Joe Biden and Donald Trump exchanged a series of quick jabs during the first presidential debate at Case Western University Tuesday night in Ohio. 

Fox News anchor Chris Wallace moderated the debate and announced that there would be six 15-minute segments, then each candidate would be given  uninterrupted minutes to speak, followed by open discussion for the remaining time. Despite that, Trump had to be admonished on several occasions throughout the debate as he continued to disregard the 2-minute rule and interrupt Biden and Wallace.

Here’s a recap of the seven hot topics of the first presidential debate. 

1. Law and Order: Addressing the racial issues

  • When Wallace asked Trump, “Are you willing tonight to condemn white supremacists and militia groups and to say that they need to stand down and not add to the violence in these cities?” Trump responded with “Almost everything I see is from the left.” 

  • Trump’s response, or lack thereof, to the question ignited the topic of law enforcements’ responses to the protests and riots this past summer, some lasting over 100 days. He additionally referred to racial sensitivity training as racist and teaching people to hate their country.  “Proud Boys stand back and stand by...somebody’s gotta do something about Antifa [anti-fascists] and the left,” Trump said. 

  • Biden asserted that while he does not condone violent demonstrations, he supports peaceful protests as racial equality is a constitutional right. “They have to be held accountable,” Biden said referring to law enforcement.

  • Trump recalled Biden’s 1994 crime bill in which Trump claims he referred to African American people as “super predators” and that “they’ve never forgotten it.”

. The $750 tax return 

  • The recent New York Times report stating that Trump paid a total of $750 in federal income taxes in 2017 led Wallace to ask Trump point blank: Is this true? 

  • After several attempts, President Trump said that he paid “Millions of dollars and you’ll get to see it,” claiming that he had paid $38 million one year and $7 million another. When Biden curtly responded, “Show us your tax return,” Trump said “You’ll see it as soon as it's finished.”

3. Health Care

  • Wallace posed the following question to Trump: What is the Trump Health Care plan? 

  • This question was preceded with the statement that Trump had promised to repeal and replace the Affordable Care Act (ACA), otherwise known as Obamacare, but has not presented a comprehensive plan. Additionally, Trump signed an Executive Order on Thursday to protect people with pre-existing conditions. 

  • Referring to the ACA, Trump said Biden’s hope to expand the ACA would take away people’s private healthcare. However, Biden said that expanding Obamacare still allows people to have private health insurance.

  • Biden argued that the elimination of the ACA would “strip 2 million people of having health insurance.” 

4. COVID-19 

  • After constant back-and-forth between candidates and interruption on Trump's part, Wallace moved on to discuss the nation’s pandemic. He began by stating that the U.S. has had more than 7 million COVID-19 cases, which has claimed more than 200,000 lives leading to the question: “Why should the American people trust you rather than your opponent to take care of the issue?”

  • Biden was quick to say that Trump’s handling of the pandemic thus far has been subpar, criticizing Trump for not acting on his prior knowledge of COVID-19 in February. “He said he didn’t tell us or give people warning of it because he didn’t want to panic the American people… He [Trump] panicked,” Biden said. 

  • Trump said that he and his administration took care of the issue by acquiring gowns and masks, and making ventilators. “We’re doing a great job,” Trump said. Biden strongly opposed this and said “You have got to provide these businesses the ability to have the money to be able to reopen with the PPE as well as with the sanitation they need.

5. The Supreme Court 

  • In the first topic of the night, Wallace posed the question: who will succeed Ruth Bader Ginsburg and who will choose?

  • Trump’s response was :“We won the [2016] election and therefore we have the right to choose her.” He defended his U.S. Supreme Court nominee, Amy Coney Barrett. 

  • Biden’s issue with the nominee decision was that, “The American people have a right to have a say [in] who the Supreme Court nominee is, and that say occurs when they vote for a United States senator and when they vote for the [next] President of [the] United States” With RBG’s death occurring in the middle of elections, he believes that decisions should be made after the Nov. 3 election. 

6. Climate Change 

  • Forty-eight minutes into the debate, Wallace brought up the topic of climate change, specifically the California fires. 

  • Trump was quick to respond that he wants “clean water and air.” As for the fires, he believes that the answer to stopping them is better forest management. “Every year I get the call. California’s burning, California’s burning...if you had forest management, good forest management, you wouldn’t be getting those calls,” Trump said. He did not outwardly say that he believes in climate change, but agreed with Wallace’s statement about how human pollution, gas and greenhouse emissions contribute to the global warming of this planet.

  • When Biden was asked about his $2 trillion environmental plan, he explained that it will increase employment and electric vehicles on the road. His plan proposes “upgrading 4 million buildings, weatherizing million homes over four years, and building one and a half million energy efficient homes.”

 7. Mail-In Voting:

  • In the last segment of the night, Wallace asked the candidates what they will do to reassure Americans that the next president will be the “legitimate winner of this election.”

  • Biden used this time to talk directly to the camera and urged people to go out and vote.  “You have it in your control to determine what this country is going to look like the next four years. Is it going to change, or are you going to get four more years of these lies?,” Biden said. 

  • “As far as the ballots are concerned, it’s a disaster...This is going to be a fraud like you’ve never seen,” Trump said implying that voter fraud will occur with mail-in ballots, and that the system is “rigged.”  Wallace fact checked Trump and said that “mail-in voting has not been fraud, historically,” but many ballots are thrown out because they are not filled out correctly. 

On Oct. 7, Kamala Harris and Mike Pence will be going head to head during the vice presidential debate, which will be held at the University of Utah. The second presidential debate will take place in Miami on Oct. 15. All debates will run from 9 to 10:30 p.m. ET.


Esther Kim is the Editor in Chief of Ka Leo. While she is a Bachelor's of Social Work student, she has a passion for writing and wants to use journalism in conjunction with social work to progress conversations surrounding social justice and equity.