CLEVELAND, OH - AUGUST 06:  Republican presidential candidates (L-R) New Jersey Gov. Chris Christie, Sen. Marco Rubio (R-FL), Ben Carson, Wisconsin Gov. Scott Walker, Donald Trump, Jeb Bush, Mike Huckabee, Sen. Ted Cruz (R-TX), Sen. Rand Paul (R-KY) and John Kasich take the stage for the first prime-time presidential debate hosted by FOX News and Facebook at the Quicken Loans Arena August 6, 2015 in Cleveland, Ohio. The top-ten GOP candidates were selected to participate in the debate based on their rank in an average of the five most recent national political polls.  (Photo by Chip Somodevilla/Getty Images)
Best debate moments in history
02:06 - Source: CNN
CNN  — 

What would you ask Hillary Clinton and Donald Trump if you were moderating the first presidential debate Monday night? Celebrities, writers and other newsmakers pose their questions on subjects including criminal justice, foreign policy and immigration. The views expressed are the writers’ own. Share your question ideas in the comments section or @CNNOpinion.

Ava DuVernay, director

What are your thoughts on the fact that America, the land of the free, holds the record for the country with the most citizens currently imprisoned, and your concrete plans, if any, on changing that startling statistic through your presidency?


Ava DuVernay is an award-winning director and screenwriter. She is the director of “Selma” and the upcoming “13TH,” a documentary about the U.S. prison system, seen through the lens of race relations.

Alex Trebek, actor and television personality

If elected, how would you specifically deal with the great antipathy that exists between the right and the left at the moment, and bring about a spirit of cooperation and acceptance?

Alex Trebek is an actor and a Canadian-American television personality. He has been the host of the syndicated game show “Jeopardy!” since 1984.

Buzz Aldrin, astronaut

The Apollo landings on the Moon inspired a generation of engineers and scientists to develop an unprecedented array of skills, talents and technologies. Today, however, we find that generation of leaders now moving into retirement. America’s human spaceflight program appears mired in a series of expensive programs that really do not seem to be moving the nation in a focused direction or motivating our next generation of scientists and engineers. Do you have a plan to restore inspiration and direction to America’s space program? If so, what is that plan?

Buzz Aldrin

Buzz Aldrin is a former astronaut and an American engineer. He was one of the first two humans to land and walk on the Moon.

Louie Anderson, actor and comedian

presidential debate roundup questions (louie anderson)

Could each of the candidates spend one minute telling the nation only positive things about their opponent?

Louie Anderson recently won the 2016 Primetime Emmy Award for outstanding supporting actor in a comedy series for his performance as Christine in the FX show “Baskets.”

Roxanne Jones, commentator

Roxanne Jones-profile

Beyond body and dashboard cameras, please detail two major law enforcement reforms you will put forth as president to guarantee that police officers who unjustly murder or maim innocent citizens are fired, indicted, prosecuted and sent to prison.

Roxanne Jones, a founding editor of ESPN Magazine and former vice president at ESPN, writes frequently for CNN Opinion.

Mike Love, rock ‘n’ roll icon

Mike Love headshot

Regardless of who wins this election, the new president will be facing a divided country and Congress. What specific steps will you take to bring people across the aisle and create harmony where there is discord? Understanding, of course, that harmony is never easy.

Mike Love is a member of the Beach Boys and author of “Good Vibrations: My Life as a Beach Boy.”

John Walsh, TV host

John Walsh Profile Image

As the father of a son who was kidnapped and brutally murdered, and as someone who has fought years for more resources to protect our nation’s most vulnerable, I have seen first-hand how every taxpayer dollar wasted on an ineffective justice system is one dollar not going to put away those that prey on our communities. There is currently bipartisan support in Congress to reform wasteful and outdated policies in our federal justice system. As president of the United States, what will you do specifically with members of Congress on both sides of the aisle to make our federal justice system smarter and more cost-effective?

John Walsh is co-founder on the National Center for Missing & Exploited Children and host of CNN’s “The Hunt”.

Mark Hertling, retired lieutenant general

The candidates and the American people have rightfully focused on the terror threat emanating from the Middle East. But there are many more threats to our national security. As you consider the demands of the office, name the top three national security issues that concern you, and the strategies, policies or doctrine you will prioritize if you are elected.

Hertling, Mark head shot

Retired Lt. Gen. Mark Hertling is a national security, intelligence and terrorism analyst for CNN. He served for 37 years in the Army, including three years in combat, and retired as commanding general of U.S. Army Europe and 7th Army.

S.E. Cupp, political commentator

In this era of record distrust – of you both in particular – tell voters why they should trust either of you.

S.E. Cupp Profile

S.E. Cupp is the author of “Losing Our Religion: The Liberal Media’s Attack on Christianity,” co-author of “Why You’re Wrong About the Right” and a columnist at the New York Daily News.

