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Highlights from the final Trump-Biden presidential debate

Get the latest election news, voting results and polls.

President Donald Trump and Joe Biden faced off in their final presidential debate on Thursday night.

The 90-minute debate, moderated by NBC's Kristen Welker, took place at Belmont University in Nashville, Tennessee, covered a wide range of topics, including Covid-19, race, immigration and climate change.

This live coverage has ended. Continue reading election news from October 23, 2020.

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Read highlights, fact checks and takeaway below:

After watching the final presidential debate between President Donald Trump and former Vice President Joe Biden, undecided Atlanta voters spoke to MSNBC's Chris Jansing about their reactions and why some were still unsure about the candidates.

Voters watching last night's debate praised 'civil' tone

Debate watchers in Los Angeles and Nashville responded positively to the "civil" exchanges between the two candidates.

Who won the Trump-Biden debate? Experts grade the candidates

Image: Donald Trump And Joe Biden Participate In Final Debate Before Presidential Election
Joe Biden and President Donald Trump at the second and final presidential debate. Morry Gash / Pool via Getty Images

President Donald Trump was the most improved performer at Thursday's debate, but a panel of debate experts told NBC News that Joe Biden was more effective with his arguments.

The three experts all agreed the faceoff was more informative than the chaotic first debate in Cleveland last month, but one noted, "That's a very low bar."

While Trump's strategy of interrupting less and letting Biden speak more in hopes of provoking a gaffe from the former vice president was sound strategy, the experts said Biden didn't make the type of major mistake Trump probably needed to change the race.

Here are their report cards.

Amid debate over xenophobia, reminder 'China virus' is harming Asian Americans

In response to a question about how he would handle the pandemic if reelected, Trump said his administration had acted sufficiently and reissued his claim that Biden had called him "xenophobic" with regard to closing the borders.

It's worth noting he didn't completely bar entry from China. Rather, the administration restricted the entry of foreign nationals who traveled to the country within the previous 14 days. The administration made exceptions for immediate family members of U.S. citizens and permanent residents.

And it's still not clear whether Biden was calling Trump's travel ban or his use of  the phrase "China virus" xenophobic.

But what is clear is the use of the phrase has coincided with a sharp rise in attacks against Asian Americans. Reporting forum Stop AAPI Hate collected 2,583 incidents during the pandemic between March 19 and August 5. 

Discriminatory language around the virus, used primarily by GOP leaders and conservative outlets, has had a profound impact on how Americans view Asians in the U.S., research shows. While anti-Asian bias had been in steady decline for over a decade, the trend reversed in days after there was a significant uptick in the use of “China virus” and similar rhetoric in March. The language prompted an increased subconscious belief that Asian Americans are “perpetual foreigners,” researchers said.

During the debate, the president also claimed that House Speaker Nancy Pelosi was "dancing on the streets of Chinatown."

The remarks were in reference to an event she held in February, during which she advocated for people to visit the neighborhood’s businesses three weeks before the state issued stay-at-home orders.

One other fact check so we're all on the same page: China is not the same thing as Chinatown.

Fact check: Did Biden call Trump's China travel restrictions 'xenophobic?'

Elizabeth Janowski

Jane C. Timm and Elizabeth Janowski

Trump, portraying his decision to restrict some travel to the U.S. from China earlier in the pandemic as a life-saving move he made in the face of Democratic opposition, said Biden had called it "xenophobic."

"When I closed, he said I shouldn’t have closed, and that went on for months. Nancy Pelosi said the same thing — she was dancing on the streets of Chinatown in San Francisco. But when I closed, he said, 'This is a terrible thing, this is xenophobic.' I think he called me racist even, because I was closing it to China," Trump said.

Biden has not directly called the president's travel restriction xenophobic or racist, but he did denounce Trump's coronavirus response as "xenophobic" a day after the travel restriction was announced — responding to a tweet in which Trump used a racist term to describe the virus — and in another tweet in March. He's also called the president racist.

After the president defended ending racial sensitivity training for federal workers during the first debate, Biden said, “He's just, he’s racist."

Meanwhile, Trump's assertion that House Speaker Nancy Pelosi, D-Calif., was "dancing in the streets of Chinatown in San Francisco" is a mischaracterization.

In February, Pelosi paid a visit to San Francisco’s Chinatown to promote its businesses, which took a hit as reports of coronavirus cases emerged from China. There isn't any evidence she was "dancing." Rather, she got dim sum, according to reports.

Fact check: Did Trump say people should inject bleach to fight Covid-19?

During the debate, Biden referred to Trump's suggestion earlier this year that people inject bleach to help stave off the coronavirus.

"He said, ‘Don’t worry, it’s going to go away … maybe inject bleach.’ He said he was kidding when he said that. A lot of people thought it was serious," Biden said.

Trump did indeed speculate that an injection of the sort could have a curative effect.

During a news conference at the White House in April, a Homeland Security official described the ability of disinfectants like bleach to kill the coronavirus on surfaces.

Trump said at the time: "And then I see the disinfectant where it knocks it out in a minute. One minute. And is there a way we can do something like that, by injection inside or almost a cleaning? 

"Because, you see, it gets on the lungs, and it does a tremendous number on the lungs. So it'd be interesting to check that. So that you're going to have to use medical doctors, but it sounds — it sounds interesting to me."

He repeatedly said afterward that he was kidding about the suggestion.

Dems move to limit damage from Biden's comments on oil

Biden's stated plan to “transition” the country away from the oil industry is reverberating — on both sides.

Republicans from Missouri Sen. Josh Hawley and Sarah Huckabee Sanders to Govs. Tate Reeves of Mississippi and Greg Abbott of Texas jumped on the moment. 

Democrats, meanwhile, are working quick to limit any possible damage to their presidential nominee, highlighting that Biden aims to accomplish the goal by 2050 and that oil industry futures have long looked grim. 

We’ll see whether those arguments will work for Democratic candidates in tight races in states and districts big in the oil business — such as the Democratic Senate candidates in Alaska, Texas, Colorado and Kansas. It’s almost certain the moment will be replayed over and over again by Trump loyalists between now and Election Day.

Fact check: Biden gets it wrong on trade deficit with China

Biden on Thursday said Trump had "caused the deficit with China to go up, not down, with China."

NBC News fact-checked this claim during the first presidential debate. It is false.

According to government data, the trade deficit — simply put, the net difference in the monetary value of a nation’s exports and imports with another nation — with China has fallen considerably since Trump has been in office.

In 2016, Trump ran in part on a message that was aggressively critical of the trade deals the U.S. had entered in the past. As president, he negotiated a new free trade deal with Mexico and Canada, and, following a trade war, a preliminary “phase one” deal with China.

Fact check: Are opportunity zones boosting Black and Hispanic communities?

Trump said his “opportunity zones” program was “one of the most successful programs." 

“Tremendous investment is being made. Biggest beneficiary, the Black and Hispanic communities,” the president claimed during the debate.

NBC News took a deep look at opportunity zones last month and found that claims of massive job growth are impossible to prove, and that the bulk of the investments to date have gone to real estate deals that do not produce long-term jobs. Investors are not required to report the number of jobs created or housing units developed.

The vast majority of the billions earmarked for opportunity zones has gone to real estate deals. The New York Times also reported that many of the early beneficiaries of the program were the wealthy, including president’s own family members and advisers.  

AOC reacts to Trump's debate shoutout

Fact check: Trump says wind power 'kills all the birds'

“I know more about wind than you do. It's extremely expensive, kills all the birds, it's very intermittent, got a lot of problems,” Trump told Biden during an exchange about energy independence.

Trump frequently criticizes windmills for the threat they pose to birds. Wind turbines do kill birds, though cats and cell towers kill significantly more winged creatures.

What's more, glass towers — like the kind Trump lived in until he moved into the White House — actually kill way more birds than wind turbines. 

Trump says Obamacare must die. Biden says he'll make it into 'Bidencare.'

Democratic presidential nominee Joe Biden touted his "Bidencare" plan to create a government-run insurance option, as Republican President Donald Trump defended his push to eliminate the Affordable Care Act and craft a "beautiful" alternative.

"What I'm going to do is pass Obamacare with a public option — becomes 'Bidencare,'" the former vice president said, using the phrase twice to describe his proposal to extend Medicaid coverage, allow Americans on private plans the option of a government-run policy, and expand federal subsidies.

While Biden has fiercely defended President Barack Obama and the ACA, his promises of a "Bidencare" plan indicate a desire to build a health care legacy of his own. His campaign has estimated that the plan would cost $750 billion.

Read the story.

Fact check: Trump says Biden sold Ukraine 'pillows and sheets.' What's he talking about?

