A question that started off at the first general election debate Tuesday about the Supreme Court quickly turned to health care, back and forth bickering, and, ultimately, a direct insult.
“Will you shut up, man,” Democratic nominee Joe Biden said to President Donald Trump after laughing throughout most of his opponent’s explanation about how he has, in fact, unveiled a comprehensive health care plan during his first term in the White House, countering Fox News moderator Chris Wallace’s assertion that he had not.
It was at precisely that moment, when pressed on his apparent lack of an official proposal, that Trump went on the offensive, repeatedly talking over both the moderator and his opponent.
“Mr president, can you let him finish please?” Wallace at one point pleaded as Trump grumbled over Biden. “Please let him speak, Mr. president.”
The location of the debate, the Cleveland Clinic in Ohio, was a fitting setting for the topic that dominated the first segment. It was a fight the Biden campaign had been hoping to have for weeks, and it started off with the framework they had planned and practiced.
After the late Justice Ruth Bader Ginsburg’s death opened up a surprise vacancy on the Supreme Court, the former vice president, along with other Democrats, planned to promote a message about how a new justice, theoretically appointed by Trump, would likely pledge to strike down Obamacare. When the president nominated Judge Amy Coney Barrett late last week, that possibility became a step closer to reality in Democrats’ eyes.
In the build up to the “shut up” moment, Trump explained that “Obamacare is no good” and that “we made it better,” describing how “we took away the individual mandate, we guaranteed pre-existing conditions.”
“Not true,” Biden shot back, defending his top policy accomplishment under the Obama-Biden administration, an achievement that he has mentioned frequently on the virtual campaign trail since March, when he first spoke to the nation about the real, rising danger of the coronavirus pandemic and the necessity of the Affordable Care Act.
“He sends out wishful thinking,” Biden went on. “He has executive orders that have no power. He hasn't lowered drug costs for anybody. He's been promising the health care plan since he got elected. He has none. Like almost everything else he talks about, he does not have a plan. He doesn't have a plan. And the fact is, this man doesn't know what he's talking about.”
The early minutes of the night from then on devolved into a cache of seemingly random assertions about how Biden, who has campaigned as a staunch moderate, intends to take the party in a “radical left” direction, to the tune of Sen. Bernie Sanders' (I-VT) primary campaign.
Biden exclaimed: “I am the Democratic Party right now.”
Trump persisted, however, in trying to paint Biden as extreme.
As the former vice president attempted to appeal directly to voters with encouragement for them to vote if they want to have a say in the future of the top court, Trump repeatedly barked, “Are you going to pack the court?” before insisting his opponent wanted to install “radical left” justices.
Biden, at that point, appeared to finally lose patience.
“This is so unpresidential,” he said, as Wallace cut in to announce the end of that portion of the night.
“That was really a productive segment, wasn’t it?” Biden quipped. “Keep yappin’ man.”