Here’s What You Need to Know About the First Presidential Debate

President Trump and Democratic presidential nominee Joe Biden will debate on this stage at Case Western Reserve University and the Cleveland Clinic on September 29, 2020 in Cleveland, Ohio. (Photo by Win McNamee/Getty Images)

President Trump and Democratic presidential nominee Joe Biden will debate on this stage at Case Western Reserve University and the Cleveland Clinic on September 29, 2020 in Cleveland, Ohio. (Photo by Win McNamee/Getty Images)

By Elle Meyers, Meghan McCarthy

September 28, 2020

Democratic presidential nominee Joe Biden and President Trump will square off in Cleveland on a variety of issues, from the coronavirus response to the economy—all just five weeks before Election Day.

President Donald Trump and Democratice presidential nominee Joe Biden will square off in their first presidential debate Tuesday night. 

Held at Case Western Reserve University in Cleveland, Ohio, the debate begins at 6 p.m. MST and goes for 90 minutes, without any commercials. Fox News Sunday anchor Chris Wallace is the moderator, and he has selected the following topics to cover, each for about 15 minutes:

  • Trump’s and Biden’s records
  • The Supreme Court
  • COVID-19
  • The economy
  • Race and violence in U.S. cities
  • The integrity of the election

Here’s what to watch out for on those topics—and others—during Tuesday’s debate. 

Trump’s and Biden’s Records: How Do They Stack Up?

President Donald Trump has tried to focus his campaign on the United States economy before the coronavirus pandemic, claiming to have created more jobs than any other president. That isn’t true, and the country is now saddled with historic unemployment due to the Trump administration’s failed COVID-19 response. 

Trump has also worked to paint an inaccurate image of a violent and lawless America that will get worse if Biden becomes president. But a former Trump administration Homeland Security official said the president’s rhetoric has encouraged extremists. Recent reporting has also shown that murder rates are rising in Republican and Democrat-led cities alike under Trump’s watch, so it’s unclear how Trump can blame Biden for events happening right now. 

Compared to Trump’s nearly four years in elected office, Biden has a long public record to examine, including eight years as vice president in Barack Obama’s administration. During that time, Biden played a key role in helping pass the Affordable Care Act (ACA), which expanded health insurance to 20 million Americans. The Trump administration and Republican state legislatures are suing to have the law overturned, but have no replacement ready for those Americans with health insurance through the ACA. 

Biden also helped shepherd through landmark legislation when he was in the Senate, including the Violence Against Women Act

The Federal Response to COVID-19: Will Trump Continue to Downplay the Toll the Virus Has Taken?

The coronavirus pandemic is front and center during this year’s election. And the two candidates couldn’t have more starkly different positions on what the pandemic has done to the United States.

Despite what he may say now, Trump has admitted on record that he downplayed the risks related to the pandemic in the weeks before it hit the United States. So far, the country has seen over 200,000 deaths from COVID-19, and the count continues to rise. 

The president has tried to shift the campaign focus to ongoing protests against racial injustice while stoking racial tensions across the country, but he has been unable to distract the public’s attention from the continued toll of the pandemic. That will be especially hard as experts fear the pandemic will only get worse as the weather gets colder across the United States. After a decline in cases through August, they have once again started rising and are up 23% in the past two weeks, according to the New York Times.

Biden has been a relentless critic of Trump’s handling of the coronavirus pandemic. The Democratic nominee released detailed plans on how his administration would fight the pandemic, harnessing the power of the federal government to improve everything from testing to mask requirements to vaccine distribution. 

The two candidates have also been far apart on how they are campaigning amid a public health crisis. Biden has been noticeably careful about the virus on the campaign trail, frequently wearing a mask and holding socially distanced events. President Trump continues to hold massive rallies where social distancing is not enforced and masks are recommended, but rarely worn.

The Economy: Biden Has Outlined Robust Jobs Plans While Trump Thinks Things Are Returning to Normal

The US economy is facing unprecedented job losses, but Trump has not outlined any official plans for fixing that problem, short of saying the virus will go away. The president tried to waive payroll taxes to boost spending, but the executive order only allows for a delay, meaning consumers will have to pay those taxes back next year. Additionally, the administrative logistics were too complicated for many corporations, who simply chose not to take the waiver. 

Beyond that, the president has issued some broad goals, like creating 10 million new jobs in 10 months and creating 1 million new small businesses. His goals have not come with any concrete plans.

Trump’s claims that the economy was booming before the pandemic are also only partially true. Research has shown that he inherited the pre-pandemic economy from his successor, President Barack Obama, and that inequality between the wealthy and middle classes has gotten worse under Trump’s tenure. 

Biden has outlined a comprehensive set of goals to improve the economy and help the country recover from the pandemic. He has released a tax plan that promises no new taxes for anyone making less than $400,000. The plan would raise money from the rich by having them pay into Social Security based on their total salary, and would have investments over $1 million taxed like regular income. Biden has also paid special attention to the creation of green jobs and infrastructure as a way to lift the middle class. 

Race And Violence in the United States: How Will the Candidates Address Calls for Racial Justice?

The United States has seen historic protests this year after the police killings of unarmed Black people, including Breonna Taylor and George Floyd. In response to calls for police reform, Trump has gone the opposite direction, outlining a plan to defend the existing police forces and budgets, and to increase penalties for assaults on law enforcement officers. 

Biden has outlined plans that focus on crime prevention, diversity, and rehabilitation. Trump has attacked Biden as being part of the “radical left,” falsely claiming that he wants to completely defund the police. Biden does not want to defund the police, but has supported increasing funding for mental health and other community interventions.

The Integrity of the Election: Mail-In Voting Is Safe and Secure, Though Trump Has Spread Lies About It

The 2020 election is expected to bring historic numbers of mail-in and absentee votes. Opting to vote by mail allows citizens to avoid long lines and sometimes crowded polling locations. Over the past few months Trump has frequently called the validity of this year’s election into question. He has claimed repeatedly—and contrary to historic evidence—that voting by mail could be subject to increased fraud. 

So far, Biden has reiterated the security of voting by mail. He has encouraged voters to vote early where possible and use mail-in ballots to avoid further spreading the coronavirus. Biden has also made preparations for any legal battles that should arise as ballots are being counted. 

The Supreme Court Vacancy After Ruth Bader Ginsburg’s Death

Justice Ruth Bader Ginsburg’s sudden death in mid-September threw another element into the race for the White House. Last week, Trump nominated conservative Judge Amy Coney Barrett, and pledged to have her sitting on the Supreme Court before the election. This comes after Senate Republicans refused to even hold a hearing for President Barack Obama’s nominee, Merrick Garland, in February 2016, arguing that it was too close to the presidential election. 

Biden and Democratic leaders have called for Trump to wait to appoint a new justice until after the election.

Climate Change—Near the Top of Most Voters’ Lists of Important Topics—Will Not Be Debated

In a controversial decision, the first debate will not cover climate change as a major topic. The move is shocking, given the intensity of 2020’s hurricane season, as well as historic wildfires in the West—both of which scientists believe are being fueled by climate change.

News that climate change would be ignored prompted three dozen Democratic senators to sign a letter voicing their concern. The senators called on the Commission on Presidential Debates to include climate change and give the topic more focus.

Joe Biden could potentially bring the issue up by talking about his economic plans, some of which are heavily tied to green jobs and retraining the US workforce in areas that help offset the damage done to the climate over the past decades.


CATEGORIES: Uncategorized


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