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Biden and Trump point out during debate why the other's presidency failed

MICHEL MARTIN, HOST:

Democrats and Republicans alike are absorbing what they saw in last night's presidential debate.

LEILA FADEL, HOST:

President Biden and former President Trump took questions from CNN moderators. Biden's voice was raspy, and he was sometimes hard to follow. That alarmed prominent Democrats about a president who is 81. Asked a question about the national debt, the president said he would wipe it out, and then he said his administration would also help with child care and health care.

(SOUNDBITE OF ARCHIVED RECORDING)

PRESIDENT JOE BIDEN: Making sure that we're able to make every single solitary person eligible for what I've been able to do with the COVID - excuse me, with dealing with everything we have to deal with. Look, if - we finally beat Medicare.

JAKE TAPPER: Thank you, President Biden.

MARTIN: On his turns at the mic, Trump confidently and repeatedly made assertions that were often factually wrong. He also repeated parts of his campaign speeches, with little pushback or rebuttal, and each candidate described the other's presidency as a failure.

(SOUNDBITE OF ARCHIVED RECORDING)

DONALD TRUMP: Our country doesn't have a chance - not even a chance - of coming out of this rut. We probably won't have a country left anymore. That's how bad it is. He is the worst in history by far.

TAPPER: Thank you, President Trump. President Biden.

BIDEN: We are the most admired country in the world - we're the United States of America. There's nothing beyond our capacity. We have the finest military in the history of the world - the finest in the history of the world. No one thinks we're weak. No one wants to screw around with us - nobody.

MARTIN: Our colleague Steve Inskeep anchored NPR's coverage of the debate.

STEVE INSKEEP, BYLINE: And we have on hand some of the NPR politics team who was watching with me. Danielle Kurtzleben and Domenico Montanaro, good morning to you both.

DOMENICO MONTANARO, BYLINE: Hey, there.

DANIELLE KURTZLEBEN, BYLINE: Hey.

INSKEEP: What did you take away from this meeting?

MONTANARO: Well, I mean, first and foremost, I mean, the elephant in the room was that Democrats really were very nervous about the performance that Joe Biden gave. You know, people close to him, on the record, were talking about how this was a disappointing effort. You know, his campaign said that he had a cold. That's why his voice was hoarse. He sounded weak, somewhat feeble, and the problem with that is it plays into his key vulnerability, which is his age and his competency to do the job, and it didn't do anything to reassure the very voters that he needs to be reassured, that he needs to go out and vote for him.

INSKEEP: I guess we should note the elephant in the room, in this case, would be a donkey, but, Danielle, what were your impressions?

MONTANARO: (Laughter).

KURTZLEBEN: Well, I'll take the Trump side of this here. Let me just say that looking at my inbox, looking at Twitter - I guess we now call it X - Republicans especially are sort of doing a victory dance, saying that Trump looked so strong compared to Biden, who just looked old, but let's also keep in mind here that this is Trump, so he said a lot of things that are flat-out not true.

INSKEEP: Let's go through some of the issues that were discussed. In the last several days on NPR News, we had debate prep. We went through various big issues we expected to come up, and they did, so we brought back some of our correspondents who were listening.

SCOTT HORSLEY, BYLINE: I'm Scott Horsley. I cover the economy for NPR, and what struck me about the debate tonight is how little we heard from either candidate about where they want to take the economy from here - a lot of finger-pointing, a lot of dubious claims and very little in terms of where these two men want to take an economy that has performed well, but where people are still anxious every time they have to buy groceries or pay the rent.

INSKEEP: Danielle, what do you make of that?

KURTZLEBEN: Scott's right on that. Viewers watching this just probably didn't get great ideas of what these two want to do on the economy. Now, on Trump's side, here are a couple bullet points. He favors 10% tariffs, blanket across the board, which economists say would raise prices on U.S. consumers, meaning it would add to inflation, which is one of consumers' biggest economic concerns. Now, Trump was asked about this, and he denied it, but tariffs very much do raise prices. Now, one other plan that Trump has is to extend the 2017 tax cuts that he and Republicans in Congress imposed, the Tax Cuts and Jobs Act. That expires next year, and the next president would have to work with Congress to extend it or not. Now, this is one area where they really differ. Now, Biden wants to extend the tax cuts for people earning under $400,000 a year, which is to say the overwhelming majority of Americans, but that also means he wants to raise taxes on high-income Americans, which is a very popular policy idea.

