'China ate your lunch, Joe': Trump, Biden end insult-filled debate filled with interruption

President Donald Trump and former Vice President Joe Biden brawled over the economy, the coronavirus pandemic and the Supreme Court vacancy on Tuesday in one of the most chaotic, insult-laden presidential debates in modern history.

True to form, Trump came to the debate prepared to repeatedly attack his Democratic opponent, frequently interrupting and forcing moderator Chris Wallace to note that both candidates agreed to let their counterparts speak. Both Trump and Biden, meanwhile, leveled an unending string of personal attacks on each other’s character and judgment.  

“I’ve done more in 47 months – I’ve done more than you’ve done in 47 years” Trump asserted in a typical accusation against Biden.

Trump claimed that “China ate your lunch, Joe” on trade; he questioned Biden’s intelligence and attacked his son, Hunter Biden, and described the longtime centrist Democrat as a “socialist” more than once. Biden described the president as a “clown,” told him to “shut up,” described him as “Putin’s puppy,” and called him the “worst president” in American history.

“Under this president, we’ve become weaker, sicker, poorer, more divided and more violent,” Biden said.

In an exchange that exemplified how the debate unfolded, Wallace pressed Trump on whether he was willing to condemn white supremacists and militia groups and to urge them to stand down from adding to the violence and social upheaval that has swept the streets of cities like Portland, Oregon, and Kenosha, Wisconsin.

"I’m willing to do that, but I would say almost everything I see is from the left-wing, not from the right-wing," Trump insisted. “I’m willing to do anything.”

Trump asked who Wallace wanted him to condemn. Wallace responded: “White supremacists.”  

“Stand back and standby,” Trump responded.  

The hostile bickering, in which Trump repeatedly interrupted Biden and fought with Wallace, came as polls show Biden with a thin lead nationally and in most battleground states, including Wisconsin, Pennsylvania and Michigan. Trump came into the debate seeking a reset to change those results but appeared to embrace a strategy geared more toward his base supporters than the small number of persuadable voters.  

Fact check:Joe Biden called troops 'stupid bastards,' but only 'jokingly'

Wallace had his hands full trying to keep order as the two candidates went after each other, but he came down harder on Trump: “Frankly, you’ve been doing more interrupting,” Wallace said at one point.

Lost in the angry exchanges was a deep discussion about issues beyond what has already been articulated on the campaign trail.

Trump, without citing evidence, accused Biden of embracing a “socialist” health care system. Biden responded by noting that his plan would expand, rather than dismantle Obamacare and questioned why the president had not presented his own health care plan.

Biden slammed Trump’s response to the coronavirus, accusing him of raising doubts about the advice of his own scientists and suggesting the administration’s response cost thousands of lives. Trump said that Biden misjudged his early efforts – such as to close travel to China – and would cause further economic harm by imposing stricter social distancing guidelines.

"Though it seems unlikely that Trump scored any points with those voters who were not already in his corner, he succeeded in derailing much of the debate with his frequent interruptions and combative rejoiners to Biden's answers,” said Lara Brown, director of the Graduate School of Political Management at the George Washington University. “Biden appears to have won the night, but it seems unlikely that the polls will register much change."

Veteran GOP pollster Frank Luntz, who attended the debate, said there were “no winners. America is the loser."

Aaron Kall, debate coach at the University of Michigan, agreed.

"Given the continual acrimony and interruptions over the course of the debate, there were really no winners," he said. “Nothing over the course of the evening likely did anything to alter the trajectory of such a static race."

-- John Fritze, Maureen Groppe and David Jackson

Hear more moments from the debate on our daily podcast

Trump won’t commit to not claim victory prematurely; Biden does

Trump refused to pledge that he won’t claim victory prematurely until the election is independently certified and all ballots counted while Biden pledged that he would wait.

The candidates were responding to a question at the end of the debate posed by Wallace, who noted that it could take days or weeks to count all ballots because of the high volume of mail-in ballots expected during the pandemic. Mail-ballots are likely to skew for Biden because Democratic voters have requested far more mail-ballots than Republican voters.

"I'm urging my supporters to go into the polls and watch very carefully,” Trump said, not answering the question.  “I hope it's a fair election. If it's a fair election, I'm 100% on board."

Trump, who has slammed mail-voting as fraudulent throughout the campaign, also said he would challenge an election dispute about mail ballots to the Supreme Court.

“I think I’m counting on them to look at the ballots -- definitely,” Trump said.

Biden urged his supporters to ignore Trump’s claims about mail-voting, telling them the president is seeking to get them to stay home on Election Day. “Show up and vote,” Biden said. “You will determine the outcome of this election. Vote. Vote. Vote.”

