by all.”
Trump criticized Biden over the former vice president’s refusal to comment on whether he would try to expand the Supreme Court in retaliation if Barrett is confirmed to replace the late Justice Ruth Bader Ginsburg. That idea has gained momentum on the party’s left flank but Biden tried to put distance between himself and the liberal wing, declining to endorse the Green New Deal and rejecting the assertion that he was under the control of radicals by declaring “I am the Democratic Party now.”
The scattershot debate bounced from topic to topic, with Trump again refusing to embrace the science of climate change while Biden accused Trump of walking away from the American promise of equity for all and making a race-based appeal.
“This is a president who has used everything as a dog whistle to try to generate racist hatred, racist division,” Biden said.
Recent months have seen major protests after the deaths of Black people at the hands of police. Biden said the country faces a problem with systemic racism and that while the vast majority of police officers are “decent, honorable men and women” there are “bad apples” and people have to be held accountable.
Trump in turn claimed that Biden’s work on a federal crime bill treated the African American population “about as bad as anybody in this country.” The president pivoted to his hardline focus on those protesting racial injustice and accused Biden of being afraid to use the words “law and order,” out of fear of alienating the left.
“Violence in response is never appropriate, “Biden said. “Never appropriate. Peaceful protest is.”
CLEVELAND — It started out civil enough, with President Donald Trump striding deliberately to his lectern, and Democrat Joe Biden nodding to his opponent and offering, “How you doing, man?”
Within 15 minutes, the interruptions and talking over one another at Tuesday’s presidential debate had deteriorated to the point that Biden blurted out, “Will you shut up, man?”
There were no handshakes to start the first presidential debate of the 2020 general election. The traditional nicety was one of several formalities abandoned because of the ongoing pandemic.
The 90-minute faceoff played out in a makeshift debate hall with a crowd of less than 100 people due to coronavirus safety restrictions, in an atrium that previously was set up for use as a hospital for COVID-19 patients.
Trump kept up his badgering of Biden, drawing a string of rejoinders from the Democrat, including a plea to “just shush for a minute” at the half-hour mark.
At other points, the two candidates dialed down their rhetoric, but then the interruptions would spring up again. When Trump was fielding a question about reports he paid just $750 in federal income taxes in 2016 and 2017, Biden was the one interjecting: “Show us your taxes. Show us your taxes.”
The reaction from the mask-wearing crowd was inaudible on television as Trump frequently talked over Biden. There was no discernible response when the former vice president called the sitting president a “clown” and frustratedly told him to “keep yapping.”
In the first head-to-head debate, the shadow of the coronavirus pandemic could not be missed. Crowds and pageantry were out. COVID-19 tests and masks were in.
Trump came out of the gate looking to challenge Biden at every turn — and the former vice president’s patience was soon spent.
“You are the worst president America has ever had,” Biden said.
Roughly 50 minutes into the debate, moderator Chris Wallace’s frustration came to a boil, as he tried to remain even-keeled and stop the rivals from talking over each other.
“Gentlemen, I hate to raise my voice, but why should I be any different than the two of you?” Wallace said.
Trump blamed Biden, but Wallace firmly pushed back to the president, “Frankly, you’ve been doing more interrupting.”
Presidential debates are typically some of the most exciting nights of the campaign season, drawing thousands of staffers, media and guests.
But this year, as with almost everything else, things were very, very different, with a long list of precautions in place before Trump and Biden took the stage.
Instead of the usual auditorium setting, the debate was hosted by the Cleveland Clinic and Case Western Reserve University in the spacious 27,000-square-foot atrium of the Sheila and Eric Samson Pavilion on the clinic’s Health Education Campus. Notre Dame, the original debate host, withdrew because of the pandemic.
Earlier this year, the building had been transformed into a temporary, 1,000-bed surge hospital, named Hope Hospital, for expected coronavirus patients. Though it never ended up needing to be used, the floor where the debate stage was built was not long ago lined with beds for patients and copper piping to bring in oxygen.
