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US elections 2020

Presidential debate: Biden calls for nuclear-free Korean Peninsula

Trump says Obama tried to meet Kim Jong Un but failed

U.S. President Donald Trump and Democratic presidential nominee Joe Biden attend the final presidential debate on Oct. 22 in Nashville, Tennessee.   © AP

NEW YORK -- A Joe Biden administration would only meet North Korean leader Kim Jong Un if he would pledge to reduce his nuclear capacity, the former vice president said in the second and final presidential debate on Thursday, arguing the Korean Peninsula should be a nuclear-free zone.

This would mark a return to a more traditional foreign policy and a shift away from President Donald Trump's unconventional path of building a personal relationship with Kim to tame Pyongyang.

Trump argued that he had de-escalated tensions, saying his predecessor Barack Obama had left the peninsula on the brink of war. "Having a good relationship with leaders is a good thing," Trump said, adding that the Obama administration also attempted to meet with Kim but failed because the North Korean leader "didn't like Obama."

The exchange on North Korea was one of the highlights of the debate, which came with less than two weeks until election day.

Held at Belmont University in Nashville, Tennessee, the debate was moderated by Kristen Welker of NBC News, who selected fighting COVID-19, American families, race in America, climate change, national security and leadership as topics.

The roughly 90-minute face-off came more than three weeks after the rivals' first. The Oct. 15 second debate was canceled after Trump refused a virtual format even following his COVID-19 diagnosis.

The Commission on Presidential Debates decided to protect the candidates' speaking time by muting one candidate's microphone when the other made opening remarks in each segment. The first debate on Sept. 29 was marred by continual interruptions.

Here's how the debate unfolded (U.S. Eastern time):

11:50 p.m. A CNN poll conducted after the debate shows 53% said Biden won, as opposed to 39% who said Trump prevailed.

On leadership

10:35 p.m. Biden on his hypothetical inauguration address: "I will say I'm an American president. I represent all of you, whether you voted for me or against me...We're going to choose science over fiction. We're going to choose hope over fear."

10:33 p.m. Trump vows to make the country "totally successful as it was prior to the plague coming in from China." Touting the employment numbers for a wide range of the society, he says, "Success is going to bring us together."

On climate change

10:29 p.m. "We're energy independent for the first time," says Trump. "I love solar. But solar doesn't quite have it yet. It's not powerful yet to really run our big beautiful factories that we need to compete with the world. So it's all a pipe dream."

10:28 p.m. "He thinks wind causes cancer, windmills," Biden says. "It's the fastest growing jobs, and they pay good prevailing wages, $45, $50 bucks an hour. We can grow and we can be cleaner if we go the route I'm proposing."

10:26 p.m. "If you look at his plan, you know who developed it? AOC plus three," Trump says, referring to progressive Democratic Rep. Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez and the "Squad" congresswomen. "They know nothing about the climate. I mean, she's got a good line of stuff, but she knows nothing about the climate."

"Look, their real plan costs $100 trillion. If we had the best year in the history of our country for 100 years, we would not even come close to a number like that."

10:25 p.m. Biden lays out his green policies. "We are going to invest in, for example, 50,000 charging stations...so that we can own the electric car market in the future. In the meantime, China is doing that."

10:23 p.m. "Look at China, how filthy it is. Look at Russia. Look at India, it's filthy. The--the air is filthy," Trump says. "The Paris Accord, I took us out because we were going to have to spend trillions of dollars and we were treated very unfairly. When they put us in there, they did is a great disservice. They were going to take away our businesses."

President Donald Trump and Democratic presidential candidate former Vice President Joe Biden participate in the final presidential debate Oct. 22. (Pool photo/AP)   © AP

On race

10:16 p.m. Trump says "The first time I ever heard of Black Lives Matter, they were chanting pigs in a blanket, talking about police. Pigs. Pigs, talking about our police. Pigs in a blanket. Fry them like bacon. I said that's a horrible thing."

But, he added: "As far as my relationships with all people, I think I have great relationships with all people. I am the least racist person in this room."

10:15 p.m. Biden says the nation knows that they can trust him. "You know who I am. You know who he is. You know his character. You know my character."

10:13 p.m. "You keep talking about all these things you would do...but you were just there a short while ago," says Trump. "I ran because of you, I ran because of Obama, because you did a poor job."

10:10 p.m. "There is institutional racism in America," Biden says definitively.

On immigration

10:06 p.m. "Catch and release is a disaster, " Trump said, of the Obama era policy of allowing undocumented immigrants to be released from federal custody to return for a mandatory court date instead of holding them in immigration custody. "A murderer would come in, a rapist would come in, a very bad person would come in. We would take their name, we have to release them into our country and then you say they come back. Less than 1% of the people come back."

