Campaign 2020

National Security Highlights from the First Presidential Debate

By Vishnu Kannan
Thursday, October 1, 2020, 6:16 PM

While debates are often chaotic, Tuesday’s was particularly so. Although it is difficult to extract substantive highlights, we've tried to present exchanges that may be of interest to Lawfare readers. It won't be perfect, though we do hope it's helpful.

As always, these excerpts are organized both thematically and chronologically.

An unofficial transcript is available here from Rev, an online transcription service.

COVID-19 and Pandemic Response

WALLACE: My question for both of you is, based on what you have said and done so far, and what you have said you would do starting in 2021, why should the American people trust you more than your opponent to deal with this public health crisis going forward?

...

BIDEN: 200,000 dead. As you said, over seven million infected in the United States. We, in fact, have 4 percent of the world’s population, 20 percent of the deaths. 40,000 people a day are contracting COVID. In addition to that, about between 750 and 1000 people a day are dying. When he was presented with that number, he said, “It is what it is.” Well, it is what it is because you are who you are. That’s why it is. The President has no plan. He hasn’t laid out anything. He knew all the way back in February how serious this crisis was. He knew it was a deadly disease. What did he do? He’s on tape as acknowledging he knew it. He said he didn’t tell us or give people a warning of it because he didn’t want to panic the American people.

He still doesn’t have a plan.

...

We should be providing all the protective gear possible. We should be providing the money the House has passed in order to be able to go out and get people the help they need to keep their businesses open. Open schools cost a lot of money. You should get out of your bunker and get out of the sand trap in your golf course and go in the Oval Office and bring together the Democrats and Republicans and fund what needs to be done now to save lives.

TRUMP: You didn’t think we should have closed our country because you thought it was terrible. You wouldn’t have closed it for another two months. By my doing it early, in fact, Dr. Fauci said, “President Trump saved thousands of lives.” Many of your Democrat Governors said, “President Trump did a phenomenal job.” We worked with the Governor.

We got the masks. We made the ventilators. You wouldn’t have made ventilators. And now we’re weeks away from a vaccine. We’re doing therapeutics already. Fewer people are dying when they get sick. Far fewer people are dying.

...

BIDEN: His own CDC Director says we could lose as many as another 200,000 people between now and the end of the year. And he said, if we just wear a mask, we can save half those numbers. Just a mask. And by the way, in terms of the whole notion of a vaccine, we’re for a vaccine, but I don’t trust him at all. Nor do you. I know you don’t. What we trust is a scientist.

...

WALLACE: President Trump, you have repeatedly either contradicted or been at odds with some of your governments own top scientists. The week before last, the Head of the Centers for Disease Control, Dr. Redfield said it would be summer before the vaccine would become generally available to the public. You said that he was confused and mistaken. Those were your two words. But Dr. Slaoui, the head of your Operation Warp Speed, has said exactly the same thing. Are they both wrong?

...

TRUMP: I disagree with him. No, I disagree with both of them. And he didn’t say that. He said it could be there, but it could also be much sooner. I had him in my office two days ago.

Well, we’re going to deliver it right away. We have the military all set up. Logistically, they’re all set up. We have our military that delivers soldiers and they can do 200,000 a day. They’re going to be delivering-

BIDEN: This is the same man who told you-… by Easter, this would be gone away. By the warm weather, it’d be gone. Miraculous, like a miracle. And by the way, maybe you could inject some bleach in your arm, and that would take care of it. This is the same man.

TRUMP: That was said sarcastically, and you know that. That was said sarcastically.

WALLACE: Mr. Vice President, I want to pick up - Your running mate, Senator Harris, goes further, saying that public health experts quote, “Will be muzzled, will be suppressed.” Given the fact that polls already show that people are concerned about the vaccine and are reluctant to take it, are you and your running mate, Senator Harris, contributing to that fear?

BIDEN: No more than the question you just asked him. You pointed out he puts pressure and disagrees with his own scientists.

