After massive outcry from activists and young voters, debate moderator Chris Wallace questioned President Trump and former Vice President Joe Biden about the climate crisis at the first presidential debate. He did not include it in his initial list of debate topics. Kate Aronoff, author and staff writer at The New Republic, says she didn’t expect climate change to come up, but was unsurprised by the responses. “We’ve known for years that Donald Trump denies the science of climate change,” she says. “And we know that Joe Biden doesn’t support a Green New Deal.”
AMY GOODMAN: This is Democracy Now! The Quarantine Report. I’m Amy Goodman, with Juan González.
We end today’s show looking at the candidates’ exchange about the climate crisis. Climate change was not on the six topics Fox News moderator Chris Wallace released before the debate, but he added the issue after massive outcry from activists and young voters. This is Wallace questioning President Trump and Joe Biden.
CHRIS WALLACE: The forest fires in the West are raging now. They have burned millions of acres. They have displaced hundreds of thousands of people. When state officials there blamed the fires on climate change, Mr. President, you said, “I don’t think the science knows.” Over your four years, you have pulled the U.S. out of the Paris climate accord. You have rolled back a number of Obama environmental records. What do you believe about the science of climate change? And what will you do in the next four years to confront it?
PRESIDENT DONALD TRUMP: I want crystal-clean water and air. I want beautiful, clean air. We have now the lowest carbon. If you look at our numbers right now, we are doing phenomenally. But I haven’t destroyed our businesses. Our businesses aren’t put out of commission. If you look at the Paris accord, it was a disaster from our standpoint. And people are actually very happy about what’s going on, because our businesses are doing well.
As far as the fires are concerned, you need forest management, in addition to everything else. The forest floors are loaded up with trees, dead trees, that are years old, and they’re like tinder, and leaves and everything else. You drop a cigarette in there, the whole forest burns down. You’ve got to have forest management.
CHRIS WALLACE: What do you believe —
PRESIDENT DONALD TRUMP: You’ve got to have cuts.
CHRIS WALLACE: What do you believe about the science of climate change, sir?
PRESIDENT DONALD TRUMP: I believe that we have to do everything we can to have immaculate air, immaculate water, and do whatever else we can that’s good. You know, we’re planting a billion trees, the billion tree project, and it’s very exciting for a lot of people.
CHRIS WALLACE: Do you believe that human pollution, gas, greenhouse gas emissions, contributes to the global warming of this planet?
PRESIDENT DONALD TRUMP: I think a lot of things do, but I think, to an extent, yes.
JOE BIDEN: Look at how much we’re paying now to deal with the hurricanes, to deal with — by the way, he has an answer for hurricanes. He said maybe we should drop a nuclear weapon on them, and they may go away.
PRESIDENT DONALD TRUMP: I never said that at all.
JOE BIDEN: That’s — yeah, you did say that.
PRESIDENT DONALD TRUMP: You made it up.
JOE BIDEN: And here’s the deal.
PRESIDENT DONALD TRUMP: You make up a lot of things.
JOE BIDEN: We are going to be in a position where we can create hard, hard, good jobs by making sure the environment is clean and we all are in better shape. We spend billions of dollars now, billions of dollars, on floods, hurricanes, rising seas. We’re in real trouble. Look what’s happened just in the Midwest with these storms that come through and wipe out entire sections and counties in Iowa. That didn’t happen before. They’re because of global warming. …
The Green New Deal will pay for itself as we move forward. We’re not going to build plants that in fact are great polluting plants. We’re going to build —
CHRIS WALLACE: So, do you support the Green New Deal?
JOE BIDEN: Pardon me?
CHRIS WALLACE: Do you support the —
JOE BIDEN: No, I don’t support the Green New Deal.
PRESIDENT DONALD TRUMP: Oh, you don’t? Oh, well, that’s a big statement!
JOE BIDEN: Will you let — I support the Biden —
PRESIDENT DONALD TRUMP: That means you just lost the radical left!
JOE BIDEN: I support the Biden plan —
PRESIDENT DONALD TRUMP: Oh, you don’t?
JOE BIDEN: — that I put forward.
CHRIS WALLACE: OK.
JOE BIDEN: The Biden plan, which is different than what he calls the radical Green New Deal.
AMY GOODMAN: That’s the first presidential debate last night.
For more, we’re joined by Kate Aronoff, staff writer at The New Republic. She is the co-author of A Planet to Win: Why We Need a Green New Deal.
So, here’s Trump trying to talk about Biden as a socialist throughout the night, and then there is Biden saying that he does not support a Green New Deal, and Wallace pressing Trump on whether humans cause climate change and whether this is a crisis. Kate, your overall response?
KATE ARONOFF: Well, I was pleasantly surprised to even have climate change come up last night. It wasn’t supposed to. And I think it’s a credit to people who rightfully raised a stink about that.
And I also wasn’t surprised at all about what both candidates said, right? We’ve known for years that Donald Trump denies the science of climate change, that he thinks it’s a hoax, that he’s loyal to people in the fossil fuel industry, to executives in the fossil fuel industry in particular. And we’ve known that Joe Biden doesn’t support a Green New Deal. This isn’t new news.
