Democrat Hillary Clinton and Republican Donald Trump battled out in front of tens of millions of American voters over jobs, taxes and terror in their first presidential debate ahead of US polls in November.
The 90-minute clash witnessed the 68-year-old former secretary of state and the 70-year-old reality TV star, taking the stage together for the first time and indulge in a series of combative, acrimonious exchanges.
The battle turned personal, when the controversial real estate mogul began questioning the “stamina” of the former secretary of state after her recent bout of pneumonia while the latter was seen smiling through the insults and landed jabs of her own to put Trump on the defensive.
Trump said he will release his tax returns if Clinton releases her 33,000 emails deleted by her from the period when she was the secretary of state in the first term of the Obama Administration.
“As soon as she releases them, I will release,” Trump said when he was being grilled for not releasing his tax returns.
The two leaders clashed over race, taxes and security as they came face-to-face for the first of the three high-stake presidential debates at Hofstra University in Hempstead.
Clinton accused Trump of being “anti-women” and challenged his allegations that she lacked the stamina to be the commander-in-chief.
“She (Clinton) doesn’t have the look. She doesn’t have the stamina. I said she doesn’t have the stamina. And I don’t believe she does have the stamina. To be president of this country, you need tremendous stamina,” Trump alleged.
Clinton hit back, saying: “Well, as soon as he travels to 112 countries and negotiates a peace deal, a ceasefire, a release of dissidents… or even spends 11 hours testifying in front of a congressional committee, he can talk to me about stamina.”
She said the “racist lie” perpetuated by her rival about Barack Obama of not being a natural-born citizen “bothered and annoyed” the US President, whom she called man of great dignity. She slammed Trump’s long record of engaging in “racist behaviour” and said “the birther lie was a very hurtful one”.
Meanwhile, Trump – who is running for the top post for the first time – said Clinton has “got experience”, but it is “bad experience”.
He claimed that the US is being used as a “piggy bank” to rebuild China and many other countries are doing the same thing as he underlined the need to stop jobs from being “stolen” from the US.
Trump interrupted Clinton several times and appeared agitated, while Clinton appeared calm and composed.
Trump alleged his rival has no plans to defeat ISIS, the biggest national security challenge to the country.
“Secretary Clinton is talking about taking out ISIS. “We will take out ISIS.” Well, President Obama and Secretary Clinton created a vacuum the way they got out of Iraq, because they got out — what, they shouldn’t have been in, but once they got in, the way they got out was a disaster. And ISIS was formed,” he alleged.
He added that the country can not afford to have another four years of Clinton’s “bad experience”.
Clinton disagreed, asserting that she has a plan to defeat ISIS.
“I have put forth a plan to defeat ISIS. It does involve going after them online. I think we need to do much more with our tech companies to prevent ISIS and their operatives from being able to use the Internet to radicalise, even direct people in our country and Europe and elsewhere,” she said.
At the same time the US would also have to intensify its air strikes against ISIS and eventually support Arab and Kurdish partners to be able to actually take out ISIS in the Syrian city of Raqqa and end their claim of being a Caliphate, she said, adding “We’re making progress.”
Clinton alleged that Trump has flip-flopped on his policy on Iraq as he initially supported the war in Iraq, though Trump strongly denied the charge.
“I hope the fact-checkers are turning up the volume and really working hard. Donald supported the invasion of Iraq,” she said as the two entered into a verbal duel.
“I think my strongest asset, maybe by far is my temperament,” said the real estate tycoon to laughter.
“Woah. OK,” Clinton said to more laughs. Trump called Clinton as “Secretary Clinton”, avoiding his “Crooked Hillary” epithet from the campaign.
Clinton, who acknowledged that using personal email hosted on a private server was a mistake, also spoke about Trump’s tax returns.
“First, maybe he’s not as rich as he says he is. Second, maybe he’s not as charitable as he claims to be. Third, we don’t know all of his business dealings, but we have been told through investigative reporting that he owes about USD 650 million to Wall Street and foreign banks….Or maybe he doesn’t want the American people, all of you watching tonight, to know that he’s paid nothing in federal taxes, because the only years that anybody’s ever seen were a couple of years when he had to turn them over to state authorities when he was trying to get a casino license, and they showed he didn’t pay any federal income tax,” she said.
The debate ended with a question over whether each would accept the outcome of the election. “If she wins, I will absolutely support her,” said Trump.
(With inputs from PTI)