WALLACE: She said that public health experts quote, “Will be muzzled, will be suppressed.”

BIDEN: Yes. Well, that’s what he’s going to try to do, but there’s thousands of scientists out there, like here at this great hospital that don’t work for him. Their job doesn’t depend on him.

WALLACE: When it comes to how the virus has been handled so far, the two of you have taken very different approaches, and this is going to affect how the virus is handled going forward by whichever of you ends up becoming the next president. I want to quickly go through several of those. Reopenings. Vice President Biden, you have been much more reluctant than President Trump about reopening the economy and schools. Why, sir?

BIDEN: Because he doesn’t have a plan. If I were running it, I’d know what the plan is. You’ve got to provide these businesses the ability to have the money to be able to reopen with the PPE, as well as with the sanitation they need.

TRUMP: He wants to shut down the country. We just went through it. We had to, because we didn’t know anything about the disease. Now we’ve found that elderly people with heart problems and diabetes and different problems are very, very vulnerable. We learned a lot. Young children aren’t, even younger people aren’t. We’ve learned a lot, but he wants to shut it down. More people will be hurt by continuing.

WALLACE: President Trump, you have begun to increasingly question the effectiveness of masks as a disease preventer. And in fact, recently you have cited the issue of waiters touching their masks and touching plates. Are you questioning the efficacy of masks?

TRUMP: No, I think masks are okay. … I mean, I have a mask right here. I put a mask on when I think I need it.

BIDEN: Well, masks make a big difference. His own head of the CDC said if we just wore masks between now, if everybody wore a mask and social distanced between now and January, we’d probably save up to 100,000 lives. It matters.

TRUMP: And they’ve also said the opposite.

BIDEN: No serious person has said the opposite. No serious person.

TRUMP: Dr. Fauci. Dr. Fauci said the opposite.

BIDEN: He did not say the opposite.

TRUMP: He said very strongly, “Masks are not good.” Then he changed his mind. He said, “Masks are good.”

...

Law Enforcement and Race

WALLACE: Vice President Biden, after the grand jury in the Breonna Taylor case decided not to charge any of the police with homicide, you said it raises the question, “Whether justice could be equally applied in America.” Do you believe that there is a separate but unequal system of justice for Blacks in this country?

BIDEN: Yes, there is. There’s systemic injustice in this country, in education and work and in law enforcement and the way in which it’s enforced. But look, the vast majority of police officers are good, decent, honorable men and women. They risk their lives every day to take care of us, but there are some bad apples. And when they occur, when they find them, they have to be sorted out. They have to be held accountable. They have to be held accountable. And what I’m going to do as President of the United States is call together an entire group of people at the White House, everything from the civil rights groups, to the police officers, to the police chiefs, and we’re going to work this out.

So we changed the way in which we have more transparency, in when these things happen. These cops aren’t happy to see what happened to George Floyd. These cops aren’t happy to see what happened to Breonna Taylor. Most don’t like it, but we have to have a system where people are held accountable when… And by the way, violence in response is never appropriate, never appropriate. Peaceful protest is, violence is never appropriate.

...

WALLACE: There has been a dramatic increase in homicides in America this summer particularly, and you often blame that on democratic mayors and democratic governors. But in fact, there have been equivalent spikes in Republican led cities, like Tulsa and Fort Worth.

So the question is, is this really a party issue?

TRUMP: I think as a party issue, you can bring in a couple of examples but if you look at Chicago, what’s going on in Chicago where 53 people were shot and eight died shot, if you look at New York where it’s going up, like nobody’s ever seen anything.

WALLACE: I do want to talk about this issue of law and order though. And in the joint recommendation that came from the Biden-Bernie Sanders task force, you talked about quote re-imagining policing. First of all, what does re-imagining policing mean and do you support? If I might finish the question, what does re-imagining policing mean and do you support the Black Lives Matter call for community control of policing?