Biden added: “He cannot stop you from being able to determine the outcome of this election.”

As Trump called mail-voting a “disaster,” Biden defended the voting method, rejecting the president’s many claims.

“He sits behind the resolute desk and sends his ballot to Florida,” Biden said, referring to how Trump is among the millions of Americans who vote by mail.

Joey Garrison 

Heated exchange

Former Vice President Joe Biden said his goals for cleaner energy would pay for themselves, but President Donald Trump said the proposals were unrealistic and too costly.

Biden’s goal is to eliminate greenhouse gas emissions from energy production by 2035. He said he would rejoin the Paris accord, which Trump withdrew from.

“There’s so many things that we can do,” Biden said. "We can create good jobs by making sure the environment is clean."

Biden criticized Trump for reducing restrictions on methane emissions and for mileage standards on cars.

“It’s all falling apart,” Biden said. “He hasn’t drawn the line.”

Trump said Biden’s plan would cost trillions of dollars and would force industry to tear down buildings and abandon power production.

“It’s the dumbest, most ridiculous,” Trump said of Biden’s proposals.

Bart Jansen

Climate change divides the candidates

Trump, who has called global warming a “hoax,” conceded that greenhouse gases contribute to climate change “to an extent.”

But asked specifically about the science of climate change, he said there are many other factors that play a part. He said he withdrew Obama’s Clean Power Plan to reduce carbon emissions (which never took effect) because “it was driving energy prices through the sky.”

Climate scientists say global warming has intensified the record-number of forest fires in California. But Trump repeated that the major culprit is poor forest management that has led to dry, flammable conditions.

“You drop a cigarette down there, the whole forest burns up,” he said.

Trump also tried to pin the Green New Deal (which calls for a drastic reduction of carbon emissions as well as fundamental changes in economic models) on Biden but the former vice president has repeatedly disavowed the plan for one that would reduce emissions at a more moderate pace.

It’s simply not true,” Biden said. "That is not my plan."

Ledyard King

Trump sidesteps call to condemn white supremacists, points to extremism on the left

Wallace pressed Trump on whether he was willing to condemn white supremacists and militia groups and urge them to stand down from adding to the violence and social upheaval that has swept the streets of cities like Portland, Oregon, and Kenosha, Wisconsin. 

"I’m willing to do that, but I would say almost everything I see is from the left-wing, not from the right-wing," Trump insisted. 

Trump has blamed the far-left anti-fascist group known as Antifa for violence at protests. FBI Director Christopher Wray said the movement is one of several ideologies driving clashes; another is white supremacists.

When pressed to condemn white supremacists, Trump asked for the name of a specific group. Biden responded by naming the Proud Boys, a group that believes men - especially white men - are under siege. The Southern Poverty Law Center, a liberal advocacy organization, has designated the Proud Boys as a hate group. 

​"Proud Boys - stand back and stand by. But I'll tell you what, somebody's got to do something about Antifa and the left," Trump said. 

Earlier this month, a former top Department of Homeland Security official who voted for Trump in 2016 and resigned in April told NPR that the White House refused to take far-right extremism seriously and avoided using the term "domestic terrorism" when it came to white supremacists.

— Courtney Subramanian

Moderator comes down on Trump

Moderator Chris Wallace had his hands full trying to keep order as the two candidates went after each other, but he came down harder on President Donald Trump.

“Frankly, you’ve been doing more interrupting,” Wallace said at one point.

It wasn’t long before Wallace was chiding Trump again, asking sarcastically if he wanted to change seats and become the moderator.

Near the end, when Trump was again interrupting Biden, Wallace asked Trump why he was not abiding by the rules that his campaign agreed to.

“That was a rhetorical question,” Wallace added as Trump again tried to talk.

Maureen Groppe

Trump, Biden tussle over suburbs

Throughout the presidential campaign, Trump has sought to define Democrats as a threat to the suburbs – home to key constituencies During the feisty debate in Ohio on Tuesday, Biden got a chance to offer a response.

“He doesn't want to say ‘law and order’ because he can't because he'll lose his radical left supporters,” Trump asserted. Our suburbs would be gone.”

Biden fired back.

“He wouldn’t know a suburb unless he took a wrong turn,” Biden said. “What really is a threat to the suburbs and their safety is COVID.”

Underscoring the significance the nation’s suburbs will have in choosing the next president, Trump has repeatedly suggested he is “saving” those communities, in part noting that he rolled back an Obama-era housing regulation that would have required local jurisdictions to study whether their housing policies are discriminatory.

