Key moments from Trump and Biden's final presidential debate

U.S. President Donald Trump and Democratic challenger Joe Biden met for the second and final time on a debate stage Thursday in a matchup that, while lacking the angry interruptions of the first debate, did see both candidates clash on various subjects throughout the evening.

Different tone for debate that saw clashes on COVID-19, separation of children at border

The final U.S. presidential election debate kicked off with a more measured tone, although there were still contentious moments between U.S. President Donald Trump, right, and Democratic challenger Joe Biden. (The Associated Press/Jim Bourg/Pool)

U.S. President Donald Trump and Democratic challenger Joe Biden met for the second and final time on a debate stage Thursday in a matchup that, while lacking the angry interruptions of the first debate, did see both candidates clash on various subjects throughout the evening.

Trump and Biden debated for just over 90 minutes at Belmont University in Nashville, Tenn. The face-off included substantive debate on a number of topics including the response to the coronavirus pandemic, immigration and how each would handle climate change as president.

Here are some key takeaways from the second and final presidential debate before the Nov. 3 election.

Contrasting outlooks on COVID-19

Trump's difficulty articulating a defence of his handling of the pandemic remained a drag on his campaign at a critical juncture. The opening topic of the debate was entirely predictable — Trump has received variations of the same question in interviews and has rarely delivered a clear answer.

Asked to outline his plan for the future, Trump instead asserted his prior handling was without fault and predicted a rosy reversal to the pandemic that has killed more than 220,000 Americans.

WATCH: Trump, Biden discuss impact of COVID-19 on New York City:

Trump, Biden use New York City as a COVID-19 case study


6 months ago
The president lamented that the city became a 'ghost town' amid the pandemic, while the Democratic candidate praised its response in flattening the curve. 1:00

"We're rounding the turn, we're rounding the corner," Trump claimed, even as cases spike again across the country. "It's going away."

Biden, who has sought to prosecute Trump's handling of the virus in his closing pitch to voters, came prepared. "Anyone who's responsible for that many deaths should not remain as president of the United States of America," he said.

"[Trump] says 'we're, you know, we're learning to live with it.' People are learning to die with it."

Toned down, but insults still fly

Three weeks after drawing bipartisan criticism for his frequent interruptions and badgering of his Democratic rival, Trump adopted a more subdued tone in the early portion of the debate.

Trump took to asking NBC News moderator Kristen Welker for the opportunity to follow up on Biden's answers — "If I may?" — rather than just jumping in, and he thanked Welker repeatedly to boot.

Out of the gate, this debate seemed different from the first outing, when Trump's incessant interruptions and flouting of time limits derailed the 90-minute contest from the outset — but there still were digs.

"We can't lock ourselves up in a basement like Joe does," Trump said, reprising his spring and summer attacks on Biden staying at his residence rather than campaigning in-person amid the pandemic.

Biden smirked, laughed and shook his head at Trump. He mocked Trump for once suggesting bleach helped kill coronavirus.

WATCH | Biden and Trump trade insults in toned-down debate:

Basements and bleach: Trump, Biden trade COVID-19 jabs


6 months ago
The president and the Democratic candidate were critical of each other's approach to handling the COVID-19 pandemic. 0:48

The two men had a lengthy back-and-forth about their personal finances and family business entanglements. But on the whole, voters at home got something they didn't get on Sept. 29: a debate.

It marked a recognition by Trump that his bombastic side was a liability with the seniors and suburban women voters who have flocked from the GOP to Democrats.

Clash over North Korea relationship

Trump said the administration of former President Barack Obama left him a "mess" to deal with in terms of tempering relations between the U.S. and North Korea.

Trump said he had warded off a war that could have threatened millions of lives, adding that Obama had told him he viewed potential danger from Kim Jong-un as among the country's greatest national security threats.

