The first debate between President Trump and Democratic rival Joe Biden quickly turned to a discussion of health care.
The first question by moderator Chris Wallace was about the vacancy on the Supreme Court for which Trump has nominated Judge Amy Coney Barrett, but Biden quickly pivoted to discussing how a conservative majority on the court could overturn the Affordable Care Act, or Obamacare, imperiling the health care of millions.
Last week, Trump rolled out what he called a replacement plan for the ACA, but in reality it was a pair of executive orders with no legal standing. Trump also said he would lower drug prices “80 or 90 percent,” but there is no evidence his plan would do that. Trump criticized Wallace for asking him what his health care plan was, saying, “I guess I’m debating you, not him, but that’s OK.”
“He has no plan for health care,” Biden said. “He sends out wishful thinking; he has executive orders that have no power. He hasn’t lowered drug costs for anybody. He’s been promising a health care plan since he got elected. He has none, like almost everything else he talks about – he doesn’t have a plan. The fact is this man doesn’t know what he’s talking about.”
“We guaranteed preexisting conditions,” Trump said before Biden interjected: “That’s not true.”
Last week, White House officials said that Trump’s “protections” for preexisting conditions would not actually be law should the ACA be repealed but were a "defined statement of U.S. policy.”
“We want to get rid of it and give something that’s cheaper and better,” Trump said of Obamacare, although he has not actually proposed a replacement plan of any sort. Without protections for preexisting conditions provided by Obamacare, the Kaiser Family Foundation estimated in 2016 that up to 52 million people could be denied coverage. Millions more would lose insurance if the Medicaid expansion that was adopted by dozens of states and Washington, D.C., is killed.
“The fact is, everything he’s saying so far is simply a lie. I’m not here to call out his lies; everybody knows he’s a liar,” Biden said, calling Trump a “clown” when he tried to interrupt him.
In June, the Trump administration filed a brief to the Supreme Court urging it to overturn the ACA in a case backed by 20 Republican-led states. The brief included a section arguing that the ACA’s protections for those with preexisting conditions must be overturned as well, contradicting Trump’s repeated statements that he and Republicans supported maintaining them.
During the debate segment, Biden also declined to take a position on whether or not he would support the removal of the Senate’s legislative filibuster (which would make it easier to pass new laws if Democrats take a majority of the Senate in the election) or adding judges to the Supreme Court.
Trump insisted that Biden was pushing for “socialist” health care, although Biden consistently opposed more progressive plans like Medicare for All, which was favored by his rival Sen. Bernie Sanders during the Democratic primary. Biden’s plan would retain private insurance but offer a public option that Americans could choose instead.
When Trump said his party would push him left, Biden said, “The party is me. I am the Democratic Party right now. The platform of the Democratic Party is in fact what I approved of.”
Trump spent most of the opening segment interrupting Biden, frustrating both the former vice president and the event’s moderator.
“Will you shut up, man,” Biden said to Trump as the opening 15-minute segment came to a conclusion. He added: “That was really a productive segment, wasn’t it? Keep yapping, man.”
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