BIDEN: Look, what I support are the police having the opportunity to deal with the problems they face and I’m totally opposed to defunding the police offices. As a matter of fact police, local police, the only one defunding in his budget calls for a $400 million cut in local law enforcement assistance. They need more assistance. They need when they show up for a 9-11 call to have someone with them as a psychologist or psychiatrist to keep them from having to use force and be able to talk people down. We have to have community policing like we had before where the officers get to know the people in the communities. That’s when crime went down, it didn’t go up. It went down. And so we have to be…

WALLACE: And I want to get to another subject, which is the issue of protests in many cities that have turned violent in Portland, Oregon, especially we had more than a 100 straight days of protests, which I think you would agree, you talk about peaceful protests. Many of those turned into riots. Mr. Vice-president you say that people who commit crimes should be held accountable. The question I have though is as the democratic nominee, and earlier tonight, you said that you are the Democratic Party right now, have you ever called the Democratic Mayor of Portland or the Democratic Governor of Oregon and said, “Hey, you got to stop this, bring in the National Guard, do whatever it takes, but you’d stop the days and months of violence in Portland.”

BIDEN: I don’t hold public office. Now I am a former vice president. I’ve made it clear. I’ve made it clear in my public statements that the violence should be prosecuted. It should be prosecuted and anyone who committed it should be prosecuted.

WALLACE: You had never called for the leaders in Portland and in Oregon to call and bring in the National Guard and knock off a 100 days of riots.

BIDEN: They can in fact take care of it if he’d just stay out of the way.

...

Here’s the point, the point is that that’s why he keeps trying to rile everything up. He doesn’t want to calm things down instead of going in and talking to people and saying, “Let’s get everybody together. Figure out how to deal with this.”

WALLACE: You have repeatedly criticized the vice president for not specifically calling out Antifa and other left-wing extremist groups. But are you willing tonight to condemn white supremacists and militia group and to say that they need to stand down and not add to the violence in a number of these cities as we saw in Kenosha and as we’ve seen in Portland.

TRUMP: Sure, I’m willing to do that.

WALLACE: Are you prepared specifically to do it.

TRUMP: I would say almost everything I see is from the left wing not from the right wing.

WALLACE: But what are you saying?

TRUMP: I’m willing to do anything. I want to see peace.

WALLACE: Well, do it, sir.

BIDEN: Say it, do it. Say it.

TRUMP: What do you want to call them? Give me a name, give me a name, go ahead who do you want me to condemn.

WALLACE: White supremacist and right-wing militia.

TRUMP: Proud Boys, stand back and stand by. But I’ll tell you what somebody’s got to do something about Antifa and the left because this is not a right wing problem, this is a left wing.

BIDEN: He’s own FBI Director said unlike white supremacist, Antifa is an idea not an organization-… not a militia. That’s what his FBI Director said.

TRUMP: Well, then you know what, he’s wrong.

...

Election Integrity

WALLACE: All right, gentlemen, final segment, election integrity. As we meet tonight, millions of Americans are receiving mail-in ballots or going to vote early. How confident should we be that this will be a fair election, and what are you prepared to do over the next five plus weeks? Because it will not only be to election day, but also counting some mail-in ballots after election day. What are you prepared to do to reassure the American people that the next president will be the legitimate winner of this election.

BIDEN: Prepare to let people vote. They should go to iwillvote.com, decide how they’re going to vote, when they’re going to vote, and what means by which they’re going to vote. His own Homeland Security director, and as well as the FBI director, says that there is no evidence at all that mail-in ballots are a source of being manipulated and cheating. They said that. The fact is that there are going to be millions of people because of COVID that are going to be voting by mail-in ballots like he does, by the way.

Number two, we’re going to make sure that those people who want to vote in person are able to vote because there are enough poll watchers are there to make sure they can socially distance. The polls are open on time, and the polls stay open until the votes are counted. And this is all about trying to dissuade people from voting because he’s trying to scare people into thinking that it’s not going to be legitimate.