WATCH | Biden talks North Korea:

Biden likens Trump's North Korea approach to having a 'good relationship with Hitler'


6 months ago
The Democratic candidate criticized the president's foreign policy approach to Kim Jong-un. 0:32

Democratic nominee Joe Biden said Trump had "legitimized" a "thug" by meeting with and forging a relationship with Kim. Trump countered that Kim "didn't like Obama" and insisted that "having a good relationship with other countries is a good thing."

Biden countered by noting that the U.S. "had a good relationship with Hitler" prior to the invasions that led the country into World War II.

Trump defends separation of children at border 

Trump defended his administration's separation of immigrant children who remain away from their families following detentions along the U.S.-Mexico border. He said children are often brought across the border not by families but "by coyotes and lots of bad people."

The American Civil Liberties Union told a judge this week that there were still 545 children separated from their parents from 2018.

Trump said his administration had constructed more than 640 kilometres of his promised border barrier. He also said "they built cages," referring to Obama-era facilities depicted in media reports during the separations.

WATCH | Biden slams separation of children at border:

Biden calls separation of children at U.S.-Mexico border 'criminal'


6 months ago
The Democratic candidate criticized U.S. President Donald Trump's actions at the U.S.-Mexico border, while Trump asked 'who built the cages' in the first place. 1:39

Biden disputed Trump's answer, saying kids "were ripped from" their families in 2018.

As he has done since the primary campaign, Biden defended the Obama administration's immigration policy, admitting that it "took too long to get it right."

Candidates blast each other on race relations

Welker offered both multiple opportunities to talk directly to Black Americans. Both men said they understood the challenges Black citizens face, but the segment amounted mostly to them going after each other.

Trump blamed Biden as an almost singular force behind mass incarceration, especially of "young Black men." Trump declared himself "the least racist person in this room" and repeated his claim that "nobody has done what I've done" for Black Americans "with the exception of Abraham Lincoln, possible exception."

WATCH | Trump claims he's the 'least racist person in this room':

Trump says he's 'the least racist person in this room' 


6 months ago
Democratic candidate Joe Biden responded by calling Trump the most racist U.S. president ever and accused him of fuelling racist rhetoric in the U.S. 1:21

Biden said Trump "pours fuel on every racist fire" and referred to the moment at the first debate when the president wouldn't condemn white supremacy. During the Sept. 29 debate, Trump told the Proud Boys, a far-right extremist group, to "stand back and stand by."

The discussion over race in the country stretched on for several minutes, with Biden then sarcastically seizing on Trump's fondness for saying he's done more for Black Americans than any president since Lincoln by referring to Trump as "Abraham Lincoln over here."

Trump said that Biden had four years as vice-president to combat racism but failed to do so. "You're all talk and no action, Joe," he said.

Biden said Trump was race-baiting, saying the president "has a dog whistle about as big as a foghorn."

Biden, Trump end with markedly different tones

To close out the debate, both Trump and Biden offered starkly different versions of what they'd tell Americans who didn't support them on a hypothetical Inauguration Day.

Trump said that if he's reelected, during his inaugural address, he would tell voters who didn't back him in the election that "success is going to bring us together, we are on the road to success." He touted the country's economic growth "prior to the plague coming in from China" that sparked the coronavirus pandemic.

WATCH | Trump paints grim picture of a Biden presidency:

Trump paints grim picture of a Biden presidency


6 months ago
The U.S. president said the country is on the road to recovering from the COVID-19 pandemic, but a Democrat win would derail it. 1:03

Biden, meanwhile, says he would tell his detractors that "I represent all of you, whether you voted for or against me," and "I'm going to make sure that you're represented." He went on to reiterate some of his major campaign themes, pledging to grow the economy, address systemic racism, move the nation towards clean energy and make sure every American has "an even chance."

WATCH | Biden explains what he'd tell Americans who didn't vote for him if elected:

Biden says 'character of this country' is at stake in U.S. election


6 months ago
The Democratic candidate said the country has an opportunity to grow and improve under his presidency, and said he would advocate for all Americans. 0:54

What do you want to know about the U.S. election? Your questions help inform our coverage. Email us at

With files from CBC News

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