“I sold, while he was selling pillows and sheets, I sold tank busters to Ukraine. There has been nobody tougher on Russia than Donald Trump,” Trump claimed.

This claim perplexed many. Biden’s former chief of staff tweeted he’d be open to buying Biden bedding. 

Trump appears to be referring to the fact that under his administration, Ukraine has been approved to  purchase lethal weapons from the U.S..The Obama administration offered Ukraine nonlethal aid when the country's conflict with Russia broke out in 2014. At the time, then-Arizona Sen. John McCain said, “the Ukrainians are being slaughtered and we’re sending them blankets and meals. Blankets don’t do well against Russian tanks.”

But Trump is downplaying the security assistance Ukraine received under Obama and Biden, which included hundreds of vehicles, drones, counter-mortar radars and medical supplies.

Trump campaign jumps on Biden's oil comments

On a phone call with reporters after the debate (also known as the virtual spin room), the Trump campaign went after Biden for his comments on phasing out oil in favor of more sustainable energy as part of his environmental plan. 

“Joe Biden realized he made a grave error in what he said,” the campaign's communications director, Tim Murtaugh, said. 

Murtaugh portrayed Biden as two-faced, arguing that he says one thing when on the campaign trail in states like Pennsylvania and another when he’s talking to “environmental extremists and activists.”

“You cannot be Joe from Scranton and have AOC writing your climate change policy at the same time," he said. "The two things are incongruous.” 

Biden has walked a fine line on issues like fracking. But the oil industry has not done as well during Trump's term as the president has claimed, either.

Biden says he’ll 'transition' energy industry. Trump and surrogates say he’ll kill U.S. jobs.

At the end of the debate, Biden said he would “transition” the United States away from the oil industry. 

“That’s a big statement,” Trump said in response — and the president’s campaign and Republicans are working hard to make it one. 

The fracking and oil industries are huge employers in Pennsylvania and Texas, both states Trump and Biden are clamoring to capture. 

We’ll see if Trump and his surrogates' zooming in on that moment will be effective. American oil consumption has been on the decline since 2005, according to the U.S. Energy Information Administration, and the country has been “transitioning” its energy consumption away from oil for decades.

Fact check: Trump claims Biden called Black Americans 'super predators'

Trump claimed that Biden referred to Black Americans as "super predators" in 1994.

"He's been in government 47 years, he never did a thing, except in 1994, when he did such harm to the Black community and they were called and he called them super predators, and he said that, super predators," Trump said. "And they can never live that down. 1994, your crime bill. The super predators."

This is mostly false — Biden never used that term. It was Hillary Clinton, then the first lady, who used the word "superpredator" to advocate for the 1994 crime bill that Biden co-wrote more than 30 years ago.

Biden did warn of "predators" in a floor speech in support of his bill, however.

The 1994 crime bill earmarked billions of dollars for new prisons and encouraged states to keep criminals behind bars for years by offering special grants. It also instituted a federal "three-strikes" life sentence mandate, among other things. After the bill was enacted, crime dropped and incarceration rates skyrocketed.

"The crime bill, however, was just the most high-profile legislation to increase the number of people behind bars," New York University's Brennan Center for Justice concluded in a 2016 analysis. "On their own, states passed three-strikes laws, enacted mandatory minimums, eliminated parole, and removed judicial discretion in sentencing. By dangling bonus dollars, the crime bill encouraged states to remain on their tough-on-crime course."

Fact check: Trump was given a 'cure' for Covid-19

Trump claimed that he was given a treatment and that "some people would say it's a cure."

There is still no cure for Covid-19. When Trump was hospitalized with Covid-19, he received Regeneron's antibody cocktail. In a video posted to Twitter when he left the hospital, he said it was "a cure."

"For me, I walked in, I didn't feel good, a short 24 hours later, I was feeling great," he said.

While it's likely that the treatment helped Trump, he's overstating its benefit.

It is impossible to know which, if any, of the multiple drugs the president received while hospitalized helped. Doctors also gave Trump the antiviral drug remdesivir and a steroid called dexamethasone.

No drugs for Covid-19, however, have been proven to be a cure for the disease. Clinical trials of the treatment Trump received continue.

Dr. Anthony Fauci, director of the National Institute of Allergy and Infectious Diseases, said there is a "reasonably good chance" that the Regeneron drug made a significant difference in the course of the president's illness. But, he added, it's impossible to extrapolate one person's apparent success to the general population.

Fact check: Trump and Biden spar over child separation

Image: Border Patrol Agents Detain Migrants Near US-Mexico Border
A boy and father from Honduras are taken into custody by U.S. Border Patrol agents near the U.S.-Mexico Border near Mission, Texas on June 12, 2018.John Moore / Getty Images file

Biden and Trump sparred over immigration and Trump's policy of separating children from their parents at the border when the president was asked how he'd reunite the reportedly more than 500 children whose parents can't be located.

Let's take a look at each candidate's claims and the facts.

"A lot of these kids come out without the parents," Trump said, claiming that they were brought by "coyotes" or brought to the U.S. by cartels. 

Biden countered that those children "came here with parents. They [the Trump administration] separated them at the border to make it a disincentive to come here to begin with."

Biden is accurate here. While some teenagers do come across the border unaccompanied, the children in question were separated from their parents. The separations were discussed by the Trump administration as a way to deter people from crossing the border.

Trump's "zero tolerance" policy aimed to prosecute every illegal border crosser, including asylum-seekers. To do that, the administration separated children, including babies, from their parents or legal guardians because the adults were being detained and prosecuted.

The president also claimed that the "cages" his administration has been criticized for holding the children in were built by the Obama-Biden administration. 

"Let me tell you, they built cages," Trump said.

That's true, although there was no widespread Obama-era policy of separating parents and children. Trump and his administration have previously tried to justify the family separation policy and defend against accusations from Democrats that Trump put "kids in cages" by saying Obama started it.

The Obama administration separated migrant children in limited cases, primarily over questions of safety or potential child trafficking but "not as a matter of policy or practice," former Homeland Security Secretary Jeh Johnson said.

After a surge in unaccompanied children and women at the border in 2014, the Obama administration did detain families in "cages," or chain link structures, where children were generally kept for the mandated guideline of several days. It also built emergency shelters for children and a detention center for families, some of which have been used to house children during the Trump administration

Chris Wallace: I would like to have moderated that debate

Chris Wallace, the moderator of the first debate, offered a nod to Welker during the Fox News post-debate reaction.

"First of all, I'm jealous," Wallace said. "I would have liked to have been able to moderate that debate and to get a real exchange of views instead of hundreds of interruptions."

Image: Presidential debate in Cleveland
President Donald Trump and moderator Chris Wallace at the first presidential debate in Cleveland on Sept. 29.Olivier Douliery / Pool via Reuters file

Final debate wraps up with question about the candidates' would-be inaugurals

Dartunorro Clark

The final matchup between Biden and Trump wrapped up with few interruptions — thanks in part to the mute button — and with praise for the moderator for keeping the pace smooth, following up with pointed questions and pressing both candidates on a number of issues.  

In the final question, each candidate was asked what he would say in his inaugural address to those who didn't vote for him. 

Trump kept to his standard themes, predicting an economic depression if Biden is elected, but he didn't speak directly to those who did not vote for him. His response was more in line with his speeches at campaign rallies, saying that the economy was damaged by Covid-19 and that his administration would bring it roaring back. 

Biden said he would be an "American president" and represent everyone, including those who don't vote for him. He promised to grow the economy, create millions of jobs through clean energy and fight systemic racism. He also said that decency and hope are on the ballot and that his administration would restore them in America.

Graphic: Who talked about what (and for how long) in the final debate

Naitian Zhou

Fact check: Will the stock market 'crash' if Biden wins?

Trump said that if Biden wins, the stock market will crash.

"If he is elected, the stock market will crash," Trump said.

There is no evidence to support this claim. Financial experts and analysts have repeatedly pointed out that no market dip will occur specifically because Biden wins, and some have even said the market is likely to rise regardless of who wins.

Ruchir Sharma, the chief global strategist at Morgan Stanley Investment Management, wrote a column in The New York Times last month saying his own investment research, dating to the 1860s, showed that the stock market "has no clear bias in favor of either party and that market volatility in the run-up to an election is perfectly normal."

He added that investors widely believe that Biden would, if elected, "govern more moderately when in office, raising taxes and regulation while decreasing tensions over immigration, global trade and China," which would have "little effect on the market's overall direction."

Other finance experts have predicted that if Biden wins and can wrangle control of the Covid-19 pandemic, the stock market could rise considerably.

