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President Trump and Democratic nominee Joe Biden have wrapped their second and final debate of the 2020 campaign. The debate covered the novel coronavirus and the federal government’s response; national security, the election and China; American families, poverty and federal relief; immigration; race in America; and climate change. The final question to each candidate was on what they would say at a 2021 inauguration to Americans who did not vote for them.

What to know after the final debate …
October 22, 2020 at 11:04 PM EDT
David Weigel: Perhaps the biggest rhetorical shift we heard from the president, compared with the last debate, came when he and Biden were asked to discuss race in America. A month ago, that was the president’s cue to talk about unrest, riots, and “law and order,” accusing Biden (not accurately) of refusing to even say “law enforcement.” Trump abandoned that argument completely, in a possible nod to polling that shows Biden softer with Black male voters than recent Democratic nominees.
David Weigel, National reporter covering politics
October 22, 2020 at 10:58 PM EDT
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Trump attacks, Biden calls for unity in final question on how they’d address Americans on Inauguration Day

By Colby Itkowitz

The final question of the debate drew a stark distinction between the two candidates. Both were asked what they would say to the American people, including those who didn’t vote for them, at their inauguration.

Trump said economic success will unify the country but warned that won’t happen under Biden. We are on the road to success. But I’m cutting taxes and he wants to raise everybody’s taxes, and he wants to put new regulations on everything. He will kill it,” Trump said. “If he gets in, you will have a depression the likes of which you’ve never seen. Your 401(k)s will go to hell, and it’ll be a very, very sad day for this country.”

By contrast, Biden answered the question as asked, speaking directly to Americans about how he will be a president for all.

I will say, I’m an American president. I represent all of you. Whether you voted for me or against me. And I’m going to make sure that you’re represented,” Biden said. “I’m going to give you hope. We’re going to choose science over fiction. We’re going to choose hope over fear. We’re going to choose to move forward because we have enormous opportunities to make things better.”

“And I’m going to say, as I said at the beginning, what is on the ballot here is the character of this country, decency, honor, respect, treating people with dignity, making sure that everyone has an even chance,” Biden concluded. “And I’m going to make sure you get that, what you haven’t been getting in the last four years.”

October 22, 2020 at 10:45 PM EDT
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Biden vows to ‘transition from oil industry’ as Trump dismisses pollution risk

By Isaac Stanley-Becker

In response to a question about health risks for people living near oil refineries, Trump replied that such families “are employed heavily, and they’re making a lot of money.”

He went on to describe his efforts to boost oil production during the early months of the coronavirus pandemic.

As Biden noted, the president did not address the risks posed to people in so-called fence-line communities, nor the fact that they are disproportionately people of color. “Those people live on what they call fence lines,” Biden said. “He doesn’t understand this.”

The issue, the former vice president argued, was not how much money they were making but whether there were regulations in place to keep them safe from pollution.

When Trump pressed him on whether he would therefore “close down the oil industry,” Biden replied that he would “transition from the oil industry” as part of a broader climate agenda involving renewed membership in the Paris climate accords and other international efforts.

“It has to be replaced by renewable energy,” Biden said.

October 22, 2020 at 10:43 PM EDT
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Heated back-and-forth over fracking, as debate winds down

By Sean Sullivan

Toward the end of the debate, Trump accused Biden of changing his tune on hydraulic fracturing, or fracking, an issue that is important to many voters in Pennsylvania.

Biden stated unequivocally that he does not want to ban fracking.

“I have never said I opposed fracking,” said Biden. The Democrat said he would rule out banning fracking.

Biden has called for a ban on new permits for drilling on federal lands. Most fracking happens on private lands.

At the final Democratic primary debate, Biden said the words “no new fracking.” His campaign later clarified that he was referring to federal lands and his position had not changed.

“He was against fracking, he said it,” Trump said, refusing to back down. Trump said Biden would soon be against it again.

The issue has become a point of contention in the Keystone State, a battleground that is a major producer of natural gas.