I think that what’s also not surprising is that there’s a clear choice between these two candidates, right? We can’t have another Donald Trump administration and hope to tackle the climate crisis on the speed and scale that we need. And we know that Joe Biden is going to need to be pushed into tackling the climate crisis at the speed and the scale that we need.
So, I, you know, follow these issues. I didn’t learn a whole lot last night. I was glad it came up. But I think there’s a lot of work to do regardless of who’s elected in January, and I certainly hope that Joe Biden is elected in November.
JUAN GONZÁLEZ: And, Kate Aronoff, while I agree with you that it was great for Chris Wallace to raise climate change issues in the debate, one thing that did happen as a result of that, because he questioned Donald Trump four or five times straight at one point on the climate, is that it didn’t allow time for closing arguments by either candidate, this being perhaps maybe the biggest debate audience. Who knows? We haven’t seen the final results yet. But the chance that both candidates, Biden and Trump, lost to be able to make a closing argument, do you think that something was lost in that?
KATE ARONOFF: Well, judging by the other hour and a half of the debate, I am not sure we would have gotten too much of that — out of that, either way. I mean, it was a mess, I mean, to put it really charitably, what happened last night. And so, that would have been nice, but I also think it’s good to talk about the greatest existential threat humanity has ever faced, when you’re looking at two potential leaders in the free world.
AMY GOODMAN: Kate Aronoff, 20 seconds on Biden’s Green New Deal, or what he’s saying is his, the Biden deal?
KATE ARONOFF: Yeah, it’s the most progressive climate policy that a Democratic presidential candidate has ever run on, and it’s not nearly enough. Activists pushed this to be the best plan that we’ve seen from a Democratic nominee, and we know that, in January, when he is hopefully elected, that he’ll need to be pushed really aggressively in order to make any of that a reality. So, it’s a good starting place, and it’s just that.
AMY GOODMAN: Well, we want to thank you for being on with us, Kate Aronoff, staff writer at The New Republic. This is supposedly the first of three presidential debates. Next week it’s vice-presidential debate. We end today’s show with Fox’s Chris Wallace questioning President Trump about his tax returns.
CHRIS WALLACE: Mr. President, as you well know, there’s a new report that in 2016, the year you were elected president, and 2017, your first year as president, that you paid $750 a year in federal income tax each of those years. I know that you pay a lot of other taxes, but I’m asking you the specific question: Is it true that you paid $750 in federal income taxes each of those two years?
PRESIDENT DONALD TRUMP: I paid millions of dollars in taxes, millions of dollars of income tax. And let me just tell you, there was a story in one of the papers I paid —
JOE BIDEN: Show us your tax returns.
PRESIDENT DONALD TRUMP: I paid $38 million one year. I paid $27 million one year.
JOE BIDEN: Show us your tax returns.
PRESIDENT DONALD TRUMP: I went — you’ll see it as soon as it’s finished. You’ll see it.
CHRIS WALLACE: Vice President Biden, do you want to respond?
JOE BIDEN: Yeah, I do want to respond. Look, the tax code that made him — that put him in a position that he pays less tax than a schoolteacher makes — on the money a schoolteacher makes is because of him taking — he says he’s smart because he can take advantage of the tax code. And he does take advantage of the tax code. That’s why I’m going to eliminate the Trump tax cuts.
PRESIDENT DONALD TRUMP: Good.
JOE BIDEN: And we’re going to — I’m going to eliminate those tax cuts —
PRESIDENT DONALD TRUMP: OK.
JOE BIDEN: — and make sure that we invest in the people who in fact need the help. People out there need help. Ask a —
PRESIDENT DONALD TRUMP: But why didn’t you do anything over the last 25 years?
CHRIS WALLACE: No, no, no. Wait, no. Let — I want to —
JOE BIDEN: Because you weren’t president —
PRESIDENT DONALD TRUMP: Why didn’t you do anything over the last 25 —
JOE BIDEN: Because you weren’t president screwing things up.
PRESIDENT DONALD TRUMP: No, no, no, no. You were a senator. And by the way, you were a vice —
JOE BIDEN: You’re the worst president America has ever had. Come on.
PRESIDENT DONALD TRUMP: Hey, Joe, let me — let me just tell you, Joe, I’ve done more in — in 47 months, I’ve done more than you’ve done in 47 years.
AMY GOODMAN: We just have 20 seconds. Kate Aronoff, your final response?
KATE ARONOFF: Like most of the 1%, Donald Trump lives by a different set of rules. Most working people pay more taxes than Donald Trump has paid in the last 15 years. The Times reporting is very clear. And we need to get him out of office. That’s it. I mean, we need to — we need a much better tax code, and we need to tax the rich much more than they are now.
AMY GOODMAN: Kate Aronoff of The New Republic, thanks so much for being with us.
And if you’d like to see the whole debate, 90 minutes of the free-for-all, you can go to democracynow.org. I’m Amy Goodman, with Juan González. Special thanks to Julie Crosby. Stay safe. Wear a mask.