As debate comes to a close, Welker praised for her performance

Image: Kristen Welker is seen through a window on a television in Texas as she moderates the final presidential debate in Nashville on Thursday.
Kristen Welker is seen through a window on a television in Texas as she moderates the final presidential debate in Nashville on Thursday.Sergio Flores / Getty Images

NBC News' Kristen Welker received a positive response for her moderating from viewers online, with some joking that she was the “real winner” of the night.

Some also noted that Welker fluidly slipped into fact-checking mode when warranted (something that past moderators have shied away from) and asked very specific and direct questions. 

It also helped that Trump appeared more willing to play by the rules at this debate and that the candidates’ mics were muted during their two-minute response times.

Trump gets asked about environmental racism. He points to the economy.

Trump was asked about poor Black and brown Americans who live near chemical plants and oil and gas refineries and fear the pollutants coming from those facilities are making them sick, whether with cancer or other ailments.

Welker noted Trump’s efforts at deregulation and how that might have made conditions more unhealthy for those Americans, and what his message is on why they should support him for four more years.

Trump’s response? His policies were making those people wealthier than ever.

Fact check: Trump says he has a plan to cover pre-existing conditions. He doesn’t.

Trump said Thursday: "We will always protect people with pre-existing [conditions]. So I would like to terminate Obamacare, come up with a brand-new, beautiful health care."

Trump has not released a health care plan or endorsed policy ideas to protect pre-existing conditions.

He has fought to eliminate the Affordable Care Act, which set up those protections by requiring insurers to accept all customers, prohibiting them from charging sick people higher prices, and guaranteeing a minimum package of policy benefits. While there is no current partywide plan, Trump and Republicans don’t support all of those provisions.

Trump-backed GOP legislation that passed the House and died in the Senate in 2017 would have weakened pre-existing condition rules by granting waivers to states so insurers can charge sicker patients higher costs on the basis of health status. Other Republican bills would also waive those rules for states.

Trump's messaging around the Central Park jogger case

During the segment on race, Trump pointed to the huge crime bill that Biden ushered through Congress in 1994, which many point to as having been a significant factor in drumming up mass incarceration, especially of those in Black and brown communities. 

But Biden hit back, citing Trump's involvement in driving the rhetoric around the five teenagers who were coerced into taking responsibility for the rape and assault of a female jogger three decades ago.

The young men were later exonerated for the crime after having served years in prison, but Trump's messaging might have contributed to the support that drove the crime bill into law: While he didn't name the teens, Trump ran full-page ads in The New York Times calling for the return of the death penalty in New York state because of the "reckless and dangerously permissive atmosphere which allows criminals of every age to beat and rape a helpless woman."  

One of the five, Raymond Santana, recently told NBC News that Trump's campaign ratcheted up public opinion into a frenzy against the boys. Some experts also say his rhetoric opened the door for harsher punishment of juvenile offenders. As The Atlantic pointed out, from 1995, when the word "superpredator" was made famous, to 2005, when the Supreme Court banned the death penalty for juvenile offenders, 62 percent of the children placed on death row across the U.S. were Black or Latino.

Final tracker tally: More than 200 attacks combined, nearly 50 interruptions

Fact check: Biden suggests Trump could deplete Social Security by 2023. Needs context.


Carrie Dann

Benjy Sarlin

Carrie Dann, Benjy Sarlin and Adam Edelman

Biden suggested Thursday that Trump's policies could bankrupt Social Security.

The president is "the guy that the actuary of Medicare said, of Social Security, that if in fact he continues to withhold, his plan to withhold the tax on Social Security, Social Security will be bankrupt in 2023, with no way to make up for it," Biden said.

The Biden campaign has cited a letter by the Social Security Administration’s chief actuary that said that permanently eliminating all payroll taxes without a replacement would deplete the Social Security trust fund by 2023. But this is not Trump’s current position and the same letter noted that if Congress mandated the cost of the tax cuts come out of the general fund, as Trump has suggested, then benefits would be “essentially unaffected.”

On Aug. 8, President Trump said he wanted to “make permanent cuts to the payroll tax” if re-elected. On Aug. 12, he said his administration “will be terminating the payroll tax.” 

The Biden campaign immediately alleged that Trump was arguing for a de facto gutting of Social Security, since it is funded by payroll taxes. 

But the White House quickly clarified that Trump doesn’t actually want to eliminate payroll taxes entirely, only to permanently forgive a four-month payroll tax holiday he issued via executive order during the coronavirus crisis. On Aug. 13, for example, press secretary Kayleigh McEnany told reporters: “What he was meaning yesterday is that he wants permanent forgiveness of the deferral.” 

Trump has also said he’d use deficit spending to fund his tax holiday plan, which would not affect Social Security.

Another important thing to keep in mind: There’s no scenario in which Trump could make any permanent changes to the tax system without the OK of Congress.

Trump calls other countries 'filthy' in question on climate change

Asked about climate change, Trump pointed the finger at countries like China, Russia and India, calling them “filthy.”

“Look at China,” Trump said. “How filthy it is! Look at Russia. Look at India. It’s filthy!”

The president was immediately referencing pollution, but the word carries a connotation far beyond that.

It was reminiscent of when the president referred to some African and Latin American countries as “s---holes.”

Biden and Trump spar, again, on whether the stock market is the economy

Trump said the stock market would “boom” if he were to be re-elected, and that if Biden were elected, markets would “crash.”

“Where I come from...people don't live off of the stock market,” Biden replied, noting the deepening divide between Wall Street and Main Street.

While Trump has frequently touted the stock market’s rise as a proxy for his own success, it has been seen as both cause and symptom of the widening gap between the country's haves and have-nots.

By the numbers, the rich are getting richer and the less well off are staying that way — or worse.

There are 644 billionaires in the U.S. and during the pandemic they gained $1 trillion in net worth, according to a new analysis.

A study from UBS and PwC showed that billionaire wealth increased by 27.5 percent during the spring lockdowns, with the stock market pushing the fortunes of the world’s richest citizens past the $10 trillion mark for the first time. 

The world’s richest man, Amazon founder and CEO Jeff Bezos, has seen his fortune almost double so far this year, from $115 billion to just over $200 billion. The bulk of Bezos' fortune comes from his Amazon shares, which hit a high this year amid record demand from housebound consumers who turned to the e-commerce giant for everything from toilet paper to streaming services, and saw continuing strong demand for its cloud computing services.

Journalists of color respond to Trump calling himself 'least racist'

Nicole Via y Rada

Trump's 'lowest IQ' remark about migrants slammed on Twitter

After Trump said immigrants "with the lowest IQ" might show up for asylum hearings after having been released into the country, the comment quickly drew clapbacks on Twitter.

"Trump says he 'hates' to insult someone by saying they're 'low IQ'. As we've seen over the years, he doesn't hate it enough," Arianna Huffington tweeted.

Fact check: Was U.S. the first country to shut down travel from China after Covid-19 emerged?

Biden on Thursday said Trump only "shut down" travel from China at the outset of the Covid-19 pandemic "late, after 40 countries had already done that."

This is true.

Starting on Feb. 2, the U.S. barred entry by foreigners who had traveled in China in the past two weeks, with some exceptions.

According to a list kept by the Council on Foreign Relations of countries that shut down travel from China because of the Covid-19 pandemic — and when they did it — at least 42 did so before the United States. 

The best carbon emission numbers in 35 years? Not so much

Trump just said that U.S. has achieved the best carbon emission numbers in 35 years.

But he has cut funding to EPA and gotten rid of more than 70 environmental regulations, weakening climate protections. The U.S. actually saw the biggest spike in carbon emissions in 2018 since 2000 — that was under Trump.

‘Look at us closely’: Biden draws contrast with Trump

Biden, looking directly into the camera, laid out clearly and effectively what has been at the heart of his campaign message — what he said was the sharp contrast between him and Trump. 

“You know who I am, you know who he is," Biden said. "You know his character, you know my character. You know our reputations for honor and telling the truth. I am anxious to have this race. I am anxious to see this take place. The character of the country is on the ballot,” Biden said. “Look at us closely.”

Biden was prompted by criticism from Trump that the Obama-Biden administration had not accomplished numerous things during their eight years in office and had been “all talk and no action.”

Trump mocks some undocumented immigrants as having low IQs

Dartunorro Clark

During the segment on immigration policy, Trump said the only undocumented immigrants who show up for court hearings are those “with the lowest IQ.” 

He was referring to the practice of catch and release, which allows migrants to stay in the country while they wait for hearings on their immigration cases. 

The comment drew immediate backlash on Twitter. Trump has questioned the IQs of others in the past, many of whom were people of color.

Fact check: Does Biden want a fracking ban?

Trump claimed that Biden wants to ban fracking.

"Just like he went at it with fracking," Trump said. If Biden wins, he said, “We’re not gonna have fracking. We’re gonna stop fracking, we’re gonna stop fracking.”

