President Trump and Joseph R. Biden squared off in their final debate on Thursday night as the underdog president intensified his attacks on the Democratic nominee and son Hunter’s “shady” foreign business deals, and defended his handling of the coronavirus crisis.
The president said Mr. Biden’s family was like “a vacuum cleaner” sucking up millions in foreign deals by trading on the former vice president’s status.
“Someday you’re going to have to explain,” Mr. Trump told his rival. “You were vice president when some of this was happening. I think you owe an explanation to the American people. The money you were raking in. … I think you have to clean it up and talk to the American people. Maybe you could do it right now.”
Mr. Biden countered, “I have not taken a single penny from any country whatsoever.”
As the two traded accusations of weak character, the president told his rival, “I ran because of you. You were there [in office] just a short time ago, and you did nothing.”
Mr. Biden told the audience, “Our character is on the ballot. Look at us closely.”
The president replied hotly, “Don’t give me this stuff about how you’re this innocent baby. You’re a corrupt politician.”
They also clashed over their respective treatment of minorities, with Mr. Trump blaming the Democrat for over-incarceration of generations of Blacks through his 1994 crime bill. The president said he’s the least racist person in the debate hall.
Mr. Biden then quipped, “Abraham Lincoln here is one of the most racist presidents we’ve had in modern history. He pours fuel on every single racist fire — every single one.”
The candidates confronted each other on a stage at Belmont University in Nashville, Tennessee, with 12 days to go until voting ends Nov. 3. The former vice president still leads in national polls, although Mr. Trump has closed the gap in several battleground states and in at least two nationwide surveys.
Mr. Biden took immediate aim at the president’s handling of the public health emergency, noting that more than 220,000 Americans have died from COVID-19.
“If you hear nothing else I say tonight, hear this: Anyone who is responsible for that many deaths should not remain as president of the United States of America,” Mr. Biden said. “This is the same fellow who told you it’s going to end by Easter. We’re about to go into a dark winter, and he has no plan.”
Mr. Trump rejected his rival’s prediction of a “dark winter” and said a vaccine will be ready within weeks.
“We’re opening up our country,” the president said. “We can’t close up our nation, or you’re not going to have a nation. It’s not my fault it came here. It’s China’s fault.”
He ridiculed Mr. Biden for staying mostly in his home in Delaware during the pandemic.
“Joe Biden can lock himself up in a basement. … He’s obviously made a lot of money from somewhere,” the president said in a reference to his accusations that the Bidens have engaged in profiteering in overseas business deals.
Mr. Biden conceded that he hasn’t ruled out more shutdowns to stop the virus from spreading. The president said Democratic governors “are shut down so tight” that people are dying from other problems.
“No, we’re not going to shut down, and we have to open our schools,” he said. “We can’t keep this country closed. People are losing their jobs. The cure cannot be worse than the problem itself. And [Mr. Biden] wants to close down the country.”
The president went into the debate pressing his case that Mr. Biden is corrupt and enabled his son to reap tens of millions of dollars from foreign companies seeking access to the Obama administration.
“Joe got $3.5 million from Russia — your family got $3.5 million,” he said, referring to a payment to Hunter Biden from the wife of a former mayor of Moscow.
Mr. Biden countered with the president, “Foreign countries are paying you a lot … your hotels, all your businesses around the world. Release your tax returns or stop talking about corruption.”
“I don’t make money from China, you do,” Mr. Trump shot back. “I don’t make money from Ukraine, you do. Your son said we have to give 10 percent to the ‘big man,’ Joe. What’s that all about? It’s terrible.”
At one point, Mr. Biden looked at the television cameras to change the subject.
“It’s not about his family and my family. It’s about your family,” Mr. Biden said. “If you’re a middle-class family, you’re getting hurt badly right now.”
Mr. Trump brought Tony Bobulinski, a former business partner of Hunter Biden, as one of his guests in the debate hall. Mr. Bobulinski gave a statement to the press two hours before the debate, claiming that Mr. Biden is the “big guy” referred to in a Hunter Biden email describing his father’s intended share of money from a Chinese energy firm in 2017.
“Joe Biden’s involvement was not to be mentioned in writing, but only face to face,” Mr. Bobulinski said.
He claimed Mr. Biden was lying when he said he had no knowledge of his son’s business dealings. Mr. Bobulinski was involved with deals with Hunter Biden from 2015 to 2017.
The move was reminiscent of Mr. Trump’s invitation to several of Bill Clinton’s sexual assault accusers to one of his debates against Hillary Clinton in 2016. Trump campaign aides said the public deserves to know about the Biden family’s questionable business dealings.
“We feel strongly that this is an issue that the American people are eager to know about, and they’re already digging in on their own with no help from the media,” said Richard Grenell, a former acting director of national intelligence who speaks on behalf of the Trump campaign. “Of course, the president will be looking for opportunities to make clear to the American people just exactly what Joe Biden has done.”
“Joe Biden has never even considered being involved in business with his family, nor in any overseas business whatsoever,” the spokesman said.
Mr. Biden brought up the issue unprompted during the debate, saying Rudolph W. Giuliani, Mr. Trump’s personal attorney, is being used as a “Russian pawn” to spread what he called disinformation in an effort to influence the outcome of the 2020 election.
Mr. Biden accused Mr. Trump of being soft on Russia President Vladimir Putin’s attempts to interfere in the U.S. elections and then turned to Mr. Giuliani’s role in promoting allegations the former vice president has lied about what he knew about his son’s business deals with China.
“His own national security adviser told him that … his buddy Rudy Giuliani is being used as a Russian pawn. He is being fed information that is Russia, that is not true, and then what happens? Nothing happens, and then you find out everything that is going on here is about Russia is wanting to make sure that I do not get elected the next president of the United States because they know I know them, and they know me.”