Show up and vote. You will determine the outcome of this election. Vote, vote, vote. If you’re able to vote early in your state, vote early. If you’re able to vote in person, vote in person. Vote whatever way is the best way for you, because you will… He cannot stop you from being able to determine the outcome of this election. And in terms of whether or not… When the votes are counted and they’re all counted, that will be accepted. If I win, that will be accepted. If I lose, that’ll be accepted. But by the way, if in fact he says, he’s not sure what he’s going to accept. Well, let me tell you something, it doesn’t matter, because if we get the votes, it’s going to be all over. He’s going to go. He can’t stay in power. It won’t happen. It won’t happen, so vote. Just make sure you understand, you have it in your control to determine what this country is going to look like the next four years.

...

TRUMP: So when I listen to Joe talking about a transition, there has been no transition from when I won. I won that election. And if you look at crooked Hillary Clinton, if you look at all of the different people, there was no transition, because they came after me trying to do a coup. They came after me spying on my campaign. They started from the day I won, and even before I won. From the day I came down the escalator with our first lady, they were a disaster. They were a disgrace to our country, and we’ve caught them. We’ve caught them all. We’ve got it all on tape. We’ve caught them all. And by the way, you gave the idea for the Logan Act against General Flynn. You better take a look at that, because we caught you in a sense, and President Obama was sitting in the office.

He knew about it too. So don’t tell me about a free transition. As far as the ballots are concerned, it’s a disaster. A solicited ballot, okay, solicited, is okay. You’re soliciting. You’re asking. They send it back. You send it back. I did that. If you have an unsolicited… They’re sending millions of ballots all over the country. There’s fraud. They found them in creeks. They found some, just happened to have the name Trump just the other day in a wastepaper basket. They’re being sent all over the place. They sent two in a Democrat area. They sent out a thousand ballots. Everybody got two ballots. This is going to be a fraud like you’ve never seen. The other thing, it’s nice. On November 3rd, you’re watching, and you see who won the election. And I think we’re going to do well because people are really happy with the job we’ve done.

But you know what? We won’t know. We might not know for months because these ballots are going to be all over. Take a look at what happened in Manhattan. Take a look at what happened in New Jersey. Take a look at what happened in Virginia and other places. They’re not losing 2 percent, 1 percent, which by the way is too much. An election could be won or lost with that. They’re losing 30 and 40 percent. It’s a fraud, and it’s a shame. And can you imagine where they say, “You have to have your ballot in by November 10th.” November 10th. That’s seven days after the election, in theory, should have been announced. … It’s a rigged election.

...

WALLACE: You have been charging for months that mail-in balloting is going to be a disaster. You say it’s rigged ..., that it’s going to lead to fraud. But in 2018, in the last midterm election, 31 million people voted mail-in voting. That was more than a quarter of all the voters that year, cast their ballots by mail. Now that millions of mail-in ballots have gone out, what are you going to do about it? And are you counting on the Supreme Court, including a Justice Barrett, to settle any dispute?

TRUMP: Yeah. I think I’m counting on them to look at the ballots, definitely. I hope we don’t need them, in terms of the election itself. But for the ballots, I think so, because what’s happening is incredible. I read today where at least 1 percent of the ballots for 2016 were invalidated.

They throw them out-… left and right.

You either do, Chris, a solicited ballot, where you’re sending it in, they’re sending it back and you’re sending. They have mailmen with lots of it. Did you see what’s going on? Take a look at West Virginia, mailman selling the ballots. They’re being sold. They’re being dumped in rivers. This is a horrible thing for our country.

BIDEN: There is no evidence of that-

TRUMP: This is not going to end well.

...

BIDEN: Five states have had mail-in ballots for the last decade or more. Five, including two Republican states. And you don’t have to solicit the ballot. It’s sent to you. It’s sent to your home. What they’re saying is that it has to be a postmark by election day. If it doesn’t get in until the seventh, eighth, ninth, it still should be counted.

