Last night, President Donald Trump and former Vice President Joe Biden faced off one final time, 12 days before the election on November 3rd. The winner? According to the internet, moderator Kristen Welker came out on top. For 90 minutes, she kept the president from veering too far off-topic with a firm, “OK, let’s move on” after rambling answers.
Welker, an award-winning NBC News White House correspondent and anchor, has been praised by outlets like The New York Times, The Guardian, and BBC News as the “clear winner” for keeping the candidates’ conversation about issues and policy positions and reintroducing civility into an otherwise madcap election season.
When she asked Trump about China policy, and he brought up unverified claims about the Biden family, she refocused him, saying, “President Trump, on China policy though, what specifically are you going to do to make China pay?”
Regarding those claims about the Biden family, she did ask Joe Biden about Hunter Biden’s work for China and the Ukrainian energy company Burisma. “In retrospect, was anything about those relationships inappropriate or unethical?” In response, Biden said: “The guy who got in trouble in Ukraine was this guy trying to bribe the Ukrainian government to say something negative about me, which they would not do and did not do, because it never, ever, ever happened."
Welker also pressed Trump on the family separation policy at the border. Earlier this week, the Department of Homeland Security revealed, as part of a lawsuit filed by the American Civil Liberties Union (ACLU), “that it had lost track of the families of 545 children separated at the U.S.-Mexico border” by the Trump Administration’s family separation policy, per The Hill.
“But the United States can’t locate the parents of more than 500 children. So how will these families ever be reunited?” Welker asked. Trump tried to dodge the question by talking about drug cartels using children to get into the U.S., but the family separation policy was just that: separating children from their families at border detention facilities. “How will you reunite these children with their families? Do you have a plan to reunite these kids with their families?” Welker repeated. Again, he did not answer the question beyond saying he’s “working on it.”
— NowThis (@nowthisnews) October 23, 2020
Commentators from both the left and right praised Welker’s performance.
Kristen Welker did a good job (much better than I expected) moderating the debate. i was pleasantly surprised when she asked Biden about the corruption scandal.
— Newt Gingrich (@newtgingrich) October 23, 2020
….even after President Trump attacked her on Twitter ahead of the debate yesterday.
— Donald J. Trump (@realDonaldTrump) October 22, 2020
Chris Wallace, the Fox News host who moderated the first debate, said he was “jealous.”
“I would have liked to have been able to moderate that debate,” he said.
The NBC News correspondent is only the second Black woman to moderate a presidential debate solo. (The first was ABC News journalist Carole Simpson back in 1992.) Here's what to know about the woman behind all the questions.
Kristen Welker is an award-winning NBC News White House correspondent and anchor.
She's been on the NBC News team since 2010 and assumed the role of White House correspondent in 2011. Welker covered the 2016 campaign for NBC News. She was promoted to Weekend TODAY co-anchor alongside Peter Alexander at the beginning of 2020.
Congratulations to @kwelkernbc who will be honored with the award for Outstanding Journalism in Broadcast Television at the annual Washington Women in Journalism Awards on Sept. 24. pic.twitter.com/IuxEfKcoj6
— NBC News PR (@NBCNewsPR) September 3, 2020
At the Washington Women in Journalism Awards, Welker was named 2020's Outstanding Broadcast Journalist. She also won a National Emmy Award for her part in NBC News' coverage of the Malaysia Airlines Flight 17 crash. Welker also has one nom for her work covering the 2010 midterm elections.
She has previous debate moderation experience.
This isn't her first presidential campaign or debate. Welker co-moderated a Democratic primary presidential debate last November alongside MSNBC's Rachel Maddow, NBC's Andrea Mitchell, and Washington Post's Ashley Parker. The four of them kept all 10 candidates in order.
This time around she has two candidates to keep on topic.
She's known as the "Welk-nado."
While covering the 2016 presidential campaign, Welker earned the prominent figure on the 2016 campaign trail and earned the nickname "the Welk-nado," from Weekend TODAY co-host Peter Alexander. "She sweeps through the room, doesn't stop, doesn't pause. She's relentless." He described her as "a tornado of energy anywhere she goes," in an Elle interview.
Welker's already had a viral TV moment.
She was reporting live on-air when lighting equipment collapsed all around her. Welker didn't miss a beat.
— Jeevan Vittal (@JvittalTV) April 22, 2020
Welker was inspired to pursue journalism at a young age.
She has talked how being biracial influenced her career decisions. "Growing up as a biracial child, the idea of helping people of different races and backgrounds better communicate inspired me to become a journalist," she told Glamour in June. That continues to drive Welker. "With protesters demanding change after George Floyd’s death, it is more important than ever that everyone has a voice and elected leaders from the White House to City Hall are held accountable for their words and actions, or lack thereof," she said.
She graduated from Harvard College.
Welker grew up in Philadelphia and went on to study American history at Harvard. She earned her degree in 1998. She got her first byline in the Harvard Crimson in 1994 and that studying abroad in Madrid was one of the best decisions she's made. Her most important story was about the increased maternal mortality rates among Black women. While in college, she interned at TODAY. She got her start with reporting positions at NBC affiliates in Providence, Rhode Island and Redding, California.
Welker has been married for more than 3 years.
She met her husband John Hughes, a marketing director also from Philadelphia, on a blind date, and he quickly won her over. A handwritten crossword puzzle of presidential trivia sealed the deal, and she knew he was the one. “That’s the moment he got me,” she told The New York Times. “As a White House correspondent, it was so touching, and it marked him different than anyone else I ever dated.”
He proposed on the steps of the Lincoln Memorial, and they married in Philly March 2017. During the pandemic, Hughes has helped Welker as her "producer from home" per People. “He's just so supportive, and just jumps right in. We joke that he'll be joining the union soon, because he knows how to use all of the equipment.”
Welker's mom is her biggest supporter.
She wrote a tribute to her mother, Juliet, in "The Best Advice My Mother Gave Me" on Maria Shriver's website. Welker called her mother a "trailblazer" and "my biggest supporter, my best friend, and my greatest inspiration."
"From the moment I told my mother that I wanted to be a journalist, she has stood by my side every step of the way," Welker wrote. "My mom texts me after every single live report to cheer me on. I would not be the person or journalist that I am today if it were not for my mom."
President Trump has criticized Welker's work and selection as moderator.
After info about Welker's parents' contributions to Democratic candidates was released, President Trump tweeted, "She's always been terrible & unfair, just like most of the Fake News reporters, but I'll still play the game."
She’s always been terrible & unfair, just like most of the Fake News reporters, but I’ll still play the game. The people know! How’s Steve Scully doing? https://t.co/uS3EWzfFPy
— Donald J. Trump (@realDonaldTrump) October 17, 2020
Welker is a registered independent, according to the Chicago Tribune.
Trump continued his attacks on Fox & Friends saying she "cannot be neutral at all." He called Welker "totally partisan" in reference to her parents' political contributions.
Still, some members of Team Trump applauded Welker's selection. In an interview Oct. 9 with Fox News' Martha MacCallum, Trump senior adviser Jason Miller said: "I have a very high opinion of Kristen Welker. I think she's going to do an excellent job as the moderator for the third debate. I think she's a journalist who's very fair in her approach. And I think that she'll be a very good choice for this third debate."
Welker advises young journalists to “be brave."
In a Q+A with the Washingtonian, Welker shared a few words of wisdom for next gen journalists: "Be brave. Raise your hand for every assignment that comes your way. Be prepared to work harder than you have ever imagined, and seek out constructive criticism.”
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