CLEVELAND – Marked by angry interruptions and bitter accusations, the first debate between President Donald Trump and Democratic challenger Joe Biden erupted in contentious exchanges Tuesday night over the coronavirus pandemic, city violence, job losses and how the Supreme Court will shape the future of the nation’s health care.
In what was the most chaotic presidential debate in recent years, somehow fitting for what has been an extraordinarily ugly campaign, the two men frequently talked over each other with Trump interrupting so often that Biden snapped at him, “Will you shut up, man?”
“The fact is that everything he’s said so far is simply a lie,” Biden said. “I’m not here to call out his lies. Everybody knows he’s a liar.”
Trump and Biden arrived in Cleveland hoping the debate would energize their bases of support, even as they competed for the slim slice of undecided voters who could decide the election. It has been generations since two men asked to lead a nation facing such tumult, with Americans both fearful and impatient about the coronavirus pandemic that has killed more than 200,000 of their fellow citizens and cost millions of jobs.
Over and over, Trump tried to control the conversation, interrupting Biden and repeatedly talking over the moderator, Chris Wallace of Fox News. The president tried to deflect tough lines of questioning – whether on his taxes or the pandemic – to deliver broadsides against Biden.
Trump drew a lecture from Wallace, who pleaded with both men to stop interrupting. Biden tried to push back against Trump, sometimes looking right at the camera to directly address viewers rather than the president and snapping, “It’s hard to get a word in with this clown.”
But despite his efforts to dominate the discussion, Trump was frequently put on the defensive and tried to sidestep when he was asked if he was willing to condemn white supremacists and paramilitary groups.
“What do you want to call them? Give me a name. Give me a name,” Trump said before Wallace mentioned the far-right group known as the Proud Boys. Trump then pointedly did not condemn the group, instead saying, “Proud Boys, stand back, stand by, but I’ll tell you what, somebody’s got to do something about antifa and the left because this is not right-wing problem. This is a left-wing problem.”
The vitriol exploded into the open when Biden attacked Trump’s handling of the pandemic, saying that the president “waited and waited” to act when the virus reached America’s shores and “still doesn’t have a plan.” Biden told Trump to “get out of your bunker and get out of the sand trap” and go in his golf cart to the Oval Office to come up with a bipartisan plan to save people.
Trump declared that “I’ll tell you Joe, you could never have done the job that we did. You don’t have it in your blood.”
“I know how to do the job,” was the response from Biden, who served eight years as Barack Obama’s vice president.
The pandemic’s effects were in plain sight, with the candidates’ lecterns spaced far apart, all of the guests in the small crowd tested and the traditional opening handshake scrapped. The men did not shake hands and, while neither candidate wore a mask to take the stage, their families did sport face coverings.
Trump struggled to define his ideas for replacing the Affordable Care Act on health care in the debate’s early moments and defended his nomination of Amy Coney Barrett, declaring that “I was not elected for three years, I’m elected for four years.”
“We won the election. Elections have consequences. We have the Senate. We have the White House and we have a phenomenal nominee, respected by all.”
Trump criticized Biden over the former vice president’s refusal to comment on whether he would try to expand the Supreme Court in retaliation if Barrett is confirmed to replace the late Justice Ruth Bader Ginsburg.
The president also refused anew to embrace the science of climate change.
As the conversation moved to race, Biden accused Trump of walking away from the American promise of equity for all and making a race-based appeal.
“This is a president who has used everything as a dog whistle to try to generate racist hatred, racist division,” Biden said.
Recent months have seen major protests after the deaths of Black people at the hands of police. And Biden said there is systemic racist injustice in this country and while the vast majority of police officers are “decent, honorable men and women” there are “bad apples” and people have to be held accountable.
Trump in turn claimed that Biden’s work on a federal crime bill treated the African American population “about as bad as anybody in this country.” The president pivoted to his hardline focus on those protesting racial injustice and accused Biden of being afraid to use the words “law and order” out of fear of alienating the left.
“Violence is never appropriate,” Biden said. “Peaceful protest is.”
With just 35 days until the election, and early voting already underway in some states, Biden stepped onto the stage holding leads in the polls – significant in national surveys, close in some battleground states – and looking to expand his support among suburban voters, women and seniors. Surveys show the president has lost significant ground among those groups since 2016, but Biden faces his own questions encouraged by Trump’s withering attacks.
A federal judge has found that evidence police seized from a car driven by the man accused of shooting someone during the 2017 La Placita robbery was part of a lawful search and recommended its allowance into trial.
Most of the statements that Jonny Alexander Reyes-Martinez gave to police after he was in custody were also found to have been lawfully obtained by police.
U.S. Magistrate Judge Brent Brennenstuhl issued his findings Friday in the case of Reyes-Martinez, 31, of Nashville, who is accused of shooting and killing Jose Cruz on March 17, 2017, as Cruz, 31, of Bowling Green, attempted to intervene during a robbery at the store on Morgantown Road.
Reyes-Martinez is charged with murder through use of a firearm during a crime of violence, interference with commerce by robbery, conspiracy to interfere with commerce by robbery, illegal possession of a firearm and conspiracy to carry or possess a firearm during a crime of violence.
He was arrested May 30, 2017, after a traffic stop in Kansas in which a Kansas Highway Patrol trooper found ammunition hidden in a container of laundry detergent in the trunk and a gun in the air filter compartment of the car that Reyes-Martinez was driving.
