Democratic Primary Debates

Republican Primary Debates

1st Presidential Debate
Clinton v. Trump

Monday, September 26, 2016 9PM/ET

Mack Arena, Hofstra University
Hempstead, NY

Sponsored by:  Commission On Presidential Debates
Moderated by:  Lester Holt, Anchor, NBC Nightly News
Broadcast by:  All major news channels
Participants:  Hillary Clinton and Donald Trump

Presidential Debate Format: 90 minutes/six 15 minutes segments/two minutes response time for first question

An estimated 100 million Americans tuned in to the first presidential debate of the 2016 election cycle on Monday night to watch Democratic nominee for president, Hillary Clinton, square off against her Republican counterpart Donald Trump - although many would probably be switching channels to check the scores on the New Orleans Saints and Atlanta Falcons game. Held in the David S. Mack Sports and Exhibition Complex inside the leafy Hofstra University campus in Hemstead, New York, the debate was moderated by Lester Holt, the anchor of NBC’s Nightly News.

There was a slight kerfuffle outside the Mack Arena a couple hours before the debate commenced when campus security and police officers had to escort Jill Stein, the presidential nominee for the Green Party, off the grounds as she did not have proper credentials to be there. Other than that, and the sometimes raucous audience members, the event went very smoothly – a testament to Hofstra University’s experience in organizing presidential and vice presidential debates.

The main focus in the days leading up to the debate was whether Mr. Holt would assume the role of a “fact-checker” to both candidates, something which the Clinton camp has been actively pushing for. Janet Brown, the executive director of the Commission on Presidential Debates – which is the organizer of all four presidential and vice-presidential debates – weighed in on the matter on Sunday by stating that it’s not “a good idea to get the moderator into essentially serving as the Encyclopedia Britannica.” Mr. Holt appeared to disagree, and ”fact-checked” Mr. Trump on at least two occasions, namely, his opposition to the Iraq War and his refusal to release his tax returns due to an IRS audit.

Mr. Holt has received heavy criticisms for that in the hours after the debate, as well as his decision to allow Mr. Trump to speak over him and interrupt Secretary Clinton at least thirty times during the debate.

The opening question of the evening – all questions were only known to Mr. Holt – revolves around job creation.

Question 1: 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 workers?

Secretary Clinton’s focus was on investing for the future to create jobs in high technology, renewable energy and advanced manufacturing sectors. She stressed on the need to create a fairer economy for all Americans by raising minimum wage and guaranteeing equal pay for women. She also touched on providing a supportive working environment through paid family and sick leave and affordable childcare. These initiatives will be paid for by ensuring the wealthy pay their fair share of taxes.

Mr. Trump focused on jobs that have been stolen by countries like China and Mexico, and the growth of manufacturing there. He cited Ford and Carrier as examples of companies which have fired their local workers in favor of foreign ones. Mr. Trump will stem the tide by introducing corporate tax cuts from “thirty five percent to fifteen percent” which will incentivize companies to stay in the country and spur the creation of jobs “like we haven't seen since Ronald Reagan.”

When offered a chance to respond, Secretary Clinton pointed out that Mr. Trump’s “trickle-down economics” will not work. She made a passing mention of Mr. Trump’s $14 million loan from his father to start his business as an example of his worldview on economic growth. Mr. Trump countered that from that loan, he has built a fortune worth billions of dollars and “that’s the kind of thinking that our country needs.”

Mr. Trump expanded his argument by elaborating on China’s currency manipulation, Mexico’s tariffs on American imports and the “defective” NAFTA. He also took Secretary Clinton to task by arguing that she and other politicians should have addressed this issue long ago.

Secretary Clinton argued that eight years ago, the nation faced its worst financial crisis since the 1930s, and it led to nine million people losing their jobs, five million people losing their homes, and $13 trillion dollars in family wealth being wiped out.

Question 2: And I want to talk about taxes. The fundamental difference between you two concerns the wealthy. 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 and I’d like you to defend that.

Mr. Trump defended his tax cuts for the wealthy by arguing that it would compel wealthy American individuals and companies to repatriate their cash parked overseas - “Two and a half trillion - I happen to think it’s double that - it’s probably five trillion dollars that we can't bring into our country, Lester.” He further argued that this can be achieved quickly with just “a little leadership.”

Secretary Clinton countered that Mr. Trump’s tax proposals will not lead to repatriation of “money that is stranded overseas.” Calling it the “Trump loophole,” Secretary Clinton claimed that the “trickle-down” proposal would merely lead to “the mess we were in 2009.”

Mr. Trump then argued that the current economic recovery is artificial, claiming that the country is in a “big fat ugly bubble” that could easily come crashing down, and is exacerbated by the politically-motivated decisions made by the Federal Reserve and its chair, Janet Yellen.

Mr. Holt interjected at this point by questioning Mr. Trump on his decision of not releasing his tax returns. Mr. Trump stated, as he did before, that he is currently under audit and will release the returns once it is completed. He further notes that Americans can learn about his finances by reviewing his 2015 U.S. Public Financial Disclosure Report filed with the Federal Election Commission. Mr. Holt however called Mr. Trump out on that, noting that he is free to release his returns even during an audit. Mr. Trump said he is prepared to release his returns, against the wishes of his lawyers, if Secretary Clinton released “her thirty three thousand e-mails that have been deleted.”

Secretary Clinton accused Mr. Trump of playing “bait and switch” and noted that every president candidate over the last 40 years have released their tax returns. She speculated that there might be a few reasons why he refused to do so: he is not wealthy as he claimed; he is not as charitable as he claimed; he may be trying to conceal his foreign business ties and debts; he has paid nothing in federal taxes. Prompted by Mr. Holt to address the question about her e-mail, Secretary Clinton acknowledged that she made a mistake in “using a private e-mail.”

