United States President Donald Trump has taken on Democratic challenger Joe Biden in the final presidential debate before the US election, claiming Covid-19 is "going away" and comparing his work in the Black community to Abraham Lincoln's.
The debate in Nashville was a final chance for the pair to make their cases to a television audience of tens of millions of voters before the November 3 election.
Moderated by NBC's Kristen Welker inside a 8360sq m arena at Belmont University, new safety measures were implemented including a smaller crowd who had to undergo negative Covid tests before attending.
The six major topics being discussed were: fighting Covid-19, American families, race, climate change, national security and leadership.
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The pair are outlining starkly different visions for a country in the grips of a surging pandemic that has killed more than 225,000 Americans and cost millions of jobs. Despite historic tumult, the race has remained largely unchanged with Biden holding advantages in many battleground states while Trump faces a shortage of campaign cash and, crucially, time.
Trump claimed he was "immune" to Covid-19 after contracting the disease earlier this month. He said the virus was going away.
"There are some spikes and surges, they will soon be gone. There's a vaccine that's coming, it's ready, it's going to be announced within weeks.
"We're rounding the turn, we're rounding the corner. It's going away."
He said the vaccine was "going to be announced within weeks." The director of the Centres for Disease Control and Prevention has said a vaccine will likely not be widely available to the American public until mid to late 2021.
"This is the same fellow who told you it was going to end by Easter," Biden said. "He has no clear plan."
He pointed to the 220,000 Americans who have died.
"Trump says we're learning to live with it - we're learning to die with it ... [Trump] says it's not his responsibility."
Trump said: "It's not my fault that it came here. It's China's fault."
He said Biden had criticised his decision to shut down access to China due to the coronavirus pandemic as "xenophobic."
Biden replied: "He is xenophobic, but not because he shut down access from China."
Race in America
Biden said he understood why Black parents were fearful for the safety of their children.
"The fact of the matter is, there is institutional racism in America."
Trump claimed no one, apart from Abraham Lincoln who abolished slavery, had done as much as he had had for the Black community.
Biden said: "Abraham Lincoln here [pointing at Trump] is one of the most racist presidents we've ever had.
"This guy has a dog whistle as big as a foghorn."
Trump said Biden had had eight years as vice-president and didn't prevent violence in communities.
"Nobody has done what I've done for the Black community.
"I think I have great relationships with all people. I am the least racist person in this room."
When asked about immigration, Trump said: "Children are brought here by coyotes and lots of bad people ... we now have strong borders.
"We're trying very hard [to reunite migrant children with their parents]."
Biden said he was going to send a "pathway to citizenship" for undocumented people.
"[The separation of migrant families] makes us a laughing stock, violates every notion of who we are as a nation.
"[Migrants are] sitting in squalor on the other side of the river."
Trump said the US had the best carbon emission numbers it had had in 35 years.
He talked about "filthy" Russia, China and India.
"I will not sacrifice tens of millions of jobs ... because of the Paris Accord.
"We have done an incredible job environmentally ... and we haven't destroyed our industries."
The Paris Agreement is an agreement within the United Nations Framework Convention on Climate Change (UNFCCC), dealing with greenhouse-gas-emissions mitigation, adaptation, and finance, signed in 2016.
Biden said: "Four more years with this man ... will put us in a position where we will be in real trouble."
On people living near oil refineries who are concerned about health risks, Trump said: "They're making a tremendous amount of money... We saved our oil industry."
Biden says he would transition away from oil, to be replaced by renewable energy over time.
Trump said former US President Barack Obama warned him war with North Korea was likely.
"I have a very good relationship with [Kim Jong-un] and there's no war."
Biden said: "He's legitimised North Korea. He's talked about his good buddy [Kim] who's a thug."
He added that Jong-Un didn't meet with the Obama administration because it was insisting on denuclearisation.
"They left us a mess," Trump said.
Trump claimed Joe Biden, who wants to build on Obamacare, is going to terminate 180 million people's healthcare plans.
Trump: "Obamacare is no good ... what I'd like to do is a much better healthcare ... we'll always looks after people with pre-existing conditions."
Biden said: "What I'm going to do is ... Obamacare with a public option - make it Bidencare."
"The idea that I want to eliminate policies ... I support private insurance - not one single person would lose their insurance under my plan.
"There's no way [Trump] can protect pre-existing conditions."
Biden claims it's Trump who would remove healthcare coverage from millions of people.
"Healthcare is not a privilege, it's a right. I'm very proud of my healthcare plan."
Trump says he wants "socialised healthcare".
Candidates were asked about election interference.
Biden: "Any country ... interfering in American elections will pay a price.
"I don't think the president's said anything about it [election interference].
