First 2020 Presidential Debate Leaves Climate Off the Agenda

The first presidential debate between Biden and Trump has an agenda — and climate isn't on it.

Sophie Hirsh - Author

Sep. 24 2020, Updated 1:02 p.m. ET

first presidential debate climate
Source: Getty Images

Next Tuesday, Sept. 29, Joe Biden and Donald Trump will face off in the first presidential debate, five weeks before Election Day. The six topics that will be on the table for the debate were just announced — and to the dismay of citizens and lawmakers concerned about the environment, Biden and Trump will not be debating about the climate.

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Fox News anchor Chris Wallace is moderating the debate, to be held on Tuesday, Sept. 29, 2020, at 9:00 p.m. ET at Cleveland’s Case Western Reserve University and Cleveland Clinic. For the debate, Wallace chose the following six topics, according to the Commission on Presidential Debates: the Trump and Biden records, the Supreme Court, COVID-19, the economy, race and violence in our cities, and the integrity of the election. Each topic will be discussed for 15 minutes.

A group of 37 Democratic Senators led by Sen. Ed Markey (including Independent Sen. Bernie Sanders) wrote a letter to the Commission on Presidential Debates on Wednesday, Sept. 23, demanding that climate issues be added to Tuesday’s agenda.

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“This is not just any election. It is one that will determine how our country responds to the worsening climate crisis that we face each and every day — we don’t have another election cycle to wait,” the Senators wrote in their letter. “Voters, regardless of their party affiliation or candidate preference, must have the opportunity to hear directly from the candidates about what they have done and plan to do to fight this crisis.”

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Source: Getty Images
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About three weeks prior, a group of 70 House Democrats wrote their own letter to the Commission demanding that the first debate contain “a dedicated discussion on the climate crisis that matches the importance of this moment.”

“Climate change is no longer an issue that is looming in the distance. It is here, and it is being felt acutely right now,” the Members of Congress wrote. “We understand there are four central crises that the presidential and vice-presidential candidates must address: the ongoing pandemic, a struggling economy, racial injustice, and the climate crisis. But of these four, there is one which will exacerbate each of the other three, if not addressed immediately,” they continued, referring to the climate crisis.

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Various groups, including Daily Kos, Climate Power 2020, and Earth Uprising and Move On, have already started petitions with similar demands.

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It’s certainly a disappointment that climate did not make the list, but as the House Democrats mention in their letter, the climate crisis exacerbates so many of the U.S.’s other most pressing issues. And as Grist writer Joseph Winters wrote in his piece “Why the 6 topics for the first Biden-Trump debate are actually all about climate change,” the climate crisis is inextricably linked with the six topics up for debate on Tuesday. So it won’t be a surprise if the topic comes up during the debate, whether it’s brought up by Wallace, the candidates, or otherwise.

Environmental protection is an intersectional issue, connected with the many other pressing issues facing our nation and the entire planet — and it’s one the American people deserve to hear about at the debate… even though it’s pretty clear where Biden and Trump stand on this issue.

There will be two other presidential debates, held on Oct. 15 and Oct. 22, as well as a vice presidential debate on Oct. 7.

Election Day is Nov. 3. Register to vote at and head to your state’s board of elections for details on requesting a mail-in or absentee ballot. 

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