US President Donald Trump and Democratic rival Joe Biden battled fiercely over Trump's leadership on the coronavirus pandemic, the economy, race and taxes in a fiery first debate marked by Trump's repeated interruptions.
With moderator Chris Wallace trying in vain at times to control the debate, the two White House contenders talked over each other and lobbed insults in a breathtaking political brawl that made it hard for either man to make a point.
"Will you shut up, man? This is so unpresidential," said an exasperated Biden after repeated interruptions during only the first segment of the debate on the Supreme Court.
Biden called Trump a "clown" and a "racist" and told him: "You're the worst president America has ever had."
Trump for his part said: "There's nothing smart about you, Joe."
Biden questioned Trump's leadership on the Covid-19 pandemic, saying Trump had panicked and failed to protect Americans because he was more concerned about the economy.
"He panicked or he looked at the stock market," Biden said of Trump, who has pushed for states to reopen their economies and played down the threat of the pandemic.
"A lot of people died and a lot more are going to die unless he gets a lot smarter, a lot quicker," Biden said.
Trump objected to Biden using the word "smart".
"You graduated either the lowest or almost the lowest in your class. Don't ever use the word smart with me. Don't ever use that word," Trump said.
He defended his approach on the pandemic, which has killed more than 200,000 people in the United States and put millions of Americans out of work.
"We've done a great job," Trump said. "But I tell you, Joe, you could never have done the job we've done. You don't have it in your blood."
RNZ's Max Towle and Jeremy Rees blogged the debate as it happened here:
It is the first of three scheduled debates:
- Second presidential debate: Trump and Biden will debate again on 16 October, 2pm (NZT), at a performing arts centre in Miami, Florida. Steve Scully of C-SPAN Networks is set to moderate the debate.
- Third presidential debate: In their final chance to win over voters, Trump and Biden will take to the stage in Nashville, Tennessee. NBC's White House correspondent Kristen Welker will be hosting the debate on 23 October, 1pm (NZT).
The only vice presidential debate between Harris and Pence will take place on 8 October, 12pm (NZT) in Salt Lake City, Utah.
White House aides have said Trump, 74, will aggressively challenge Biden's record on issues such as trade, energy and taxes and will be prepared to defend himself on his own taxes.
Trump, who has repeatedly cast doubt on the integrity of the election, is likely to face questions about his refusal to commit to accepting the election results and a peaceful handover of power should he lose.
Biden, 77, is certain to press his criticism of Trump's response to the pandemic, and highlight Trump's efforts to eliminate the Affordable Care Act, the law known as Obamacare which has helped millions of Americans obtain health insurance.
The debate will be divided into six segments - the records of Trump and Biden, the US Supreme Court, the coronavirus pandemic, the economy, election integrity and "race and violence" in US cities.
Ahead of the debate, Democrats have demanded that moderator Chris Wallace of Fox News correct Trump when he makes false claims. But Wallace, whom Trump has called "nasty and obnoxious," said he would not perform a fact-checking function, instead remaining as invisible as possible.