When a question about President Donald Trump's taxes came up in the debate on Tuesday night, he had a blunt response: "I don't want to pay tax." The president has been inconsistent in his responses to the explosive report by The New York Times from over the weekend, showing his long history of tax avoidance and write-offs. During the first debate of the 2020 presidential election, he contradicted himself yet again.
When debate moderator Chris Wallace asked Trump what he had paid in income taxes in 2016 and 2017, he responded: "I paid millions of dollars in taxes, millions of dollars of income tax." This suggested that Trump was going to claim the Times report was false, as he has done before — but he then defended himself and other wealthy Americans for going out of their way to pay as little in taxes as possible. The documents obtained by the Times showed that Trump paid just $750 in income taxes in those two years, while the average working American pays about $10,000.
"Chris, let me just say something, that it was the tax laws. I don't want to pay tax," Trump said. "Before I came here, I was a private developer, I was a private business people. Like every other private person, unless they're stupid, they go through the laws, and that’s what it is."
Pointing to his opponent, former Vice President Joe Biden, Trump then said: "He passed a tax bill that gave us all these privileges for depreciation and for tax credits. We build the building and we get tax credits, like the hotel on Pennsylvania Avenue. Which by the way, was given to me by the Obama administration, if you can believe that."
Biden refuted this blame, saying: "Look, the tax code that put him in a position that he pays less tax than on the money a school teacher makes is because of him. He says he's smart because he can take advantage of the tax code. And he does take advantage of the tax code. That's why I'm going to eliminate the Trump tax cuts. And I’m going to eliminate those tax cuts."
According to a report by CNN, preparing for questions on the tax story was one of the Trump campaign's biggest struggles going into the debate. A source close to Trump said that he resisted practice rounds and preparation for the debate, spending less than two hours in total getting ready. Aides were reportedly frustrated as Trump vacillated between saying that the Times story was incorrect, and confirming that it was correct by defending himself for his low tax payments.
The next debate in the 2020 presidential election is scheduled for Wednesday, Oct. 7 at 9 p.m. ET in Salt Lake City, Utah. There will be one more after that before election day on Tuesday, Nov. 3.