"Then he goes to Pennsylvania after he gets the nomination, and he got very lucky to get it, and he goes to Pennsylvania, and he says, 'Oh, we’re gonna have fracking,'" Trump added.

This well-worn attack against Biden is not true, although Biden’s position on the issue is complicated. 

Biden has repeatedly said he will not ban fracking; the policies he has released only call for no new fracking on federal lands. His policy also allows for existing fracking on federal lands to continue, and existing and new fracking on privately owned land to continue.

Biden, however, has also called for net-zero carbon emissions by 2050 — a plan that would include a systematic departure from the use of fossil fuels, which has implications for fracking. He hasn’t explicitly said how or when that move away from fossil fuels would affect fracking, but Trump has used the proposal to tell audiences, inaccurately, that his opponent wants to ban fracking now.

Hydraulic fracturing, known as fracking, is a practice used to tap into natural gas reserves deep below the earth's surface. It’s a critical issue in states like the battleground of Pennsylvania, where the practice has brought economic prosperity to several once-impoverished areas. It is controversial because many of the chemicals used in the process are toxic to humans and have been known to cause serious health problems in populations near fracking fields.

Fact check: Trump falsely claims 180 million people will lose health care if Biden wins

Trump said Thursday, "We have 180 million people out there that have great private health care — far more than what we’re talking about with Obamacare." 

"Joe Biden is going to terminate all of those policies," he added.

"Under what he wants to do, which will basically be socialized medicine, he won’t even have a choice, they want to terminate 180 million plans," Trump added. 

Trump has made this claim repeatedly, and NBC News has fact checked it repeatedly. This claim is false. It conflates Biden's plan with those of other Democrats pushing "Medicare for All."

While estimates vary about how many Americans have private insurance, the Centers for Medicare and Medicaid Services estimates that 180 million people have private insurance.

But Biden's plan wouldn't end private insurance, though that was part of some of Biden's Democratic primary opponents proposals. Instead, Biden's health care plan would create a public option for those who want to get government health insurance while allowing those with private insurance to stay on their plans. 

Many Republicans have sought to tie the proposals for "Medicare for All" to all Democrats — and it is true that many Democratic members of Congress are sponsoring the bill (118 in the House and 14 in the Senate). But Biden has criticized "Medicare for All" throughout his campaign.

On immigration, Biden gives a gentle diss to Obama

Pushed by Trump on immigration and asked about what his administration would do differently from his time as vice president, Biden referenced Barack Obama, but not in a particularly fond way.

"It was a major mistake," Biden said of the Obama-era immigration policies. "It took too long to get it right."

Biden added that things will be different if he's in the big chair.

"I'll be president of the United States, not vice president of the United States," Biden says.

Fact check: Who pays tariffs? Trump says China, Biden says taxpayers

Trump, responding to a question about confronting China, said the country is “paying billions and billions of dollars" to the U.S. and suggested this was money his administration has used to bail out American farmers.

Biden interjected to say that was “taxpayer money” going to the farmers.

So, who is paying for tariffs?

We’ve fact checked this before, and Biden’s right. Tariffs are taxes on goods coming in to the U.S., paid by the importer; those taxes are largely tacked onto the purchase price paid by American consumers.

Tariffs are designed to make foreign-made goods more expensive, boosting domestic producers or, sometimes, forcing international exporters to slash prices to stay competitive. But there's no evidence China has been cutting prices to accommodate Trump’s tariffs, and there’s clear evidence that American families are picking up the tab.

Fact check: Where does Kamala Harris stand on health care?

Trump claimed that Biden's running mate, Sen. Kamala Harris, D-Calif., supports "socialized medicine."

"He wants socialized medicine, and it's not that he wants it — his vice president, I mean, she is more liberal than Bernie Sanders and wants it even more," Trump said.

Harris' position on health care — at least when she was a presidential candidate — was, in fact, difficult to pin down. In January 2019, she appeared to call for abolishing all private insurance, only to walk it back in May. 

Then, during a Democratic primary debate in June 2019, she raised her hand when candidates were asked whether they would get rid of private health insurance. The next day, she said that she had misunderstood the question and that she wouldn't abolish private health insurance in favor of "Medicare for All" if elected — but then she struggled to clarify her position about the role private insurers had to play. 

Then, in July 2019, she released a plan that sought to stake out a territory somewhere between "Medicare for All" and the Affordable Care Act, with private insurers allowed to compete in a controlled marketplace dominated by government insurance options. So charges that she has flip-flopped on the issue largely ring true.

But that's mostly irrelevant: As vice president, Harris would be charged with helping to implement Biden's vision on health care — not her own. 

Biden's health care plan involves improving Obamacare and creating a public option for those who want to get government health insurance while allowing those with private insurance to stay on their plans.

Image: Kamala Harris
Kamala Harris speaks during the vice presidential debate in Kingsbury Hall at the University of Utah in Salt Lake City on Oct. 7.Eric Baradat / AFP - Getty Images file

This is who’s staying on topic (spoiler: both candidates are)

Naitian Zhou

An hour into the debate and the nominees have stuck close to the moderator’s questions.

According to an NBC News analysis, Joe Biden and President Donald Trump have stayed on topic 82 percent of the time. This is better than the first presidential debate on Sept. 29, when the candidates were on topic close to half the time, also according to an NBC News analysis.

Biden tended to stay more on topic for questions about Covid-19. He was on topic for those about 89 percent of the time, and deviated more for questions relating to China, where he has only been on topic for 75 out of 113 seconds. Trump has stayed on topic for questions relating to ethics, where he was on topic the whole time, compared to staying on topic a little more than half the time for questions relating to the election.

See the latest on what the candidates are talking about and whether they’re staying on topic with the interactive NBC News presidential debate tracker.

No one knows what Trump’s ‘big, beautiful health care’ looks like

Trump has long promised a replacement for the Affordable Care Act, or Obamacare, with a plan that will provide people "big, beautiful health care,” going back to January 2017, when he told The Washington Post he would provide “insurance for everybody.”

The president has continued to say he will soon pass a new health care plan and told his supporters not to worry about overturning Obamacare because his plan will protect pre-existing conditions. In July, Trump told Fox News he would sign a bill within two weeks. In August, he said at a press briefing they would have the plan at the end of the month.  

The White House and Republicans still have not disclosed their plan, and it is unclear whether they have one.

Analysis: Trump rips states he needs to win

Trump said he didn't want to spend more federal Covid-19 relief money to help "Democrat" cities and states.

Those include the critical swing states of ... Pennsylvania, Michigan and Wisconsin, all of which elected Democratic governors in the Democratic mid-term wave in 2018.

Biden and Trump have attacked each other more than 120 times combined

Fact check: Trump gets rates of recovery for Covid-19 wrong

Trump said Thursday that "99.9 [percent] of young people recover" from Covid-19 and that "99 percent of people recover" from the virus.

Neither statistic is true. 

Last month, a research paper published in JAMA Internal Medicine found that among more than 3,200 adults ages 18 to 34 who were hospitalized with the disease, 21 percent required intensive care, 10 percent required mechanical ventilation and nearly 3 percent died.

Of those who survived, 3 percent — 99 patients — had to be discharged to another health care facility to continue their recoveries.

The claim that 99 percent of people infected with Covid-19 recovered is also false. There have been 8.4 million confirmed Covid-19 infections in the U.S. and more than 224,000 deaths from the virus.

A cursory calculation of the U.S. death rate, based on those numbers, would mean that 2.6 percent of all people with confirmed infections have died of the virus.

Experts have explained that the exact death rate is far more difficult to identify, because there could be a far greater number of people who were infected but were never tested because they were asymptomatic.

Separately, Trump's claim that so many "recover," as well as the figures above, don't take into consideration people who were infected who have suffered from symptoms that have lingered for months, and in some cases have been debilitating. 

Analysis: Sarcasm isn’t working for Biden

A couple of times, Biden has turned to sarcasm to make a point about Trump. It’s not his strong suit because it’s so deadpan it’s hard to tell he’s being sarcastic. The last one involved the ultimate debate loser: Adolf Hitler.

Biden was trying to make the point that North Korean leader Kim Jong Un didn’t meet with then-President Obama because Kim wouldn’t agree to give up nuclear weapons. Trump said Obama should have met with Kim and that Trump’s meetings were important.

Biden’s response: "We had a good relationship with Hitler before he invaded the rest of Europe. C’mon man."

The point was Hitler was always bad and so is Kim. But it sounded like he was saying it made sense for the U.S. to have ties to Hitler before World War II. And, for the record, President Franklin Roosevelt pressed Hitler, through letters, to refrain from invading other countries.