The atrium, with its skylighted roof, was turned into a makeshift debate hall with a stage, red carpeting and elevated platforms for cameras. About 100 people watched, all of whom were tested for the virus.
Each candidate’s campaign was given 20 tickets to hand out to guests, said White House chief of staff Mark Meadows. Trump’s guests included his wife, Melania, and his four adult children. Seats were set with programs and anti-bacterial wipes.
Some in Trump’s section tried to greet the first lady with a standing ovation as she walked in, but with the sparse crowd it didn’t quite come together.
As the crowd filed in before the start of the debate, nearly all were abiding by the social distancing and mask wearing rules. One audience member even wore a bright red MAGA face mask, technically a violation of rules prohibiting campaign paraphernalia.
The emptiness of the room only made the sharpness of the candidates’ verbal slugfest, which often took the tone of a schoolyard squabble, more notable.
“The fact is that everything he’s saying so far is simply a lie,” a flustered Biden snapped when Trump suggested that the vice president stole the nomination from Vermont Sen. Bernie Sanders. “I’m not here to call out his lies. Everybody knows he’s a liar.”
JOHNSTON — Iowa is breaking with federal quarantine guidelines in a move that could allow more school students to stay in school after coming in contact with someone who tests positive for COVID-19.
Gov. Kim Reynolds and state epidemiologist Dr. Caitlin Pedati on Tuesday announced the state will no longer recommend people quarantine after coming in contact with a person who tests positive for the coronavirus if both individuals were wearing face masks.
Previously, the state recommended any person who came in close contact with someone who tested positive should quarantine for two weeks.
Reynolds said the decision was made after talking with school leaders and examining state public health data.
“Public health has had a lot of conversations with school administrators and families about their experiences in quarantine, and the fact that we don’t frequently see additional infection in situations where people have been wearing face coverings,” Pedati said Tuesday during the governor’s press conference at Iowa PBS studios.
Pedati conceded the policy breaks with recommendations from the federal Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, which say a person is considered a close contact even if he or she was wearing a mask while around someone with COVID-19.
“Masks are meant to protect other people in case you are infected, and not to protect you from becoming infected,” the CDC website states.
Pedati said the state studied four school districts in northwest Iowa where the virus is spreading rapidly and case counts are elevated. One requires students to wear face masks and three do not. Pedati said the districts without a face mask mandate had 30% to 130% higher rates of COVID-19 cases than the district with the mask mandate.
Pedati also pointed to a study this summer that found face masks were effective in preventing the spread of COVID-19 from two hairdressers who had the virus, and that nearby states Nebraska and Wyoming made similar changes to their public health recommendations.
“Taking all this information together, we’re able to update our recommendation,” Pedati said.
Wyoming has the highest reproduction rate in the country, at 1.29. Reproduction rate is average number of people infected by a single positive case. A reproduction rate over 1.0 is considered spread. Iowa’s reproduction rate is 1.12 as of Tuesday. Nebraska’s was 1.07, and Illinois’ was 1.0.
The change drew a swift rebuke from the state’s largest teachers union.
“Unfortunately, Gov. Reynolds’ newest recommendations are not consistent with what the scientific community continues to tell us about protecting ourselves, our students and our communities from COVID-19,” Mike Beranek, president of the Iowa State Education Association, said in a statement. “Weeks into the school year, we are once again grappling with cloudy information that has no basis in science. At the very least, the guidance should come with mandatory face coverings statewide, including continued social distancing and other mitigation efforts designed to promote health and safety in our public schools.”
After a spike of new cases when college students returned to campus and a subsequent reduction, new cases have once again been rising in Iowa over the past two weeks.
More importantly, the seven-day rolling average number of COVID-19 hospitalizations is at its highest point since early June, and hospitalizations are at the highest level ever.
Reynolds said her administration is in constant contact with hospitals, and none have indicated they cannot handle the increasing number of hospitalizations.