Secretary Clinton then brought up the issue of people “who were stiffed by you and your businesses, Donald.” Mr. Trump refuted the allegation, and insinuated that maybe payment wasn’t made because of unsatisfactory work.

Question 3: Let's start by talking about race. 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 it by shootings of African-Americans by police, as we have 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 believes that race relations remains a significant challenge and has to be addressed with education, repairing strained relations between communities and law enforcement, and more efficient gun control.

Mr. Trump on the other hand believes that the issue boils down to law and order in inner cities to stop violence, citing the success of New York’s stop and frisk policy as an example. Mr. Holt questioned the constitutionality of the stop and frisk law, but Mr. Trump claimed that a change of mayor led to the city’s refusal to appeal the court order.

Mr. Holt followed up with a question about the birtherism conspiracy theory which Mr. Trump raised in 2011. Mr. Trump argued that it was started by the Clinton campaign, and his involvement was crucial in President Barack Obama’s eventual decision to release his long-from birth certificate.

Secretary Clinton argued that Mr. Trump persisted with the “racist lie that our first black president was not an American citizen” because “some of his supporters, people that he was trying to bring into his fold apparently believed it or wanted to believe it.” She also brought up the racial discrimination charges filed by the Justice Department in 1973 against Donald Trump and his “long record of engaging in racist behavior.” Mr. Trump countered that he settled the DoJ lawsuit with no admission of guilt.

Question 4: 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 believes that cyberwarfare will be one of the biggest challenges facing the next president as many of the recent attacks were orchestrated by state actors, and named Russia as one of the countries involved. She also castigated Mr. Trump for his hacking appeal to Russia.
Mr. Trump argues that no one knows whether it was Russia who hacked the Democratic National Committee servers. However, he stated that the hacking revealed how Secretary Clinton’s primary challenger, Vermont Senator Bernie Sanders, “was taken advantage of by your people.” He also believes that ISIS is beating the United States “at our own game” and that we “we had to get very, very tough on cyber and cyber warfare.”

Mr. Trump believes that President Obama and Secretary Clinton created a vacuum in Iraq which facilitated the emergence of ISIS. He also proposes the seizure of oil production infrastructure in Middle Eastern countries to cut off the source of income of ISIS terrorists.

Secretary Clinton contends that the decision to withdraw from Iraq was made by former president George W. Bush, and American troops could not have stayed there without the permission of the Iraqi government.

Mr. Trump’s claim that he opposed the Iraq war from the start was challenged by Mr. Holt, who insisted that records showed otherwise.

Question 5: On nuclear weapons, President Obama reportedly considered changing the nation's longstanding policy on first use. Do you support the current policy?

Mr. Trump believes that Russian military “have a much newer capability than we do,” and that the nation is not keeping pace with other countries. He prefers if “everybody to end it just get rid of it,” and he is not an advocate of a first strike. Mr. Trump also believes that China should solve the North Korean problem by invading the country.

Secretary Clinton states that the words of a president matters, and it is the job of the president to honor mutual defense treaties and provide assurances to allies.

Question 6: 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?

Mr. Trump believes that Secretary Clinton lacks the stamina to conduct trade deals negotiations, a charge which the latter denies. She also accused Mr. Trump of switching his words from “looks” to “stamina,” while cataloguing some of his alleged sexists remarks made to other women over the years, which Mr. Trump denied. Mr. Trump responded that despite the harsh treatment he is receiving from Secretary Clinton, he is holding back as he felt it was “inappropriate”.

Question 7: 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?

Both candidates answered that they will accept the outcome of the election and the will of the voters.

The second presidential debate will take place on October 9th, 2016 in St. Louis, Missouri.

First Presidential Debate
September 26, 2016

Click to Expand Full Debate Transcript

Compare the Profiles of Donald Trump and Hillary Clinton

Parents & Grandparents
Faith & Religion
Net Worth & Income

Compare Donald Trump and Hillary Clinton on the Issues

Capital Punishment
Civil Liberties
Deficit and Debt
Federal Budget
Guantanamo Bay
Gun Control
Health Care
Minimum Wage
National Security
North Korea
Prescription Drugs
Social Security


 Presidential Debate Schedule
September 26th, 2016   |   Hempstead, NY

October 4th, 2016   |   Farmville, VA

October 9th, 2016   |   St. Louis, MO

October 19th, 2016   |   Las Vegas, NV


 Presidential Primary Debates
      August 6th, 2015   |   Cleveland, Ohio

      September 16th, 2015   |   Simi Valley, California

      October 13th, 2015   |   Las Vegas, Nevada

      October 28th, 2015   |   Boulder, Colorado

      November 10th, 2015   |   Milwaukee, Wisconsin

      November 14th, 2015   |   Des Moines, Iowa

      December 15th, 2015   |   Las Vegas, Nevada

      December 19th, 2015   |   Manchester, NH

      January 14th, 2016   |   North Charleston, SC

      January 17th, 2016   |   Charleston, South Carolina

      January 28th, 2016   |   Des Moines, Iowa

      February 4th, 2016   |   Durham, New Hampshire

      February 6th, 2016   |   Manchester, NH

      February 11th, 2016   |   Milwaukee, Wisconsin

      February 13th, 2016   |   Greenville, South Carolina

      February 25th, 2016   |   Houston, Texas

      March 3rd, 2016   |   Detroit, Michigan

      March 6th, 2016   |   Flint, Michigan

      March 9th, 2016   |   Miami, Florida

      March 10th, 2016   |   Miami, Florida

      April 14th, 2016   |   Brooklyn, New York

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