What to know about tonight’s debate

What to know about tonight’s debate

(Ben Kirchner for The Washington Post)

[The first presidential debate: Live updates]

The first presidential debate between President Trump and former vice president Joe Biden is scheduled to take place tonight in Cleveland. Two more presidential debates are set for Oct. 15 and 22. The vice-presidential debate between Vice President Pence and Sen. Kamala D. Harris (D-Calif.) is slated for Oct. 7.

Tonight’s presidential debate
Date: Tuesday, Sept. 29
Location: Case Western Reserve University in Cleveland
Time: 9-10:30 p.m. Eastern time
Where to watch: The Washington Post will have an uninterrupted live stream of the debate.
Moderator: Chris Wallace, anchor of “Fox News Sunday”
Upcoming presidential debates

The candidates will appear onstage but far apart and won’t shake hands. And the audience will be smaller than in years past. The first debate will have about 80 to 90 people in the audience, all tested for the novel coronavirus. The nonpartisan Commission on Presidential Debates said that it will follow all Centers for Disease Control and Prevention guidelines and that it has retained the Cleveland Clinic as a health security adviser for the debates.

Upcoming vice-presidential debates

Here’s what we know:

First presidential debate: Tuesday, Sept. 29

Location: Case Western Reserve University in Cleveland. (This was originally scheduled to be held at the University of Notre Dame. Notre Dame withdrew, saying the fact that it would have to limit student attendance and volunteer opportunities because of the pandemic erased the reason to host a debate at the university.)

Time: 9-10:30 p.m. Eastern

Where to watch: The Washington Post will have an uninterrupted live stream of the debate. It will also be carried on most major news stations.

Moderator: Chris Wallace, anchor of “Fox News Sunday”

Details: The debate will be 90 minutes long and have no commercial breaks. There will be no opening statements. Wallace will dive right in with the first question to Trump. It will be divided into six 15-minute segments that Wallace has chosen. They are: 1. the Trump and Biden records; 2. the Supreme Court; 3. the coronavirus pandemic; 4. the economy; 5. race and violence in cities; 6. the integrity of the election.

How each candidate is preparing: Trump isn’t doing much. He has not held a mock debate and has no plans to, relying instead on his experience as president and testing out attacks with his advisers and at rallies. Biden is doing more traditional prep. He will fact-check the president when he feels it’s warranted, but he’s more focused on not getting pulled into a personal fight on issues like family that could make him appear angry onstage. The Washington Post reports Trump plans to go after Biden’s son Hunter, which has proved to get the vice president riled up on the campaign trail. “I hope I don’t get baited into a brawl with this guy because that’s the only place he’s comfortable,” Biden said at a fundraiser, adding: “I know how to handle bullies.”

In an interview before the first debate with Fox News Radio, Trump tried to lower expectations for his performance. He expressed concern that he would get tough questions by Wallace, a Fox News host who grilled the president in a TV interview in July: “It’ll be unfair, I have no doubt about it,” Trump said. “But he’ll be controlled by the radical left.”

Wallace is not expected to fact-check the candidates live onstage, focusing instead on asking his questions and keeping the debate running smoothly.

After playing down Biden for weeks as an incoherent messenger, Trump said he thinks Biden will have the advantage in this debate because the former vice president is more politically experienced: “No, I think I’m the one without experience, I’ve just been doing this for a few years, he’s been doing it for 47 years plus.”

Both Biden and Trump faced voter questions onstage in separate Pennsylvania town halls recently, which foreshadowed how their first debate might go: Trump struggled to handle tough questions, and any verbal stumbles on Biden’s part seemed like less of a problem as a result.

This debate comes as Trump is on the defensive not just for his handling of the pandemic and race relations, but also reports on how he has paid little to no federal income taxes over the past two decades. And polls show Biden leading in key swing states that Trump probably needs to win, such as Pennsylvania.


Vice-presidential debate: Wednesday, Oct. 7

Location: The University of Utah in Salt Lake City. As of now, the university has not reversed its decision to hold this debate.

Time: 9-10:30 p.m. Eastern

Where to watch: The Washington Post will have an uninterrupted live stream of the debate. It will also be carried on most major news stations.

Moderator: Susan Page, Washington bureau chief, USA Today

Details: The debate will be 90 minutes long and have no commercial breaks. It will be divided into nine segments of 10 minutes each.


Second presidential debate: Thursday, Oct. 15

Location: Adrienne Arsht Center for the Performing Arts in Miami. The debate was moved to this location because of the pandemic. It was originally scheduled for the University of Michigan, which determined it wasn’t safe to bring campaigns, journalists and guests to the university in a pandemic.

Time: 9-10:30 p.m. Eastern

Where to watch: The Washington Post will have an uninterrupted live stream of the debate. It will also be carried on most major news stations.

Details: The debate will be 90 minutes long and have no commercial breaks. This debate will be a town hall format, where people who live in the Miami area can pose questions.

Moderator: Steve Scully, political editor of C-SPAN


Third and final presidential debate: Thursday, Oct. 22

Location: Belmont University in Nashville. As of now, the university has not reversed its decision to hold this debate.

Time: 9-10:30 p.m. Eastern

Where to watch: The Washington Post will have an uninterrupted live stream of the debate. It will also be carried on most major news stations.

Moderator: Kristen Welker, NBC News White House correspondent and co-anchor of “Today Weekend”

Details: The debate will be 90 minutes long and have no commercial breaks. It will be divided into six 15-minute segments that the moderator gets to choose and is expected to announce at least a week before the debate.

Correction: A previous version of this post said there would be just one moderator in part due to the pandemic, but many debates in recent years have featured only one moderator.

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