"His own national security boss told him [Rudy] Guiliani is being used as a pawn, and what happens? Nothing happens."
Trump accuses Biden of taking Russian money.
"Joe got $3.5 million from Russia. You'll have to explain ... why did you get $3.5m from Russia?
"There's been nobody tougher on Russia than me.
"All of the emails - the horrible emails about all of the money you and your family were raking in.
"You have to clean it up and tell the American people."
Biden denied this.
"I have never taken any money from any foreign source in my life.
"I have released all of my tax returns ... you have not released a single solitary year - what are you hiding?"
Trump said on his own tax returns: "All my accounts are under audit... They keep talking about $750 ... let me tell you, I prepay millions of dollars."
He claimed the IRS treats him "horribly" to which Biden responded: "Just show us [your tax returns]. Stop playing around."
Biden denied his son had had any unethical business dealings while Trump said on his alleged Chinese bank account: "I have many bank accounts all over the place... [The Chinese account] was closed in 2015 I believe."
Candidates were asked what they'd say to their non-supporters if they're elected.
Trump said: "We are on the road to success ... I'm cutting taxes, he's raising taxes."
"If he's elected, you'll see a depression."
Biden said he'd be a president for all Americans. "I'm going to give you hope. We're going to choose to move forward ... what is on the ballot here is the character of this country."
Measures were taken to ensure greater order and safety than seen in last month's rowdy and raucous debate.
A mute button was among a handful of changes implemented by the nonpartisan Commission on Presidential Debates .
A representative ensured each candidate had two full minutes uninterrupted to deliver opening answers to the topics, according to debate commission chair Frank Fahrenkopf.
A member of the Trump and Biden campaigns were expected to monitor the person who controls the mute button backstage, Fahrenkopf said, noting that the button would not be used beyond the first four minutes of each topic.
Questions had swirled as to how Trump, whose hectoring performance at the first debate was viewed by aides as a mistake that turned off viewers, would perform amid a stretch of the campaign in which he has taken angry aim at the news media and unleashed deeply personal attacks on Biden and his adult son.
Worried that Trump could lose the White House and cost Republicans the Senate, some advisers urged him to trade his aggressive demeanor from the first debate for a lower-key style and put the spotlight on Biden, whom he derides as "Sleepy Joe." But Trump made no such promise.
Biden and his inner circle see the president's approach chiefly as an effort to distract from the coronavirus, its economic fallout and other crises of Trump's term.
"Hopefully he'll play by the rules," Biden said as he boarded his plane for Tennessee. "I'm looking forward to this."
Trump and Biden were separated on stage by a plexiglass barrier — despite objections from the Trump campaign. Additionally, any audience member who refused to wear a mask was to be removed. Last month, several members of the Trump family removed their masks once seated in the debate hall.
The plexiglass alone was not enough to protect the candidates from the coronavirus, but the barrier combined with universal mask usage from the other people in the hall will help, said Fahrenkopf, acknowledging that the Trump campaign opposed the use of plexiglass for Thursday's event, just as they did ahead of last week's vice presidential debate.
"The Trump campaign's attitude was that the president was not contagious anymore, but we're going to go with our medical advisers," he said.
Guests were a mix of invited guests of the campaigns and the debate commission, students, the commission's production team, security, and health and safety personnel. Audience members will be seated in accordance with social distancing recommendations; several empty seats separated each person or small group.
All audience members and support staff were required to undergo coronavirus testing onsite within three days of the event. They wore colored wrist bands as evidence of their negative tests.
Negative Covid tests
The White House chief of staff says President Trump has tested negative for the coronavirus ahead of this afternoon's debate.
Mark Meadows says Trump was tested onboard Air Force One while en route to Nashville, Tennessee, and tested negative.
Biden's campaign said he, too, was tested Thursday and tested negative.
The test comes after Trump's bout with the virus after the first debate, which put him in the hospital for three nights.
Both campaigns had been required to certify that their candidates and VIP guests have tested negative ahead of the debates.
Meanwhile, President Trump today posted his full, unedited interview with CBS's 60 Minutes on Facebook ahead of the show's air date this weekend.
The footage shows Trump growing increasingly prickly as anchor Lesley Stahl presses him on the coronavirus pandemic, his slipping support with suburban women and other issues.
Trump tweeted with the Facebook link: "Look at the bias, hatred and rudeness on behalf of 60 Minutes and CBS."
And he again preemptively criticised the moderator of today's debate.
The 60 Minutes interview starts on a tense footing as Stahl asks the Republican president, "Are you ready for some tough questions?" It only grows more testy.
Trump complains, "That's no way to talk." He later comments, "You're so negative."