When you say they come back they don't come back, Joe. They never come back. Only the really I hate to say this but those with the lowest IQ they might come back."

10:05 p.m. Biden slams the family separation that took place on the borders. "Parents were ripped ...their kids were ripped from their arms and separated and now they cannot find over 500 sets of those parents and those kids are alone, nowhere to go, nowhere to go. It's criminal."

Biden says that within his 100 days in office he will send to Congress "a pathway to citizenship for over 11 million undocumented people.

10:01 p.m. "Children are brought here by coyotes and bad people," says Trump. "We now have a strong a border as we have ever had. We are over 400 miles a brand-new wall. You see the numbers and we let people in but they have to come in legally and they come in through merit," he says, while blaming the Obama administration for building cages.

U.S. President Donald Trump gestures toward Democratic presidential candidate former Vice President Joe Biden during the second and final presidential debate at the Curb Event Center at Belmont University in Nashville, Tennessee on Oct. 22.    © Reuters

On North Korea

9:47 p.m. Biden says "We had a good relationship with Hitler before he invaded Europe. Come on. There was a reason he would not meet with President Obama, because President Obama said 'we're going to talk about denuclearization.'"

9:46 p.m. "They tried to meet with [Kim Jong Un]," Trump said of the Obama administration. "But [Kim] wouldn't do it. He didn't like Obama."

"Having a good relationship with leaders is a good thing."

9:45 p.m. Biden criticizes Trump's approach to denuclearizing the Korean peninsula by way of building a personal relationship with Kim Jong Un. "What has he done? He's legitimized North Korea. He's talked about his good buddy, who's a thug. And he talks about how we are better off and they have much more capable missiles and are able to reach U.S. territory much more easily than it ever did before"

On the conditions for a meeting with Kim Jong Un, Biden said: "On the condition that he would be drawing down his nuclear capacity. The Korean Peninsula should be a nuclear free zone."

9:44 p.m. Trump says former President Barack Obama told him that the biggest problem the U.S. has is North Korea. "He indicated we would be in a war with North Korea. Guess what? It would be a nuclear war. And he does have plenty of nuclear capability. In the meantime, I have a very good relationship with [Kim Jong-un] and there's no war."

"Seoul you know is 25 miles away. 32 million people in Seoul. Millions of people would be dead right now We don't have a war and we have a good relationship."

On China

9:40 p.m. "China is paying, they're paying billions and billions of dollars," says Trump. "I just gave $28 billion to our farmers. China paid $28 billion, and you know what they did to pay it Joe, they devalued their currency and they also paid up. ... You never charged them anything."

9:43 p.m. "What I will make China do is to play by international rules, not like he's done" Biden says, pointing to Trump's policies. "He has caused the deficit with China to go up, not down. We are making sure that, in order to do business in China, you have to give all your intellectual property, you have to have a partner in China with 51%, we would not do that at all."

Trump "embraces thugs like [the leader] in North Korea, and the Chinese president and Putin and others. And he pokes his finger into the eyes of all our friends," Biden says.

"We are worth 25% of the world's economy. We need to be having the rest of our friends with us saying to China, 'These are the rules. You play by them or you are going to pay the price for not playing by them, economically. That's the way I will run it, and that's what we did, upholding steel tariffs and a range of other things when we were president and vice president."

U.S. President Donald Trump and Democratic presidential nominee Joe Biden take the stage for the final presidential debate at Belmont University on Oct. 22 in Nashville, Tennessee.    © Getty Images

On election security

9:38 p.m. Trump pledges to release his tax records. Biden responds: "Just show us. Stop playing around. You've been saying for four years you are going to show us your taxes."

9:33 p.m. Defending his financial record, Trump says "I was put through a phony witch hunt for three years... No president should ever go through what I went through. I guarantee if I spend one million on you, Joe, I'll find plenty wrong."

9:32 p.m. Biden fends off Trump's attacks on his and his son's alleged dealings with China. "I have never taken a penny from any foreign source ever in my life," he says, as he points to the president's own "secret bank account" in China.

9:29 p.m. Trump attacks the Biden family's connections with foreign countries while denying his. "Joe got $3.5 million from Russia ... I never got money from Russia" Trump says. "There's been nobody tougher than me on Russia. While he was selling pillows and sheets, I was selling tank busters to Ukraine."

On his own tax returns, Trump says, "I'm going to release them as soon as possible. I prepaid my taxes, tens of millions of dollars. I already prepaid it."