John Fritze

Biden: Violence should be prosecuted

In an exchange on rioting in American cities, Biden was asked if he had ever called the Democratic governor of Oregon or the mayor of Portland and urged them to bring in the National Guard or do whatever it takes to stop violence in the streets.

“I don’t hold public office,” Biden responded. “I am a former vice president.”

But Biden said he had made it clear in his public statements that violence should be prosecuted.

Michael Collins

Trump tries to divide Biden from his most liberal supporters ('the left')

While Trump has sought to cast Biden as a captive of the political left, he has also sought to divide his Democratic opponent and his most liberal supporters.

Throughout the debate, Trump said Biden's statements on issues like health care and law enforcement do not reflect "his radical left" supporters, and if he loses them his chances of victory are "over."

"You just lost the left," Trump told Biden during a health care discussion.

Biden told Trump he will make his own decisions as president, and that all of the wings of his party are united in defeating the incumbent president.

David Jackson

Trump touts familiar theme of ‘law and order’

Trump emphasized his support of “law and order,” while accusing Biden of siding with protesters, looters and rioters over police.

“You can’t even say the word ‘law enforcement’ ‘cause if you say those words, you’re going to lose all those radical left supporters.

The president also took aim large cities that have seen extensive - and largely peaceful - protests over racial justice and police brutality, saying the “Far Left” mayors have let rioters take over the downtowns.

Trump also said his support among blacks is higher than previous GOP presidents because of social justice reforms he signed into law, and that Biden mistreated blacks through his support of the 1994 crime bill that increased penalties for drug possession and dealing while he was in the Senate.

Ledyard King

Biden says ‘systematic’ racial injustice exists in US

As Trump said the people of this country “demand law and order,” Biden said he believes systemic racial injustice exists in the U.S. and that people should be able to peacefully protest about it.

“There’s systemic injustice in this country in education, in work and law enforcement, and the way it is enforced,” Biden said.

The former vice president said most police officers are good people but there there are “some bad apples.” As president, he said he would hope to convene all stakeholders to the table including police.

“These cops aren’t happy to see what happened to George Floyd. The cops aren’t happy to see what happened to Breonna Taylor. Most don’t like it. But we have to have a system that holds people accountable.”

— Joey Garrison

Black and white issues

Former Vice President Joe Biden accused President Donald Trump of using “dog whistles” to spur racial divisions in the country, but the president said his crime legislation treated Blacks.

Biden recalled white-nationalists protesting in Charlottesville, Virginia, in August 2017 who spewed anti-Semitic bile and fought against racial equity. Biden said Trump had federal officers outside the White House spray tear gas against peaceful protesters after George Floyd died in police custody in Minneapolis.

“This is a president who has used everything as a dog whistle,” Biden said. “This man has done virtually nothing.”

But Trump said his crime bill eliminated lengthy prison sentences that Biden legislated in 1994.

“You’ve treated the Black community about as bad as anyone in this country,” Trump said.

Trump said he was endorsed by military leaders and police organizations.

“We believe in law enforcement, but you don’t,” Trump said.

Bart Jansen

Trump calls racial sensitivity training 'racist'

Trump said he moved to end racial sensitivity training that addresses white privilege and critical race theory earlier this year because "it's racist."

"I ended it because a lot of people were complaining that they were asked to do things that were absolutely insane, that it was a radical revolution that was taking place in our military in our schools all over the place," Trump said.

Trump claimed that racial sensitivity training taught people to "hate our country."

"We have to go back to the core values of this country. They were teaching people that our country is a horrible place, it's a racist place, and they were teaching people to hate our country, and I'm not gonna allow that," he said.

Biden shot back that racial insensitivity training helped to make people aware of what's demeaning to others.

"It's a little bit like how this guy and his friends looked down on so many people, they look down their nose on people like Irish Catholics like me and grew up in Scranton and looked down on people who don't have money," Biden said. "They look down on people who are of a different faith, they look down on people who are different color."

— Courtney Subramanian

Family matters

Trump continued his apparent efforts to rattle Biden and get him to lose his temper by bringing up Biden’s son, Hunter.

Trump said the mayor of Moscow gave Hunter Biden $3.5 million.

“What did he do to deserve it?” Trump asked.

Biden called Trump’s accusation “totally discredited.”

“My son did nothing wrong,” Biden said.

The former vice president tried to turn the table, saying if Trump wanted to talk about families and ethics, they could talk about Trump’s family “all night.”

Trump interjected that his family “lost a fortune by coming down and helping” with his administration.

Biden tried to pivot away from the personal, saying the campaign is not about either candidate’s family but is about the voters’ families.

