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Final Presidential Debate: What We’re Watching For

In their final face-to-face meeting before Election Day, President Donald Trump and Democratic nominee Joe Biden will take the stage at Belmont University in Nashville, TN, tonight. With less than two weeks until the first election returns start trickling in, we asked three Bipartisan Policy Center experts what issues and questions they hope to hear the candidates address from the debate stage.

Here’s what our experts are watching for:

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Dr. Anand Parekh, chief medical advisor

COVID-19 cases are rising across the United States, with approximately 60,000 new cases and nearly 1,000 deaths daily. Hospitalizations are increasing in many states, particularly in the Upper Midwest. Positivity rates across the country are also still much too high, an indicator that we are not testing enough to meet the spread of the virus. Personal responsibility (mask use, physical distancing, hand washing, and so on) is necessary, but insufficient; it must be paired with mitigation measures such as limiting indoor gatherings and restricting the capacity of indoor high-risk establishments. That’s the only way we avoid the lockdowns which were imposed in the spring. Congress needs to also come together and pass a short-term relief bill which supports the public health response and addresses the social and economic consequences of the pandemic.

I want to hear the candidates tackle five key questions:

  1. What needs to be done from now until Election Day—and then beyond—to stem the course of the pandemic?
  2. Would you ask all governors to issue and enforce a mask mandate?
  3. Would you support additional restrictions if public health experts recommend doing so in the winter?
  4. How important do you think testing is to curbing the pandemic and are we doing enough?
  5. What do you think about FDA’s COVID-19 vaccine approval process?
Congress needs to also come together and pass a short-term relief bill which supports the public health response and addresses the social and economic consequences of the pandemic. 
Dr. Anand Parekh

Shai Akabas, director of economic policy

COVID-19 and its economic fallout have caused severe hardship for millions of households across the country. Aside from controlling the virus, American families are first and foremost in need of additional financial relief. The support passed in the CARES Act this past spring has mostly run out and many more people will struggle if they are forced to make ends meet for much longer. Further enhancements to unemployment insurance and relief from student debt and housing obligations are just some of the urgent needs.

Looking ahead, American families need to know that this economic recovery will give everyone the opportunity to succeed and become more financially resilient. Will the candidates consider policies like enhancing tax credits for working families and providing all Americans with easy opportunities and appropriate incentives to save for both emergencies and retirement?

One question I want to hear them answer: What would you do to make sure that American families are better financially prepared to meet the next crisis than they were this time around?

Looking ahead, American families need to know that this economic recovery will give everyone the opportunity to succeed and become more financially resilient.
Shai Akabas

Addison Stark, associate director of energy innovation

I’ll be watching (and tweeting @AddisonKStark) the discussion on energy and climate policy closely. In an ideal world, I’d love to see a debate around solutions to stop and reverse climate change, not just rehashing—or refuting—the established scientific consensus that climate change is real. We’re racing against the clock in the effort to address climate change. The most effective policies are those that can win passage and become law. We are likely to remain in a closely divided Congress after this election, so debate moderator Kristen Welker should focus the conversation on each candidate’s actionable plan, and shouldn’t start by asking if they “believe in climate change.”

These are they key questions that we probably won’t get to, but an energy policy wonk can dream:

What are the roles of innovation and regulation?  Innovation support is essential to develop the low-cost energy technologies we need—like long-duration grid-scale electricity storage and carbon capture technologies—and smart regulatory approaches to drive down emissions across all sectors.

How will you mobilize a clean energy infrastructure build-out? A quick back-of-the-envelope calculation will tell you that we need to reduce the equivalent amount of emissions of a large nuclear power plant every four days. This is a mobilization rate that we have not seen since World War II.

How will you pay for it?  Stopping and reversing climate change will not be cheap (though not addressing it will be much more expensive). Candidates need to be honest about the costs as no plan will “pay for itself.”

We are likely to remain in a closely divided Congress after this election, so debate moderator Kristen Welker should focus the conversation on each candidate’s actionable plan, and shouldn’t start by asking if they “believe in climate change.”  
Addison Stark
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