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12 questions we’d like to hear at the presidential debate

New York Times News Service

Hillary Clinton and Donald Trump were to meet Wednesday night at the University of Nevada, Las Vegas, for their final debate of the presidential election. The moderator, Chris Wallace of “Fox News Sunday,” has divided the hour-and-a-half event into six 15-minute segments, to cover immigration, the Supreme Court, entitlements and debt, the economy, foreign policy and fitness for office.

FILE-- Hillary Clinton and Donald Trump during their second presidential debate, at Washington University in St. Louis, Oct. 9, 2016. Clinton and Trump will meet on Oct. 19 at the University of Nevada, Las Vegas, for their final debate of the presidential election. The moderator, Chris Wallace of ÒFox News Sunday,Ó has divided the hour-and-a-half event into six 15-minute segments, to cover immigration, the Supreme Court, entitlements and debt, the economy, foreign policy and fitness for office. (Doug Mills/The New York Times)

The questions New York Times correspondents would like to hear:


— Do you favor increasing or reducing Social Security benefits? If so, how would you do it?

More than 60 million people each month receive Social Security benefits totaling more than $74 billion. Polls show that retirement security is a top concern for Americans. Fewer people can count on traditional pension benefits, and some people do not have retirement savings.

Trump has said he would not cut Social Security benefits. Clinton wants to make Social Security more generous for widows and for those who take time out of the paid workforce to care for a child or a sick family member. She has said she would require the wealthiest Americans to pay higher taxes.

But an aging population is a driver of rising government debt and of a budget deficit that climbed last fiscal year after several years of decline.

— What three steps would you take to improve Medicare?

The aging of baby boomers and the increase of medical costs will squeeze the health insurance program, which now covers 57 million older Americans. Medicare trustees say the hospital insurance trust fund could be exhausted in 2028 if no changes are made to existing law.

Both Clinton and Trump say Medicare should be able to negotiate prices with pharmaceutical companies. Clinton has proposed allowing people ages 55 to 64 to buy into Medicare, but has not said how the government or the new beneficiaries would pay for the coverage.

— Robert Pear

Live NPR fact-check of final Clinton-Trump debate


— Since 2012, hundreds of thousands of illegal immigrants who were brought to the United States as children have registered with the government under President Barack Obama’s executive order that gives them work permits and guarantees they will not be deported. Will you honor those guarantees?

Frustrated by Republicans’ refusal to overhaul the nation’s immigration system, Obama used executive authority to provide opportunities for millions of law-abiding immigrants who are in the country illegally. But the Supreme Court has blocked some of his plan, and the next president will have the power to reverse the rest.

— The war in Syria has created a huge migrant crisis. What is the appropriate level of migration from Syria that the United States should allow, and how would you guarantee that those coming into our country from a region struggling with terrorism do not mean us harm?

The United States has confronted these questions throughout its history: How open should its borders be to those fleeing oppression and violence? Trump dramatically proposed barring all Muslims, and later amended his idea to propose “extreme vetting” for anyone from countries like Syria or Libya, where extremism is rampant. Clinton has accused her rival of xenophobia. She has said the United States should expand the number of Syrians allowed entry. The future flows of migrants from Syria and other hot spots will probably be determined by the outcome of the presidential contest.

— Michael D. Shear


— The economy has grown slowly in recent years, and one reason is a prolonged slump in productivity growth. What steps would your administration take to encourage innovation and investment?

Modern prosperity was created by a huge increase in worker productivity. As the output of the average worker increases, so does the standard of living. But in recent years, that engine has been sputtering. Since the deep recession of 2008, labor productivity in the United States has increased by just 1 percent a year — less than half the annual pace since 1947. At the current pace, our standard of living will double once every 70 years, instead of doubling once every 30 years.

The government can improve productivity by encouraging the creation and diffusion of new technologies through changes in taxation and regulation. It can also play a more direct role, by improving the quality of public education or by making its own investments. Federal research and development funding fell to 0.78 percent of gross domestic product last year, down from 1 percent in 2009.

— Around 7 million men ages 25-54 are neither working nor looking for work. How would you help prime-age men who are sitting on the sidelines of the American economy?

The unemployment rate stood at 5 percent in September, a healthy number that concealed a host of deeper problems. One of the most perplexing: the rise of nonworking men. About 15 percent of prime-age men do not have jobs, up from about 5 percent in the 1960s. Most of them are not looking for work, so they are not counted in the unemployment rate. But they are a drag on the economy: They do not produce, but they continue to consume.

