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2020 Presidential Debates: What to Expect and How to Watch

Photo: Joe Raedle/Getty Images

Despite President Trump’s threats to abandon the half-decade tradition earlier this year, he and Joe Biden are expected to debate three times in the coming four weeks, with their running mates Kamala Harris and Mike Pence facing off as well. Naturally, there’s been a bit of controversy prior to the events themselves, mostly coming from the Trump camp; the president has wavered between claiming his opponent won’t show up, to calling for a fourth round, to attempting to manage expectations by saying Biden will win the debates outright.

Here’s everything we know about the Biden-Trump debates — with the caveat that most everything about the final weeks of the pandemic campaign season remain in flux.

When and where the debates are being held

The first debate took place on Tuesday, September 29, from 9 to 10:30 p.m. ET. It will be held at Case Western Reserve University in Cleveland, Ohio, and moderated by Fox News host Chris Wallace.

The vice-presidential debate will take place on Wednesday, October 7, from 9 to 10:30 p.m. ET. It will be held at the University of Utah in Salt Lake City, and moderated by USA Today Washington bureau chief Susan Page.

The second debate will take place on Thursday, October 15, from 9 to 10:30 p.m. ET. It will be held at the Adrienne Arsht Center for the Performing Arts in Miami, Florida, and moderated by C-SPAN political editor Steve Scully.

The third debate will take place on Thursday, October 22, from 9 to 10:30 p.m. ET. It will be held at Belmont University in Nashville, Tennessee, and moderated by NBC News White House correspondent Kristen Welker.

How to watch the debates

The debates will be broadcast on all major networks and their corresponding streaming channels, as well as on C-SPAN. All the debates will run without commercial interruption.

Debate one was more or less a mess

The president has only gotten more combative since his last round of debates in 2016, when the knives were already out. For the September 29 debate, Trump constantly interrupted Biden as moderator Chris Wallace failed to control the chaos. Trump refused to prepare for the debate, reportedly joking with aides that he had been preparing since the day he was born. If by that, he meant that he was practiced in interrupting people and being extremely divisive, the president did indeed come prepared. For a candidate down seven points in the polling averages, it probably wasn’t ideal that the primary takeaway from the night was his half-hearted disavowal of far-right street agitators.

As a result, the Commission on Presidential Debates is revisiting the rulebook

On Wednesday, the Commission on Presidential Debates — the non-profit organization responsible for orchestrating the contests — announced that it will alter the rules based on Trump’s hijacking of the event. On the table is reportedly the option to cut the president’s mic off if he continues to interrupt the moderator and his opponent.

There have been a few controversies surrounding moderator choice

A potential conflict of interest has arisen in the vice-presidential debate. In late 2018, moderator Susan Page hosted a party in honor of Mike Pence’s protégé Seema Verma, who runs the Medicare and Medicaid programs for the Trump administration. As New York’s Ed Kilgore notes, the controversy centers on “whether a working journalist at Page’s level who has been hobnobbing with Mike Pence’s best-known associate in the Trump administration ought to be moderating his debate with Kamala Harris.”

2020 Presidential Debates: What to Expect and How to Watch