First mic cut of the night goes to Trump

Dartunorro Clark

Trump’s discursive response about protecting health care and preexisting conditions while also dismantling the Affordable Care Act resulted in the first mic cut of the night. 

His mic was muted just as he was trying to finish his response. It was an effective way to keep the moderator in control and get a response from Biden.

Mention of 'witch hunt' draws Biden eye roll

As the words “witch hunt” rolled off Donald Trump’s tongue, Joe Biden gave up any veneer of tolerance. He looked up to the ceiling, rolling his eyes upward, while taking in a deep breath. He wasn’t saying anything, but the body language spoke to exasperation. 

Trump praises Welker, whom he has attacked for days

Fact check: Trump claims Biden got $3.5 million from Russia. No evidence for this.

Trump, as part of a lengthy string of unverified allegations about Biden and his family's financial interests, claimed that Biden received millions "through Russia."

"Joe got $3.5 million through Russia, and it came through Putin because he was very friendly with the former mayor of Moscow," the president said.

“You made $3.5 million, Joe!” he said.

The president’s claims appear to be rooted in far-right conspiracy theories that the business dealings of the former vice president’s son, Hunter Biden, were somehow funneling foreign dollars to the vice president and the rest of his family. There’s no evidence of wrongdoing on either Biden's part, and Biden strenuously denied any foreign revenue streams from the debate stage.

Republicans on the Senate Homeland Security Committee released a report resurfacing allegations that Hunter Biden had foreign business deals that posed “potential conflicts of interests” with Hunter Biden’s foreign business dealings considering his father was the sitting vice president.

Largely focusing on those optics, the report doesn’t say that Hunter Biden’s work changed U.S. policy. Biden campaign spokesman Andrew Bates slammed the report as an “attack founded on a long-disproven hardcore rightwing conspiracy theory” that Johnson “has now explicitly stated he is attempting to exploit to bail out Donald Trump's re-election campaign."

One of the main claims about Hunter Biden raised in the GOP report is that he received $3.5 million from a Russian businesswoman.

The GOP report says the Russian wired $3.5 million to a firm associated with Hunter Biden. Hunter Biden’s lawyer, George Mesires, told Politico that it was “false” to say the younger Biden received that money because he has no “interest in” the firm.  

Read the GOP’s summary of the report here and the Biden campaign’s criticism of the probe here.


'C’mon!' Biden leans into his catchphrases

Dartunorro Clark

Biden-isms were on full display as the former vice president expressed disbelief at Trump’s claims during the debate. 

He called Trump’s claims on Biden’s alleged foreign entanglements “malarkey,” what Biden would say  is something he picked up in a working-class Irish Catholic family.

Also, he has said “c’mon!” every time Trump dredges up a baseless attack on him. 

It's important to note that the interrupting has returned, but not as much as in the first debate. Trump has been demanding more response time and interrupting the moderator.

Graphic: The top topics in the debate at the halfway mark

Naitian Zhou

In tonight’s debate, Covid-19 has dominated the discussion.

Get the latest breakdown of time spent on topics with the NBC News presidential debate tracker.

Trump's answers on his finances take twists and turns

Pushed to answer questions about his personal finances, Trump's answers took viewers on a winding road. 

On his taxes, Trump says his accountants won't let him release them, then says former special counsel Robert Mueller went through his taxes (which the redacted version of Mueller's report does not mention), and also claims he pre-paid his taxes (that could mean he took deductions on his losses).

Then on his bank account in China, Trump says he had an account, then closed it and then ran for president. One of the lawyers for the Trump Organization told The New York Times the account remains open but unused.

Almost halfway into the debate, not too many interruptions but plenty of attacks

Chaotic it’s not. A toned-down President Donald Trump and an on-the-attack Joe Biden spent the first 35 minutes of the debate talking about the issues while lobbing attacks on each other.

Interruptions, a mainstay of the previous debates, have been infrequent at best.

Get the latest numbers on attacks and interruptions with the NBC News presidential debate tracker.

A graphic showing which candidates have attacked and interrupted one another the most.

Biden responds to attacks about son’s business dealings

Biden responded to attacks involving his son Hunter Biden and his business dealings, emphatically saying he has never taken any cash from a foreign government, that his son was not paid by China, and the neither of them did anything wrong with regard to Ukraine.

Biden hits Trump on China

Trump has spent much of his campaign trying to attack the former vice president as “Beijing Biden.” 

But that smear has not seemed to stick, especially after The New York Times reported this week on Trump’s business and financial ties to China.  

“We learned that this president paid 50 times the tax in China, has a secret bank account with China, does business with China, and in fact is talking about me taking money? I have not taken single penny from any country whatsoever,” Biden said.

“The only guy that has made money from China is this one,” Biden added, responding to criticism about his son Hunter.

Fact check: Trump claims vaccine announcement coming 'within weeks'

Trump on Thursday again offered an overly optimistic assessment of when a vaccine for Covid-19 will be made available.

"We have a vaccine that's coming, it's ready, it's going to be announced within weeks, and it's going to be delivered," Trump said Thursday.

The Food and Drug Administration released guidelines for Covid-19 vaccine makers, stating that the companies would need to track tens of thousands of study participants for at least two months to look for any possible safety issues before the agency would consider authorization.

Given the timeline of when phase 3 clinical trials began, the new guidance indicates that the earliest a Covid-19 vaccine could possibly apply for an emergency use authorization (EUA) would be the end of November.    

Last week, Pfizer said it was on track to have that data by the third week of November, and that it would not apply for an EUA before that point. However, the FDA would still need to review the data before granting an EUA.

Kristen Welker, the debate moderator, asked if the president's statement was a guarantee.

"Yes, no, it's not a guarantee. It will be distributed by the end of the year," Trump said.

Biden calls for shutdowns where hot spots are occurring

Biden was unwilling to back a national shutdown of businesses to control Covid-19’s spread, but he said Trump could impose shutdowns and require social distancing where hot spots are occurring.

Texas Gov. Greg Abbott, who was late to close businesses and impose mask mandates, has kept businesses closed in communities where Covid-19 hospitalizations exceed 15 percent of total hospital capacity. Abbott, a Republican, imposed those tailored restrictions after a summer surge of cases that swamped hospitals around the state. 

Joe Biden listens during the final presidential debate at Belmont University on Oct. 22, 2020, in Nashville, Tenn., with President Donald Trump.Jim Bourg / Pool via AP


Trump and Biden are both staying on topic

From Covid-19 to the election, Trump and Biden are sticking to the question topics in the first 30 minutes of the debate. We're tracking live here.

About that election interference

Biden and Trump were asked about recent reports of election interference. The context is that the FBI announced Wednesday night that Iran was behind emails sent to some Florida Democrats that purported to be from the extremist group The Proud Boys. 

On Thursday, two U.S. intelligence officials told NBC News that Russia remains the greatest threat to the election and that Iran and Russia had hacked local governments and obtained voter registration and other personal data.

Welker's moderating praised on Twitter

Nicole Via y Rada

Trump targets Whitmer during debate

Trump again took a shot at Michigan Gov. Gretchen Whitmer, comparing the coronavirus restrictions in her state to being imprisoned.

The Democratic governor and Trump have feuded in recent days after the FBI thwarted a kidnapping plot against her. The conspirators were so-called militiamen who used similar language to the president's.

Whitmer placed blame at the president’s feet, calling him complicit. Trump has pushed back and accused Whitmer of wanting to be a “dictator.”

Analysis: Toned-down Trump says the same stuff only in more dull fashion

Trump obviously came into the debate with the goal of behaving more like a traditional president than the version that harangues moderators and rivals. But the loss of bluster hasn’t been complemented by the presence of logic.

"I take full responsibility," Trump said of responding to Covid-19. "It’s China’s fault."

It may even sound less attached to reality when it’s said in a calm voice than bellowed. Now, he’s spouting disinformation theories.

President Donald Trump speaks during the final presidential debate at Belmont University in Nashville, Tenn., on Oct. 22, 2020.Brendan Smialowskis / AFP - Getty Images

Trump (again) downplays impact of children contracting Covid

Making an argument for schools to re-open, Trump spoke of his son Barron, 14, who also tested positive for the coronavirus earlier this month. 

“We have to open our schools," Trump said. "As an example, I have a young son. He also tested positive. By the time I spoke to the doctor a second time, he was fine, it just went away. Young people, I guess it’s their immune systems." 

Trump has repeatedly pushed false information about how young kids are impacted by the virus, inaccurately claiming that it’s not much to worry about. 

Art of the deal? Not so much

Trump notes that people are losing their jobs and are feeling depressed because of the economic realities they are facing during the pandemic, but he has been unable to reach a deal with Democrats and Republicans to bring back the unemployment insurance that kept people afloat through the early months of the outbreak.