October 22, 2020 at 10:42 PM EDT
Dino Grandoni: Trump again claimed Biden’s plan to fight climate change would cost $100 trillion — far from the former vice president’s actual proposal to spend $2 trillion over four years. “I don’t know where he comes up with these numbers,” Biden said. So where did it originate? Most likely from a conservative wonk’s back-of-the-envelope calculations on Twitter more than a year ago.
Dino Grandoni, Reporter covering energy and environmental policy
October 22, 2020 at 10:40 PM EDT
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Biden, Trump offer different visions on climate change

By Matt Viser

Biden and Trump offered dramatically different visions of climate change, with Biden saying it is “an existential threat to humanity” and Trump touting his decision to remove the United States from a global climate pact.

I do love the environment, but what I want is the cleanest, crystal-clear water, the cleanest air,” Trump said, before saying that the economy would be hobbled by committing to stricter global standards.

“But here’s what we can’t do. Look at China. How filthy it is. Look at Russia, look at India. It’s filthy. The air is filthy,” Trump said. “The Paris accord. I took us out because we were going to have to spend trillions of dollars and we were treated very unfairly … It would have destroyed our businesses.”

Biden, speaking next, said that “global warming is an existential threat to humanity. We have a moral obligation to deal with it.”

Citing scientists, Biden said there was a limited amount of time.

“We’re going to pass the point of no return with the next eight, 10 years,” he said. “Four more years of this man, eliminating all the regulations that were put in by us to clean up the climate … will put us in a position where we are going to be in real trouble.”

Biden, who has committed to rejoining the Paris climate accord, said his plans would create new jobs in remaking the clean-energy industry.

The whole idea of what this is all going to do, it’s going to create millions of jobs and it’s going to clean the environment. Our health, and our jobs, are at stake.”

October 22, 2020 at 10:38 PM EDT
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Fact Checker: Trump on criminal justice reform

By Salvador Rizzo

“Nobody has done what I’ve done, criminal justice reform. Obama and Joe didn’t do it. I don’t even think they tried because they had no chance at doing it. They might have wanted to do it.”

— President Trump

Reducing racial disparities in the criminal justice system has been a bipartisan project for both the Barack Obama and Donald Trump administrations.

A 1986 law sponsored by Biden when he was a senator required a five-year mandatory minimum sentence for trafficking in 500 grams of powder cocaine or five grams of crack, a ratio of 100 to 1.

Obama signed the bipartisan Fair Sentencing Act in August 2010, repealing the five-year mandatory sentence for first-time offenders and reducing the sentencing disparity to 18 to 1 for repeat offenders. In other words, an offense involving 500 grams of powder cocaine still required a minimum sentence of five years. But the threshold for a five-year sentence was raised for crack cocaine offenses, from 5 grams to 28 grams.

The Fair Sentencing Act applied prospectively, meaning the crack cocaine disparity was reduced only for offenses that occurred after Obama signed the law in 2010. Trump and his son-in-law and adviser, Jared Kushner, pushed for a new round of changes in the criminal justice system, bringing together a bipartisan coalition of Democrats, Republicans, libertarians, the ACLU and others, prevailing on Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell (R-Ky.) to post the bill for a vote, and weathering criticism from conservatives such as Sen. Tom Cotton (R-Ark.). The result was the First Step Act, which Trump signed in 2018.

The First Step Act builds on what Obama did by making the 2010 reform to crack sentencing laws retroactive. But it goes well beyond that, for instance, by shortening mandatory minimum sentences across the board for nonviolent drug offenses at the federal level.

October 22, 2020 at 10:34 PM EDT
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Trump: ‘I’m the least racist person in this room’

By Colby Itkowitz

Trump responded to a question about his harsh rhetoric about Black Lives Matter by continuing to disparage the movement while claiming to be the the least racist person in this room.” Pressed on what he would say to Americans concerned about his rhetoric, the president said, “I don’t, I mean, I don’t know what to say.”

Trump claimed that all he knew about the movement early on was that protesters chanted pigs in a blanket" and "fry them like bacon,” which was an isolated incident and condemned by BLM leaders.

It makes me sad because I am I am the least racist person,” Trump repeated. “I can’t even see the audience because it’s so dark, but I don’t care who’s in the audience. I’m the least racist person in this room.”

Biden responded, “Abraham Lincoln here is one of the most racist presidents we’ve had in modern history. He pours fuel on every single racist fire,” a reference to Trump’s claim that he’s done the most for the Black community since Lincoln.

“This guy is a dog whistle about as big as a foghorn,” Biden said.

