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Sen. Chris Coons On 1st Presidential Debate

ARI SHAPIRO, HOST:

Tonight is the first of three debates between President Donald Trump and former Vice President Joe Biden. Of course, this is a presidential election like no other. With more than 200,000 people in the U.S. dead from the corona virus, there are no handshake lines, no kissing babies. These debates may be the best chance for candidates to make their case to millions of voters all at once. Sen. Chris Coons of Delaware is a surrogate for the Biden campaign, and he's also a member of the Senate Judiciary Committee, which is considering a Supreme Court nomination.

Sen. Coons joins us from Cleveland, where the debate will take place. Welcome.

CHRIS COONS: Great to be on with you, Ari.

SHAPIRO: Right now, polls suggest that Biden is ahead of Trump in key states and nationally. So how would you describe what the former vice president needs to do tonight?

COONS: Well, Joe's going to present a detailed plan for how he's going to get us out of the pandemic and the economic crisis that's been caused by President Trump's bungled mishandling of the pandemic. He's going to be positive. He's going to be prepared. He's going to explain to us how he'll use not just this debate and this campaign but his presidency to unite our country. We have to remember Donald Trump is a reality TV star, a master of spectacle. We all have to be prepared for some whoppers coming from Donald Trump tonight.

SHAPIRO: You say Donald Trump is likely to deliver whoppers. Media organizations, including NPR, are going to be fact checking the debate in real time. If President Trump says a litany of things that are not true, as he often does, how much time do you think Biden should put into fact checking the president and correcting false statements versus just offering his own agenda.

COONS: I think former Vice President Biden should be offering his own concrete and positive agenda, as he has throughout this campaign, and rely on the media and rely on viewers, listeners to educate themselves about the ways in which President Trump has an uneven relationship with the truth and a long history of saying things that just are frankly untrue.

SHAPIRO: Is there one group of voters that you think it is most important for Biden to appeal to. I mean, is he trying to get committed Democrats to turn out or persuade people who voted for Trump four years ago to change sides? What's the goal here?

COONS: I think both. There are still some folks in America who are undecided about this race. And in particular, there's folks who took a chance on Donald Trump, an unconventional candidate, where four years ago, they thought, what's the worst that could happen? Well now they know. With 200,000 Americans dead, more than 7 million infected. And with health care on the agenda both at this election and on the docket for the Supreme Court, there's a lot at stake in this election. So I think clarifying what's at stake will also help turn out committed Democrats.

SHAPIRO: As you said, the Supreme Court is going to be one of the topics tonight. And you are on the Senate Judiciary Committee. You have argued that a nominee should not be considered until January. But given that Republicans have enough votes to confirm Judge Amy Coney Barrett to the seat that was held by Justice Ruth Bader Ginsburg, what strategy do you think Democrats should take over the next month or two?

COONS: Well, Ari, we should first remind Americans that just 35 days before an election, when more than half the states are already voting - this is an unprecedented time to barrel ahead with a partisan nomination process. This is something that threatens to further divide us, further divide the Senate, our nation and undermine the legitimacy of the Supreme Court. But if, as you say, Republicans are determined...

SHAPIRO: But practically speaking, is there anything - yeah. Is there anything Democrats can do?

COONS: Republicans are determined to move ahead. So there's nothing we can do to stop them. I will question Judge Barrett about her views on the Affordable Care Act. She openly criticized Chief Justice Roberts' opinion upholding the constitutionality of the Affordable Care Act. And I'll remind you Justice Ginsburg's life work was advancing gender equity. And one of the key provisions of the Affordable Care Act prohibits insurance companies from discriminating against women just for being women. Pregnancy was long treated as a preexisting condition by many insurance companies.

So Judge Barrett should explain how she will rule on the Affordable Care Act. And if she won't, I think we should be reminding the general public that Donald Trump - President Trump is determined to repeal the ACA and has said he would only choose a nominee who would repeal the ACA.

SHAPIRO: That is Democratic senator and Biden campaign surrogate Chris Coons of Delaware speaking with us from Cleveland, where the first Biden-Trump debate will take place tonight.

Thank you very much, Sen. Coons.

COONS: Thank you, Ari.

SHAPIRO: And in another part of the show today, we are speaking with a representative for the Trump campaign. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.