Last night (Monday), Donald Trump and Hillary Clinton met in their long-awaited, first-ever presidential debate. The unenviable position of moderating the debate and keeping the candidates on-topic fell to Lester Holt, anchor of NBC Nightly News. A week before the debate, Holt announced that there would be three points of discussion: ”America’s Direction,” “Achieving Prosperity,” and “Securing America.”
“The questions are mine and have not been shared with the commission or the campaigns,” Holt said in his intro, before directing his attention to the candidates.
These included pointed questions about—among other things—jobs, transparency, Trump’s tax returns, Clinton’s email scandal, and race in America. Looking at the list of questions on its own is illuminating. It reveals in broad strokes the topics discussed by the candidates, and shows how often Holt needed to repeat a question in order to get an answer.
Indeed, Holt’s questions were frequently averted. When he asked Trump about his unreleased tax returns, the Republican candidate veered into a discussion of Clinton’s email scandal. When he asked Clinton about these emails, she, in turn, called on Trump to release his tax returns. Holt often persisted in these cases. He repeatedly asked Trump, for example, to explain why he had recently changed his mind about Barack Obama being born in the US.
Here’s the full list of questions Holt asked Donald Trump and Hillary Clinton, in chronological order, taken from a full transcript of the debate done by the Federal News Service and published by the New York Times. Questions in red were addressed to Trump; questions in blue to Clinton.
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- “Beginning with you, Secretary Clinton, why are you a better choice than your opponent to create the kinds of jobs that will put more money into the pockets of American works?”
- “Mr. Trump, the same question to you. It’s about putting money—more money into the pockets of American workers. You have up to two minutes.”
- “Let me follow up with Mr. Trump, if you can. You’ve talked about creating 25 million jobs, and you’ve promised to bring back millions of jobs for Americans. How are you going to bring back the industries that have left this country for cheaper labor overseas? How, specifically, are you going to tell American manufacturers that you have to come back?”
- “Back to the question, though. How do you bring back—specifically bring back jobs, American manufacturers? How do you make them bring the jobs back?”
- “Secretary Clinton, you’re calling for a tax increase on the wealthiest Americans. I’d like you to further defend that. And, Mr. Trump, you’re calling for tax cuts for the wealthy. I’d like you to defend that. And this next two-minute answer goes to you, Mr. Trump.”
- “You have two minutes of the same question to defend tax increases on the wealthiest Americans, Secretary Clinton.”
- “Mr. Trump, we’re talking about the burden that Americans have to pay, yet you have not released your tax returns. And the reason nominees have released their returns for decades is so that voters will know if their potential president owes money to—who he owes it to and any business conflicts. Don’t Americans have a right to know if there are any conflicts of interest?”
- “The IRS says an audit…[interrupted by Trump]…of your taxes—you’re perfectly free to release your taxes during an audit. And so the question, does the public’s right to know outweigh your personal…[interrupted by Trump]”
- “So [releasing your tax returns] is negotiable?”
- “(Referring to Trump’s question about Clinton’s e-mail scandal) Well, I’ll let her answer that…Secretary Clinton?”
- “[Trump] also raised the issue of your e-mails. Do you want to respond to that?”
- “The share of Americans who say race relations are bad in this country is the highest it’s been in decades, much of it amplified by shootings of African-Americans by police, as we’ve seen recently in Charlotte and Tulsa. Race has been a big issue in this campaign, and one of you is going to have to bridge a very wide and bitter gap. So how do you heal the divide? Secretary Clinton, you get two minutes on this.”
- “Secretary Clinton, last week, you said we’ve got to do everything possible to improve policing, to go right at implicit bias. Do you believe that police are implicitly biased against black people?”
- “Mr. Trump, for five years, you perpetuated a false claim that the nation’s first black president was not a natural-born citizen. You questioned his legitimacy. In the last couple of weeks, you acknowledged what most Americans have accepted for years: The president was born in the United States. Can you tell us what took you so long?”
- “But I just want to get the answer here. The birth certificate was produced in 2011. You’ve continued to tell the story and question the president’s legitimacy in 2012, ’13, ’14, ’15…as recently as January. So the question is, what changed your mind?”
- “I’m sorry. I’m just going to follow up — and I will let you respond to that, because there’s a lot there. But we’re talking about racial healing in this segment. What do you say to Americans, people of color who…[interrupted by Trump]”
- “Our next segment is called ‘Securing America.’ We want to start with a 21st century war happening every day in this country. Our institutions are under cyber attack, and our secrets are being stolen. So my question is, who’s behind it? And how do we fight it? Secretary Clinton, this answer goes to you.”
- “Mr. Trump, you have two minutes and the same question. Who’s behind [cyber attacks on the US]? And how do we fight it?”
- “You mention ISIS, and we think of ISIS certainly as over there, but there are American citizens who have been inspired to commit acts of terror on American soil, the latest incident, of course, the bombings we just saw in New York and New Jersey, the knife attack at a mall in Minnesota, in the last year, deadly attacks in San Bernardino and Orlando. I’ll ask this to both of you. Tell us specifically how you would prevent homegrown attacks by American citizens, Mr. Trump?”
- “Why is your judgment [on the Iraq War]— why is your judgment any different than Mrs. Clinton’s judgment?”
- “Which leads to my next question, as we enter our last segment here, the subject of securing America. On nuclear weapons, President Obama reportedly considered changing the nation’s longstanding policy on first use. Do you support the current policy? Mr. Trump, you have two minutes on that.”
- “Mr. Trump, this year Secretary Clinton became the first woman nominated for president by a major party. Earlier this month, you said she doesn’t have, quote, “a presidential look.” She’s standing here right now. What did you mean by that?”
- “One of you will not win this election. So my final question to you tonight, are you willing to accept the outcome as the will of the voters? Secretary Clinton?”
- “Mr. Trump, very quickly, same question. Will you accept the outcome as the will of the voters?”
- “Will you accept the outcome of the election?”