October 22, 2020 at 10:33 PM EDT
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Fact Checker: Trump’s jab on ‘pillows and sheets’ to Ukraine

By Glenn Kessler

“While he was selling pillows and sheets, I sold tank busters to Ukraine.”

— President Trump

Trump, as always, claims he did more than President Barack Obama. But to dismiss Obama’s aid to Ukraine as “pillows and sheets” is ridiculous.

While the Obama administration did not send lethal aid, in 2015 it provided Ukraine more than $120 million in security assistance and had pledged an additional $75 million worth of equipment, including unmanned aerial vehicles, armored Humvees, counter-mortar radars, night-vision devices and medical supplies, according to the Pentagon’s Defense Security Cooperation Agency. The Trump administration provided many of these same items, but in March 2018, the White House also approved the sale of Javelin missiles, a shoulder-fired precision missile system designed to destroy tanks, other armored vehicles and helicopters.

In the July 25 call, Trump asked for “a favor” after President Volodymyr Zelensky said Ukraine was ready to buy more Javelins. During the Obama administration, U.S. officials were concerned that the Ukrainian military lacked the capability to handle weapons such as Javelins, but the country had indeed achieved that capability by the time Trump took office.

Ironically, Foreign Policy magazine reported, Trump initially did not want to provide Javelins to Ukraine, but eventually aides convinced him that it could be good for U.S. business. Nevertheless, the sale was mostly symbolic. The Trump administration insisted that Javelins could not be deployed in a conflict zone, so they are stored in western Ukraine, far from the front lines of the ongoing conflict against pro-Russian separatists in eastern Ukraine.

October 22, 2020 at 10:33 PM EDT
David Weigel: It didn’t get the buildup of the other issues discussed tonight, but Democrats will be happy that a $15 minimum wage got some stage time. The discussion of it had moved to the left since 2016, with the president endorsing the principle for some states (“$15 is not so bad in some places”) and Biden disputing the premise that raising it would kill economic growth. “People are making six, seven, eight bucks an hour,” Biden said. “These first responders we all clap for, as they come down the street, because they’ve allowed us to make it: What’s happening? They deserve a minimum wage of $15. Anything below that puts you below the poverty level.”
David Weigel, National reporter covering politics
October 22, 2020 at 10:31 PM EDT
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Trump, Biden clash over character and ‘Russian disinformation’

By Isaac Stanley-Becker

The candidates again traded personal accusations of corruption and dishonor, with Trump dismissing Biden as a “politician” and Biden replying that his character spoke for itself.

The former vice president sought to address voters directly: “You know my reputation for honor and telling the truth.”

Trump returned to his emphasis on Biden’s long tenure in government, saying he was “all talk and no action” and should have achieved his objectives when he was previously in office. “I ran because of you,” the president said, as Biden scoffed.

Biden also accused Trump of peddling “Russian disinformation” by asking him about a laptop that Rudolph W. Giuliani and Stephen K. Bannon say belonged to Hunter Biden and contained damaging material. The Washington Post has not been able to independently verify the emails. The Post has on multiple occasions asked Giuliani and Bannon for copies of what they allege is Hunter Biden’s hard drive but has received no response.

The former vice president pointed to a letter signed by more than 50 former intelligence officials saying the disclosure of the online materials “has all the classic earmarks of a Russian information operation.”

U.S. intelligence agencies warned the White House last year that Giuliani, Trump’s personal lawyer, was the target of an influence operation by Russian intelligence, as The Post previously reported. Bannon was charged in August for allegedly defrauding donors as part of a massive crowdfunding campaign that claimed to be raising money for construction of a wall along the U.S.-Mexico border.

October 22, 2020 at 10:30 PM EDT
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Fact Checker: Trump’s falsehoods on ‘catch and release’

By Salvador Rizzo

“Catch and release is a disaster. A murderer would come in, a rapist would come in, a very bad person would come in. We would take their name. We have to release them into our country. And then you say they come back. Less than 1 percent of the people come back.”

— President Trump

Most of this is false.

The phrase “catch and release” usually serves as shorthand for U.S. immigration authorities’ practice of releasing undocumented migrants into the country while they await immigration hearings, rather than keeping them in custody. With some exceptions, only children and asylum seekers are eligible for this kind of release. Those convicted of crimes are not eligible for release.

Trump’s claim that less than 1 percent of people released into the country show up to their court hearings is false.

