Written by Joseph Ong

The first of three presidential debates between President Donald Trump and Democratic nominee Joe Biden was chaotic. It was marked by frequent interruptions, shouting and insults as moderator Chris Wallace tried in vain to control the conversation. Here were the six key topics discussed: 


  1. Supreme Court Nominee

    Last month, Supreme Court Justice Ruth Bader Ginsburg passed away due to health complications. Within the same week, Trump nominated Amy Coney Barret to fill in the vacancy. He argued that ‘elections have consequences’ and his 2016 victory gave him the mandate to do so.

    Biden called the move an “abuse of power” and appealed for the nomination to be pushed back after the outcome of November’s election.

    As Supreme Court Justices are lifetime appointments, Trump’s nominee would give the supreme court a 6-3 conservative majority for a long time to come, making a roll-back of abortion rights more likely.

  2. Healthcare

    Over the last four years, Trump had promised to repeal and replace Obamacare with his “Trump healthcare plan”. He claimed that it would reduce drug prices by “80 or 90%” by forcing drug makers to offer their medicines to the US at the same prices they do in other countries.

    Biden argued that repealing Obamacare would cost 20 million people access to healthcare, and that Trump’s alternative plan was not fleshed out.

  3. COVID-19

    Biden criticised Trump’s handling and downplaying of the pandemic, which has left over seven million infected and 200,000 dead in the US.

    Trump retorted that Biden had earlier criticised Trump’s travel restrictions on travellers from China in February as “xenophobic”. Trump claimed that without the China ban, the death toll would be much higher.

    On a related note, Trump and Melania tested positive for COVID-19 two days after the debate.

  4. Economy

    Trump applauded his decision to reopen the economy, arguing that 10.4 million had found employment in the past four months.

    On the other hand, Biden warned against opening the economy and schools as the COVID crisis had to be prioritised.

  5. Race Issues

    Biden criticised Trump’s response to George Floyd’s killing, calling him “a president who has used everything as a dog whistle, to try to generate racist hatred, racist division”.

    In response, Trump brought up Biden’s controversial 1994 “tough on crime” law which had been criticised for mass incarceration and more aggressive policing.

    When Trump was asked to denounce the white supremist and far-right militia groups that support him, for example the Proud Boys, he did not give a clear answer. Instead, he asked the Proud Boys to “stand back and stand by”, which has now become a new slogan for the Proud Boys.

  6. Climate change

    Trump defended USA’s pulling out of the Paris Climate Accord which he called a “disaster from our standpoint”. He said that Biden’s climate policies would tank the economy and cost millions of jobs, arguing for environmental interests to be balanced alongside economic interests.

    Biden promised to rejoin the Paris Accord if elected. He argued that his policies, which include switching to renewable energy and achieving a carbon-neutral USA by 2035, would in fact create millions of well paying jobs. 

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