By Ava Dunwoody | Staff Writer
The second and final presidential debate between President Donald Trump and former Vice President Joe Biden on Oct. 22 highlighted the issues of COVID-19, race in America, national security and climate change. Held at Belmont University in Nashville, the 90-minute debate involved a new microphone-muting rule to combat interruptions.
The debate was moderated by NBC News correspondent Kristen Welker, the second Black woman to moderate a presidential debate, following Carole Simpson in 1992. Each candidate was given two uninterrupted minutes to answer initial questions controlled by microphone muting. After that, open discussion without muting occurred in each of the six segments.
“I thought this was impressively more civil” than the first debate, Tulsa junior Kara Hollingsworth said, “probably thanks to the fact that they could mute them on the mics if they needed to. I think that because of how much more civil this was, we could really hear each of the candidates’ policies, and I think that will help voters everywhere decide who they’re voting for.”
Opening with a statement on COVID-19, Trump claimed that a vaccine was nearly ready and that once he is re-elected, “it will be distributed very quickly.”
In his response, Biden said Trump “has no clear plan and there’s no prospect that there’s going to be a vaccine available for the majority of the American people before the middle of next year.”
On the topic of national security regarding Russia and Iran’s interference in the American election, Biden said “any country that interferes with us will in fact pay a price, because they’re affecting our sovereignty.”
Trump said “there has been nobody tougher on Russia than Donald Trump.”
Minimum wage was a later topic of debate where Biden advocated for a $15 minimum wage, specifically commenting on including first responders. Trump said the decision should be up to the states.
“Alabama is different from New York. New York is different from Vermont. Every state is different. It should be a state option. We have to help our small businesses,” Trump said.
Welker asked Trump about his recent statement that he’d consider a $15 minimum wage.
“I would consider it to an extent, but not to a level that is going to put all these businesses out of business. It should be a state option,” Trump said.
Parker sophomore Conner Ammar, who plans on voting for the President Trump, said the next topic, which covered immigration, was a standout moment in the debate.
“The most heated and contentious moment would be the immigration part of the debate,” Ammar said. “Both Trump and Biden had some of what I think were their best moments of the debate.”
Ammar cited Biden’s “very passionate” and “very angry” response about the separation of children from their families at the border.
“Their parents were with them,” Biden said in the debate. “They got separated from their parents, and it makes us a laughingstock and violates every notion of who we are as a nation.”
“But a lot of these kids come out without the parents,” Trump said. “They come over through cartels and through coyotes and through gangs.”
Trump also asked Biden, with no response, “Who built the cages?”
Welker then moved on to the topic of race, referring specifically to a common experience of many Black Americans.
“Part of that experience is something called ‘The Talk,’” Welker said. “It happens regardless of class and income. Parents who feel they have no choice but to prepare their children for the chance that they could be targeted, including by the police, for no reason other than the color of their skin.”
“I never had to tell my daughter, if she’s pulled over, make sure she puts both hands on top of the wheel and don’t reach for the glove box, because someone may shoot you,” Biden said. “But a Black parent, no matter how wealthy or how poor they are, has to teach their child: When you are walking down the street, don’t have a hood on. Make sure that if you get pulled over, ‘Yes sir,’ ‘No sir,’ hands on top of the wheel.”
President Trump followed up and said, “I’ve done more for the Black community than any other president, and I say with the possible exception of Abraham Lincoln.”
He cited “criminal justice reform,” “prison reform,” and “what we’ve done for historically Black universities, colleges, schools.”
“I am cutting taxes, and he wants to raise everybody’s taxes, and he wants to put new regulations on everything … If he gets in, you will have a depression the likes of which you have never seen,” Trump said during his closing statement. “Your 401(k)s will go to hell and it will be a very, very sad day for this country.”
Biden was given the final word.
“I am an American president. I represent all of you, whether you voted for me or against me … What is on the ballot here is the character of this country. Decency, honor, respect, treating people with dignity, making that sure that everyone has an even chance. And I’m going to make sure you get that,” Biden said. “You have not been getting it the last four years.”
Ammar said this debate was “a lot better than the first debate.” He said he thinks President Trump “got a lot of advice from a lot of people saying people didn’t really appreciate the way he handled himself the first time around,” which is why he was calmer.
Because Trump’s microphone was muted and he was unable to interrupt, Ammar said this new policy “helped him” look better and “kept the president to where it was just the good stuff.” Ammar also said Welker was “the best moderator that I’ve ever seen,” and she helped keep it civil.
“Trump did way better,” Ammar said. “Biden did worse to a noticeable degree with regard to the stammering and him not being effective with his points. I would say in that sense, people who watched the first debate would say it was way better for Trump.”
Hollingsworth, who plans to vote for the former vice president, was impressed by his performance.
“I was really impressed by how Joe Biden spoke about his policy ideas,” Hollingsworth said. “I really liked that he was owning up to the mistakes he has made previously in government, including the crime bills that he passed and what he did not act on while he was vice president.”
While many people have already decided who they are voting for at this point in the election, Hollingsworth said she hopes this debate may have cleared up the decision for those who were still uncertain by hearing about the individual policies of the candidates.
As for the winner, “I don’t think it is as clear cut as the first debate,” Hollingsworth said. “I think that Joe Biden answered each question more clearly and more effectively. I think that he really spoke to the people and spoke from his heart, but I can’t say that there is a clear winner.”