The data show that immigrants overwhelmingly attend their hearings. Judges ordered “in absentia” deportations in 14 percent of cases in fiscal 2013, a rate that rose to 25 percent in fiscal 2018.

Flip the numbers, and that means 75 percent to 86 percent of migrants did show up for court. Justice Department officials say that since migrants who are in detention always attend their hearings — they have no choice — the right way to measure whether migrants show up in court is to look only at those who were never held in detention facilities. Using that measure, 59 percent showed up for immigration hearings in 2018.

But researchers at the Transactional Records Access Clearinghouse (TRAC) at Syracuse University studied the question and came up with a much higher number: 81 percent of migrant families attended all their court hearings. (Here is our detailed fact check.)

October 22, 2020 at 10:28 PM EDT
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Trump and Biden clash on race issues

By Sean Sullivan

The two candidates addressed a question about Black and brown parents talking to their children about being targeted by law enforcement in different ways.

Biden acknowledged the difficult discussions those parents must have, acknowledging, “There is institutional racism in America.”

Asked whether he understands why these parents fear for their kids, Trump briefly responded, “Yes, I do.” Then he launched into an attack on Biden’s record, including his support for a controversial 1994 crime bill. Trump touted a criminal justice reform measure he backed.

A short time later, Trump declared, “I am the least racist person in this room.” The president has faced widespread criticism for his anti-immigrant and anti-Muslim rhetoric.

Biden said of Trump, “He pours fuel on every single racist fire.”

October 22, 2020 at 10:26 PM EDT
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Trump, Biden argue over immigration policies that put children in cages

By Matt Viser

Trump tried to defend his immigration policy that lead to thousands of children being separated from their parents — with some 500 whose parents have not been located.

“We now have as strong a border as we’ve ever had,” Trump said. “We’re over 400 miles of brand new wall. You see the numbers and we let people in, but they have to come in legally.”

Biden accused Trump of overseeing an immoral policy.

“Five-hundred-plus kids came with parents. They separated them at the border to make it a disincentive to come to begin with,” Biden said, turning sarcastic. “Big, real tough. We’re really strong.”

“They got separated from their parents,” Biden continued. “And it makes us a laughingstock! And it violates every notion of who we are as a nation.”

Trump tried to criticize the Obama administration for building the facilities were the separations took place.

“Who built the cages, Joe? Talk about who built the cages,” Trump said.

“Let’s talk about what happened,” Biden said. "Parents — their kids were ripped from their arms, and separated. And now they cannot find over 500 of the sets of those parents. And those kids are alone. Nowhere to go, nowhere to go. It’s criminal. It’s criminal.”

Biden also argued that he would do more to get immigration reform passed through Congress, putting distance between himself and Obama.

“It took too long to get it right,” Biden said of the effort they undertook in 2013, saying there would be, in his mind, a key difference next time: “I’ll be president United States, not vice president, United States.”

