In final debate, Trump assails 47 years of elected office for Biden, who vows to end oil industry

Contentious campaign season nears its end after months of pandemic, domestic unrest.

Updated: October 23, 2020 - 12:51am

President Donald Trump and Democratic presidential contender Joe Biden squared off Thursday night in their final debate before the Nov. 3 election, sparring over the coronavirus pandemic, the economy, healthcare and numerous other topics, with both hoping to draw one final comparison and make one final argument about who best can run the White House in what is arguably the most unusual election cycle in decades.

Energy also featured prominently in the debate, with Biden at one point making a decisive statement by admitting that his administration would prioritize the abandonment of fossil fuels in favor of green initiatives. 

"I would transition from the oil industry," Biden said at one point.

"The oil industry pollutes, significantly," he continued, "[and] it has to be replaced by renewable energy over time." 

Both candidates argued that their approach to handling the COVID-19 pandemic would be more effective than the other's. "I will take care of this. I will end this. I will make sure we have a plan," Biden said, arguing that Trump had delayed in confronting the virus in the U.S. and was continuing to fail to properly address issues such as protective equipment and tests. 

"We're about to go into a dark winter," Biden said. "And [Trump] has no clear plan."

Trump, on the other hand, slammed Biden's stated willingness to consider further lockdowns and school closures to fight the virus. "All he talks about is shutdowns," he said, criticizing at one point Biden's suggestion that restaurants should continue putting up plexiglass barriers in order to prevent coronavirus infections. 

Both argued that the other was standing in the way of a second COVID-19 stimulus bill, with Trump pointing fingers at House Democrats and Biden arguing that the Republican Senate is blocking further legislation. 

Trump targets Biden's history, Biden slams Trump administration's policies 

Responding to questions on the economy from moderator and NBC News White House correspondent Kristen Welker, Biden called for a national $15 minimum wage, while Trump said it should be a "state option." 

The candidates would return to the issue of the economy numerous times, arguing that the other's plans for green energy and healthcare would have depressive effects on the U.S. economic outlook. 

Trump repeatedly hit Biden on his decades-long history in Washington, returning again and again to the argument that Biden should have attempted to implement his stated policy goals during his lengthy tenure in the Senate and his eight years as vice president. "It's all talk, no action with these politicians," Trump said. 

Biden at one point appeared to give a slight snub to his former boss President Barack Obama, noting that Obama's administration "made a mistake" in failing to secure immigration reform during its eight years.

"I'll be President of the United States, not vice president," he said.

Biden sharply criticized the Trump administration's now-scrapped family separation policy at the southern border. "They separated [children and parents] at the border to make it a disincentive" for illegal immigrants to travel to the U.S., Biden said, also stating that as president he would seek a pathway to citizenship for what he said were the 11 million illegal immigrants living in the U.S. 

At one point the Democratic politician said his support of the 1994 Congressional crime bill — a topic Trump has needled him on several times — was "a mistake." He argued that Americans should not be sentenced to jail simply on the basis of a drug arrest. 

The two also argued on the matter of national security, with Trump claiming Biden was compromised by foreign entanglements and that the Trump administration has been suitably tough in handling both Russia and China. 

"I have not taken a penny from any foreign source ever in my life," Biden countered, arguing in response to Trump's accusations that the foreign business dealings of Biden's son Hunter — the source of significant recent controversy — were ethical and on-the-level. 

Biden during the debate largely managed to avoid answering any questions about the ongoing controversy surrounding both him and his son Hunter. Recent news reports revealed emails appearing to show Hunter arranging for at least one foreign national to meet his then-vice president father, possibly for Hunter's personal benefit. Another email appears to depict Biden possibly profiting from equity shares managed by his son. 

Debate caps long, chaotic campaign season

The onset of the coronavirus pandemic in mid-March threw conventional campaigning out the door, forcing Biden and Trump to cancel the confetti-sprinkled nomination conventions and arena-sized rallies that have become synonymous with decades of presidential election cycles. 

The 77-year-old Biden has run a campaign that included long stretches of no public appearances, with nearly every event that he has held taking place in front of small, socially-distanced crowds. Yet he has essentially been the frontrunner throughout, maintaining a solid six-to-eight-point lead, according to most polls.

With much of the country shut down over the virus, the typically long, slow summer of campaigning was also forced to deal with another unanticipated development: the social justice protests that swept across the nation, sometimes with violent force, in response to the May 25 death of George Floyd during an arrest by Minneapolis police.

The virus, and related voter concerns about having to show up at crowded polling stations, have led to record early mail-in voting. As many as 47.5 million Americans so far have cast early ballots, including an estimated 33.5 million by mail.

Both candidates tested negative for the coronavirus before Thursday night's debate in Nashville. 

The first debate, in September, saw each candidate interrupting and talking over both each other and the moderator, Fox News' Chris Wallace, to the extent that the Presidential Debate Commission vowed to mute the candidates' respective mics if the cacophony resumed on Thursday. Both candidates during the final debate largely stuck to the commission's terms without interrupting each other. 

The planned second debate between the two politicians earlier this month was scrapped after Trump was diagnosed with COVID-19 and Biden refused to share a debate stage with him; Trump subsequently refused to participate in a virtual town hall.