In an earlier generation, they might have found jobs in factories or other blue-collar occupations. Now they spend, on average, almost six hours a day watching television.

Economic growth is an incomplete corrective. Many nonworking men are ill equipped for the jobs that are available. Federal regulations, or restrictions on immigration, might induce employers to offer better pay and benefits. Restrictions on the availability of federal benefits might induce men to look for work.

— Binyamin Appelbaum


— On Monday, Sen. John McCain of Arizona said Republicans “will be united against any Supreme Court nominee that Hillary Clinton, if she were president, would put up.” What are the Senate’s obligations to consider presidential nominations to the Supreme Court?

A spokeswoman for McCain later tried to soften his remarks, but the suggestion that the current Supreme Court vacancy could last indefinitely was startling. In its last term, the court, down a justice since Antonin Scalia’s death in February, deadlocked in major cases on immigration and public unions, and it issued a muddled compromise ruling in a religious challenge to contraception coverage requirements.

And the next president will very likely face additional vacancies, as Justice Stephen G. Breyer is 78, Justice Anthony M. Kennedy is 80 and Justice Ruth Bader Ginsburg is 83.

— Mrs. Clinton, if you are elected, will you urge the Senate to confirm Mr. Obama’s Supreme Court nominee, Judge Merrick B. Garland, in its lame-duck session? Will you renominate him?

Clinton’s support for Garland has been notably mild. At the last debate, she said only that “I regret deeply that the Senate has not done its job and they have not permitted a vote,” adding that Garland was “a highly qualified person.”

Clinton’s statements may reflect a strategic calculation in a game of constitutional chicken. By hinting that she would nominate someone more liberal and younger than Garland, who is 63 and generally viewed as a moderate, she may be prodding the Senate to act.

Or perhaps she thinks the court could use a forceful liberal voice from a younger nominee. In a radio interview, she said she would “look broadly and widely for people who represent the diversity of our country.” Garland is a white man.

— Adam Liptak


— How would you respond to Russia’s recent aggression, from Ukraine to Syria to the hacking of the Democratic Party?

The United States and the European Union have already imposed significant economic sanctions on people and businesses close to President Vladimir Putin in retaliation for Russia’s annexation of Crimea and its role in destabilizing Ukraine. Obama gambled that Putin’s adventurism in Ukraine and Syria would eventually backfire for Russia. But there is little evidence that Russia’s military entanglements have eroded Putin’s popularity.

Obama has argued, with some justification, that confronting Russia militarily in Ukraine would be a losing battle, since Ukraine means much more to Russia than it does to the United States. In Syria, a more aggressive U.S. military presence would risk a clash with Russian warplanes. The Obama administration has hinted that it will respond to Russia’s hacking with covert action, potentially a cyberattack of its own. But it is not clear that this would be enough to stop the Russians from a strategy they believe has produced dividends.

— How would you differ from Mr. Obama in your handling of the Syrian war?

Both Trump and Clinton have criticized Obama’s inaction in Syria, although they differ radically on the proper prescription for a war that has lasted more than five years and caused hundreds of thousands of deaths. Part of the problem is setting priorities: Should the United States continue to call for the ouster of President Bashar Assad when it is also trying to uproot the Islamic State from Iraq and Syria?

Syria has become a proxy war for a multitude of players — Russia, Iran, Turkey and the Persian Gulf states — each with its own competing and overlapping interests. The trick for the next president is to find a solution that will end the killing and somehow win the support, or at least the acquiescence, of the many actors with interests in Syria.

— Mark Landler


— Mr. Trump, you have repeatedly made false claims during the campaign. Mrs. Clinton, you have been less than forthright about classified emails. How do you assure Americans that you will be honest and truthful?

Many Americans have already concluded that both candidates are liars. Trump and Clinton need to show that they have strategies for moving beyond that deeply held impression.

— Both of you have a demonstrated record of putting your personal financial concerns first — Mrs. Clinton, with your speaking fees and accusations over suspect commodities trades, and Mr. Trump, with your trail of business failures that left others with the bill. How can people be assured that you can separate your own interests from the decisions a president must make?

Both candidates are extremely wealthy, with a web of family finances that could be influenced by executive branch decisions. They need to explain to the public how they can separate the two and make decisions without consideration to themselves.

— Carl Hulse