October 22, 2020 at 10:23 PM EDT
Cleve Wootson: Trump’s answer to a Black Lives Matter question illustrates an issue activists have griped about in protest after protest: that critics conflate peaceful protesters with looters and violent anti-police demonstrators who seek out conflicts with law enforcement officers. The truth is much more complicated, that the demonstrations across America are an amorphous mix of a diverse group of people.
Cleve Wootson, National political reporter covering the 2020 presidential campaign.
October 22, 2020 at 10:19 PM EDT
Cleve Wootson: Biden used a question about “the talk” to play up his strengths with Black voters and to talk about institutional racism. Black voters resuscitated his campaign in South Carolina and bolstered his chances in Super Tuesday states. Trump retorted, “Nobody has done more for the Black community than Donald Trump,” and talked about Biden’s support of the 1994 crime bill. But polling shows that Black voters are deeply skeptical of Trump’s ability to deal with racial issues.
Cleve Wootson, National political reporter covering the 2020 presidential campaign.
October 22, 2020 at 10:15 PM EDT
Annie Linskey: One tactic Trump has employed tonight is to attack Biden on all sides of an issue. At one point, Trump accused Biden of being too close to Wall Street because he’s raked in donations from bankers, sounding a populist note that was similar to the campaign rhetoric from Sen. Bernie Sanders (I-Vt). About an hour later, Trump went a different route, saying that the stock market would crash if Biden is elected, suggesting that the countries financial institutions would be hostile to his presidency. In the past Trump has attempted a similar technique with crime, accusing Biden of both taking a lax attitude toward violent protests while also pointing to the 1994 crime bill as evidence that Biden is too tough on criminals.
Annie Linskey, National political reporter focused on the 2020 presidential campaign
October 22, 2020 at 10:10 PM EDT
David Weigel: It can frequently feel like Biden and Trump are competing for the same job in different universes, and it happened in a vivid way at the end of their long exchange on which candidate had to answer for foreign financial entanglements, and Biden returned to a tactic that’s worked for him before: Telling the audience that they should focus on Americans’ families, not theirs.
David Weigel, National reporter covering politics
October 22, 2020 at 10:09 PM EDT
Amy Goldstein: Asked what would happen to health insurance if the Supreme Court struck down the Affordable Care Act, Trump sidestepped the question, focusing on the health-care law’s requirement that most Americans carry health insurance. Noting that Congress has already eliminated a tax penalty for people who flout that requirement, Trump said: “It no longer is Obamacare because without the individual mandate, it’s much different.” That requirement consistently polled as the least popular aspect of the sprawling law, but the president ignored that the ACA has brought about other important changes in the nation’s health care system. They include an expansion of Medicaid in all but a dozen states, allowing young adults to remain on their parents’ insurance policies longer, requiring health plans to provide a full-fledged set of benefits, and more.
Amy Goldstein, Reporter covering health-care policy and other social policy issues
October 22, 2020 at 10:08 PM EDT
Karoun Demirjian: Biden suggested that his son Hunter never made any money from deals with China, going further in his denial than his son has in downplaying an investment venture with a Chinese businessman who has since gotten into trouble with authorities.
Karoun Demirjian, National Security reporter focusing on Congress
October 22, 2020 at 9:54 PM EDT
Anne Gearan: Trump avoided a direct answer to a question about whether he was disappointed or concerned about North Korea’s recent display of an intercontinental ballistic missile, the device that leader Kim Jong Un could use to deliver a nuclear weapon to U.S. shores. Trump defended his unorthodox outreach to Kim, saying, “We have a very good relationship.”
Anne Gearan, White House reporter
October 22, 2020 at 9:28 PM EDT
Michael Scherer: Before the debate, Trump’s advisers made a point of emphasizing that he was in a good mood. It is clear that he is also striking a new tone. Rather than interrupt the moderator or his opponent, he is being solicitous. “Thank you and I appreciate that,” he said when Kristen Welker gave him time.
Michael Scherer, National political reporter covering campaigns, Congress and the White House
October 22, 2020 at 9:22 PM EDT
Amy Goldstein: In the early minutes of the debate, Trump reiterated the inaccurate claim that an antibody treatment he was given for covid-19 was a cure – despite the fact there is no known cure for the novel coronavirus. The president first used the word “cure” for an experimental antibody treatment by the company Regeneron in a video released on Twitter two evenings after he was released from Walter Reed Medical Center. The company has said he was one of fewer than 10 people allowed to take the therapy outside clinical trials in which its usefulness is still being tested.
Amy Goldstein, Reporter covering health-care policy and other social policy issues
October 22, 2020 at 9:20 PM EDT
Annie Linskey: Biden walked onto the debate stage wearing his black mask and took it off as he approached his podium. Trump arrived on stage mask-less. It’s another reminder of how the two men are modeling behavior – for Biden the mask has become an unofficial symbol of his campaign, as I wrote about in the Post. He was wearing them well before Americans were used to seeing leaders with them, which even struck some Democrats as odd. The former vice president also held up his mask as a prop when responding to the opening question about how each candidate would respond to the pandemic. “If we just wore these masks we could save 100,000 people,” Biden said.
Annie Linskey, National political reporter focused on the 2020 presidential campaign
October 22, 2020 at 9:14 PM EDT
David Weigel: Biden has frequently said he’d “mandate” the wearing of face masks for the duration of the covid-19 pandemic; he’s also, frequently, been reminded by reporters that he can’t literally mandate that sort of behavior at the federal level. Sometimes that’s tripped him up, leading to a confusing back-and-forth about how he would compel mayors and governors to require masks. Tonight, Biden said he would “encourage” mask-wearing - no Constitutional problems with that! - and the question ended there.
David Weigel, National reporter covering politics