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How to Watch the Final 2020 Presidential Debate

Donald Trump and Joe Biden will meet for their final presidential debate on Thursday evening. This was originally scheduled to be the candidates’ third debate of the 2020 election season. But America’s mask-shunning, crowded-room-loving, science-skeptical President was diagnosed with Covid-19 shortly after the first debate, and the White House became a hot zone. When the nonpartisan Commission on Presidential Debates gently moved to conduct their next event virtually, for the sake of everyone’s health and safety, the Trump campaign refused and everyone made other plans.

With just two weeks left until Election Day and Biden leading nationally in the polls (insert obligatory post-2016 caveats here), both candidates and the CPD have reached enough of an agreement to proceed with the third second debate.

The action is set to begin at 9 pm ET (6 pm PT) on Thursday, October 22, and will be broadcast live from Belmont University, a private Christian university in Nashville, Tennessee. The fighting Bruins! And yes, that means this debate is an in-person affair. The CPD has assured everyone that the event will be held “in accordance with all required testing, masking, social distancing and other protocols.” (Their track record on enforcing said protocols, however, has been mixed.)

The debate will be organized into six 15-minute segments, each focused on a different topic as chosen by the moderator, NBC’s Karen Welker. Welker announced her planned lineup last week: “Fighting Covid-19,” “American Families,” “Race in America,” “Climate Change,” “National Security,” and “Leadership.” Altogether, the debate will last 90 minutes without commercial interruption.

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Speaking of interruptions, let’s talk about the debate rules for a second. Each candidate is supposed to get two minutes uninterrupted for an opening statement in each segment, before things devolve into “open discussion,” as the commission refers to it. While both campaigns agreed to this rule before the first debate, the President paid about as much attention to that as to anything Anthony Fauci or Tiffany Trump has ever said. It’s not quite on the level of bungling the federal response to a pandemic that has so far claimed over 210,000 American lives and thrown millions more into poverty, but the results were admittedly chaotic for viewers at home. The next day, the CPD announced it would “ensure that additional tools to maintain order are in place for the remaining debates.”

Those tools turn out to be a mute button, strategically deployed for parts of the debate. While one candidate gives his initial two-minute response, his opponent’s audio feed will be turned off. All other times, both microphones will work. Muting powers will rest in the hands of the commission’s production crew, and not Welker. Everyone involved has already been impugned by the President or his campaign.

How to Watch

Unlike the primary debates, which are televised by a rotating slate of channels, the presidential debates are simulcast across all the major networks and cable news programs, including ABC, CBS, CNN, C-SPAN, FOX, NBC, PBS, Telemundo, and Univision. If you have cable or satellite TV or a live streaming TV service, take your pick. Again, the debate is scheduled to kick off at 9 pm ET (6 pm PT). Many networks also have special pre- and post-debate analysis coverage planned, so check your local listings if you’re into that sort of thing.

Most networks have streaming apps on the major providers: Apple TV, Roku, Amazon Fire TV, Android TV, Xbox One, and so on. Many are also streaming the debate from their websites and on their various social media platforms. PBS, for example, already helpfully has their stream ready to go on YouTube right here!

The introduction of a presidential mute button may admittedly make for some darkly entertaining TV. But if you’d rather just listen to the debates, you can also stick with NPR’s coverage, which you can find on your local station or through the NPR One app.

This is the final debate before Election Day, which is less than two weeks away. Millions of Americans have already voted. If you’re not yet one of them, there are plenty of resources online to help you plan today. Whether you vote by mail or in person, it’s time for all Americans to make their voices heard. Unless their debate mic is muted.

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