The Commission on Presidential Debates had planned to install plexiglass barriers between the candidates Thursday evening, but relented after both men tested negative for COVID-19 earlier in the day.
The planned second debate was canceled when, after the president tested positive for COVID-19, the commission decided to hold a virtual event and Mr. Trump refused.
Since his hospitalization, the president has resumed an aggressive schedule of campaign rallies in key states. His campaign said he will hold four rallies over the weekend in North Carolina, Wisconsin, Ohio and New Hampshire.
The commission also muted the microphone of each candidate while his opponent was speaking during certain segments. The rule was implemented after Mr. Trump repeatedly interrupted Mr. Biden during their first debate.
For the most part, the debate was more orderly than their first contest, even as the two disagreed vehemently over health care, immigration policy, race relations and the need for another economic stimulus package from Washington.
Mr. Biden said he’s a proud Democrat but he doesn’t “see red states or blue states,” so Washington needs to step in and provide money to states and cities that busted their budgets fighting the coronavirus.
Mr. Trump said the House-passed bill was an unacceptable bailout for poorly run Democratic states. He said Speaker Nancy Pelosi is the main impediment to getting a bipartisan package across the finish line, as millions remain jobless and families slip into poverty.
“Nancy Pelosi doesn’t want to approve it,” Mr. Trump said. “She’d love to have some victories on a date called Nov. 3. We are ready, willing and able to do something.”
The president repeated his accusation that Mr. Biden’s plan to raise taxes will crush the economic recovery and cause a depression.
Mr. Biden said his plan for moving to clean energy will create millions of new jobs.
Mr. Trump spent the days ahead of the crucial final debate accusing moderator Kristen Welker of NBC News of bias against him. But the president took an even more audacious step earlier Thursday by releasing on Facebook unedited videos of his and Vice President Mike Pence’s interviews with “60 Minutes” for an upcoming broadcast on CBS.
The president said he wanted to show the “bias, hatred and rudeness” of reporter Lesley Stahl and her network before the program airs Sunday night. CBS News said the White House violated its agreement for an exclusive interview, but the network will air the interviews as planned.
In his interview, Mr. Trump feuded with Ms. Stahl over the importance of a laptop said to belong to Hunter Biden that contain emails detailing what appear to be sweetheart foreign business deals and at least one possible payment to his father. She questioned why he was raising the issue at campaign rallies.
“It’s a very important issue: to find out whether or not a man’s corrupt who’s running for president, whose [son] accepted money from China and Ukraine and from Russia,” Mr. Trump said. “Take a look at what’s going on, Lesley. And then you say it shouldn’t be discussed? It’s the biggest scandal out there, Lesley. And you don’t cover it.”
“Because it can’t be verified,” she said.
“Of course it can be verified,” Mr. Trump said. “They found the laptop.”
He chided her, “You’re discrediting yourself when you don’t go after Biden.”
The Trump campaign Thursday released an ad online that included video of a voter accusing Mr. Biden of “selling access” and Mr. Biden responding, “You’re a damned liar, man.”
When Ms. Stahl asked the president about priorities for a second term, and Mr. Trump talked about having created “the greatest economy in the history of the country,” she interrupted him.
“You know that’s not true,” she said.
“It is totally true — best unemployment numbers, best employment numbers, 160 million people working, highest stock market price,” the president said. “You wouldn’t say that to Biden, what you just said to me, if he had [those economic figures]. You would never say that to Biden.”
Voter surveys show that the economy is still Mr. Trump’s strongest selling point. A Fox News poll released Thursday showed voters in Wisconsin trust the president to handle the economy better than Mr. Biden by 50% to 43%; in Pennsvlvania, by 50% to 45%; and in Ohio by 52% to 41%.
“It’s between a Trump ‘boom’ and a Biden lockdown,” the president told supporters in battleground North Carolina on Wednesday night.
New filings for jobless claims in the U.S. totaled 787,000 last week, the Labor Department reported Thursday, nearly the lowest total since the start of the COVID-19 pandemic.
Some polling suggests that conservative media coverage of Hunter Biden’s profiteering and the pending Senate confirmation of conservative Supreme Court nominee Amy Coney Barrett are helping Mr. Trump tighten the race.
The Rasmussen Reports survey this week showed Mr. Biden’s lead eroding to 3 percentage points, 49% to 46%. Two weeks ago, the Democrat led by 12 percentage points in the same poll.
The IDB/TIPP survey released Wednesday had the race even tighter: 48.1% for Mr. Biden to 45.6% for Mr. Trump. It was Mr. Biden’s smallest lead in that survey, which is often credited as one that called the 2016 election for Mr. Trump.
Ms. Stahl complained to Mr. Pence in a separate “60 Minutes” interview that both he and Mr. Trump “insulted” her show by not answering questions to her satisfaction.
“Both of you, there is kind of anticipation that people in power are held accountable and they answer questions from the public, not from me. And I feel you didn’t do that,” she told the vice president.
“I’ve answered all your questions,” Mr. Pence replied. “I’ve spoken about things the American people care about. You haven’t asked me one question about Joe Biden and Kamala Harris refusing to say they’re going to pack the Supreme Court. You asked me not one question about foreign policy at all. This is why the American people are frustrated with the media.”
The vice president told her, “The issues that are most important to the American people, which are the security and the well-being of the American people, the foundations on which this country stands, are really on the ballot this year. And the president and I, whether you like it or not, whether it fits in with ‘60 Minutes’ narrative, the president and I are going to continue to take that case every day to the American people.”
• Tom Howell Jr. contributed to this report.
Copyright © 2020 The Washington Times, LLC.