It has been 83 days since the $600 a week, provided by the CARES Act, expired. No deal has been struck, partly because Trump has not been in sync with Republican leaders let alone the Democrats.

Fact check: Trump claims coronavirus is 'going away.' U.S. leads in deaths, cases.

"It will go away and as I say, we are rounding the turn, we are rounding the corner, it's going away," Trump said, referring to the coronavirus pandemic that's killed more than 224,000 Americans. 

There’s no evidence of this. The U.S. has an uncontrolled outbreak, reporting more than 69,000 new Covid-19 cases today. Cases are climbing in most states, and the U.S. has more cases than any country, with more than 8.3 million, and more deaths than any country, recently surpassing 220,000. 

Biden hits Trump over Covid-19 response

Dartunorro Clark

Trump attempted to downplay criticism of his administration’s response to Covid-19 by saying people are learning to live with it. 

Biden hit back saying “people are learning to die with,” speaking directly to the camera to talk to voters who have lost loved ones to the virus. 

It’s a strong line from Biden, whose strategy at tonight’s debate seems to be reminding the public of the virus and how Trump has handled it. He also spoke directly to the camera in the first debate, which was seen an effective way to cut through the interruptions from Trump. 

Few interruptions in the first 20 minutes — partly because of mic cuts

Both Biden and Trump have attacked each other more than a dozen times in the first 20 minutes of the debate, but surprisingly there have been limited interruptions. Mic cuts appear to be working.

Fact check: Biden's managing of the swine flu epidemic was a 'disaster'

Trump has frequently called the Obama-Biden administration's handling of the swine flu a "disaster." 

"Frankly, he ran the H1N1, swine flu, and it was a total disaster. It was less lethal, but it was a total disaster. Had that had this kind of numbers, 700,000 people would be dead right now. But it was a far less lethal disease," Trump said Thursday.

This is not true and requires additional context. Ron Klain, Biden’s former chief of staff, has credited luck — and not the Obama administration response — with the fact that the swine flu did not kill more people. (Klain did not head up the response to the H1N1 virus, he was working for Biden at the time. He was, however, the administration’s Ebola czar.)

“We did every possible thing wrong — 60 million Americans got H1N1,” he said at a biosecurity summit in May 2019. “It is purely a fortuity that this isn’t one of the great mass casualty events in American history. It had nothing to do with us doing anything right. It just had to do with luck.”

The swine flu is estimated to have killed 12,000 in the U.S., far fewer than the more than 200,000 who have died of Covid-19 to date.

Klain later told Politico his comments referred to the administration’s difficulties producing enough of the vaccine they developed, and argued the Obama team quickly adapted to the pandemic — quickly responding and distributing supplies from the federal stockpile, for example — and made very different choices than the Trump administration. 

It’s also worth noting that the Obama administration received generally high marks for its response to the swine flu. While government reports after the fact identified room for growth they also highlighted successes, like rapid research and development of a vaccine that arrived in less than six months. There’s little contemporaneous reporting on the Obama administration response that portrays the kind of unmitigated disaster Trump is suggesting occurred.

The quiet before the storm? Mute button prompts calmer debate so far

Dartunorro Clark

The mute button — so far — has resulted in a calmer debate as Trump and Biden debate the response to Covid-19. 

The candidates are criticizing each other without crosstalk, and the moderator has control over the debate as a result. Trump also appears to be taking notes, which he has not done in previous debates. He has also been clearer and more coherent than in past debates. 

Fact check: Is Trump 'immune' after Covid-19 infection? Needs context.

Trump has said this before, and it requires more context. 

"Now they say I am immune. Whether it's for a month or lifetime, nobody has been able to say that but I'm immune," Trump said Thursday.

There is some evidence that coronavirus infection may confer immunity that lasts for a few months after a person has recovered from a Covid-19 infection, though research is ongoing.

Some infections result in lifelong immunity (think chicken pox) while other infections will produce short-term immunity in recovered patients. Dr. Anthony Fauci, director of the National Institute of Allergy and Infectious Diseases, has said he believes the coronavirus confers at least some short-term immunity. 

Biden brings up New England Journal of Medicine editorial

In his response to Trump's answer on the pandemic, Biden refers to a scathing editorial that The New England Journal of Medicine published earlier this month

The 35 editors who signed the editorial did not call out President Trump by name, the article is filled with references to his actions.

"The response of our nation’s leaders has been consistently inadequate," they wrote. "The federal government has largely abandoned disease control to the states. Governors have varied in their responses, not so much by party as by competence. But whatever their competence, governors do not have the tools that Washington controls."

Fact check: Trump says 2.2 million people were projected to die from Covid-19

Trump, defending his administration's pandemic response, claimed  Thursday that "2.2 million people — modeled out — were expected to die" from the coronavirus.

Trump has made this claim previously — that original projections for coronavirus deaths in America said the country would lose 2.2 million people to the virus.

This is misleading. Trump is referring to a model published on March 17 by Imperial College London, which did predict that 2.2 million people in America could die from the virus, but only if no mitigation efforts whatsoever were in place.

In late March, White House Coronavirus Task Force response coordinator Dr. Deborah Birx told NBC's "Today" that the projection of 1.6 million to 2.2 million deaths referred to what could happen if America did "nothing" to stop the spread of the virus.

"If we do things together, well, almost perfectly, we could get in the range of 100,000 to 200,000 fatalities," Birx said at the time.

As of Thursday evening, there have been 223,262 deaths attributed to the virus in America, according to NBC News data.

First question on Covid-19

The candidates squared off on the pandemic to start off Thursday’s debate, with Trump saying that if he hadn’t acted as he did, way more people would have died, and Biden saying the president’s incompetence needlessly cost thousands of additional lives.

With cases and hospitalizations on the rise, Welker asked both candidates how they will fight the upcoming stage of the pandemic.

“As you know, 2.2 million people modeled out were expected to die,” Trump said. “We closed up the greatest economy in the world.”

The president said the vaccine will come soon. He did not elaborate on anything different he would do in combating the virus, though he did point to his recovery from Covid-19 as proof that conditions are improving.

“We rounding the corner,” Trump claimed. “It’s going away.”

Biden pointed to the 220,000 Americans who have died.

“Anyone who’s responsible for not taking control — in fact saying, 'I take no responsibility' — anyone who [has that] response to that many deaths should not remain president of the United States of America.”

Biden said Trump “still has no plan, no comprehensive plan.”

Biden added he would work toward national standards on reopening businesses and a ramping up the testing strategy.

“I will make sure we have a plan,” he said.

Welker fact-checks Trump in real time

Candidates arrive on stage. One in a mask, one without.

Debate commission co-chair goes over changes to final debate

Frank Fahrenkopf, the co-chair of the Commission on Presidential Debates, went over the rules of the debate ahead of the 9 p.m. start time, reminding participants that they agreed weeks ago that they would respect the two-minute response time allotted to each candidate per question before diving into a back-and-forth debate. 

“Unfortunately, if you happened to watch the first debate, those rules were not necessarily followed," he said. "The commission felt that we could not put in a new rule, and what we thought we would do was put in a way to enforce what they had agreed to, the original rule: no interruption.”

Fahrenkopf explained that at the start of each of the six subject areas, the candidate who is not giving his two-minute opening response will have his mic muted. Once they have both delivered their 2-min opener, their mics will both be hot for debate. 

Attacks, interruptions and topics: Follow along live

NBC News' Welker to moderate tonight's debate

Moderating Thursday's final debate is NBC News' Kristen Welker.

Welker has served as a White House correspondent for NBC News since 2011. Last November, she served as one of four moderators at the fifth Democratic primary debate.

In the lead-up to the debate, Trump and his allies have targeted Welker, as they did with the first debate's moderator, Fox News' Chris Wallace.

"Look at the bias, hatred and rudeness on behalf of 60 Minutes and CBS," Trump tweeted Thursday, complaining about his recent interview with CBS' Lesley Stahl. "Tonight’s anchor, Kristen Welker, is far worse!"

In a statement, NBC News President Noah Oppenheim said, "Kristin Welker is focused on delivering for the American people a substantive conversation about the issues that voters care about and she’s going to do everything in her power to make that happen."

Inside the debate hall: Lots of masks and some notable VIPs


Hallie Jackson

Freddie Tunnard

Hallie Jackson, Jonathan Allen and Freddie Tunnard

The view from inside the debate hall: masks. Lots of them. We haven’t seen anyone without one, though, notably, the Trump family hasn’t arrived yet. They were the main ones defying the mask mandate at the Cleveland debate.

