Watch CBS News

What to watch for in the first Trump-Biden debate

What to expect from tonight's debate
What to expect from the first presidential debate 10:47

When President Trump and Joe Biden meet on stage in Cleveland, they arrive as two well-known entities. Mr. Trump, the incumbent president who shares his opinions on Twitter every day and in almost daily media appearances, and Biden, the Democratic nominee who has been in public life for decades.

But Tuesday marks the first time they will tangle face-to-face as the nation watches. That first debate will answer a number of questions, and set the tone for the next two, even as Americans have already begun casting their ballots ahead of November 3. Here's what to watch for in the first presidential debate of 2020.


Mr. Trump's penchant for making false statements is well known, and how closely he hews to the truth will certainly be watched, though the debate's moderator, Fox News' Chris Wallace, does not plan to take this on. He does not view fact-checking as part of his purview in moderating this debate, saying on Fox News Sunday that he plans to be "as invisible as possible" as he tries to get Mr. Trump and Biden "to engage, to focus on key issues."

Instead, it'll be up to Biden to do his own real-time fact-checking. Biden's claims Tuesday night, too, should and will be monitored. At CBS News, chief Washington correspondent Major Garrett will be checking the candidates' claims, and will be publishing some of the night's most notable fact checks.

Will Trump call for Biden to be drug-tested to his face?

Mr. Trump has called for Biden to be drug-tested ahead of the debate (he also called for Hillary Clinton to undergo drug testing in 2016). Biden has scoffed at the idea. But it will be interesting to see whether the president brings up drug testing to his face, after baselessly accusing him of taking performance-enhancing drugs. The Commission on Presidential Debates is, of course, not expected to require drug testing. There will, however, be COVID-19 testing. 

Will Trump bring up Hunter Biden — and will Joe Biden push back?

Mr. Trump loves to bring up Biden's son, Hunter and his involvement with Ukrainian company Burisma, in campaign rallies and tweets. But Mr. Trump has been less likely to bring up such personal attacks when that person or his or her family is in his presence. But he could bring up the former vice president's son and claim Hunter Biden was given plum jobs and opportunities because of his father's influence.

Biden has been defensive about attacks on Hunter Biden, particularly after the death of his other son, Beau, in 2015. Whatever he says in response to any such attacks will be worth noting. 

What Biden says about his potential Supreme Court picks 

Biden, as Mr. Trump has pointed out, has yet to say who he'd appoint to the Supreme Court, should he win and have the opportunity to fill one or more seats. Mr. Trump announced on Saturday that he's nominating Judge Amy Coney Barrett to replace the late Justice Ruth Bader Ginsburg. 

It's not likely Biden would rattle off a list of names on the stage, particularly since he has already said he would not — he has argued that it's inappropriate. More likely, Biden could be asked to identify qualities he would look for in a future justice. He has also said his first appointment to the court would be a Black woman.

How will Trump will defend his tax records?

On Sunday, The New York Times published a massive report detailing years of Mr. Trump's tax returns, just two days before the debate. So far, the president has decried the story as both "fake news" and an illegal leak of documents, statements that contradict each other. Wallace can be expected to press Mr. Trump on some of the details that emerged, including the reporting that though his properties had millions in revenues, the president paid just $750 in taxes in 2016 and in 2017, claiming heavy losses in his businesses. Wallace may also ask about reporting on the $100 million mortgage on Trump Tower that will come due in 2022, during a second term for Mr. Trump. Or the nearly $750,000 in consulting fees he appears to have paid daughter Ivanka Trump that he then wrote off. 

Expectations for Biden

As they were before Biden's solid Democratic National Convention speech, expectations for Biden's first debate were set low by Republicans and others in Trump world. Mr. Trump has repeatedly slammed Biden's mental competence, and while lately the Trump campaign has been trying to raise expectations for Biden, referring to him recently as a "master debater," it also released an ad just before the debate accusing Biden of relying too heavily on teleprompters.

The main concern about Biden, who is leading in national polls and in some key battleground states, is that he'll seem too old for the job by stumbling. But if he can avoid major gaffes and answer the president's claims and accusations with pithy lines and facts, it seems likely that he would exceed expectations. 

View CBS News In
CBS News App Open
Chrome Safari Continue
Be the first to know
Get browser notifications for breaking news, live events, and exclusive reporting.