Maureen Groppe

Biden response to Trump onslaught: A grin and a chuckle

Heading into this pivotal debate, there was a considerable question over how Biden would respond to Trump’s attacks. At times he has fought back; at times he has looked down at the floor in an expression of exasperation. But Biden’s most common response: A big grin.

Trump accused Biden of holding fewer rallies because he couldn’t get the same crowds. Biden closed his eyes and grinned. Trump took credit for bringing back college football. Biden offered a big smile and a chuckle. Moderator Chris Wallace asked Trump to stop interrupting and Trump responded by claiming Biden was interrupting, too.

Biden’s response: Smile, head shake.

The approach was clearly designed to offer a dismissive response to some of Trump’s attacks – without responding directly to all of them – and to appear to rise above them. Whether that approach will be successful remains to be seen.

By contrast, Trump’s split screen facial expressions at Biden more often than not appeared to be a skeptical side glance, head slightly tilted, punctuated by one-word interruptions: “Wrong,” Trump said repeatedly as Biden spoke. “China ate your lunch.”

John Fritze

Biden: ‘This guy paid $750 in taxes’

Making an economic populist pitch, Biden raised Trump’s $750 federal income tax payments as he talked about people from working-class cities like Scranton, Pa. hurting during the economic downturn.

“This guy paid a total of $750 in taxes,” Biden said, adding that Trump would be the first president of the United States to oversee fewer jobs in the U.S. when he left office than when he became president.

“The people who have lost those jobs are those people on our frontlines,” Biden said. “You can’t fix the economy until you fix the COVID crisis.”

Trump responded saying he’s paid “millions” in income taxes including $38 million one year.

“Show us your tax returns,” Biden shot back

Trump has refused to release his tax returns. The New York Times on Sunday reported President Donald Trump paid just $750 in federal income taxes the year he won the presidency and his first year in office. In other years, the Times reported, Trump paid no federal income taxes at all.

 Joey Garrison

Trump, Biden clash over wearing masks

President Donald Trump said he supported wearing a mask, to prevent the spread of COVID-19, pulling a mask out of his pocket.

“I have a mask right here,” Trump said. “I put a mask on when I think I need it.”

But Trump disputed former Vice President Joe Biden for frequently wearing a mask and disputed an academic estimate that broader mask-wearing would save lives.

“I don’t wear masks like him,” Trump said. “Every time you see him, he’s got a mask.”

Biden cited an academic study and the head of the Centers of Disease Control and Prevention for the potential to save 100,000 lives by the end of the year.

“Masks make a big difference,” Biden said. “We’d probably save 100,000 lives.”

Trump disputed the estimate. “They’ve also said the opposite,” he said.

“No serious person said the opposite,” Biden replied.

Bart Jansen

Trump defends his federal taxes

Midway through the debate, Wallace hits Trump with a question about his low tax bills – only $750 in both 2016 and 2017, according to The New York Times.

Trump didn't address those $750 bills, saying only that he paid "millions of dollars" in taxes – and nothing about which years, or what kinds of taxes.

Biden offered a simple solution: "Show us your tax returns."

David Jackson

Trump defends continuation of rallies

Asked why he continues you hold rallies against the advice of his own health experts, Trump’s responded: “Because people want to hear what I have to say.”

He also suggested that Biden would do the same thing if he could but “nobody will show up.”

He said Biden “does the circles with three people someplace,” referring to the small, socially distant events he holds.

“If you could get the crowds, you would do the same,” Trump told the former vice president.

Ledyard King

Biden: Trump COVID response ‘totally irresponsible’

Biden slammed Trump for the way he has responded to the coronavirus pandemic and specifically criticized his reluctance to wear a face mask in public.

“He has been totally irresponsible in the way he has handled the social distancing, the people wearing masks – basically encouraging them not to,” Biden said.

“He’s not worried about the people,” Biden said.

Michael Collins

Intelligence test: Trump and Biden question each other's smarts

We've reached the stage of the debate where Trump and Biden criticize the other's IQ.

"Did you use the word smart?" Trump told Biden, questioning his opponent's academic credentials. "Don't ever use the word smart with me."

Biden, who had said Trump's has exhibited less-than-intelligent leadership, replied: "Oh, give me a break."

— David Jackson

'You don’t have it in your blood’

After Biden slammed Trump for not doing enough to prevent the spread of the coronavirus in the United States, the president shot back that “we’ve done a great job.”

“We got the gowns. We got the masks. We made the ventilators - you wouldn’t have made the ventilators – and now we’re weeks away from a vaccine,” he said after Biden said the country has about 4% of the world’s population but about 20% of its deaths from the virus.