WALLACE: Vice President Biden, the biggest problem, in fact, over the years with mail-in voting has not been fraud, historically. It has been that sizable numbers, sometimes hundreds of thousands of ballots are thrown out because they have not been properly filled out, or there is some other irregularity, or they missed the deadline. So the question I have is, are you concerned that the Supreme Court with a Justice Barrett will settle any dispute?

BIDEN: I am concerned that any court would settle this, because here’s the deal. When you get a ballot and you fill it out, you’re supposed to have an affidavit. If you didn’t know, you have someone say that, this is me. You should be able to, if in fact you can verify that’s you before the ballot is thrown out, that’s sufficient to be able to count the ballot because someone made a mistake and not dotting the correct I. Who they voted for, testify, say who they voted for, say it’s you. That is totally legitimate.

TRUMP: You know it can’t be done. You know it can’t, and already, there’s been fraud.

WALLACE: In eight states, election workers are prohibited, currently by law, eight states, from even beginning to process ballots, even take them out of the envelopes and flatten them until election day. That means that it’s likely, because there’s going to be a huge increase in mail-in balloting, that we are not going to know on election night who the winner is, that it could be days. It could be weeks-… until we find out who the new president is. First for you, sir. Finally, for the vice president, and I hope neither of you will interrupt the other. Will you urge your supporters to stay calm during this extended period, not to engage in any civil unrest? And will you pledge tonight that you will not declare victory until the election has been independently certified? President Trump, you go first-

TRUMP: I’m urging my supporters to go in to the polls and watch very carefully, because that’s what has to happen. I am urging them to do it. As you know, today there was a big problem. In Philadelphia, they went in to watch. They’re called poll watchers, a very safe, very nice thing. They were thrown out. They weren’t allowed to watch. You know why? Because bad things happen in Philadelphia. Bad things. And I am urging my people. I hope it’s going to be a fair election. If it’s a fair election-

WALLACE: You’re urging them what?

TRUMP: … I am 100 percent on board. But if I see tens of thousands of ballots being manipulated, I can’t go along with that. And I’ll tell you why-

WALLACE: What does that mean, not go along-

TRUMP: … from a common sense-

WALLACE: Does that mean you’re going to tell your people- ... to take to the streets?

President Donald J. Trump: I’ll tell you what it means- … It means you have a fraudulent election. You’re sending out 80 million ballots-

WALLACE: And what would you do about that?

President Donald J. Trump: They’re not equipped… These people aren’t equipped to handle it, number one. Number two, they cheat. They cheat. Hey, they found ballots in a wastepaper basket three days ago, and they all had the name military ballots. There were military. They all had the name Trump on them.

WALLACE: Vice President Biden, final question for you. Will you urge your supporters to stay calm while the vote is counted? And will you pledge not to declare victory until the election is independently certified?

BIDEN: Yes. And here’s the deal. We count the ballots, as you pointed out. Some of these ballots in some states can’t even be opened until election day. And if there’s thousands of ballots, it’s going to take time to do it. And by the way, our military… They’ve been voting by ballots since the end of the Civil War, in effect. And that’s what’s going to happen. Why is it, for them, somehow not fraudulent? It’s the same process. It’s honest. No one has established at all that there is fraud related to mail-in ballots, that somehow it’s a fraudulent process.

TRUMP: It’s already been established. Take a look at Carolyn Maloney’s race-

BIDEN: He has no idea what he’s talking about. Here’s the deal. The fact is, I will accept it, and he will too. You know why? Because once the winner is declared after all the ballots are counted, all the votes are counted, that’ll be the end of it. That’ll be the end of it. And if it’s me, in fact, fine. If it’s not me, I’ll support the outcome. And I’ll be a president, not just for the Democrats. I’ll be a president for Democrats and Republicans. And this guy-

WALLACE: Gentlemen, just say that’s the end of it... This is the end of this debate- … We’re going to leave it there- … to be continued in more debates as we go on.

[END]