NASHVILLE, Tenn. (NewsNation Now) — The final presidential debate between President Donald Trump and Democratic presidential nominee Joe Biden took place Thursday night in Nashville, Tennessee.
The event, which featured several changes from the first debate, began at 9 p.m. EDT at Belmont University.
The 90-minute debate is divided into six 15-minute segments, with each candidate granted 2 minutes of uninterrupted opening statements. While a candidate answers during the 2-minute period, their opponent’s microphone will be muted to prevent interruptions.
The debate opened with the first topic, the fight against coronavirus. NBC News White House correspondent Kristen Welker asked both candidates how they would each lead the country during this next stage of the coronavirus crisis.
President Trump spoke first, noting that 2 million Americans were modeled to die, and that the pandemic is a global issue.
“We’re fighting it, and we’re fighting it hard.” Trump said. “We have a vaccine that’s coming and it’s ready.”
“We’re rounding the corner—it’s going away,” Trump said in closing.
Former vice president Joe Biden said he would make sure we’d move in the direction of rapid testing and national standards for reopening schools and businesses.
“The expectation is we’ll have another 200,000 Americans dead between now and the end of the year. If we just wore these masks, the president’s own advisors have told him, we could save a hundred thousand lives,” Biden said.
“Folks, I will take care of this, I will end this, I will make sure we have a plan,” Biden said in closing.
Watch the segment on the fight against coronavirus to hear both candidates’ full answers. This is one of six topics planned for Thursday’s debate.
Welker started the national security segment with a question referencing the breaking news from Wednesday that Iran and Russia had taken actions to interfere with the election, ranging from obtaining voter registration information to sending emails meant to intimidate American voters and sow unrest.
Welker first asked Biden what he would do to put an end to the threat to the security of our election.
“I made it clear, and I asked everyone else to take the pledge, I made it clear that any country, no matter who it is that interferes in American elections, will pay a price,” Biden answered in part.
Welker asked President Trump, as there has been substantial interference from foreign adversaries for two elections in a row, what he would do in his next term to put an end to the threat.
Trump replied both Iran and Russia want him to lose as he’s tough with sanctions on both countries, saying, “There’s been nobody tougher on Russia than Donald Trump.”
Watch the presidential debate segment on national security to hear both candidates’ full answers. This is one of six topics planned for Thursday’s debate.
Welker opened the segment on American families, saying that health care is one of the issues most important to families. Welker referenced Thursday morning’s vote on Supreme Court nominee Amy Coney Barrett, noting healthcare is at the center of her confirmation fight. With over 20 million Americans receiving health care through the ACA, Welker asked Trump what he would do if the if the Supreme Court does overturn that law and those Americans have their health insurance taken away.
“What I would like to do is a much better health care, much better, we’ll always protect people with pre-existing [conditions], so I’d like to terminate Obamacare, come up with a brand new beautiful health care,” Trump said.
As for Biden’s first question in the segment, Welker noted his plan is to build on Obamacare. She asked what he will do if the Supreme Court rules the law unconstitutional.
“What I’m going to do is pass Obamacare with a public option, and become Bidencare,” Biden said. “A public option is an option that says that if you in fact, do not have the wherewithal, if you qualify for Medicaid and you do not have the wherewithal in your state to get Medicaid, you get automatically enrolled, providing competition for insurance companies, that’s what’s going to happen.”
Watch the presidential debate segment on American families to hear both candidates’ full answers. This is one of six topics planned for Thursday’s debate.
Welker opened in the Race in America segment, talking about how Black and brown Americans experience race in this country. Welker referenced specifically “the talk” that parents have with their children that they could be targeted by police because of the color of their skin. Welker asked Biden to speak directly to the parents and answer if he understands why these parents fear for their children.
“A Black parent, no matter how wealthy they are, has to teach their child not to walk down the street with a hoodie on,” Biden said, acknowledging that “there is institutional racism in America.”
Welker asked President Trump the same question.