Trump went on to say that the country would have suffered far more than the 200,000-plus deaths and the 7 million-plus cases of COVID-19 if Biden had been president.

“You could never have done the job that we did. You don’t have it in your blood,” he Trump said to Biden.

Ledyard King

Roe v. Wade 

As part of the debate about the Supreme Court, Biden said abortion is on the ballot. Trump disputed that, saying of Barrett, “You don’t know her view on Roe v. Wade.”

Barrett has written that Supreme Court precedents are not sacrosanct, which liberals have interpreted as a threat to the 1973 Roe v. Wade decision legalizing abortion nationwide.

Those views give anti-abortion groups hope that with her vote, the Supreme Court will uphold efforts by states to further restrict abortion rights – and potentially overrule Roe v. Wade someday.

In one case before the U.S. Court of Appeals for the 7th Circuit, she would have allowed Indiana to try again to win court approval of a law banning abortions based on sex, gender or disability. 

Richard Wolf 

​Biden ducks question on adding to SCOTUS

Biden ducked a question about whether he would support adding more justices to the Supreme Court if Amy Coney Barrett is confirmed.

“I’m not going to answer the question,” Biden said. When Trump interrupted him, Biden responded, “Will you shut up, man.”

If Trump and the Republicans push Barrett through, Democrats have vowed retaliation should they win control of the Senate in November. Their options range from ending filibuster rights – making it nearly impossible for a Republican minority to block legislation – to increasing the number of seats on the Supreme Court to restore ideological balance to the high court that will have a 6-3 conservative advantage if Barrett is confirmed. 

In the never-ending partisan war over judicial nominations, both Democrats and Republicans have changed the rules when they were in power. If Republicans muscle through the battle and win a 6-3 court majority but lose the White House and Senate in November's election, Democrats could seek to add justices to the high court, impose term limits or further limit Senate minority rights.  

Richard Wolf 

Trump paints a rosy picture of coronavirus response

The president insisted that his administration received widespread praise for its handling of the coronavirus pandemic, which has claimed more than 200,000 lives in the U.S. He said that many Democratic governors and "people that would not be necessarily on my side" said he did a "phenomenal job."

A USA TODAY investigation found CDC in February gave local health officials slow, confusing and conflicting information – or none at all – on how to deal with coronavirus.

"We got the gowns we get the masks we made the ventilators you wouldn't have made ventilators and now we're weeks away from a vaccine," Trump said. 

Despite Trump's claims, CDC chief Robert Redfield told Senate panel Sept. 14 not to expect vaccine widely available in US until summer or fall 2021.

"I'll tell you, Joe, you could never have done the job that we did, you don't have it in your blood. You could have never done that," he said. 

—  Courtney Subramanian

Biden slams Trump over COVID-19 response

Biden slammed Trump over his handling of the coronavirus pandemic, saying the president still “has no plan” months after the outbreak began in the U.S.

“It is what it is because you are who you are,” Biden said, referencing Trump’s remarks from September when the president said the death toll from COVID-19 “is what it is.”

Biden pointed to remarks the president made to reporter Bob Woodward when Trump said he purposely sought to downplay the threat of the virus because he didn’t want the public panic.

“He knew back in February how serious this plan,” Biden said. “You don’t panic. He panicked.”

— Joey Garrison

Trump attacks Biden over his 47-year career

One Trump strategy is clear: Paint Biden as a career politician who has been wrong for 47 years as senator and vice president.

"You could have never done that job," Trump told Biden during an argument over the COVID response; he also hit Biden for past policies on health care.

"The people understand," he told Biden at another point: "47 years, you have done nothing."

Biden also has a strategy: Paint Trump as incompetent on the pandemic, health care, and everything else.

"The president has no plan," Biden said, a theme he echoed several times.

– David Jackson

Going off the rails

Trump tried early on to rattle Biden by constantly needling and interrupting – a sequence that ended when Biden finally telling Trump: “You shut up, man.”

True to form, Trump came out swinging – calling Biden a “socialist,” accusing him of catering to the left-wing of his party, repeatedly talking over the former vice president and moderator Chris Wallace. It was the kind of attack line the president often levels at his rallies.  

The back and forth started as Biden tried to answer a question about his health care plan. Trump tried to tie him to Bernie Sanders.

“I’m not going to listen to him,” Biden said, as he tried to ignore Trump. “The fact of the matter is I beat, Bernie Sanders.”

“Not by much,” Trump needled.

