Best Buy's Anniversary Sale Samsung Could One-Up Apple Peloton Alternatives GMMK Pro Keyboard Review Natural Sleep Aids $59 Off Apple TV Equifax Error: Check Your Status Biggest Rent Increases
Want CNET to notify you of price drops and the latest stories?
No, thank you

Trump, Biden spar over COVID, climate change in messy first debate

The debate quickly devolved into a chaotic shouting match.

President Donald Trump and 2020 Democratic Presidential nominee Joe Biden square off in their first debate with contentious topics like the Supreme Court and the coronavirus pandemic.
Kevin Dietsch/UPI/Bloomberg via Getty Images

President Donald Trump and challenger Joe Biden tangled over the government's response to the coronavirus pandemic and other issues, as the two contenders for the White House met Tuesday evening in a chaotic and messy debate

Biden, the Democratic nominee for the presidency, attacked the Trump administration's response to the deadly disease, which has killed more than 200,000 Americans. Biden said Trump had ignored the advice of experts and lied to the American people in an attempt to conceal the severity of the health crisis. 

"The president has no plan," Biden said during a heated exchange. "He hasn't laid out anything."

Trump countered that a vaccine would be available soon and charged the death toll from the disease would have been worse had the former vice president been in charge. 

"If we had listened to you, the country would have been left wide open," Trump said, directing his statement toward Biden. "Millions of people would have died, not 200,000."

The unusually sharp exchange set the tone for an already odd debate, the rules for which were influenced by the ongoing pandemic. The debate was conducted in front of a small in-person audience estimated at 75 people, all of whom were tested for the virus before attending the event. The Trump and Biden campaigns agreed not to shake hands, forgoing the traditional greeting. Neither candidate, however, wore a mask. 

The coronavirus dominated much of the debate, though other topics, including race relations, climate change, the Supreme Court and election integrity, were on the agenda. Technology policy wasn't discussed.

Throughout the campaign, Biden has criticized Trump's handling of the virus. In interviews with Bob Woodward, Trump admitted to purposely downplaying the severity of COVID-19 in an effort to avoid causing panic. Biden had said previously the comments are evidence that Trump "knowingly and willingly lied about the threat it posed to the country for months." He also characterized the statements as "almost criminal."

Polls show that most Americans disapprove of Trump's response to the pandemic

Race relations was another key topic highlighted during the debate. The killing of George Floyd by Minneapolis police in May ignited nationwide protests over systemic racism. Other killings, including those of Breonna Taylor in Louisville, Kentucky, and Daniel Prude in Rochester, New York, have continued to fuel protest throughout the country. Protests over the deaths were commandeered by racists on Facebook who used the calls for racial justice to fan the flames of hatred.

Trump has focused on the violence associated with some of the protests and has painted himself as the "president of law and order." Biden has said Trump's words and actions as furthering the racial divide and inciting violence. Biden has called for police reform and racial justice. 

But when asked if he would denounce white supremacy, Trump sidestepped the issue. Instead, he directed a far right group, the Proud Boys, to "stand back, stand by." 

The vacant position on the US Supreme Court following the death of Justice Ginsburg, the leading liberal on the court, was also a key element of the date. On Saturday, Trump nominated conservative appellate judge Amy Coney Barrett to fill Ginsburg's seat. Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell of Kentucky has promised to push through Barrett's confirmation by the end of the year. 

As the devastating fire season in the West continues, Trump and Biden were asked about climate change. Specifically, Trump was asked if he believed climate change was the cause of the raging wildfires. Trump acknowledged human activity had "to an extent" played a role but blamed poor forest management for the blazes. He accused Biden of supporting the Green New Deal, a broad proposal put forth by the liberal wing of the Democratic party. Biden hasn't expressed support for the plan.

In response, Biden reiterated that he didn't support the Green New Deal and emphasized the need for renewable energy, saying it would be good for the environment and the economy. He also promised to get the US back into the Paris climate deal, which the US withdrew from under Trump. Tech executives, including Apple's Tim Cook, Tesla's Elon Musk and Microsoft's Satya Nadella, have supported the global accord.

The debate was a hot subject on Twitter, where it was unsurprisingly a trending topic. The social network said it was reviewing content, including hashtags and accounts, that may violate its rules through a combination of human and automated review. Twitter streamed the debate through its US Election hub, as did YouTube.