President Donald Trump and Democratic presidential nominee Joe Biden will square off for the first 2020 presidential debate at 9 p.m. EST on Tuesday, Sept. 29.

Moderated by Fox News’ Chris Wallace, the debate will be split into six 15-minute sections devoted to the candidates’ records, the Supreme Court, COVID-19, the economy, what Fox News has dubbed—to much criticism—“race and violence in cities,” and election integrity, and be broadcast without commercial interruption. 

Incredibly, the debate will not devote a section to climate change, despite growing climate-fueled disasters across the country, and even though 70% of voters, according to a recent Guardian/Vice poll, want the growing crisis addressed. Earlier this year, nine leading conservation groups said Trump has been “the worst president for our environment in history.” The youth-led Sunrise Movement, meanwhile, gave Biden a score of an “F” for his climate policy and challenged him to commit to phase out coal powered plants and commit to 100% renewables by 2030.

Green and Libertarian Party candidates will not be included in the debates after failing to reach the 15% polling threshold established by the Commission on Presidential Debates, which the third parties called “exclusionary.”

Two days before the debate, the New York Times published details of Trump’s tax returns, which showed he paid no federal taxes in 10 of the past 15 years, and paid only $750 in taxes in his first year of presidency. 

The Real News will host a post-debate discussion. 

Biden is leading in national polls 36 days ahead of the election, but Trump remains close in the swing states of Pennsylvania (Biden +4.9), Florida (Biden +1.5), Ohio (Biden +1), and Wisconsin (Biden +6.8).   

The Candidates’ Records: 

Donald Trump’s presidency is marked by a US death toll from COVID-19 which has surpassed 204,000, with millions remaining unemployed, and millions more behind on rent or mortgage payments. Trump brought the US to the brink of war with Iran by assassinating general Iranian General Qassem Soleimani. Trump withdrew the US from the hallmark Paris Climate Accord and ended over 100 environmental protections.

Joe Biden was hammered during the Democratic primaries for past his support of the Iraq War, cutting Social Security, the 1994 crime bill, trade deals, Wall Street bailouts, and opposing busing as a tool to end school segregation, which his running mate Senator Kamala Harris challenged during a June 2019 debate: 

“There was a little girl in California who was part of the second class to integrate her public schools, and she was bused to school every day, and that little girl was me,” Harris said.

Today Biden’s platform includes support for a wealth tax, a $15 minimum wage, and for the abolition of private prisons, mandatory minimum sentences, cash bail, and the death penalty.

Trump’s platform includes plans to add 10 million jobs (the US economy is down 11.5 million jobs compared to earlier this year), “eradicating COVID-19” (an estimated 121,807 lives and counting have been lost due to federal government inaction), reform healthcare and cover pre-existing conditions (Trump’s plan would not protect people with preexisting conditions), “drain the swamp” (Trump has over 3,400 conflicts of interest), and “end illegal immigration” (Trump deported 267,258 people in 2019, short of the record 409,849 people Obama deported in 2012).

The Supreme Court: 

On Saturday, Donald Trump officially nominated Judge Amy Coney Barrett to replace the late Supreme Court Justice Ruth Bader Ginsburg. Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell has the 51 votes needed to confirm Barrett before the Nov. 3 election, despite blocking President Obama’s Supreme Court nominee in 2016 because it was nine months before the presidential election.

A ninth justice creates the possibility for a decisive conservative majority to rule on any potential election dispute.

“I think this will end up in the Supreme Court,” Trump said. “And I think it’s very important that we have nine justices.”

Eight out of ten Democrats and five out of ten Republicans told Reuters/Ipsos that the winner of the November election should name Ginsburg’s replacement. 

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The court could overturn Roe v. Wade, the Affordable Care Act, protections for the LGBTQ community, labor protections, and legislation required to fight the existential threat of climate change.

Joe Biden has attacked Barret’s nomination as a naked ploy to overturn the Affordable Care Act, which the Supreme Court is scheduled to hear arguments over on Nov. 10.  

If Biden wins the presidency and Democrats win a majority in the Senate, a 6-3 Supreme Court could strike down any legislation passed. Biden has refused to say if he supports adding seats to the Supreme Court. He’s facing increasing pressure to change this stance.

COVID-19

Trump has claimed a coronavirus vaccine could be ready by Election Day, contradicting his administration’s own experts. Institute for Health Metrics and Evaluation predicts the US COVID-19 death toll could reach 400,000 by the end of the year. Researchers said increased mask use could reduce deaths by as much as 30%, something Trump has ridiculed and flouted.

Trump admitted to downplaying the dangers of the coronavirus pandemic despite having evidence to the contrary, according to interviews with noted investigative journalist Bob Woodward in early September:

“It goes through the air,” Trump said during a Feb. 7 interview with Woodward. “That’s always tougher than the touch. You don’t have to touch things. Right? But the air, you just breathe the air and that’s how it’s passed. It’s also more deadly than even your strenuous flus.”

Despite knowing about the threat back in January, Trump diminished the severity of the COVID-19 outbreak, pushed states to reopen quickly, and has packed campaign events while flouting local social distancing guidelines. A week after the Feb. 7 interview, Trump said at a White House briefing that the number of US coronavirus cases “within a couple days is going to be down close to zero.”