9:28 p.m. On election meddling, Biden says "It's been overwhelmingly clear, in this election ... that Russia has been involved, China has been involved to some degree and now we've learned that Iran has been involved," warning that any country that interferes with the American democratic process will pay a price.

"To the best of my knowledge I don't think the president has said anything to Putin about it."

Democratic presidential nominee Joe Biden participates in the final presidential debate against U.S. President Donald Trump at Belmont University on Oct. 22 in Nashville, Tennessee.    © Getty Images

On COVID-19

9:23 p.m. On states closing economic activity to contain the virus, Trump says: "If you go and look at what's happened to New York, it's a ghost town. When you talk about plexiglass, these are restaurants that are dying, these are businesses with no money. Putting [up] a plexiglass is unbelievably expensive. And it's not the answer. I mean, you're going to sit in a cubicle wrapped around with plastic?"

"Take a look at New York and what's happened to my wonderful city. For so many years I loved that it was vibrant. It's dying. Everybody's leaving New York."

On Dr. Anthony Fauci and the medical experts on the White House coronavirus task force, the president says, "Nobody knew what this thing was ... we learned a lot...Anthony said don't wear a mask. And now he wants to wear a mask. And if you look at what Anthony said, he said 'This is no problem. It will go away.' He's allowed to make mistakes. He happens to be a good person."

9:20 p.m. Biden slams Trump's handling of COVID-19 response and relief. "Instead of being in a sand trap at his golf course, he should have been negotiating with Nancy Pelosi and the rest of the Democrats and Republicans about what to do about the acts they were passing."

9:17 p.m. When criticized by Biden for not taking responsibility of the COVID-19 handling, the president responds that he takes full responsibility but that the pandemic was not his fault but China's.

"It's not my fault that it came here, it's China's fault," he said. "They kept it from going into the rest of China for the most part, but they didn't keep it from coming to the rest of the world."

U.S. President Donald Trump participates in the final presidential debate against Democratic presidential nominee Joe Biden at Belmont University on Oct. 22 in Nashville, Tennessee.

9:15 p.m. "We're learning to live with it," Trump says of the coronavirus. "We have no choice. We can't lock ourselves in a basement like Joe does. He has the ability to lock himself up, I don't know, he's obviously made a lot of money someplace," he says, to which Biden grimaces.

"He has this thing about living in the basement. People can't do that."

"We can't close up our nation, or you're not going to have a nation."

9:13 p.m. "If you hear nothing else I say tonight, hear this," Biden says. "Anyone who's responsible for that many deaths should not remain as president of the United States of America."

"Folks, I will take care of this, I will end this, I will make sure we have a plan."

On Trump's suggestion that a coronavirus vaccine will be announced in weeks, Biden says: "This is the same fellow that told you this is going to end by Easter the last time. This is the same fellow who told you don't worry, we're going to end this by the summer. We are about to go into a dark winter, a dark winter and he 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."

9:07 p.m. The first topic is the COVID-19 pandemic. "We have a vaccine that is coming, it's ready, it's going to be announced within weeks," Trump says, adding that the military will distribute it.

"I can tell you from personal experience, that I was in the hospital, I had it, and I got better ... and now they say I'm immune. Whether it's for months or for a lifetime, nobody has been able to say that."

This is a worldwide problem, Trump says. "But I've been congratulated by the heads of many countries for what we've been able to do," in terms of preparing masks, goggles and ventilators, the president says.

"It will go away," he says of the coronavirus. "We're rounding the corner. It's going away."

9:04 p.m. Trump and Biden appear on stage. Time to debate.

Lecterns for President Donald Trump and Democratic presidential candidate, former Vice President Joe Biden stand onstage as preparations take place for the second Presidential debate at Belmont University in Nashville, Tennessee on Oct. 22.   © AP

8:40 p.m. Minutes before the debate, Biden tweets that he "Ready." But so is the White House, which has reinforced Trump's record on fighting terrorism, revamping foreign policy and alliance building.

8:30 p.m. Taxes are expected to be debated tonight. In the American democratic tradition, partisan, non-partisan and bi-partisan think tanks, foundations, trusts and nonprofits lobby heavily during the Presidential Election for tax positions. Here's an example of the Tax Foundation's latest findings about Donald Trump's tax policies.

7:25 p.m. The Trump campaign in recent days has sought to paint the debate commission and moderator Welker as biased. Earlier this week, Trump campaign manager Bill Stepien sent a letter to the commission, which he in one tweet referred to as the "Biden Debate Commission," urging it to make the third debate a "foreign policy debate." In the letter, Stepien restated claims about the former vice president and his son Hunter Biden's alleged dealings with China -- a key strategy the Trump campaign has employed in recent days as Biden maintains a wide lead in the polls.