As Trump kept interrupting, Biden tried to get back on track. “Here’s the deal. Here’s the deal,” Biden repeated, before asserting that he was not on stage to “call out his lies.”

“Everybody knows he’s a liar,” Biden said.

The moderator tried to take control, asking Trump to let Biden finish.

“Gentleman, you realize that you’re both speaking at the same time,” Wallace said.

As Wallace moved on to the next topic, Biden joked sarcastically that “that was really a productive segment.”

The back-and-forth suggested the predictions were right that the debate could be among the most personal in modern times.

Maureen Groppe and John Fritze

Biden: ‘The American people should speak’

Biden declined to say whether he would back Senate Democrats voting to end the filibuster or add seats to the Supreme Court if Republicans go ahead and confirm Amy Coney Barrett to the court before the election.

“Whatever position I take, that will become the issue,” he said. “The issue,” Biden said, “is the American people should speak. You should go out and vote.”

Michael Collins

Trump continues to interrupt Biden on health care

 When asked what his plan is to replace the Affordable Care Act, Trump insisted he had one before touting a largely symbolic order claiming to help protect Americans with pre-existing conditions.

The Trump administration is trying to overturn the ACA, known as Obamacare, which already guarantees protections for pre-existing conditions. The order cannot be enforced unless other legislation is passed. 

Trump went on to repeatedly interrupt Biden when Wallace tried to ask the former vice president about his proposal to add a public option to Obamacare. 

"He has no plan for health care costs," Biden said as he spoke over Trump, calling the president's executive order "wishful thinking." 

— Courtney Subramanian

Biden defends Obamacare

President Donald Trump accused former Vice President Joe Biden of trying to abolish private healthcare, but Biden said he sought to expand Obamacare and that private insurance would continue under his administration.

“Your party wants to go socialist,” Trump said. “They’re going to dominate you, Joe, you know that.”

But Biden said he defeated Sen. Bernie Sanders of Vermont, who advocated Medicare for All, during the Democratic primaries. Biden said he sought to expand the Affordable Care Act nicknamed Obamacare rather than abolish private insurance.

“I am the Democratic Party right now,” Biden said. “The platform of the Democratic Party is what I, in fact, approved of.”

“I’m the party,” Biden added.

Bart Jansen

Trump, Biden debate replacing RBG

President Donald Trump said at the start of the debate that he and Senate Republicans have the right to fill the vacant seat on the Supreme Court.

“We won the election. Elections have consequences. We have the Senate, we have the White House, and we have a phenomenal nominee,” Trump said.

Democratic nominee Joe Biden said Americans have a right to have their say.

“They’re not going to get that chance now because we’re in the middle of an election already,” Biden said. “We should wait and see what the outcome of this election is,” Biden said.

Democrats have decried the process more than Trump’s nominee, federal appeals court Judge Amy Coney Barrett. They note that in 2016, Associate Justice Antonin Scalia died in February, but Senate Republicans blocked President Barack Obama from filling the seat for the last 11 months of his presidency. Now, Republicans are rushing to confirm Barrett on the eve of the very next presidential election.

Only two of the Senate’s 53 Republicans have objected to that timing, giving Majority Leader Mitch McConnell the votes he needs to push through Barrett’s nomination before the election.

What’s more, the timetable is extremely short. Usually, it takes about 70 days for a Supreme Court nominee to win confirmation. Republicans are truncating the schedule to get it done in the space of 38 days. No justice in history has been confirmed later than July before a presidential election.

In a Washington Post-ABC poll out last week, 57 percent of Americans said the decision on replacing Ginsburg should await the winner of the presidential election. Only 38 percent said Trump and the current Senate should move ahead.

Rich Wolf 

Wallace v. Trump

The tricky business of moderating a debate with a president who likes to interrupt questions came to the forefront very early in the debate when Chris Wallace attempted to ask the president why he had not yet unveiled a “comprehensive” health care plan.

“Of course, I have,” Trump asserted. “I got rid of the individual mandate.”

Wallace attempted to note that getting rid of Obamacare made to have insurance was not the same as having a major plan. The two spent time arguing over each for several minutes.

“I guess I’m debating you, not him,” Trump said to Wallace.

 — John Fritze

Debate off to a quick start

One of the most anticipated events of the 2020 campaign began with little fanfare.

Forgoing the traditional pre-debate handshake because of COVID-19, Donald Trump and Joe Biden walked to their separate lecterns and briefly acknowledged each other.

“How you doing, man?” Biden asked Trump.

“I’m well,” Trump responded.

Tonight maybe the first time since George H. W. Bush’s funeral in 2018 that the two competitors have been in the same room.