Reynolds also said the state expects to receive from the federal government roughly 900,000 new COVID-19 tests, roughly 40,000 to 50,000 tests per week from now through December. Reynolds said the tests will be prioritized for rural areas where case numbers are climbing and access to testing is sparse, and for school staff and students.
Reynolds said the tests are being offered, “to assist our efforts with reopening our schools and reigniting our economies.” The state is working on a distribution plan for the new tests and will announce details once that plan is developed.
HUDSON — Fewer people will be required to quarantine in at least some Cedar Valley schools after state officials eased guidelines Tuesday.
Iowa Department of Health guidelines no longer recommend a person quarantine when they came in contact with someone who tests positive for COVID-19 if both people were wearing face masks. Previously, the state recommended any person who came in close contact with someone who tested positive should quarantine for two weeks.
“We sent out a notice today that we’re changing that based on updated guidance,” said Tony Voss, Hudson Community Schools superintendent.
In some respects, he said, the change is a relief for school administrators.
“We were walking around with tape measures to see if kids were six feet apart and looking at surveillance video,” Voss explained. If everybody is masked — and wearing them properly to cover both their nose and mouth — he said this new rule helps remove some of the subjectivity in quarantine requirements.
Dike-New Hartford Community Schools issued a press release outlining its changes based on the new guidance.
Jesup Community Schools also cited the state recommendation while outlining changes to their policies effective Wednesday in a letter posted online.
Tara Thomas, a spokesperson for Waterloo Community Schools, said the district isn’t pivoting quite that quickly.
“We are reviewing our Return to Learn plan as a result,” she said, but no decision has been made. Thomas shared a statement sent to Waterloo Schools staff Tuesday.
“Our District Leadership Team is meeting to make decisions about next steps and how to transition accordingly based on the new guidance,” the statement said. “We will continue working with Black Hawk County Health Department officials to ensure any changes to our Return to Learn plan align with recommendations.”
Dike-New Hartford’s change closely follows the state recommendation. The quarantine period will no longer be necessary for those in close contact with a positive case if both people were wearing masks when the exposure occurred. The change is effective immediately.
“There are a number of exceptions,” the release notes, “as those exposed in a household or healthcare setting will still need to quarantine for 14 days. A face shield is also not considered a mask, and quarantine will be required if one of the individuals was wearing a face shield at the time of exposure.
“In addition, people who are sick or have tested positive for COVID-19 must still isolate from others until they have had no fever for at least 24 hours and their other symptoms have improved,” the release continues. “At least 10 days must have passed since their symptoms first appeared or, if they are asymptomatic, since they had a positive COVID-19 test.”
Dike-New Hartford students or staff currently in quarantine should contact Shannon Peverill at email@example.com to discuss a potential return to the classroom. Cases will be reviewed on an independent basis.
Superintendent Justin Stockdale emphasized the new protocol and the wearing of masks is not a replacement for social distancing. “We urge our students, staff and families to continue taking the steps necessary to prevent the spread of COVID-19,” he said in the release.
In the Jesup letter, Superintendent Nathan Marting called the change “a significant finding.” He noted it “will help us tremendously in allowing as many students and staff as possible to remain in school and at work for in-person teaching and learning. We have had a number of individuals quarantine this school year so far, not because of a positive COVID diagnosis, but rather due to the close contact rule of within 6 feet for 15 or more consecutive minutes.”
Starting last week, 25 people in a preschool/transitional kindergarten class went into quarantine after one person tested positive for COVID-19.
As a result of the change, he wrote that starting Wednesday “we are asking that all students and staff districtwide begin wearing masks. Face shields alone will no longer be allowed.”
Voss, the Hudson superintendent, noted “it will remain to be seen” what the impact of the change is. “Based on numbers we’ve seen at our school, it would seem to suggest that masks are effective at mitigation,” he said.
Photos from Dike-New Hartford-Denver volleyball match