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Trump and Biden joust over their economic records in first presidential debate

September 30, 2020, 2:55 AM UTC

President Trump hailed his administration’s economic record during the first debate of the 2020 presidential campaign on Tuesday night, while his Democratic opponent, former Vice President Joe Biden, scrutinized the President’s policies for prioritizing the interests of the wealthy over those of working Americans.

In a hectic, back-and-forth exchange typical of what was a highly contentious debate between the two men, Trump praised his administration for building “the greatest economy in history”—one that he said was only derailed because of the coronavirus pandemic (or “the China plague,” in the President’s words), and which has shown signs of recovery as states across the country have loosened lockdown restrictions imposed amid the pandemic.

As moderator Chris Wallace noted, the U.S. unemployment rate has recovered somewhat from its peak during the pandemic, falling to 8.4% last month.

“He wants to shut it down again,” Trump said of Biden, while also criticizing “Democrat-run states” that have maintained lockdown restrictions as COVID-19 continues to spread across the country. “They’ve gotta open these states up.”

Biden countered by claiming that the beneficiaries of Trump’s economy have been “millionaires and billionaires like him” who “have done very well,” thanks to what Biden termed a “profligate” tax plan that hasn’t benefited ordinary, working Americans. Biden also criticized Trump for “insisting that we should go forward” with reopening parts of the country still battling the spread of the virus.

“You can’t fix the economy until you fix the COVID crisis,” Biden said. “[Trump] has no intention of making it better.”

The topic of Trump’s own financials were also raised, in the wake of a New York Times report on Sunday that shed new light on the President’s previously undisclosed federal income tax returns—including the revelation that he paid only $750 in federal taxes in 2016 and 2017.

When asked bluntly by Wallace whether that $750 figure is correct, Trump claimed that he has “paid millions of dollars in taxes,” and used tax loopholes and benefits to reduce his tax liability “like every other private person—unless they’re stupid.” Trump made a similar claim during his 2016 debates with then-Democratic presidential nominee Hillary Clinton.

Biden said he would “eliminate the Trump tax cuts” (referring to the 2017 Tax Cuts and Jobs Act) and “make sure we invest in the people who need help.” He promoted a “Buy American” proposal that would prioritize American manufacturers, and reiterated his commitment to return the corporate tax rate to 28% (from 21% currently).

Trump countered by criticizing the Obama administration’s economic record in the wake of the Great Recession, and pointing to the success of the stock market as proof of his administration’s economic success. “When the stock market goes up, it equals jobs,” Trump claimed, despite recent evidence to the contrary.

Biden, meanwhile, claimed that the President has “done very little” in terms of economic achievements, particularly as far as his heated trade war with China is concerned. “[Trump] talks about the art of the deal… China’s perfected the art of the steal,” Biden said.