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The 2020 election will be unlike any other in history. With social distancing protocols now in effect across the country, likely to remain in place for weeks or even months, there's uncertainty surrounding every key element of the election process, from campaigning and voting to, of course, the debates.
That uncertainty was amplified by a magnitude following the news that President Trump tested positive for COVID-19 in early October. "Tonight, @FLOTUS and I tested positive for COVID-19. We will begin our quarantine and recovery process immediately. We will get through this TOGETHER!" he wrote on Twitter on October 2.
Following his diagnosis, the Commission on Presidential debates moved for the second debate to be a virtual one, but Trump refused. "I am not going to do a virtual debate," Trump said on Fox Business. "I am not going to waste my time on a virtual debate."
Eventually, the second debate was cancelled with each candidate instead holding a Town Hall on network TV, but the third debate is still on. Here's what we know so far, and we'll continue to update as new information is made public.
The final debate between Trump and Biden is set for Thursday, October 22 at Belmont University in Nashville.
"Subject to health security considerations, and in accordance with all required testing, masking, social distancing and other protocols, the debate will take place at Belmont University in Nashville, Tennessee," reads a statement from the Commission. Kristen Welker of NBC News will serve as moderator.
Topics to be discussed include: "Fighting COVID-19," "American Families," "Race in America," "Climate Change," "National Security" and "Leadership."
Candidates microphones will be muted during portions of the debate.
The Commission on Presidential Debates previously announced it would be implementing more "structure" in the debate. "The CPD will be carefully considering the changes that it will adopt and will announce those measures shortly," read a statement released after the first debate.
Just a few days before the candidates head to Nashville, the commission shared what those changes will be. Notably, each candidate will have two minutes of uninterrupted time to speak at the beginning of each topic segment, and the other candidates' microphone will be muted.
"The only candidate whose microphone will be open during these two-minute periods is the candidate who has the floor under the rules," the Commission announced. Both campaign teams have agreed to this decision. Read the Commission's announcement in full below:
The second debate was scheduled to take place October 15, but Trump refused to participate, and it was canceled.
The second presidential debate was initially expected to take place at the University of Michigan in Ann Arbor on Thursday, October 15, but in June, the institution withdrew from hosting the event due to health concerns amid the ongoing coronavirus crisis.
“It is with great disappointment that I must ask for the University of Michigan to be released from its agreement with the Commission on Presidential Debates to host the Presidential Debate on Oct. 15, 2020,” Michigan’s president, Mark Schlissel, said in a statement.
“In consideration of the public health guidelines in our state as well as advice from our own experts — we feel it is not feasible for us to safely host the presidential debate as planned.’’
The replacement location for the second debate was Adrienne Arsht Center for the Performing Arts in Miami. But, following Trump's COVID-19 diagnosis, the Commission on Presidential Debates announced it will be moving to a virtual format.
Biden's campaign agreed to the format change, but Trump refused to participate.
“I’m not going to waste my time on a virtual debate, that’s not what debating is all about. You sit behind a computer and do a debate, it’s ridiculous,” he said.
Frank Fahrenkopf, head of the debate commission, told CNN that they "did not consult" the campaigns regarding the decision, but said that the move is "supported by the Cleveland Clinic," which is advising the committee on health concerns.
Instead, now ABC hosted a town hall with Joe Biden, moderated by George Stephanopoulos. Trump had his own town hall moderated by Savannah Guthrie on NBC.
The first debate took place in late September.
The first presidential debate was held on Tuesday, September 29 at Case Western Reserve University in Cleveland.
Previously, it was to be held the University of Notre Dame in Indiana. In late July, the institution withdrew from hosting due to concerns about the pandemic.
"I am grateful to the many members of the University community who have devoted countless hours planning this event, and to the Commission on Presidential Debates leadership for their professionalism and understanding," said Rev. John Jenkins, the president of Notre Dame, in a statement, per CNN. "But in the end, the constraints the coronavirus pandemic put on the event -- as understandable and necessary as they are -- have led us to withdraw."
The vice presidential debate took place in October.
The first and only debate between current VP Mike Pence and Biden's running mate, Kamala Harris took place Wednesday, October 7 at the University of Utah in Salt Lake City in Kingsbury Hall on President's Circle. Susan Page of USA Today moderated.
Following Trump's diagnosis, a number of heath and safety measures were implemented for the VP debate, including spacing the candidates' podiums 12 feet apart.
Trump previously sent mixed messages on the subject of whether he will debate Biden.
The New York Times reported late last year that Trump had raised doubts around the debate, stating that he did not trust the Commission on Presidential Debates–a nonpartisan entity. He later wrote on Twitter that though he wanted to debate the Democratic nominee, he was concerned that the Commission was "biased" against him. "I will make a decision at an appropriate time but in the meantime, the Commission on Presidential Debates is NOT authorized to speak for me."
More recently, though, Trump indicated that he would debate his opponent. "Yeah, sure. I look forward to it, actually," he told reporters in February, when asked.
And in June, Trump campaign manager Brad Parscale and Rudy Giuliana requested a fourth debate between Biden and Trump, which, if granted, would add one more to the schedule.
That said, given the President's history of inconsistent and self-contradictory messaging, there's no real way to know what he'll decide.
Nancy Pelosi thinks there should not be a debate.
“I don’t think that there should be any debates,” Pelosi told reporters in late August. “I do not think that the President of the United States has comported himself in a way that anybody has any association with truth, evidence, data and facts.”
“I wouldn’t legitimize a conversation with him nor a debate in terms of the presidency of the United States,” she added.
Biden has since dismissed Pelosi's suggestion. "I'm going to debate him," he said. "I'm going to be a fact-checker on the floor."
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