The insults and interjections flew thick and fast in a feisty first debate between Republican President Donald Trump and Democratic rival Joe Biden.
A sometimes chaotic clash was marked by personal jibes, name calling and repeated interruptions from Mr Trump, as the men traded barbs over the coronavirus pandemic, the economy, law and order and the integrity of November’s election.
Moderator Chris Wallace struggled to control proceedings as the two White House contenders talked over each other and hurled barbs in an ill-tempered political scrap that made it hard for either to make a point.
“Will you shut up, man? This is so unpresidential,” said an exasperated Mr Biden after Mr Trump’s repeated interruptions during the first segment of the debate on the Supreme Court.
“The fact is that everything he’s saying so far is simply a lie,” Mr Biden went on to say.
“I’m not here to call out his lies. Everybody knows he’s a liar.”
Mr Biden later called Mr Trump a “clown,” a “racist,” and “Putin’s puppy” in reference to Russian President Vladimir Putin and told Mr Trump: “You’re the worst president America has ever had.”
Mr Trump for his part said: “There’s nothing smart about you, Joe.”
Late in the debate, Mr Wallace urged the President to stop his interruptions.
Mr Wallace said: “I think that the country would be better served if we allowed both people to speak with fewer interruptions. I’m appealing to you sir to do that.”
Mr Biden, 77, has held a consistent lead over Mr Trump, 74, in national opinion polls, although surveys in the battleground states that will decide the election show a closer contest. It was hard to determine whether the debate would move the needle.
Mr Biden questioned Mr Trump’s leadership on the coronavirus pandemic, which has killed more than 200,000 Americans, saying Mr Trump had panicked and failed to protect Americans because he was more concerned about the economy.
“A lot of people died and a lot more are going to die unless he gets a lot smarter, a lot quicker,” Mr Biden said.
Things became heated when Mr Trump objected to Mr 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,” Mr Trump said.
He defended his approach on the pandemic and said “we have done great job”.
With more than a million Americans already casting early ballots and time running out to change minds or influence the small sliver of undecided voters, the stakes were enormous as the two White House candidates took the stage five weeks before the November 3 Election Day.
Mr Wallace asked both candidates whether they would pledge not to claim victory until it is officially declared and urge his supporters to remain calm.
President Donald Trump refused to do so. Rather the incumbent called for Republican “poll observers” to attend voting places, insisting it was possible the election would be stolen.
Earlier in the debate, he called on the white supremacist group Proud Boys to “stand back and stand by”.
Mr Trump, who has long refused to commit to a peaceful transfer of power if he loses the election, repeated his unfounded allegations that mail-in voting would lead to fraud. Experts say fraud is extremely rare.
Mr Trump said he expected the Supreme Court might have to decide the election and “look at the ballots”. He urged his supporters to go and watch the balloting.
Mr Biden urged Americans to make a plan to vote and assured voters that Mr Trump would be gone if Mr Biden wins. He said he would not declare victory until the outcome was validated.
Mr Trump defended his effort to swiftly fill a US Supreme Court seat, saying “elections have consequences” and he had the right despite Democratic objections.
Mr Biden said the seat of the late Ruth Bader Ginsburg should be filled after the election, when it was clear who the president would be.
Democrats have argued Republicans are being hypocritical for moving quickly to fill the seat given they had blocked then-President Barack Obama’s nomination to the Supreme Court in 2016, arguing it should wait until after that November election.
Hours before the debate, Mr Biden released his 2019 tax returns and his campaign called on Mr Trump, who has come under fire for not releasing his returns, to do the same.
Mr Biden took the step two days after The New York Times reported Mr Trump paid just $US750 ($A1,053) in federal income taxes in 2016 and 2017 – and none in 10 of the previous 15 years – following years of reporting steep losses from business enterprises.
Mr Trump had long sought to keep his personal financial records secret.
Mr Biden’s taxes showed that he and his wife Jill paid more than $US346,000 ($A485,787) in federal taxes and other payments for 2019 on an income of nearly $US985,000 ($A1.4 million) before seeking a refund of nearly $US47,000 ($A65,988) they said they had overpaid the government.
“I paid millions of dollars in taxes, millions of dollars of income tax,” Mr Trump said when asked about the report.