“Yes I do,” Trump said. “Nobody has done more for the Black community than Donald Trump….with the exception of Abraham Lincoln. Criminal justice reform, Obama and Joe didn’t do it. I don’t even think they tried, cause they had no chance at doing it, they might have wanted to do it, but if you had to see the arms I had to twist to get it done, it was not a pretty picture.”
Watch the presidential debate segment on Race in America to hear both candidates’ full answers. This is one of six topics planned for Thursday’s debate.
Welker opened the climate change segment noting that the two candidates have “very different visions” on climate change. She asked each candidate how they would combat climate change and promote job growth.
President Trump answered the question first.
“We have the trillion trees program, we have so many programs, I do love the environment,” Trump said in part, touting the “best carbon emission numbers that we’ve had in 35 years under this administration.”
“Climate change, climate warming, global warming is an existential threat to humanity. We have a moral obligation to deal with it,” Biden said in part, noting that he “was able to get both all the environmental organizations as well as labor, the people worried about jobs, to support my climate plan.”
Watch the presidential debate segment on climate change to hear both candidates’ full answers. This is one of six topics discussed during Thursday’s debate
In the segment on leadership, Welker asked both candidates to “Imagine this is your inaguration day, what will you say in your address to Americans who did not vote for you?”
“We have to make our country totally successful as it was prior to the plague coming in from China,” Trump said. “We had the best Black unemployment numbers in the history of our country, hispanic, women, asian…everybody had the best numbers. The other side wanted to unify. Success will bring us together. We are on the road to success.”
“I am an American president. I represent all of you whether you voted for me or against me and I’m going to make sure that you’re represented. I’m going to give you hope. We’re going to move. We’re going to choose science over fiction,” Biden said. “We can grow this economy, we can deal with systemic racism, and at the same time we can make sure our economy is being run and moved and motivated by clean energy, creating millions of new jobs.”
NewsNation spoke with Kenneth Wollack, the co-chair of the Commission on Presidential Debates shortly before the debate on Thursday.
“Given what many viewers felt was a chaotic first debate, with many interruptions, we felt this is one additional change that could be made in order to promote greater civility and greater control over the debate,” Wollack said.
He said people had advocated that the moderator would control the mute button.
“The moderator has lots of responsibilities in the debate and no moderator would want the additional responsibility of muting the speakers.”
Wollack said it’s the “production team” that automatically sets the mute button, and the campaigns will not be in the control room.
“So, when the candidate finishes his two minutes, there is a gradual reduction of his mic and sound,” Wollack said.
The open discussion portion will not feature a mic-muting option, though the nonpartisan Commission on Presidential Debates noted that “time taken up during any interruptions will be returned to the other candidate.”
The debates commission announced the changes Monday, several weeks after Biden and Trump faced off for the first presidential debate. In a statement, the commission said it “had determined that it is appropriate to adopt measures intended to promote adherence to agreed-upon rules and inappropriate to make changes to those rules.”
According to the Commission on Presidential Debates, the moderator, NBC News White House correspondent Kristen Welker, will ask the candidates to debate the following topics:
- Fighting COVID-19
- American Families
- Race in America
- Climate Change
- National Security
Trump and Biden were supposed to be separated on the debate stage by two large plexiglass shields, which was placed in front of the candidates’ lecterns.
Wollack said CPD worked with local hospital system HCA Healthcare to develop COVID-19 guidelines for the debate.
“The plexiglass was put into place, and through consultation with Dr. (Anthony) Fauci, HCA no longer felt it was necessary to make such a recommendation for the plexiglass,” Wollack said. “In response to that, both campaigns agreed to that recommendation and so there was no longer any need for the plexiglass.”
Both the president and former vice president tested negative for coronavirus before the debate.
A second debate was originally scheduled for last week, but it was cancelled after the commission shifted to a virtual format following Trump’s coronavirus diagnosis. The president had pushed back on the change, and the candidates ended up holding dueling town halls instead.
The last debate comes less than two weeks before Election Day.
The Associated Press contributed to this report