Final 2020 presidential debate

By Meg Wagner, Kyle Blaine, Jessica Estepa, Melissa Macaya and Fernando Alfonso III, CNN

Updated 2:27 p.m. ET, November 23, 2020
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1:33 p.m. ET, November 23, 2020

Both campaigns agreed to take down acrylic glass barriers at debate

From CNN's Dan Merica

Both President Trump and Joe Biden’s campaigns agreed that the acrylic glass barriers that was once up in the Nashville debate hall was not needed and should be taken down, Frank Fahrenkopf, head of the debate commission, tells CNN. 

Fahrenkopf told CNN earlier today that the acrylic glass barriers was up at the recommendation of the medical advisers on the ground.

Fahrenkopf said this afternoon, the advisers said they believed the barriers “would be helpful under the circumstances” but changed their minds once they “found out the President was tested today and tested negative” and had gone days without any signs of coronavirus.

The medical advisers also called Dr. Anthony Fauci and the public health expert “agreed that the Plexiglas wouldn’t do anything,” Fahrenkopf said.

1:33 p.m. ET, November 23, 2020

Acrylic glass barriers now unlikely to be up for the debate

From CNN's Brian Rokus

It is now unlikely that acrylic glass dividers will be present for tonight’s debate, Commission senior adviser Peter Eyre tells the pool in Nashville.

Circumstances on the ground have changed, he said. There was no further explanation given.

The dividers had been visible earlier on the stage but have now been removed, according to the pool.

Masks are required for everyone at all times and anyone who doesn’t oblige will be asked to leave. Also, everyone within the perimeter, and therefore any debate-related area, will be tested, the commission says.

Earlier Thursday, Frank Fahrenkopf, chairman of the commission on Presidential Debates, had said the large acrylic glass barriers between the two podiums at the Curb Event Center in Nashville would remain in place for the debate at the recommendation of medical advisers from The Cleveland Clinic.

7:32 p.m. ET, October 22, 2020

Tonight was supposed to be the third debate between Biden and Trump. Here's why it's only the second.

Tonight was supposed to be the third and final presidential debate — but instead, it's the second and final one.

Last year, before we even knew who would be the Democratic presidential nominee, the Commission on Presidential Debates scheduled three debates for Sept. 29, Oct. 15 and Oct 22.

But last week, the commission canceled the Oct. 15 debate between President Trump and Joe Biden after the President declined to do a virtual debate despite concerns over his Covid-19 diagnosis, organizers said.

Instead of meeting on the same debate stage and directly taking on each other, Biden and Trump held individual, competing town halls.

How the last week's debate fell apart: Ahead of the scheduled second debate, the Commission on Presidential Debates announced it was shifting to a virtual debate due to concerns about coronavirus, particularly after Trump's positive diagnosis with the virus.

Shortly after, the President announced he would not participate in a virtual debate. The Trump campaign then proposed delaying the the town hall debate a week, and pushing the third and final debate a week as well. Biden's campaign rejected that proposal, and in the meantime, Biden booked a town hall on ABC.

After Trump released letters from his doctor clearing him to resume public activity, his campaign pushed for the in-person debate to be reinstated.

The commission officially canceled the debate just days before it was set to be held. NBC on then announced it would hold a town hall with Trump at the same time as Biden's ABC event.

CORRECTION: An earlier version of this post incorrectly stated which debate was canceled. It was the Oct. 15 debate.

6:08 p.m. ET, October 22, 2020

Trump and Bidens' mics will be muted for parts of tonight's debate 

From CNN's Dan Merica

President Donald Trump and Democratic presidential candidate Joe Biden take part in the first presidential debate at Case Western Reserve University and Cleveland Clinic in Cleveland, Ohio, on September 29.
President Donald Trump and Democratic presidential candidate Joe Biden take part in the first presidential debate at Case Western Reserve University and Cleveland Clinic in Cleveland, Ohio, on September 29. Olivier Douliery/AFP/Getty Images

Former Vice President Joe Biden and President Trump will have their microphones muted during parts of tonight's debate.

The Commission on Presidential Debates announced the decision on Monday after members discussed potential rule changes to the debate format.

They decided that the changes were needed because of how the first debate between Biden and Trump devolved into chaos, with the President frequently interrupting the former vice president.

The muting will work like this: At the start of each of the six segments of the debate, each candidate will be given two minutes to answer an initial question. During that portion, the opposing candidate's microphone will be muted.

"Under the agreed upon debate rules, each candidate is to have two minutes of uninterrupted time to make remarks at the beginning of each 15 minute segment of the debate. These remarks are to be followed by a period of open discussion," the commission said in a statement. "Both campaigns this week again reaffirmed their agreement to the two-minute, uninterrupted rule."

The statement continued: "The Commission is announcing today that in order to enforce this agreed upon rule, the only candidate whose microphone will be open during these two-minute periods is the candidate who has the floor under the rules. For the balance of each segment, which by design is intended to be dedicated to open discussion, both candidates' microphones will be open."

Both microphones will be unmuted after each candidate delivers their two-minute answer.

7:31 p.m. ET, October 22, 2020

Here are the topics for tonight's debate

Source: Getty Images
Source: Getty Images

The Commission on Presidential debates announced last week six topics for the second and final debate between President Trump and Democratic nominee Joe Biden.

The topics are:

  • "Fighting COVID-19"
  • "American Families"
  • "Race in America"
  • "Climate Change"
  • "National Security"
  • "Leadership." 

The format for tonight's debate is the same as the first debate: Each segment will last about 15 minutes, and the candidates will have two minutes to respond after the moderator, NBC's Kristen Welker, opens each segment with a question.

The commission announced earlier this week that the microphone of the other candidate will be muted for those first two minutes of initial response.

Welker will then use the rest of the time in the segment to facilitate further discussion on the topic.

The final debate will kick off tonight at 9 p.m. ET and run until 10:30 p.m.