Michael Smerconish, host, author, and lawyer

Michael Smerconish profile headshot

Please tell me something specific you will do to improve the relationship between the White House and Congress?

Michael Smerconish is the host of CNN’s Smerconish and a host on SiriusXM’s P.O.T.U.S

Vicente Fox, former president of Mexico

Vicente Fox

Mexican migrants are a strong foundation for the US economy. Are you willing to let that go? They’re humans and should be treated as such. What would be your approach to this issue – working toward a humane immigration bill or taking the low road?

Vicente Fox was president of Mexico from 2000-2006.

Carl Bernstein, journalist and author

Carl Bernstein interview Clinton Biden Newday _00003101.jpg

Mr. Trump, you have said your taxes are under audit and thus you can’t let us see them. However, please simply tell us how much federal tax you paid in each of the past ten years—especially in light of the demonstrated fact that you paid no federal tax in 1978-79, two of the few years we have any of your old tax records available for examination. The suspicion among some people is that you have paid no federal taxes in most years during the past decade. Is that correct?

Carl Bernstein is as a Pulitzer Prize winning journalist and author.

Chris Smith, member of British House of Lords

Smith, Chris head shot

Is same-sex marriage now a settled feature of American life, and do you welcome it?

Lord Chris Smith of Finsbury is a member of Britain’s House of Lords and a former secretary of state for culture and media under a Labour government.

Jack Schlossberg

Jack Schlossberg

President Kennedy admired political courage, believed it essential to our democracy and summoned it himself during critical moments in history. Each year the JFK library gives the Profile In Courage Award to elected officials who demonstrate the courage to act on behalf of the greater good, often against their own self interest. Why should the American people have confidence in you to demonstrate courage in office?

Jack Schlossberg is the grandson of President John F. Kennedy and a member of the John F. Kennedy Profile in Courage Award Committee.

Haroon Moghul, commentator

Haroon Moghul hedshot

Secretary Clinton: You supported military intervention in Libya, and the invasion of Iraq. The first of these has created an ISIS haven and helped to destabilize North Africa. The second of these is widely viewed as one of the greatest foreign policy errors in American history. What lessons have you learned from these decisions and why should American voters trust you to manage our country’s affairs in the future?

Mr Trump: You have justified unconstitutional policies, like a ban on Muslims entering the country, on the grounds of national security. Is it not reasonable for Americans to wonder what else national security can justify? If for example it is too risky to allow Muslims into America, why should we permit those Muslims already here to stay? Would it be acceptable for the government to deport, detain or deny entry to any demographic we face any degree of threat from?

Haroon Moghul is a senior Fellow and director of development at the Center for Global Policy. His next book, How to be a Muslim, will be out in 2017.

Jeffrey Sachs, economist

jeffrey sachs hedshot

Is global warming real, serious and a priority for you?

Jeffrey Sachs is director of the Center for Sustainable Development and a professor at Columbia University.

Cenk Uygur, political commentator

Uygur, Cenk head shot

Donald Trump: What, if anything, will you do to get money out of politics? Hillary Clinton: Given that you are one of the leading recipients of campaign contributions in US history, why should people believe you that you want to get money out of politics?

Cenk Uygur is the founder and host of The Young Turks, an online news and politics show.

Don Most, actor

Don Most

What specific kinds of initiatives would you employ to improve the conditions of the African-American communities in our country?

Don Most is an actor and director.

Tim Naftali, historian

Tim Naftali Headshot UPDATED

Mr. Trump, you have prided yourself on taking advantage of a system that helps rich people make even more money, as president would you feel an obligation to fix the system so that it does not favor the wealthy like yourself, and how would you go about it?

Secretary Clinton, what would you say to reassure Americans who see your handling of the private email server matter as evidence of a lack of commitment to transparency and the protection of public records?

Tim Naftali is a CNN presidential historian. He teaches history and public service at New York University and was the former director of the Richard Nixon Presidential Library and Museum.

Erica Jong, writer

Erica Jong hedshot

Fewer people are killed by terrorists than by their armed neighbors and family members – as president, how would you respond to that?

Erica Jong is a poet, novelist and nonfiction writer with more than 24 books published. Her latest novel is “Fear of Dying.”

Raul Reyes, commentator

Raul Reyes-profile

What specific policy proposals do you offer that could benefit Millennials, who are entering a competitive job market while burdened with tremendous college debt?

Raul A. Reyes, an attorney and member of the USA Today board of contributors, writes frequently for CNN Opinion. Follow him on Twitter @RaulAReyes.

Danielle Pletka, foreign policy commentator

Pletka, Danielle head shot

Over the last eight years, al Qaeda, notwithstanding the death of Osama bin Laden, has spread dramatically. The group and its affiliates is now operating and controlling territory in more than a dozen countries. The Obama administration has focused almost exclusively on ISIS and al Qaeda has flourished. The fact that we have not been attacked by al Qaeda is the group’s strategic choice, not a result of US operations. What would you do, specifically, to counter this threat to the American people?