6:51 p.m. Two tweets from Biden today set the tone for how he's using his long political career, along with his proximity to former President Barack Obama, to set himself apart from Trump.

6:50 p.m. Two tweets from Trump today set the tone for what he's angling for: attacking Obama and the mainstream press, and pushing his own brand of leadership.

6:20 p.m. A look back at past presidential debates:

  © Reuters

2016: The first debate between Republican Donald Trump and Democrat Hillary Clinton drew 84 million television viewers, a record for a debate and a rare showing in the streaming age. An exchange of insults dominated their second debate, with Clinton jabbing at Trump for his sexually aggressive remarks about women in a just-uncovered 2005 video recording. Trump sought to deflect criticism by accusing former President Bill Clinton, the candidate's husband, of having done worse. In a 2017 book, Clinton wrote that in the second debate Trump made her skin crawl by stalking her around the stage, and that she wondered if she should have told him to "back up, you creep." Instead, she wrote, "I kept my cool, aided by a lifetime of dealing with difficult men trying to throw me off." In the third debate, Trump called Clinton "such a nasty woman" and declined to say whether he would accept the election results.

2012: Obama stumbled in his first debate with Republican Mitt Romney, surprising and worrying supporters. But in their second debate, Romney, responding to a question about gender pay equity, said he had "binders full of women" as candidates for cabinet posts. The phrase became a meme on social media, with tweets, original artwork and a Facebook group spoofing Romney. Obama won again.

  © Reuters

2008: Sarah Palin, Republican John McCain's running mate, and then-Sen. Joe Biden, running with Democrat Barack Obama, clashed on the economy and Iraq during a lively but polite vice presidential debate. Palin frequently displayed a folksy style. At one point, she said: "Aw, say it ain't so, Joe," later adding a "doggone it" for good measure. Biden and Palin both vowed to make U.S. economic policy friendlier to middle-class workers, but Biden said McCain had called the fundamentals of the economy strong as the financial crisis broke out. The Obama-Biden ticket won the election.

  © Reuters

2004: The last debate between George W. Bush and Democrat John Kerry offered voters a stark contrast in styles, with Bush sticking to simple arguments while Kerry released an array of facts to make his case. Bush was reelected.

  © Reuters

2000: In his first debate with Republican George W. Bush, Democratic Vice President Al Gore drew negative reviews for sighing loudly while Bush spoke. "We all make mistakes. I've been known to mangle a syllable or two myself," Bush said during their second debate, purposely mispronouncing "syllable." Bush won the election.

  © Reuters

1996: In a debate with Bill Clinton, 73-year-old Republican Bob Dole was asked by a student how he could understand the needs of young people. He replied that at his age, intelligence and experience meant he had the advantage of wisdom. Clinton retorted: "I can only tell you that I don't think Sen. Dole is too old to be president. It's the age of his ideas that I question." Clinton was reelected.

  © Reuters

1992: Three candidates -- George H.W. Bush, Democrat Bill Clinton and independent Ross Perot -- shared the stage. Clinton won the election.

  © AP

1988: A debate against Republican Vice President George H.W. Bush opened with Democrat Michael Dukakis being asked whether he would favor the death penalty for someone who raped and murdered his wife. The question offered a candidate dubbed "the iceman" by critics a chance to show his emotional side. His laborious response did just the opposite. Bush won the election.

  © Reuters

1984: President Ronald Reagan, 73, successfully defused the issue of his age when he debated Democrat Walter Mondale, 56, quipping: "I want you to know that also I will not make age an issue of this campaign. I am not going to exploit, for political purposes, my opponent's youth and inexperience." Reagan was reelected.

  © Reuters

1980: President Jimmy Carter appeared in the second debate, with Republican Ronald Reagan, after boycotting the first, which included independent John Anderson. The president accused Reagan of planning to cut Social Security funding for the elderly. Reagan won the election.

  © Reuters

1976: In the first TV debate in 16 years, Democrat Jimmy Carter faced unelected incumbent Republican President Gerald Ford. In a remark seen as a major blunder, Ford said at the second debate that "there is no Soviet domination of Eastern Europe, and there never will be under a Ford administration." Carter won the election.

  © Reuters

1960: The first televised debate pitted Democratic nominee John F. Kennedy against Republican Vice President Richard Nixon, who was recovering from a hospital visit and had a five o'clock shadow, having refused makeup. The 70 million viewers focused on what they saw, not what they heard. Kennedy won the election.

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