INSKEEP: Let's hear from another of our correspondents who was listening in.

SERGIO MARTÍNEZ-BELTRÁN, BYLINE: I'm Sergio Martínez-Beltrán, and I cover immigration for NPR. And one thing that I found interesting about this debate was the part when President Trump was asked whether he was going to deport millions of undocumented immigrants, and he didn't respond. And I thought that was interesting because that has been a promise that President Trump has made. And this was his moment to arguably explain what would that look like, and he didn't respond to that.

INSKEEP: Why is that significant?

MONTANARO: Well, immigration has been the top issue for Trump and Republicans, certainly blaming Biden for the surge of migrants who've come into the country. But there are millions upon millions of people in the country who've been here for a long time, paid taxes, and it's not quite as popular to say, we're going to deport everyone who is in the country outright, carte blanche, as opposed to keeping people out.

KURTZLEBEN: Yes, Trump did pivot away from deportation, but on multiple other questions, he did bring things back to immigration, and these are questions about things that a lot of Americans care about - child care, addiction, also lingering concerns about January 6, and on all three of those, Trump pivoted back to immigration, tried to talk about immigrant crime that has happened while Biden has been president. This is, of course, one of Trump's big lines in his rally speeches, in pretty much any interview he gives, so that's where he's comfortable. It's the thing that he just wanted to keep talking about.

INSKEEP: And that means he did not really answer questions about January 6...

KURTZLEBEN: Absolutely.

INSKEEP: ...Or about accepting a free and fair election. Let's hear another of our correspondents, who sent a voice memo.

FRANCO ORDOÑEZ, BYLINE: I'm Franco Ordoñez. I cover the Trump campaign, and what I noticed in the debate was while Biden struggled with a raspy voice throughout the debate, he really perked up when Trump started to attack him on foreign policy. Biden started to speak more forcefully when addressing his son, Beau Biden, but he also pushed back when talking about Ukraine and taking on Putin and bringing allies together.

INSKEEP: Did we hear the things that Biden really cares about there?

MONTANARO: Well, I mean, arguably, there's no greater cleavage than foreign policy between these two men, because they just feel completely differently about how to handle it - how to appear on the world stage, how to unite allies together, whether or not you should even be involved in NATO at all. And this is something that Biden has, you know, dealt with for decades. He was chairman of the Foreign Relations Committee while he was a senator. He feels very strongly about this. He's traveled all over the world, takes it very personally, especially when Trump attacks him, saying that he doesn't care about veterans or veterans don't like him, and he was able to use that to sort of talk about his son, Beau, who had died, and to sort of throw that back at Trump, to make Trump look like somebody who doesn't care.

INSKEEP: NPR's Domenico Montanaro and Danielle Kurtzleben, thanks to you both.

MONTANARO: You're welcome.

KURTZLEBEN: Yeah, thanks. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.

NPR transcripts are created on a rush deadline by an NPR contractor. This text may not be in its final form and may be updated or revised in the future. Accuracy and availability may vary. The authoritative record of NPR’s programming is the audio record.

Steve Inskeep is a host of NPR's Morning Edition, as well as NPR's morning news podcast Up First.
Danielle Kurtzleben is a political correspondent assigned to NPR's Washington Desk. She appears on NPR shows, writes for the web, and is a regular on The NPR Politics Podcast. She is covering the 2020 presidential election, with particular focuses on on economic policy and gender politics.
Domenico Montanaro is NPR's senior political editor/correspondent. Based in Washington, D.C., his work appears on air and online delivering analysis of the political climate in Washington and campaigns. He also helps edit political coverage.