Hours before debate, Joe Biden releases tax returns and urges Donald Trump to do so, too

WASHINGTON (REUTERS) – Hours before his first debate with President Donald Trump, Democratic presidential nominee Joe Biden on Tuesday (Sept 29) released his 2019 tax returns and his campaign called on Trump, who has come under fire for not releasing his returns, to do the same.

Biden, due to share the stage with Trump on Tuesday evening in Cleveland, took the step two days after the New York Times reported that Trump had paid just US$750 (S$1,027) in federal income taxes in 2016 and 2017 – and none in 10 of the previous 15 years.

Trump had long sought to keep his personal financial records secret.

Biden’s taxes showed that he and his wife Jill paid more than US$346,000 in federal taxes and other payments for 2019 on an income of nearly US$985,000 before seeking a refund of nearly US$47,000 they said they had overpaid the government.

The 2019 tax returns for Biden’s running mate, Senator Kamala Harris, also were released.

“This is a historic level of transparency meant to give the American people faith once again that their leaders will look out for them and not their own bottom lines,” Biden’s deputy campaign manager, Kate Bedingfield, said on a call with reporters.

“Mr President, release your tax returns or shut up,”Bedingfield added.

With more than a million Americans already casting early ballots and time running out to change minds or influence the small sliver of undecided voters, the stakes are enormous as the two White House candidates take the stage five weeks before the Nov 3 election.

The 90-minute debate, with a limited and socially distanced in-person audience because of the pandemic, will begin at 9pm EDT on Wednesday (9am on Thursday, Singapore time) at Case Western Reserve University in Cleveland.

It is the first of three scheduled debates.

The combustible Trump and more low-key Biden will debate an array of urgent political challenges, including a coronavirus pandemic that has killed more than 200,000 people in the United States and thrown millions out of work, a brewing battle over Trump’s nomination of conservative judge Amy Coney Barrett to the Supreme Court, and continued protests for racial justice.

The encounter could be crucial for Biden, giving him a chance to prove he is a steady hand capable of stepping into the Oval Office and ending the tumult of Trump’s first term, strategists said.

Biden has held a consistent lead over Trump in national opinion polls, although surveys in the battleground states that will decide the election show a much closer contest.

While most voters appear to have made up their minds about their choice for president, movement still appears possible.

According to Sept 22-24 Reuters/Ipsos polling data, about 17 per cent of both Trump and Biden supporters have indicated they may change their vote.

About 9 per cent of likely voters are not currently backing either candidate, less than half of the percentage who were not committed to the two major contenders in September 2016, according to Reuters/Ipsos polling.

“Voters have made up their mind about Donald Trump. They still aren’t quite sure what to make of Joe Biden,” said Republican strategist Alex Conant, an aide to Senator Marco Rubio during his 2016 presidential primary bid against Trump.

“If Biden goes in and demonstrates he is not scary to independents and is capable of doing the job, he will help himself significantly,” Conant said.

White House aides have said Trump, 74, will aggressively challenge Biden’s record on issues such as trade, energy and taxes and will be prepared to defend himself on his own taxes.

Trump, who has repeatedly cast doubt on the integrity of the election, is likely to face questions about his refusal to commit to accepting the election results and a peaceful handover of power should he lose.

Biden, 77, will outline where Trump has fallen short of his own promises, a source familiar with his strategy said. Biden also is certain to press his criticism of Trump’s response to the pandemic, and highlight Trump’s efforts to eliminate the Affordable Care Act, the law known as Obamacare that has helped millions of Americans obtain health insurance.

The debate will be divided into six segments – the records of Trump and Biden, the US Supreme Court, the coronavirus pandemic, the economy, election integrity and “race and violence” in US cities.

Trump, a battering ram as a debater who has regularly questioned Biden’s mental fitness and physical energy, will be trying to rattle the former vice-president and throw him off his talking points, strategists said.

Ahead of the debate, Democrats have demanded that moderator Chris Wallace of Fox News correct Trump when he makes false claims. But Wallace, whom Trump has called “nasty and obnoxious,” said he would not perform a fact-checking function.

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