Reyes-Martinez’s court-appointed attorney, James Earhart, contended that Trooper Jerett Ranieri unlawfully extended the traffic stop to search the car after issuing a warning to Reyes-Martinez for driving with a cracked windshield.
Assistant U.S. Attorney Marisa Ford argued that police obtained consent from Reyes-Martinez to search the vehicle.
Following an evidentiary hearing in July, Brennenstuhl ruled that Reyes-Martinez freely and voluntary gave consent to have the car searched.
While Reyes-Martinez testified to being unable to speak English, Brennenstuhl noted that dashcam footage of the traffic stop showed that Reyes-Martinez appeared to understand English well enough to provide identification documents when asked and inform Ranieri of where he and his passenger were traveling.
As they stepped out of the car, Reyes-Martinez and his passenger lifted their shirts to show that they weren’t carrying any firearms, according to court records.
“Notably, while Martinez testified that he did not speak English, he did not testify that this language barrier prevented him from understanding Trooper Ranieri’s request for permission to search the car or that his consent was not voluntary,” Brennenstuhl said in his ruling.
Reyes-Martinez was interviewed Sept. 27, 2017, in a Kansas penitentiary, where he was awaiting sentencing after pleading guilty to a federal charge of illegally re-entering the U.S.
During the interview with two Bowling Green Police Department detectives and an FBI special agent, Reyes-Martinez gave incriminating statements about the La Placita robbery, which Earhart argued should be suppressed on the grounds that police secured some information before advising Reyes-Martinez of his rights and continued questioning him after he requested an attorney.
Brennenstuhl did recommend that the statements Reyes-Martinez made before being read his rights via a Spanish interpreter should be suppressed because Reyes-Martinez was already in custody and the information about his identity he provided BGPD Detective Mike Nade should already have been a matter of public record.
The judge determined that Reyes-Martinez’s statements given after he was advised of his rights should be allowed into evidence at trial, finding that Reyes-Martinez gave an informed and voluntary consent to waive his right to remain silent and proceed with the interview.
“Here, there is no indication that the questioning was conducted in a coercive manner,” Brennenstuhl said in his ruling. “To the contrary, Detective Nade exhibited a friendly and sympathetic approach.”
When Reyes-Martinez was asked whether anyone was hurt during the La Placita robbery, he replied that he did not wish to answer the question and preferred to talk about that with an attorney.
He then went on to identify people in pictures that Nade showed him, and when the detective later asked if he wanted to continue speaking, Reyes-Martinez indicated he would but also clarified whether he could refuse to answer certain questions.
Brennenstuhl found that Nade acted legally in seeking to clarify the scope of the questions Reyes-Martinez was willing to answer.
“In the case at hand, while Detective Nade’s questions can be viewed as encouraging Martinez to continue answering questions, they are only an invitation and do not rise to the level of coercion,” the judge said in his findings. “Nor does it appear the effect of the questions was to overbear Martinez’s will.”
– Follow courts reporter Justin Story on Twitter @jstorydailynews or visit bgdailynews.com.
Plans to put a “safe room” in Warren County’s Plano community for shelter during tornadoes or other natural disasters are moving forward.
Warren Fiscal Court on Friday granted Judge-Executive Mike Buchanon authority to sign a funding agreement with the Kentucky Division of Emergency Management that will lead to a 1,500-square-foot safe room being built next to the Plano Volunteer Fire Department station at 3210 Plano Road.
The safe room will be funded primarily through a Hazard Mitigation Grant coming from the Federal Emergency Management Agency.
The FEMA website said the Hazard Mitigation Grant program provides funding to states, territories and local communities to help their efforts to reduce future damage, loss of life and property in any area affected by a major disaster.
“We’ve been working on this for four years, and we’re so glad to get it,” Plano VFD Chief Kevin Bailey said.
Bailey said the station’s proximity to Plano Elementary School and a growing residential area helped his department procure the funding.
The initial phase, costing $35,000, will start soon and includes planning and site work. The total project is expected to cost about $250,000, with 75 percent of that coming from federal funds, 12 percent coming from the state and 13 percent coming from a local match.
Bailey said the shelter will be an asset for Plano and the fire department.
“It will be designed to be compliant with FEMA guidelines and provide protection to a large number of people who are without residential shelter,” he said.
The shelter, essentially a large open room with restroom facilities, will tie in with the County Outdoor Warning Sirens system that is in place throughout the county.
“When the COWS system goes off, the safe room automatically unlocks so anyone can enter,” Bailey said.
The safe room won’t sit dormant in the absence of an emergency, Bailey said.
“We’ll be able to use it as a meeting and training room,” he said.
Sixth District Magistrate Ron Cummings, who represents the Plano area on fiscal court, said the safe room is part of a larger strategy to include such shelters throughout the county.
“We’re trying to make these safe rooms available, and I think it’s a great thing,” Cummings said. “This (Plano) is another strategic place because there’s a large population out there now.”
Cummings said safe rooms are already available at a number of county parks and at Alvaton Volunteer Fire Department Station 3.
“To have places for citizens to go in an emergency is a good thing,” Cummings said. “You’ll see more as time goes along, depending on grant funding.”
– Follow business reporter Don Sergent on Twitter @BGDNbusiness or visit bgdailynews.com.