But there was no time for chit chat.

“Gentleman, a lot of people have been waiting for this night, so let’s get going,” moderator Chris Wallace said, before launching into the first question – about Trump’s Supreme Court nominee.

— Maureen Groppe

Biden: ‘Not appropriate’ to confirm SCOTUS nominee before election

Biden argued that Americans have a right to say who the Supreme Court justice will be. “But they’re not going to get that chance now,” he said, noting that the election already has started and that tens of thousands of people already have voted.

“It’s just not appropriate to do this before this election,” he said.

Michael Collins

Trump: I was entitled to nominate Amy Coney Barrett because I'm president

Right off the bat, Wallace asks both Trump and Biden about the new Supreme Court nominee Amy Coney Barrett.

Trump says he was entitled to nominate Barrett because he won the 2016 election, and a Democratic president would have done the same thing.

I'm not elected for three years, I'm elected for four years," Trump said.

Biden says the winner of the election should have the right to make the nomination - and notes the court may strike down the health care law.

The candidates then argued about health care: Trump accused Biden of favoring "socialist" medicine, while Biden says Trump would give insurance companies power to cut off people with pre-existing conditions.

– David Jackson

Will Trump beat his own record?

Can Donald Trump set another record?

His first 2016 debate against Democrat Hillary Clinton attracted 84 million viewers, the most for a presidential debate.

The first presidential debate in a series tends to attract the most viewers, although not always.

The second 2008 debate between Democrat Barack Obama and Republican John McCain was the most viewed, according to the Pew Research Center. (That was also the only year when more people tuned in to the vice presidential debate than to one of the presidential matches.)

Large shares of voters have told the Pew Research Center over the years that the debates were very or somewhat helpful in deciding who to vote for. But only 10% of those who voted in 2016 said they had definitely made up their minds “during or just after” the debates. Almost two-thirds said they had decided around the time of the conventions or even before.

Maureen Groppe

Biden tweets photo of headphones and ice cream to mock Trump

The Joe Biden campaign had some pre-debate fun on Twitter, throwing shade on President Donald Trump’s accusations that Biden could be on performance-enhancing drugs and wearing an earpiece during the debate.

“It’s debate night, so I’ve got my earpiece and performance enhancers ready,” Biden tweeted with a photo of earphones and a tub of Jeni’s Splendid Ice Creams.

The choice of Jeni’s, based in Columbus, Ohio, was seemingly a nod to Cleveland, Ohio, which is hosting the debate.

Trump has routinely level baseless accusations that Biden – whose mental fitness he has questioned throughout the campaign – is taking performance-enhancing drugs.  

The Trump campaign Tuesday accused the Biden campaign of agreeing several days ago to a “pre-debate inspection for electronic earpieces” but “abruptly reversed themselves” today.

During a press call Tuesday, Biden deputy campaign manager Kate Bedingfield said Biden will not be wearing an earpiece and fired back, alleging the Trump campaign asked debate moderator Chris Wallace to not mention the number of COVID-19 deaths during the debate.

— Joey Garrison 

How to watch?

Viewers can stream the match-up live at USATODAY.com and all of our social platforms. The debate also will be aired on most major networks and cable news channels, including Fox News, CNN, ABC, CBS, NBC, MSNBC, PBS and C-SPAN.

The debate is scheduled to start at 9 p.m. ET. 

Presidential debate city: In the COVID era, it only takes a village

CLEVELAND – In a "normal" year, a presidential debate site is like a small city: Many hundreds of people roam sidewalks throughout the day, meeting, talking and generally taking in the scene.

This year's opening debate at the Cleveland Clinic is more like a village, or a series of gated communities.

Fewer hundreds of people are hanging out this time, and most of them are in isolated cells required by hosts who want to block an outbreak of coronavirus at the most-watched event of the presidential election.

"This is very subdued and very scaled back," said Aaron Kall, the director of debate at the University of Michigan who snagged a seat in the media filing center.

Most print reporters are based in the filing center at the Intercontinental Hotel that sits in the middle of the Cleveland Clinic complex.

A few blocks over, most television reporters do stand-ups from positions in a white-tented city, entry to which requires a special credential. Previously, many television networks set up broadcast facilities from within the general media filing center.

In previous presidential years, the temporary citizens of debate cities past could walk down the street – or hang out at the filing center – and bump into folks like future George W. Bush presidential counselor Karen Hughes (in 2000) or future Barack Obama presidential press secretary Josh Earnest (in 2008).

Not so this year: Campaign officials are largely sequestered in spaces across the Cleveland Clinic campus, popping out mostly for television interviews that are largely sealed off.

