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Topics for the first presidential debate include coronavirus and Supreme Court

Senate fight over SCOTUS vacancy heats up
Senate fight over SCOTUS vacancy heats up 02:38

Washington — The coronavirus pandemic and the Supreme Court are among the topics that will be discussed at the first presidential debate on September 29, moderator Chris Wallace announced.

The debate, which will be in Cleveland, Ohio, will include six 15-minute segments "dedicated to topics announced in advance in order to encourage deep discussion of the leading issues facing the country," the Commission on Presidential Debates said in a statement

According to the statement, Wallace has chosen to focus on: 

  • The records of President Trump and former Vice President Joe Biden
  • The Supreme Court
  • COVID-19
  • The economy
  • "Race and violence in our cities"
  • "The integrity of the election."

The U.S. has surpassed 200,000 deaths from the virus, according to Johns Hopkins University. The U.S. leads the world in coronavirus deaths and still has the most cases in the world, with nearly 7 million Americans infected since the start of the pandemic. Mr. Trump has publicly downplayed the virus, and said at a rally that the virus "affects virtually nobody." Biden has made the coronavirus a key campaign issue, and has suggested implementing a nationwide three-month mask mandate, although it is unclear whether such an order would be constitutional.

The pandemic has also greatly affected the economy, with millions losing their jobs due to business closures. A poll by the Associated Press-NORC Center for Public Affairs Research found that 60% of Americans would describe the economy as "poor." However, the poll also found that 50% of Americans approve of how Mr. Trump is handling the economy, even though his overall approval rating is 43%.

The Supreme Court is another key issue, as Justice Ruth Bader Ginsburg's death last week left a vacant seat on the court. Mr. Trump nominated Amy Coney Barrett, and she is expected to receive a Senate confirmation vote ahead of the election. Biden and congressional Democrats have called on the Senate to wait until after the next president is inaugurated to fill the seat. A poll by Politico/Morning Consult found that 50% of Americans think that the winner of the election should choose the next Supreme Court justice. If the Senate confirms Mr. Trump's nominee, it would give conservatives on the court a 6 to 3 advantage.

Both Biden and Mr. Trump's campaigns have focused on recent protests in cities across the nation, although Mr. Trump has mainly condemned the demonstrations. Mr. Trump ordered the Office of Budget Management to look into cutting federal funding to cities where he says "weak mayors" are allowing "anarchists" to "harm people, burn buildings, and ruin lives and businesses." The Justice Department said that New York City, Portland and Seattle could lose federal aid for permitting "anarchy, violence, and destruction."

In a speech in August, Biden accused the president of "stoking violence."

"Fires are burning and we have a president who fans the flames, rather than fighting the flames," Biden said in his speech. "But we must not burn. We have to build. This president long ago forfeited any moral leadership in this country. He can't stop the violence because for years he's fomented it."

Millions of Americans have joined demonstrations in recent months to protest the deaths of Black Americans at the hands of law enforcement, such as George Floyd and Breonna Taylor. Mr. Trump sidestepped a question about violence by police officers against Black Americans in an interview with CBS News in July. Asked why Black Americans are killed by police, Mr. Trump responded, "so are White people."

Researchers have compiled statistics showing Black Americans are more likely to die at the hands of law enforcement than White people. One study published in 2018 found that Black men are roughly 3.5 times more likely to be killed by law enforcement than White men. Another study released in 2019 found that one in 1,000 Black men in the U.S. can expect to die at the hands of police over the course of their lifetimes.

Biden has said that Mr. Trump's comments in the wake of a white supremacist rally in 2017, that there were "very fine people on both sides," motivated him to run for president.

Election security is also a critical campaign issue. Mr. Trump has repeatedly undermined voting by mail and claimed that sending absentee ballots could lead to widespread voter fraud. Meanwhile, the intelligence community has raised concerns about attempted election interference from foreign actors such as Russia, China and Iran.

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