Danielle Pletka is senior vice president for foreign and defense policy studies at the American Enterprise Institute.

Paul Callan, legal analyst

Donald Trump: Over the past year, many African-Americans have complained about repeatedly being subjected to acts of disrespect by members of law enforcement. Do you agree that these complaints are legitimate, and how, as president, would you deal with the situation?

Paul Callan

Hillary Clinton: When Harry Truman completed his term as president, he declined to accept any corporate fees for speeches stating: ” You don’t want me. You want the office of the president, and that doesn’t belong to me. It belongs to the American people and it’s not for sale.” After leaving public office both you and President Clinton have accepted numerous speaking fees reportedly in the range of $153 million since 2001. Why do you disagree with Harry Truman on this principle?

Paul Callan is a CNN legal analyst and a former media law professor.

Ted Braun, director


Do you view the unequal distribution of wealth in this country to be a problem? Is there a connection to unequal access to justice? If so, what would you do to correct this? If not, why not?

Ted Braun is director of this year’s docu-thriller Betting On Zero and Darfur Now.

Cecile Richards, advocate

Cecile Richards

Abortion has been legal in America for over 40 years, yet it has become increasingly inaccessible to women across the country due to deeply unpopular political attacks on women’s access to health care. What would you do as president to ensure that abortion remains safe, legal, and accessible?

Cecile Richards is president of Planned Parenthood Action Fund.

Julian Zelizer, author and professor

Julian Zelizer profile

What will you do to improve our intelligence operations so that the US can do a better job of detecting potential acts of lone wolf terrorism before they occur?

Julian Zelizer is a professor of history and public affairs at Princeton University and a New America fellow. He is a frequent CNN contributor.

Mel Robbins, author and commentator

For Clinton: In a recent CNN/Kaiser Family Foundation poll, 84% of working class white voters say they believe the government does not represent them. You’ve called half of Donald Trump’s supporters ‘deplorable.’ What would you say to these voters about why they should vote for you?

Mel Robbins-profile

For Trump: You’ve called Mexican immigrants rapists and criminals and advocated widespread deportation, you’ve blasted some Muslim immigrants and called for a temporary ban and extreme vetting. What do you want to say to immigrant Americans about why they should vote for you?

Mel Robbins is a CNN commentator, legal analyst and the CEO of Mel Robbins Enterprises, a management consulting firm.

Laura Coates, legal analyst

Coates, Laura head shot

Given the Supreme Court’s oft insurmountable deferential standard conferred to police officers in determining the appropriate level of force to use, will you ask Congress to legislatively change that deference and alter the way prosecutors investigate and assess police-involved shootings?

Laura Coates is a CNN legal analyst. She is a former assistant U.S. attorney for the District of Columbia and trial attorney in the Civil Rights Division of the Department of Justice. Follow her on Twitter: @thelauracoates.

Doug Brinkley, historian

Douglas Brinkley

As president would you promote the idea of a new national holiday – Cesar Chavez Day – to honor Latino contributions to American history, culture and identity?

Douglas Brinkley is CNN’s Presidential Historian, a professor of history at Rice University and author of many books.

Leroy Chiao, astronaut

Leroy Chiao headshot

Without bold political and financial commitments to a clearly defined international program with milestones and dates, the United States is in real danger of losing the lead position in human space exploration. We don’t currently have either commitment. Is this acceptable to you, and if not, would you be willing to make those commitments, if elected President?

Leroy Chiao is an American engineer, motivational speaker, former NASA astronaut and an engineering consultant.

Gene Karpinski, activist

Gene Karpinski

Polls show that millennials – a critical voting bloc – are concerned with climate change and are more likely to vote for a candidate who will take action on climate. What is your plan to protect the country from the harmful effects of climate change – including rising sea levels that threaten to wipe out entire cities, and pollution that makes it more difficult to breathe and is contaminating our water?

Gene Karpinski is the president of the League of Conservation Voters.

Judy Gold, comedian and host

Judy Gold

Mr. Trump, it is the tradition that on inauguration day, the president-elect arrives at the White House and proceeds to the inaugural grounds at the United States Capitol with the incumbent president. If you are lucky enough to become POTUS, (and when I say lucky, I mean LUCKY), during the brief trip to The Capitol, what advice would you seek from President Obama regarding your new role as Commander In Chief?

Judy Gold is a comedian and host of the Kill Me Now podcast

Tippi Hedren, actress

Tippi Hedren

What steps would you take to protect and guarantee employees– male and female– a workplace free of sexual harassment?

Tippi Hedren starred in the classic Hitchcock films, “The Birds” and “Marnie.”

Gilbert Gottfried, comedian and host

Gilbert Gottfried

I give up. Which one of you is the competent one?

Gilbert Gottfried is a comedian and the host of Gilbert Gottfried’s Amazing Colossal Podcast.

Jack Schlossberg, writer