President Donald Trump and Democrat presidential candidate Joe Biden traded charges of secretly taking money from foreign interests, after the former vice president addressed head-on Trump’s efforts to portray him as corrupt.
Biden, declaring he had never accepted a foreign payment, noted that Trump has never publicly released his tax returns. He pointed at the president and demanded: “What are you hiding?”
Unlike their first debate, in which Trump repeatedly talked over Biden and the former vice president called his opponent a “clown” and told him to “shut up,” the candidates initially complied with rules of the debate that called for them to allow each other time to speak.
Biden showed he had anticipated that Trump would try to advance allegations that the former vice president is corrupt. Before the debate, Trump’s campaign introduced a man to reporters traveling with the president, Tony Bobulinski, who claimed without evidence to have discussed a business venture in China with the former vice president and his son, Hunter.
Biden raised the topic before Trump, accusing the president and his associates of promoting Russian disinformation in unsubstantiated allegations about his Hunter Biden’s business dealings.
“We are in a situation where foreign countries are trying to interfere in the outcome of our election,” Biden said. “His buddy Rudy Giuliani — he’s being used as a Russian pawn.”
Trump responded by falsely accusing Biden of accepting $3.5 million from Russia. A report by Senate Republicans in September alleged that Biden’s son, Hunter, received a payment of $3.5 million from the wife of the former mayor of Moscow.
“I have not taken a penny from any foreign source in my life,” Biden said. Pointing his finger at the president, he said: “You have not released a single solitary year of your tax return. What are you hiding?”
“The foreign countries are paying you a lot,” Biden said. “Russia’s paying out a lot. China’s paying you a lot. And your hotels and businesses all around the country, all around the world.”
Trump responded that Russia was “paying you a lot of money” when it invaded Ukraine under the Obama administration “and they probably still are.” Bobulinski, who told reporters before the debate that he had spoken with Biden and his son about a Chinese business venture that didn’t get off the ground, “was damning,” Trump said.
Bobulinksi’s alleged relationship with the Bidens could not be immediately verified, he didn’t provide substantiation for his claims, and he didn’t take questions from reporters.
“Release your tax returns or stop talking about corruption,” Biden said.
“I called my accountants. Under audit,” Trump responded. “I’m going to release them as soon as I can — I want to do it — and it will show how successful, how great this company is.”
He continued: “I don’t make money from China, you do. I don’t make money from Ukraine, you do.”
Neither man provided specific substantiation in the moment for their claims that the other had received foreign payments, though Biden cited New York Times reporting on information about Trump’s taxes the paper has obtained.
Biden opened their final debate by blaming Trump for the deaths of more than 220,000 Americans in the coronavirus pandemic, saying the president doesn’t deserve re-election.
“Anyone who’s responsible for that many deaths should not remain as president of the United States of America,” Biden said. “We’re about to go into a dark winter. A dark winter. And he has no clear plan.”
Biden said he would encourage all Americans to wear masks, contrasting himself with Trump, who has seldom covered his face before or after contracting Covid-19 himself. Trump defended his response to the pandemic to begin the debate, saying that spikes in cases in states including Florida and Texas have come down, his administration has directed the production of ample medical supplies, and the country is “rounding the turn.”
“I was in the hospital. I had it. I got better,” Trump said. “More and more people are getting better. We have a problem that’s a world-wide problem. I’ve been congratulated by the heads of many countries on what we’ve been able to do.”
Trump accused Biden of supporting further economic shutdowns that have crushed the U.S. economy. “We can’t close up our nation or we’re not going to have a nation,” he said.
Biden’s campaign had said he was ready for a confrontation at Thursday’s debate with Trump, as the incumbent had said he would attempt to steer the discussion to allegations of corruption against Hunter Biden. But in the opening minutes, the two candidates engaged in a traditional-sounding debate over the coronavirus pandemic without resorting to personal attacks.
However, at rallies and in interviews before the debate, Trump has made clear that he intends to focus the forum on airing allegations that Hunter Biden engaged in corrupt practices in Ukraine and China — claims that the president says the media is ignoring.
The 90-minute debate is one of the last potential turning points of the 2020 election. Political consultants from both parties called their first debate in September a disaster, after Trump repeatedly interrupted Biden and the former vice president called the president a “clown” and told him to “shut up.”
Trump slid in public polls after the episode. More than 47 million Americans have already voted in the election, giving the president less opportunity to change perceptions in his final toe-to-toe matchup with Biden.
Trump backed out of what was supposed to be their second debate after the commission changed it to a virtual format because of the president’s recovery from Covid-19.
The topics for Thursday’s debate are: the coronavirus, “American families,” racial issues, climate change, national security and leadership, according to the Commission on Presidential Debates.
Trump will need to tamp down his aggressive posture from the first encounter, which polls by broadcast networks showed repelled viewers, and make the case for a second term, a line of argument he has struggled with in the past.
Biden, who is ahead by nearly 8 percentage points in the RealClearPolitics average of polls, has to avoid any debate-defining gaffes that change the status quo. And he needs to minimize reactions to Trump’s provocations.
As he left Wilmington for the debate site in Nashville, Biden said he hoped that the encounter wouldn’t be a repeat of the chaotic first debate in late September and that Trump would follow guidelines for preventing the spread of Covid-19.
“Hopefully he’s going to play by the rules. Hopefully everybody’s been tested. Hopefully it’s all been worked out what the rules are. We’re looking forward to it,” Biden said.
The debate, at Belmont University, will have one twist after Trump talked over Biden repeatedly during the last face-off, in Cleveland. Moderators will now mute the candidates while the other gives his initial two-minute response on each topic.
After the second debate was canceled, the two candidates instead held dueling televised town halls in different cities. The combined ratings for the two programs drew a fraction of the viewership that a debate normally attracts.
The Trump team said earlier this week it believed the debate would focus on foreign policy, something that neither the commission nor moderator Kristen Welker of NBC had ever committed to publicly.
The Trump campaign said it would force Biden to account for his nearly five decades of foreign policy positions. Trump has long downplayed the threat posed by the coronavirus and has only intensified that message since his recovery from the disease it causes.
Biden has hammered Trump for what he considers a cavalier approach toward the pandemic that has killed more than 223,000 people in the U.S.
The Trump campaign has indicated that he is especially eager to attack Biden on a recent report in the New York Post that purports to cite emails between Hunter Biden and leaders of the Ukrainian energy firm whose board he sat on.
Unverified emails the paper published after obtaining them from Trump lawyer Rudy Giuliani show a Ukrainian businessman thanking Hunter Biden “for the opportunity” to meet Joe Biden, who was vice president at the time.
The Biden campaign said a review of the vice president’s calendars shows no such meeting.
It has also repeatedly stressed that policy positions taken by the U.S. government and key allies were not influenced by Hunter Biden’s work.
Another purported email says that Hunter Biden was receiving $10 million annually from a Chinese billionaire for “introductions alone,” though it is unclear who was involved in the introductions.
Trump has long sought to cast Biden as soft on China, believing it a winning message with voters even as his own record includes plenty of praise for Chinese President Xi Jinping.
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