Biden has released a plan to address the COVID-19 pandemic through increased testing, use of the Defense Production Act to address the ongoing personal protective equipment (PPE) shortage, a commitment to using evidence-based national guidance to help states address the pandemic, increased funding to states to address their estimated $500 billion budget shortfalls, implementing a national mask mandate, and more. 

Trump recently blamed Biden, who is currently a private citizen, for not instituting a mask mandate. 

The Economy: 

The US economy remains in a deep recession, disproportionately impacting Black and Latinx workers, women, and workers in the service sector. Over 55 million Americans filed for unemployment since March, nearly half of US households have lost employment income, and nearly one in four renters are having difficulty paying rent, according to the Census Bureau’s Household Pulse Survey.  

US billionaires increased their wealth by $637 billion during the pandemic in what’s been called “one of the greatest wealth transfers in history.”

The Republican-controlled Senate allowed the $600/week unemployment checks passed earlier by Congress expire, and has failed to vote on a second coronavirus relief package. While Trump and his allies have focused on reopening economies, often despite warnings from public health experts, Biden’s platform includes potential future stimulus payments, increasing Social Security payments by $200/month, and providing emergency sick leave to all those who need it. 

Biden hasn’t responded to questions about whether he supports a bill that Sens. Bernie Sanders, Ed Markey, and his running mate Kamala Harris introduced that would provide every American $2,000 a month during the pandemic, retroactively. 

As many as 12 million Americans have lost their employer-based health insurance this year. 

Biden does not support Medicare for All, which would grant health insurance to all Americans despite their employment status. 

Race, Police Violence, and Protests:

We can expect Fox News’ Chris Wallace to frame his questions for the ‘Race and Violence’ section from the perspective of law enforcement and property owners that erases movements against racism and police brutality.

Trump has refused to condemn growing right-wing violence. Trump has repeatedly denounced Black Lives Matter, and alleged without evidence that nationwide protests against police brutality sparked by the killings of Breonna Taylor and George Floyd were being controlled by “people in dark shadows,” who were “controlling the streets,” in an effort to oust him from office. He claimed, again without evidence, that authorities had foiled a plot of a plane full of “thugs” seeking to create violence at the Republican National Convention.

The White House refused to condemn the actions of Kyle Rittenhouse, a Blue Lives Matter supporter who shot and killed Joseph Rosenbaum and Anthony Huber and injured Gaige Grosskreutz on the third night of protests demanding justice for Jacob Blake, an unarmed Black man who was shot by Kenosha police on Aug. 23. 

In Trump’s 2020 acceptance speech at the Republican National Convention, he highlighted violence in Democrat-run cities during his tenure, even as he sought to provoke it, while falsely claiming Biden supports the movement to defund the police.

Trump has designated New York, Portland, and Seattle as ‘anarchist jurisdictions.’ Biden has called for prosecuting anarchists while pushing back on Trump’s recent attempt to conflate all protesters with “rioters and looters,” and condemned the looting of businesses.

“Rioting is not protesting. Looting is not protesting. Setting fires is not protesting. None of this is protesting. It’s lawlessness, plain and simple. And those who do it should be prosecuted,” Biden said.

But critics noted the hypocrisy in condemning looting while failing to adequately address systemic racism and corruption that robs entire communities of wealth many magnitudes greater, and ignores the importance of rioting and looting in forcing the powerful to address such inequities.

Insurance companies are preparing to pay out $25 million thus far to businesses hurt by looting in Minnesota, while the annual total theft of wages of workers’ wages by employers is worth $933 million annually, according to a Economic Policy Institute report.

Election Integrity

Trump hasn’t said he’ll accept the results of the November election if he loses, and continues to repeat debunked claims of widespread voter fraud. 

“We want to make sure the election is honest, and I’m not sure that it can be. I don’t—I don’t know that it can be with this whole situation—unsolicited ballots. They’re unsolicited, millions being sent to everybody,” Trump said on Thursday.

Nonpartisan election experts have long maintained voter fraud is virtually nonexistent, and FBI Director Christopher Wray testified to Congress on Thursday that there’s no evidence of “any kind of coordinated national voter fraud effort in a major election, whether it’s by mail or otherwise.”

Trump and his allies have sued states to restrict changes to allow mail-in voting. Republicans have been accused of voter suppression by passing restrictive voting laws in over two dozen states. Investigative journalist Greg Palast recently uncovered that nearly 200,000 voters were improperly purged from voting rolls by the Georgia GOP. 

Last week The Atlantic’s Barton Gellman reported that Trump and his allies are developing “contingency plans to bypass the election results and appoint local electors in battleground states where Republicans hold the legislative majority,” who would then award Trump the election. 

Biden has been criticized for not making voting rights a central pillar in his campaign. 

Jaisal Noor

General Assignment Reporter

Jaisal is a host, producer, and reporter for TRNN. With his expertise in education policy and systemic inequity, he focuses on Baltimore, Maryland. He mainly grew up in the Baltimore area and studied modern history at the University of Maryland, College Park. Before joining TRNN, he contributed print, radio, and TV reports to Free Speech Radio NewsDemocracy Now! and The Indypendent.

Jaisal's mother has taught in the Baltimore City Public School system for the past 25 years.