Your Guide to the 2020 Presidential Debates

Bianca Rodriguez
·6 mins read

From Marie Claire

No matter how you're voting this year, and whether you're doing it via mail or in-person, it's essential to keep up to date on each of the candidates' platforms. Nov. 3 is way closer than you think, despite how crazy this year has been, which means it's time to get the presidential and vice-presidential debates on your radar. This upcoming election is going to be critically important, and your vote matters more than ever.

Ahead, we broke down who's speaking, how to watch, and when the presidential debates will happen. Get ready to mark your calendar, and we'll see you (at a safe six-feet distance) at the polls!

When are the presidential debates?

All the debates will start at 9:00 p.m. ET and will run for 90 minutes without any commercial breaks. Per the Commission on Presidential Debates, the first and third debates will be six 15-minute segments. Each topic of the segments is selected and announced by the moderators at least one week before the debate.

As for the second presidential debate, the format will be more of a town hall meeting, and questions will come from the citizens of the location. Here's the schedule of the three debates:

  1. Sept. 29 at Case Western Reserve University (Cleveland, Ohio)

  2. Oct. 15 at Adrienne Arsht Center (Miami, Florida)

  3. Oct. 22 at Belmont University (Nashville, Tennessee)

Photo credit: Drew Angerer - Getty Images
Photo credit: Drew Angerer - Getty Images

Who's moderating?

The CPD announced Sept. 2, the moderators for all three events. Fox News anchor Chris Wallace will be moderating the first debate on Sept. 29. This will be his second time moderating. He first took on the role of the third debate between Trump and Hillary Clinton in 2016.

Photo credit: Joe Raedle - Getty Images
Photo credit: Joe Raedle - Getty Images

As for the second debate on Oct.15, that will be moderated by Steve Scully, who's the political editor at C-SPAN and host of Washington Journal. The third and final meeting will be moderated by NBC News White House correspondent Kristen Welker on Oct. 22 at Belmont University in Nashville.

"We are grateful to these experienced journalists, who will help ensure that the general election presidential debates continue to serve their unique educational purpose of helping the public learn about the candidates," said the co-chairs on the selections in a statement. "Each individual brings great professionalism to moderating and understands that the purpose of the 2020 debate formats is to facilitate in-depth discussion of major topics."

Who's debating?

Donald Trump and Joe Biden, as of now, will both be debating at the three events. The New York Times said Trump was reportedly "discussing with his advisers the possibility of sitting out the general election debates in 2020 because of his misgivings about the commission that oversees them," but the President later cleared up that claim on Twitter.

He wrote, "I look very much forward to debating whoever the lucky person is who stumbles across the finish line in the little watched Do Nothing Democrat Debates."

His campaign also reached out to the CPD in August, asking the CPD to include a fourth debate in the early part of September. His campaign also suggested moving the final October debate to the first week in September as another option. This would be so mail in-voters would be able to watch a couple debates before voting. Trump voiced his concerns on Twitter:

The CPD rejected the campaign's request early August and wrote a letter to Trump's campaign saying, "While more people will likely vote by mail in 2020, the debate schedule has been and will be highly publicized. Any voter who wishes to watch one or more debates before voting will be well aware of that opportunity."

What topics will be debated?

Wallace and the CPD revealed the six topics President Trump and Biden will face on Sept. 22, approximately a week before the first debate will be held.

The topics are:

  • Trump and Biden records

  • The Supreme Court

  • COVID-19

  • The economy

  • Race and violence in our cities

  • The integrity of the election

Just a heads up: these topics could change because of news developments. They also won't necessarily be brought up in that order, according to the CPD. There was some backlash that climate change wasn't one of the included topics. “This is unacceptable—the climate crisis cannot be ignored,” said Tom Steyer, a Democratic candidate in 2020, on Twitter.

But as it's always been, the CPD allows the moderators to choose each debate's topics. So if one issue isn't selected now, it'll probably be brought up later at the other debates.

Why is there controversy about the debates?

The first presidential debate was...interesting, for sure. It featured a very loud President Trump, some quotable phrases (a.k.a Biden's "Will you shut up, man?" comment), Wallace's lack of moderating, and by the end of it, I wanted to crawl into bed and never emerge again.

That dream was short-lived: With more presidential debates on the horizon, it looks like we have to endure it all over again. Some people would rather not, though, and are calling for the other two debates to be canceled.

According to Politico, however, in a call after the debate with reporters, Biden's deputy campaign manager Kate Bedingfield said the team was in "ongoing talks" with the debate commission. "I would imagine there would be some additional conversations," said Bedingfield on possibly making changes to the next two debates. Either way, Biden plans to be there. "We don't know how many different ways we can say yes. We are going to the debates," she added.

Kamala Harris, Biden's running mate, said the same. In a press conference post-debate, she said: "Joe Biden is never going to refuse to talk to the American people." And post-debate, Biden campaign officials did say they had their best fundraising hour of the entire campaign between 10 p.m. and 11 p.m. ET.

How can I watch the presidential debates?

If you're like a cable cutter like moi and rely on your laptop to get you from point A to point B, you can stream the debate on as well as the ABC News and ABC mobile apps. You can also watch from the ABC News Live app on your Amazon Fire TV, Android TV, Roku, or Apple TV. You can also watch it on or the C-SPAN Radio app.

But if you're not a cable cutter, then you can watch the debate on all the major networks, including NBC, C-SPAN, ABC, CBS, Fox News, and CNN.

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