Gun, immigration, marijuana not being discussed

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WASHINGTON – The coronavirus pandemic is at the top of mind for many voters, and it has been one of the main topics at both the first presidential debate and the only vice presidential debate this year.

But a slew of key issues have been left out of the conversation as absentee voting, COVID-19, health care and the pending Supreme Court faceoff have dominated the news.

Here are some topics that haven’t been brought up or really discussed at the debates thus far:

Immigration and border policies

Trump’s hard-line immigration policies have been controversial throughout his presidency.

Throughout his tenure, Trump’s administration: used a family separation policy along the U.S.-Mexico border, which has since been halted but continues in isolated cases; faced criticisms over conditions for migrants at the border; enacted a travel ban for mostly Muslim-majority countries; and most recently slashed the number of refugees allowed to resettle in the U.S.

Democratic presidential nominee Joe Biden also has taken heat from immigration activists who have criticized the Obama administration’s deportation policies and history.

Both candidates, and their running mates Mike Pence and Kamala Harris, have yet to discuss any of those issues on the debate stage. 

Susan Page, USA TODAY’s Washington Bureau chief and moderator of Wednesday’s vice presidential debate, said she had to cut a planned segment on immigration due to time constraints.

The lack of discussion on the topic didn’t go unnoticed by experts online.

Jacob Soboroff, an NBC News correspondent who covered immigration and border separations and author of “Separated: Inside an American Tragedy,” wrote on Twitter: “The Trump administration systematically took over 5,500 kids from their parents at the border knowing it would traumatize them for life, and there hasn’t been a single question about it – nor any question about immigration policy – at either of the first two debates.”


American voters on both sides of the isle agree the chaotic nature of the first 2020 presidential debate muddled the messages from President Donald Trump and Democratic challenger Joe Biden. (Sept. 30)

AP Domestic

Guns violence and gun rights

Mass shootings have plagued the United States for years, and the country has seen several occur in the past few years. That includes Marjory Stoneman Douglas High School shooting in Parkland, Florida, in 2018 that left 17 dead and the El Paso Walmart shooting in 2019. 

One of the Democratic primary debates was held just weeks after the El Paso shooting, where a white gunman drove to the border city in Texas with the intent to shoot Latinos. Twenty three people died and another 23 were injured.

But gun control has not been discussed in the general election debates. Neither have gun rights issues.

Last year, the United States saw more than 400 mass shootings in the U.S., according to data from the group, Gun Violence Archive. This year has also seen a high number of people who have died from gun violence, and will likely be the deadliest year for gun related homicides.

Issues specific to LGBTQ community

Pence has been criticized by many on the left for his record on issues specific to the LGBTQ community.

But the vice president didn’t address any of those issues at Wednesday’s debate.

While governor of Indiana, Pence signed the into law the Religious Freedom Restoration Act, which was modeled after the 1993 federal law. Critics have said it could be used to discriminate against the gay and lesbian communities.


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Pence during his dozen years in Congress also advocated for a constitutional amendment banning gay marriage, opposed measures to protect gay men and lesbians from discrimination in the workplace and opposed expanding the definition of hate crimes to cover offenses based on a victim’s sexual orientation or gender identity.

Harris has previously introduced the “Do No Harm” legislation to amend the federal religious freedom act, saying it’s been used to discriminate against LGBTQ individuals, women and children in the guise of protecting freedom of religion.

Harris has also been previously criticized for legal briefs she wrote as California attorney general where she denied gender reassignment surgery for transgender inmates. She has since said she takes “full responsibility” for the legal briefs, according to the Washington Blade.

Sarah Kate Ellis, CEO and president of GLAAD, criticized the vice presidential debate for not bring up issues important to the LGBTQ community.

“This is the fourth missed chance in a nationally-televised forum of the general election to address any LGBTQ issues,” Ellis wrote in a tweet. “VP Pence should have been called to account for his role in the administration’s 181 attacks against the LGBTQ community. #VPDebate”


The two campaigns have yet to debate their stances on education, including their policies related to higher education, school voucher programs and student loan debt.

Throughout the Democratic primary, education was key policy area that each Democratic contender addressed, whether it was touting plans for free college or plans related to lessening the burden of student loan debt.

But voters haven’t gotten to see any discussion of those issues on the debate stage with either Trump and Biden or Harris and Pence.

Instead, the conversation off the debate stage has shifted to reopening school safely amid the coronavirus pandemic. Ahead of the fall semester, Trump pushed for schools to reopen, while Biden had criticized the president’s stance and advocated for science-based decisions.

Marijuana legalization and drug policy

While both Trump and Biden have talked about criminal justice reform on the campaign trail, where they stand on drug policy hasn’t been a large part of the conversation either on the debate stage or off.

Hundreds of people, particularly people of color and especially Black men, have been convicted and are still in jail for selling marijuana, while a growing number of states have legalized the drug at a recreational or medicinal level, or both. 

Biden has previously said he supports decriminalizing marijuana but has not supported legalization. Trump hasn’t been as clear about where he stands on legalizing marijuana. Last year when asked whether his administration would legalize marijuana federally, Trump said right now, his team is letting state’s decide.

Affordable housing

Trump over the past several weeks has said he’s saving the suburbs from low-income housing.

The comment, which is part of his campaign message touting himself as the president of “law and order,” has largely been seen as a dog-whistle related to race. While suburbs in general are becoming more diverse, they for years have been largely white at least in part due to policies that have kept Black Americans out.

The coronavirus pandemic, which has caused a recession, has also created a housing crisis, where home prices are surging and many Americans are facing eviction after losing jobs amid the pandemic. 

But the topic of affordable housing has not been discussed further on the debate stage.

Biden has released a comprehensive housing policy plan. In the plan, Biden said $100 billion would be put into an “Affordable Housing Fund,” with $65 billion of that funding being put to “new incentives for state housing authorities and the Indian Housing Block Grant program to construct or rehabilitate low-cost, efficient, resilient, and accessible housing in areas where affordable housing is in short supply.”

Contributing: Maureen Groppe


Trading barbs through plexiglass shields, Republican Mike Pence and Democrat Kamala Harris squared off on a Salt Lake City debate stage Wednesday night, the only vice presidential debate of 2020. (Oct. 8)

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