11 Questions We Desperately Want The Candidates To Answer At The First Presidential Debate

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Here we go. On Thursday night, Americans will see the first televised debate between President Joe Biden and former President Donald Trump of the 2024 election cycle.

It’s never easy to conduct these sorts of conversations, given how much politicians want to avoid tough questions and spin the truth in their favor. It’s especially difficult when one of the men onstage has such a penchant for incivility and dishonesty. (Yes, we mean Trump.)

Adding to the burdens, the stakes in this election couldn’t be higher. A change in the White House could dramatically alter, well, everything. Even the future of American democracy could depend on whether the instigator of Jan. 6 gets to return to the White House.

Somehow, the debate will have to cover all of this (or at least a lot of it) in 90 minutes — including two commercial interruptions.

So, yes, the pressure is on. But the moderators, Jake Tapper and Dana Bash, can perform a real public service by asking questions that get at what really matters to voters ― and that reveal the two men’s true values and intentions, or at least their temperaments.

And yes, that includes some questions that just plain go for the jugular. In an election cycle this momentous, voters deserve to hear candidates directly confront things like how each president’s policies may have contributed to the political environment that led to the Israel-Hamas war; or whether Trump really believes abortion allows women and doctors to kill newborn babies. We’ve gotta get right to things.

Here are a few suggestions from our staff on what they could ask.

Democracy, Elections And Jan. 6

Show video from the Jan. 6, 2021, Capitol riots.

President Trump, you have endorsed the rioters who stormed the U.S. Capitol on Jan. 6, 2021, to attempt to overturn your 2020 election loss. Do you stand by that? Should President Biden lose in 2024, would you endorse his supporters doing the same thing? – Matt Shuham, National Reporter

Who is the legitimately elected president of the United States? – Jennifer Bendery, Senior Politics Reporter

Health Care

Millions buying health insurance through the Affordable Care Act now benefit from extra subsidies worth hundreds, sometimes thousands, of dollars a year. These subsidies are set to expire after 2025. Do you support extending them? If so, how do you justify the big taxpayer expense? If not, what do you say to all the people who will have to pay more for coverage — and in some cases, go back to being uninsured? – Jonathan Cohn, Senior National Correspondent

Criminal Justice

During the final six months of President Trump’s term, his administration executed 13 people, ending a 17-year de facto moratorium on federal executions. President Biden became the first president to openly oppose the death penalty and campaigned on working to end the federal death penalty. Meanwhile, Republicans are pushing for a future GOP president to dramatically expand the use of the federal death penalty.

President Biden, you’ve been in office for three years and there has been no movement towards abolishing the federal death penalty. The Justice Department continues to seek and fight to uphold federal death sentences. Less than one-third of House Democrats and less than half of Senate Democrats are cosponsors on a death penalty abolition bill. What would you say to critics who say you are failing to deliver on a campaign promise? President Trump, what do you see as the appropriate use of the federal death penalty? – Jessica Schulberg, Senior National Reporter

Earlier this year, the Justice Department moved to reschedule marijuana from Schedule I to Schedule III of the Controlled Substances Act, a significant drug policy shift, but one that falls short of decriminalization. A question for both candidates: Do you support removing weed from the Controlled Substances Act? – Jessica Schulberg, Senior National Reporter

Foreign Relations

Is Vladimir Putin the legitimately elected president of Russia? – Jonathan Nicholson, Politics Reporter

President Trump, you recognized Jerusalem as the capital of Israel without acknowledging any Palestinian claim to the city, claimed settlements in the West Bank are legal, severed nearly all U.S. ties to Palestinians, including by shuttering America’s longstanding de facto embassy to the Palestinian Authority, and championed deals between Israel and Arab states that did little to address Palestinian concerns. President Biden, you declined to reverse those policies despite advice from national security experts, including within the administration, and focused on an Israel-Saudi Arabia deal that also seemed to entail little progress for Palestinians.

Do either of you believe you worsened the Israeli-Palestinian conflict despite your promises to help resolve it? Given the attack of Oct. 7 and what has followed, do you have any regrets for taking actions that increased tensions? – Akbar Shahid Ahmed, Senior Diplomatic Correspondent


President Trump, in regards to abortion, you’ve said several times throughout your campaign that women “can kill the baby after the baby is born” in some states. In what states can you legally murder a baby? – Alanna Vagianos, Senior National Reporter

President Trump, your allies have mentioned the Comstock Act as a big part of your second term, yet you’ve never discussed it. The 150-year-old law would allow you to circumvent Congress and the courts to create a national abortion ban. Do you plan to enforce the Comstock Act if elected? – Alanna Vagianos, Senior National Reporter


The federal minimum wage is just $7.25 per hour and hasn’t been raised in 15 years, the longest period in its history without an increase. Do you support raising the minimum wage? If so, what do you think it should be raised to? – Dave Jamieson, Senior National Reporter

According to the Bureau of Labor Statistics, African-American unemployment fell to 5.3% in Sept. 2019 and then 4.8% in April 2023. Under which administration was it the lowest ever? – Jonathan Nicholson, Politics Reporter