Earlier this month, it seemed there was a good chance that the first presidential debate of 2020 would also be the last. The initial matchup between Joe Biden and Donald Trump was widely panned as a shouty debacle, then three days later we learned the president had tested positive for COVID-19. Though Trump recovered relatively quickly, he then refused to participate in a second debate after the Commission on Presidential Debates announced it would go virtual to avoid the possibility of another Trump superspreader event. After more accusations of unfairness, Trump and Biden wound up doing dueling town halls. The next morning, headlines focused on Trump’s failure to disavow the QAnon conspiracy, while the best Biden attack one Trump campaign staffer could muster was comparing the former VP to Mister Rogers.
Now Biden and Trump are set to meet one last time, though Americans are already voting in droves. Here’s a guide to how to watch the final presidential debate, plus the latest batch of controversies.
When and where the debate is being held
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.
How to watch the debate
The debate will air live on all major broadcast networks and cable news channels. C-SPAN will stream the debate on YouTube here.
Who’s moderating the debate
The debate will be moderated by NBC News White House correspondent Kristen Welker. Although Trump has praised Welker in the past and agreed to have her as a moderator, he and his allies have been hurling unfounded accusations at her in recent days. Trump tweeted this on Saturday and bashed her at a Janesville, Wisconsin, rally later in the day, calling her “extraordinarily unfair.”
Fox News then picked up on a New York Post report alleging that Welker has “deep Democrat ties.” Some Trump allies also complained about a photo of Welker with President Obama during a White House Christmas party in 2012, though other journalists argued that this is hardly evidence of bias.
What topics will be discussed
The Commission on Presidential Debates announced the six topics on Friday: “Fighting COVID-19,” “American Families,” “Race in America,” “Climate Change,” “National Security,” and “Leadership.”
Even this sparked complaints from the Trump campaign, which said there should be more discussion of foreign policy. Per The Hill:
Trump campaign manager Bill Stepien penned a letter to the commission Monday raising objections with the topics announced by moderator and NBC News correspondent Kristen Welker last week, saying the commission should observe “long-standing custom” by making foreign policy the central focus of Thursday’s debate. Stepien also claimed the campaigns had agreed to the third debate being focused on foreign policy.
“As is the long-standing custom, and as has been promised by the Commission on Presidential Debates, we had expected that foreign policy would be the central focus of the October 22 debate. We urge you to recalibrate the topics and return to subjects which had already been confirmed,” Stepien wrote.
Stepien accused Democratic nominee Joe Biden of being “desperate to avoid conversations about his own foreign policy record” and said the commission was trying to alter the course of the final debate in order to “insulate Biden from his own history” …
Biden’s campaign, however, says that there was a prior agreement that the moderator would select the topics and that the Trump campaign is lying so that Trump could sidestep questions about his administration’s “disastrous” response to the coronavirus pandemic.
The Commission on Presidential Debates has announced that the candidates’ mics will be cut, after Trump shouted over Biden and moderator Chris Wallace repeatedly during the first debate. New York’s Matt Stieb explains:
The final debate will feature six 15-minute segments, with a two-minute period at the beginning of each segment for both candidates to provide uninterrupted statements. During this two-minute period, moderator and NBC News White House correspondent Kristen Welker will cut off the microphone of the candidate who is not supposed to be speaking. The open discussion portion, which counts for the other 11 minutes of each segment, will not feature a mic-muting option, though the commission noted that “time taken up during any interruptions will be returned to the other candidate.”
How are the candidates preparing?
The president has let his focus for the final debate be known. In the wake of the questionably sourced New York Post report on Hunter Biden’s business dealings, the Trump campaign has said “there will be no escape” for the former VP to avoid questions about his son’s involvement in the Ukrainian energy sector. In an attempt to nail down an issue that has yet to stick with swing voters, Trump has invited an important guest: Tony Bobulinski. For those not familiar with the minor characters of the Fox News universe, Bobulinski is a former business associate of Hunter Biden’s who allegedly was involved with him in dealings in China.
While Democratic allies have encouraged their candidate to engage with the issue by noting the obvious corruption and conflicts of interest that the president’s own children routinely engage in, Biden has been reluctant to do so. And according to advisers who spoke with Politico, he does not intend to do so on Thursday night, instead keeping his sights on the economy and the pandemic.
Like the last debate, Biden won’t be the only person onstage Trump will complain about. In an interview on Fox & Friends on Tuesday, Trump decried moderator Kristen Welker” as “totally partisan.” And like the last debate, Trump is reportedly doing very little prep work: According to the Wall Street Journal, as of Wednesday, the president “hadn’t attended any prep sessions for Thursday’s debate, formally or informally.”