The president’s motorcade is set to arrive any minute, and Joe Biden is already here. Seats are marked off for some of those members of the first family — Melania, Eric and Ivanka Trump. The former U.S. ambassador to the United Nations, Nikki Haley, is also here in the hall as are some former members of Congress: Democrat Lincoln Davis and Republican Jimmy Duncan Jr. among them.

Former U.S. Ambassador to the United Nations Nikki Haley, left, speaks to other attendees.Jim Watson / AFP - Getty Images

The arena is bigger and less intimate than the room for the first debate in Cleveland, and in another contrast, people are freely mingling and chatting. The vibe is pretty low-key.

Pete Buttigieg fires back on Hunter Biden allegations on Fox News

Pete Buttigieg has made several viral appearances on Fox News in recent weeks as a Biden surrogate. On Thursday night, he appeared again and offered a retort to the accusations leveled against Hunter Biden.

"If they want to make this about the business deals of a government official, let's talk about the president of the United States having a secret Chinese bank account," Buttigieg said. 

The Trump campaign had previously sought to push the accusation that Hunter Biden's relationships in the Ukraine were illegal, and has recently shifted its focus to China. 

Buttigieg made the case that Trump's business relationships with China were more pressing to the public than Hunter Biden's.

"And they won't even tell us what bank it's with," Buttigieg said. "Does that bother Americans? I'm pretty sure it bothers Americans a lot more than what they're trying to whip up for the last 12 days of this election season."

Kid Rock makes an appearance at Thursday's debate

Kid Rock showed up at the debate tonight. Asked if he was supporting Trump's re-election, he told NBC News his presence would do his speaking for him.

"I think being here says it all, right?" he said. "Happy to be invited.”

The ponytailed-and-jumpsuited musician wasn't wearing a mask when he arrived at the debate venue and was later handed one by debate staffers.

Image: John Daly, Kid Rock
PGA pro golfer John Daly, left, and performer Kid Rock, right, take their seats before the start of the second and final presidential debate on Oct. 22, 2020, at Belmont University in Nashville, Tenn.Julio Cortez / AP

Meadows called Fauci about Plexiglass barriers

White House chief of staff Mark Meadows called Dr. Anthony Fauci during the debate walkthrough on Thursday and put Fauci on the phone with an individual from the Commission on Presidential Debates to discuss the merits of having physical plexiglass barriers on stage during the faceoff, according to a person familiar with the matter.

Fauci told that person that all the barriers would do was provide a false sense of security.

The CPD didn’t immediately respond to a request for comment.

As NBC News reported earlier Thursday, the two plexiglass barriers that were initially positioned between the candidates’ lecterns were removed after the debate commission’s medical adviser consulted with Fauci. 

Inside the campaign to 'pizzagate' Hunter Biden

World Food Program USA's Annual McGovern-Dole Leadership Award Ceremony
Hunter Biden.Teresa Kroeger / Getty Images file

Some of the same people who pushed a false conspiracy theory about Hillary Clinton that first emerged in 2016 are now targeting Hunter Biden, Joe Biden's son, with similar falsehoods. Their online posts are garnering astronomical numbers of shares on social media.

The fantastical rumors, which NBC News is declining to repeat verbatim, echo specific plot points central to "pizzagate," a viral disinformation campaign that predates QAnon but also falsely alleges a vast conspiracy of child abuse.

There is an important difference, however. The pizzagate-style rumors in 2016 were largely confined to far-right message boards like 4chan and parts of Reddit. But the Hunter Biden iteration of the same conspiracy theory took off last weekend with the help of speculation from conservative TV hosts and members of Congress. Their theorizing can be traced back to a new website that has been promoted by President Donald Trump and his surrogates.

Read the story.

Michelle Obama throws shade at Trump's '60 Minutes' interview

Plexiglass barriers removed from stage after candidates test negative for Covid

Two plexiglass barriers that were initially positioned between the candidates' lecterns have been removed, Commission on Presidential Debates co-chairman Frank Fahrenkopf, Jr. said.

Fahrenkopf told NBC News that after the commission’s medical advisor, HCA, learned President Trump and Joe Biden tested negative for Covid-19 today and consulted with Dr. Anthony Fauci, HCA changed its recommendation that the barriers were necessary. They have been removed and, Fahrenkopf said, both campaigns agreed to that decision.

The debate stage before the second presidential debate at Belmont University on Oct. 22, 2020 in Nashville, Tenn.
The debate stage before the second presidential debate at Belmont University on Oct. 22, 2020 in Nashville, Tenn.Shannon Pettypiece / NBC News

Political ads are flooding YouTube

YouTube said Thursday that some political campaigns were running into difficulty finding advertising space at the times and locations they wanted because of rising demand. 

A spokesperson for YouTube said the company still has plenty of advertising inventory, but certain slots were booked because of demand from a variety of advertisers, including ad campaigns unrelated to the election targeted at car buyers and holiday shoppers.

Politics has exploded on the popular online video service this year, as Trump and Biden bought up prominent YouTube ad space and others have used YouTube to drive up voter turnout, raise money or court livestreamers. The coronavirus pandemic also has more people turning to streaming video. 

Bloomberg News first reported Thursday that YouTube was struggling to place all the ads in front of the desired audiences that political campaigns wanted. Prices for some slots in presidential swing states had doubled, it said. 

YouTube said it was not seeing a consistent spike in particular states and that the pattern of increased spending was across the board.

Sen. Mitt Romney: Trump has '40 percent' chance of getting re-elected

Ginger GibsonSenior Washington Editor

Sen. Mitt Romney, R-Utah, didn't vote for Trump this year, but he did prognosticate this summer that Trump would be re-elected. 

Now, Romney feels less certain that is going to happen.

"Not as confident as I was before," Romney told reporters in the capitol on Thursday when asked about Trump's chances. "I think he’s got better, a better chance than the prognosticators are predicting at this stage. I think I saw a tweet today saying it’s 12 percent chance, someone else said 10 percent chance. I think it’s much more like 40 percent, but time will tell.”

Trump and Biden prepare for final bout with debate to focus on Covid-19, race

Image: Joe Biden and President Donald Trump will participate in the last presidential debate on Thursday night.
Joe Biden and President Donald Trump will participate in the last presidential debate on Thursday night.Chelsea Stahl / NBC News

The gloves will be off and so will the mics in the final showdown between President Donald Trump and Democratic nominee Joe Biden.

The stage, complete with plexiglass barriers, is set for the rivals’ second and final debate, which will kick off at 9 p.m. ET in Nashville on Thursday with NBC News’ Kristen Welker in the moderator's chair.

Over the course of 90 commercial-free minutes, the candidates will spend about 15 minutes on each of six topics: fighting Covid-19, American families, race in America, climate change, national security and leadership.

And in a new twist, each candidate will have two uninterrupted minutes to address each topic while the others’ microphone is turned off in order to avoid a repeat of the shouty first debate in Cleveland.

Read the story, which will be updated throughout the night.

Trump focuses on Hunter Biden; Biden campaign says 'be our guest.'

Trump plans to focus attention on Biden’s son Hunter and his business activities overseas.

As part of that strategy, Trump’s guest list includes Tony Bobulinski, the former Hunter Biden business partner who told the New York Post that Joe Biden was in line to take a cut of a Chinese business deal negotiated by his son in early 2017.

Biden’s aides told NBC News they’re not worried about the topic.

"Be our guest," Biden deputy campaign manager Kate Bedingfield told NBC News ahead of the debate in Nashville. "He’s been trying to land this for 18 months. It got him impeached. It hasn’t worked."

Bedingfield also said she would not "dignify" the question of whether material allegedly retrieved from Hunter Biden’s laptop with the help of indicted former Trump campaign manager Steve Bannon and former New York Mayor Rudy Giuliani is real.

NBC has reported the FBI is looking into how the material was acquired.

North Carolina GOP asks Supreme Court to roll back extra time for accepting mail-in ballots

Workers prepare absentee ballots for mailing at the Wake County Board of Elections in Raleigh, N.C., on Sept. 3, 2020.Gerry Broome / AP file

Republicans in the presidential battleground state of North Carolina asked the U.S. Supreme Court Thursday to block lower court rulings that allowed six extra days for accepting ballots sent by mail.

The Trump campaign, the state and national Republican parties, and Republican leaders of the state legislature said decisions by North Carolina's Board of Elections, upheld by federal courts, "pose an immediate threat to the integrity of the federal elections process."

Read the story.

The final showdown: 5 things to watch in last Trump-Biden debate

Image: JOe Biden and President Donald Trump
Chelsea Stahl / NBC News

Any Americans still on the fence — and who haven't been among the hordes of early voters — will have one final chance to hear from President Donald Trump and Joe Biden in their last debate Thursday, during which the president will try to re-energize his base and close the polling gap behind Biden.

