The First Presidential Debate: Setting the tone

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Arav Wahi

This piece is the first in a series of election-related articles written by Arav Wahi.

On Tuesday, September 29, both presidential candidates, President Donald Trump (Republican) and former Vice President Joe Biden (Democrat), faced off in the first of three planned debates between them. Many compared the 90-minute exchange to siblings bickering. According to journalist Jeremy Stahl, Trump interrupted Biden and moderator Chris Wallace 128 times. Both candidates attacked each other on their political views. Here is a focus on some of the most important topics discussed in the Presidential Debate.

The starting topic was about who should assume the new role in the Supreme Court after Justice Ruth Bader Ginsburg passed away in September. President Trump, the current incumbent, wants Judge Amy Coney Barret to fill Ginsberg’s seat. On the other hand, the Democrats say that it is hypocritical for them to do so; Republicans blocked President Barack Obama from appointing a justice during his last term but seem fine with Trump doing the same thing. Trump brought up the fair point that elections have consequences; he has the right to appoint and fill a vacant seat. He contended that the Democrats would have done the same thing if they were in power.

As if the first topic discussed was not so disputed, the next topic was healthcare. During this segment, Wallace called out Trump on his failure to abolish Obamacare and lower healthcare costs in his tenure, despite campaign promises. Trump mentioned that Biden had failed to lower drug prices in his 47 years in politics. Furthermore, Trump referred to Biden’s plan to expand Obamacare as a government takeover and Biden a socialist. Biden stated that his expansion of Obamacare is only for the extremely poor who qualify for Medicaid.

As if the battle was not already contentious enough, COVID-19 was discussed next. Biden started off by emphasizing the toll the virus has taken with 20% of the 1 million global deaths occurring in the US. Biden also criticized Trump’s early handling of COVID-19. Trump mentioned praise from Dr. Anthony Fauci — a medical expert and a member of the White House Coronavirus Task Force — for closing the border with China, which prevented many more deaths from happening. Biden did not support this move; according to Trump, if Biden had been in office, there would be even more fatalities. Trump mentioned Biden’s failure to contain the Swine Flu in 2009 and how his COVID-19 response will fail similarly. 

The final topic was climate change. After all, both candidates have almost polar opposite plans for combating climate change. Trump didn’t seem to make a conclusive statement about decarbonizing the US. He cited poor forest management as the cause of recent wildfires, and he confirmed that he eased the ‘Obama Clean Power Plan’ in order to prevent rising energy prices. By backing the oil and gas industry, Trump shows he firmly believes that switching to renewable energy will leave the working class in the dust. Biden wants to popularize charging stations for electric cars across highways in order to incentivize their purchases. Biden plans to lead the US to carbon-zero emissions by 2035.