One group remains in force even in this shrunken community: Security.

Blue-uniformed police officers and camouflage-clad soldiers patrolled campus throughout the day. They formed a large perimeter just outside the TV tents when Trump and Biden did walk-throughs in the debate hall itself. Security choppers whomped overhead during a cloudy, windy day.

In the late afternoon, less than a dozen anti-abortion demonstrators gathered but drew relatively little attention.

The television island is across the street from the debate hall, where Trump and Biden will probably feel the biggest effect from the scaled-back debate city.

Only 70 or so people will be allowed into the debate hall, and that could well affect the performances of the candidates.

As a political candidate, Trump has never debate before so small a crowd, and in the past, he has thrived on crowd reactions, Kall noted. Biden at least has the experience of having debated Democratic primary rival, Bernie Sanders, in front of no crowd at all.

"The lack of a crowd," Kall said, "makes a huge difference."

David Jackson

Who are Trump, Biden inviting?

A UFC fighter, a steelworker and an outspoken critic of the U.S. response to the coronavirus pandemic are among the guests President Donald Trump and former Vice President Joe Biden invited to watch the debate Tuesday.

For Trump, invited guests include UFC fighter Colby Covington; his personal attorney, Rudy Giuliani, and Alice Marie Johnson, a criminal justice reform advocate Trump pardoned in August. Johnson also spoke at the Republican National Convention last month.

Biden invited two Ohioans as guests: A union steelworker, James Evanoff Jr,. and Gurnee Green, a clothing shop owner. Another Biden guest: Kristin Urquiza, a Trump critic who spoke at the Democratic convention about how COVID-19 claimed her father’s life in June. 

The guest campaigns choose to highlight can signal messages they hope to raise: In this case, Trump's decision to invite Johnson suggests he'll discuss his bipartisan efforts to reform the criminal justice system. By choosing Urquiza, Biden is highlighting criticism of Trump's handling of the pandemic.  

John Fritze and Courtney Subramanian

Milkshakes are on the menu at Pence’s debate watch party

Instead of cheering his boss on in Cleveland, Vice President Mike Pence kicked off a debate watch party for supporters in an old alfalfa field in Pennsylvania.

More than 250 people gathered at Meadow Spring Farm, a dairy farm in Lancaster County – although Pence, himself, didn’t stick around after speaking to the crowd. Instead, he returned to Washington, D.C., where he planned to watch the debate.

Attendees are dining on barbecue washed down with “Farm Show Milkshakes,” the dairy concoction usually sold at the state’s farm show but coming to Trump/Pence supporters via a food truck.

Adding to the carnival atmosphere is a makeshift photo booth set up in the barn, featuring hay bales, a tractor and a Trump/Pence sign.

Only a handful of supporters are using face masks. Trump campaign apparel is popular. Some are wearing traditional Amish or Mennonite apparel.

Trump won 57% of the vote in Lancaster County in 2016. And on the drive to the farm from the Lancaster airport, Pence was greeted by about 30 supporters waving Trump 2020 signs and chanting “Four more years.”

“Everyone here understands that pathway to victory runs right through where we are standing tonight,” Rep. Lloyd Smucker, R-Pa., said in remarks to the crowd that got them roaring when he mentioned

President Donald Trump’s Supreme Court nominee Amy Coney Barrett.

Maureen Groppe

No openers, no ‘spin room,’ no shakes

If the debate between President Donald Trump and former Vice President Joe Biden looks different from debates of the past, that will be by design – and due to the pandemic.

Trump and Biden agreed to skip the traditional handshake to open their first face-to-face match-up, for instance. The audience, meanwhile, will be less of a factor than it has been in the past: About 70 people will watch in person, compared with hundreds who attended in the past.

Also absent: The "spin room," where campaign surrogates give interviews to crowds of journalists as they make their case on why their candidate won the debate. Those interactions can shape the post-debate coverage, which is how millions of Americans learn about the key exchanges.

Trump, Biden and moderator Chris Wallace will not be required to wear masks once they take the stage, said Peter Eyre, a senior adviser to the Commission on Presidential Debates. But nothing prevents Biden from wearing one as he walks onto the stage, which would almost certainly draw the first contrast between himself and Trump.

Courtney Subramanian and John Fritze

Just the facts

USA TODAY is going to have a team of experts who will be offering up facts during the debates. Will COVID-19 be a major topic tonight? Yeah, that's likely. Thankfully we've covered the topic extensively and can offer in-the-moment context and facts.

The Supreme Court, health care, taxes and border security could all become topics of debate tonight. No worries, we've got you covered.