Decision 2020

Everything You Need to Know About the Final Trump-Biden Debate

The Thursday night debate in Nashville is the last face-to-face matchup between the candidates ahead of the general election

Signage is displayed on the campus of Belmont University ahead of the final U.S. presidential debate at Belmont University in Nashville, Tennessee, Oct. 20, 2020.
Luke Sharrett/Bloomberg via Getty Images

After meeting last month in perhaps the most chaotic debate in modern history, President Donald Trump and his Democratic rival, Joe Biden, will take the stage Thursday to give it another go.

The bar to improve upon their last prime-time meeting is low: Their first debate was punctuated by frequent interruptions, mostly from Trump, leaving the two men talking over each other and Biden eventually telling the president to “shut up.” A planned second debate didn’t happen after the Republican president was diagnosed with the coronavirus and refused to participate in a virtual format. Biden and Trump instead participated in dueling town halls on competing television networks.

Here's what to know about the last presidential debate of 2020.


The final matchup scheduled between Trump and Biden will take place at 9 p.m. ET at Belmont University in Nashville, Tennessee.


It can be seen live on all the major TV networks, including ABC, CBS, CNN, C-SPAN, Fox, Noticias Telemundo, MSNBC and NBC, and many of the major networks will offer it on their apps. People can also watch via subscription streaming services like Hulu with Live TV, Sling TV and FuboTV and on YouTube.

NBC News and MSNBC will both begin special coverage at 8 p.m. ET.

NBC News NOW will provide free debate coverage beginning at 7 p.m. ET, available to stream live and on demand across OTT platforms, including Peacock, NBCUniversal's streaming service.

You can also watch the event live online here along with our debate live blog for real-time news, analysis and fact-checking.


NBC News White House correspondent Kristen Welker will moderate. Welker co-anchored a Democratic debate in 2019 with MSNBC's Rachel Maddow and Andrea Mitchell. She will be the first Black woman to serve as the moderator of a presidential debate since Carole Simpson in 1992.


After viewers of the last presidential debate bemoaned the moderator’s inability to cut off the candidates' microphones, the nonpartisan Commission on Presidential Debates announced that each candidate’s microphone will be turned off while his opponent answers an initial question on each debate topic.

After those initial replies, the microphones will stay on during open discussion, leaving it likely there will still be lots of crosstalk during rebuttals.


The candidates will again skip the traditional handshake before the debate starts, the commission said. Trump, Biden and moderator Welker won't be wearing masks on stage, but audience members will be required to.

The Commission on Presidential Debates' co-chair Frank Fahrenkopf, Jr., confirmed that two plexiglass barriers have been placed between each candidate's lecterns on stage and will remain in place “at the recommendation of the commission’s medical advisors.”

Fahrenkopf also said that in addition to the mask requirement, anyone who enters the debate hall has to test negative for coronavirus and that CPD is working with each campaign to confirm their test results. He did not provide further details on how audience members need to show or prove their negative test results to CPD or the debate's medical advisors.

The Biden campaign said on Thursday that he was tested for the coronavirus ahead of tonight's debate and his results came back negative.

“Vice President Biden underwent PCR testing for COVID-19 today and COVID-19 was not detected,” the campaign said in a statement.

Members of the Trump family ignored the mask mandate at the first debate; two days later the president and first lady announced they'd tested positive for the coronavirus. Trump was hospitalized for several days but has since cast the virus and his own infection in positive terms. He has resumed holding large campaign rallies and has attacked the government's top infectious-disease expert, Dr. Anthony Fauci.

Biden, who has portrayed the Trump administration’s response as an abject failure, has taken a much more cautious approach. He regularly wears a mask, holds small in-person campaign events and releases his COVID-19 test results, which have been negative. Look for them to focus on personal choices as much as their differing policy plans.


The 90-minute debate will be divided into six 15-minute segments, each on a topic selected by Welker. The six topics will be: fighting COVID-19; American families; race in America; climate change; national security; and leadership.


Personal Attacks

The president for months has been making accusations of corruption against Biden and has lately intensified his focus on unverified claims about Biden’s son Hunter. During the last debate, the president did not shy away from bringing up Biden’s family, targeting the former vice president’s son for his history of substance misuse, and attacked Biden’s intelligence.

Biden aides anticipate Trump will again level searing personal attacks during the debate. The Democrat is expected to try to redirect to his core argument that Trump is unfit for the job.

Trump's Past Comments on Race

Following a summer marked by protests across the country over racial injustice, Trump has repeatedly portrayed himself as a greater champion for Black Americans than Biden is while emphasizing a law-and-order theme. But during the last debate, Trump gave a reluctant answer when asked if he would condemn white supremacists, and he refused to outright condemn a far-right fascist group, instead telling them to “ stand back and stand by.”

Biden, who frequently acknowledges systemic racism, has accused the president of encouraging a rise of white supremacy and armed militias and cites Trump’s comments that there were “very fine people” on both sides of a 2017 white supremacist rally in Charlottesville, Virginia, as the impetus for his presidential run.

Look for the Democrat to continue hitting those themes while Trump casts Biden as responsible for helping send millions of Black Americans to prison with a 1994 crime law when Biden was a senator.

Differing Views on Leadership and National Security

Look for Trump to continue promoting his “America First” policies, which have pulled the U.S. out of multilateral agreements that he maintains were not in the country's interests. He's also likely to highlight construction of more than 200 miles of his promised wall along the U.S.-Mexico border and recently brokered deals normalizing relations between Bahrain and the United Arab Emirates and Israel.

Biden has accused the president of alienating long-standing U.S. allies. Expect him to focus on Trump's efforts to sustain a relationship with Vladimir Putin’s Russia despite warnings from U.S. intelligence agencies that Russia interfered in the 2016 U.S. presidential election and allegations that Russia offered secret bounties for American deaths in Afghanistan.

And while immigration isn’t among the featured topics expected during the debate, but look to whether Biden seeks to raise the issue on the heels of a report this week that court-appointed lawyers have been unable to find the parents of 545 children separated at the U.S.-Mexico border early in the Trump administration. Biden has repeatedly slammed Trump’s immigration policies, something that Trump featured prominently in his 2016 campaign.

Associated Press writers Michelle L. Price and Bill Barrow contributed to this report.

Copyright NBC/Associated Press
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