Thursday's debate in Nashville, Tennessee, was supposed to be the third faceoff of 2020, but will instead be the second of only two presidential debates after Trump declined to participate in one scheduled for last week after it was moved to a virtual format following his Covid-19 diagnosis.

Trump's polling deficit has only solidified since the poorly reviewed first debate in Cleveland and with more than 30 million votes already cast and, less than two weeks before Election Day, he is running out of time.

Here are five things to watch.

Voter who didn't cast ballot in 2016 explains why 2020 is different

David Litko didn't bother voting in 2016. He didn't think his vote mattered.

That's not how the McKeesport, Pennsylvania, resident is approaching 2020. He is voting this time around — and he's backing former Vice President Joe Biden in the pivotal swing state.

Litko, 61, represents a crucial 2020 voting block — people who did not vote in the 2016 presidential race but are this time. He told NBC News that he was disturbed by President Donald Trump's repeated efforts at delegitimizing mail-in voting — saying the president's "anti-democratic leanings" led him to register.

"I didn't vote in 2016 because, well, I didn't think it mattered. Then Pennsylvania was won by just, what was it? 44,000 votes?" Litko said, adding, "I was afraid that Trump was trending toward wanting to become president for life, invalidating democracy, and so I wanted to vote against that."

Cher and Lizzo lend their voices to Biden campaign

Natalia Abrahams

Former President Obama will not be the only star stumping for Joe Biden this week. The Biden campaign  getting help from two of music’s biggest names.

Singer and songwriter Lizzo will be hitting the campaign trail for the Democratic candidate. Tomorrow, she will be making two stops in the Detroit area to discuss early voting, with a focus on young people.

Last week, Lizzo wore a custom Christian Siriano dress to the Billboard Music Awards and told the audience "there's power in your voice."

Image: Billboard Music Awards - Season 2020
Lizzo accepts the Top Song Sales Artist award at the Billboard Music Awards on Oct. 14, 2020, in Los Angeles.NBC

Superstar singer Cher will also be hitting the trail for the Biden-Harris ticket. The Grammy-winning singer and Oscar-winning actress will make stops in Nevada and Arizona this weekend on behalf of the campaign.

Photo: Debate's socially distanced seating

Seats marked for the final presidential debate at Belmont University in Nashville, Tenn., on Thursday.Jim Watson / AFP - Getty Images


Trump tests negative for Covid-19 on plane ride to debate

Nicole Via y Rada

President Trump tested negative for Covid-19 on his way to the debate.

“We tested him on the way here (on the plane) and he tested negative,”said White House chief of staff Mark Meadows.

Also traveling with the president were a mix of staffers and family including Ivanka Trump, Jared Kushner, Tiffany Trump, Jason Miller, Robert O’Brien, Dan Scavino — with no mask — and Kayleigh McEnany.

Image: Donald Trump
President Donald Trump and first lady Melania Trump arrive at Nashville International Airport ahead of the presidential debate.Evan Vucci / AP


Biden ready to fight back if Trump goes after his family, campaign says

Marianna Sotomayor

Ahead of tonight’s debate, the Biden campaign is telegraphing that if President Trump goes after Joe Biden’s family, it plans on attacking him for spreading and amplifying Russian disinformation.

In a pre-debate press call with reporters, the campaign's deputy manager, Kate Bedingfield, said that the campaign expected Trump “to continue to bully” and attack Hunter Biden and his foreign dealings during tonight’s debate. She said that Biden is prepared for those attacks as well, hoping to flip the attention to the fact that Trump is more obsessed with Biden’s family than America's families amid a pandemic.

Image: us-vote-biden-DEPARTURE
Joe Biden boards his plane in New Castle, Del., on his way to the final debate in Nashville, Tenn.Angela Weiss / AFP - Getty Images

“Here's the thing, these attacks are backfiring on Trump. You know, despite leveling them in the first debate, poll after poll showed voters resoundingly thought Biden won that debate because voters are sick and tired of Trump's lies and we've heard the same debunked attacks for over a year,” she said.

A senior campaign adviser, Symone Sanders, also commented on the Commission on Presidential Debate’s decision to mute the microphones, saying that the debate will serve as “a test of presidential temperament,” especially for the president.

Biden leads Trump by 10 points in new Quinnipiac national poll

Joe Biden holds a 10-point lead over President Trump ahead of tonight's final presidential debate, according to a new Quinnipiac University poll of likely voters released Thursday afternoon.

Biden leads with 51 percent of likely voters, while Trump lags behind him at 41 percent. The new poll is the third Quinnipiac national survey of likely voters since September that has shown the former vice president with a 10-point lead.

"Three straight polls in the double-digit zone," Quinnipiac University polling analyst Tim Malloy said in a statement. "For Biden-Harris, flush with cash and propelled by consistent support, it remains steady as she goes through the turbulent waters of a bitter, personal, and unsettling campaign."

Beyond the top line, likely voters in the new poll said Biden has a sense of decency by a margin of 64-30, while likely voters said 60-37 that Trump does not have a sense of decency.

Top former Obama adviser: Biden should 'prepare for a bunch of different Trumps'

Trump will vote in-person in Florida on Saturday

Hallie Jackson

President Trump plans to vote early and in-person on Saturday in West Palm Beach, per White House spokesman Judd Deere.

That follows the president’s previously-announced stops in battleground Florida on Friday for events at The Villages and in Pensacola.

Trump releases video of unedited, contentious '60 Minutes' interview that he abruptly left

Rebecca Shabadis in Washington, D.C.

WASHINGTON — President Donald Trump on Thursday released what appeared to be the full, unedited interview that he did with “60 Minutes” earlier this week that he abruptly walked out of because he said that it showed the media’s bias against him.

Trump released a video of the interview — segments of which CBS was set to air on Sunday — that lasted nearly 38 minutes and showed only the angle of a White House camera that faced him, which White House officials and the network agreed would be used for only archival purposes.

Throughout the interview, the president expressed frustration that the questions posed by correspondent Leslie Stahl would not be asked of former Vice President Joe Biden, his Democratic challenger.

Read more here.

Hallie Jackson shuts down Trump campaign spokesman on election interference, fraud claims

MSNBC anchor Hallie Jackson cut short her interview with Trump campaign spokesman Hogan Gidley after he baselessly floated claims about widespread voter fraud in the presidential election and dodged when asked if the president had confidence in FBI Director Christopher Wray.

"There is no widespread evidence of voter fraud, Hogan. You know that," Jackson said, before reiterating a question about whether President Trump would "back off" claims about fraud in the 2020 race. She added that Wray has said the FBI has not seen evidence of widespread voter fraud.

Gidley did not directly answer a question about whether Trump still had confidence in Wray. Instead, he replied in part that Trump has "confidence the American people want a free and fair election."

In response to a separate question, Gidley said the Trump campaign had not been briefed ahead of time that Iran and Russia were working to influence election, which the FBI announced at a news conference Wednesday night.

Schumer, Wyden call on FBI director to resist pressure from Trump for a political investigation

Rebecca Shabadis in Washington, D.C.

Senate Minority Leader Chuck Schumer, D-N.Y., and Sen. Ron Wyden, D-Ore., sent a letter to FBI Director Christopher Wray on Thursday calling on him not to launch any political investigations that would influence the election. 

They referred in a press release to "a widely questioned article in the New York Post, that alleged to have obtained stolen Hunter Biden emails from the president’s lawyer Rudy Giuliani" and noted that Trump has called on the Justice Department to investigate.

“We are deeply concerned about the possibility that in response to these reports the Trump Administration will take actions before Election Day that would seek to damage the Democratic presidential candidate and undermine the rule of law,” Wyden and Schumer said.

They are urging Wray "to resist pressure from President Trump and other partisan actors to take any actions intended to benefit President Trump politically on the eve of the election. Succumbing to such pressure would deeply undermine our national security interests and the credibility of law enforcement, and could have devastating consequences for the resiliency of our democracy.” 

Biden gets pre-debate pep talk from Brayden Harrington

Natalia Abrahams

Natalia Abrahams and Mike Memoli

The Biden campaigned released a new video in honor of International Stuttering Awareness Day. The video shows the former vice president watching a recorded message from Brayden Harrington, the New Hampshire boy he met before the primary in February and who delivered a memorable address at the Democratic National Convention.

In the video from Brayden, he jokes that Biden probably won’t be able to get in a word during tonight’s presidential debate but he’s rooting for him. And if Biden hits a block during the debate, to do what he normally does and “keep faith in his heart.”

Biden met Brayden Harrington at a town hall event in Concord, New Hampshire. His parents told the Democratic candidate that Brayden wanted to hear Biden speak because he [Brayden] also stutters. In a touching moment, Biden tells Brayden to not let his stutter define him.

“I know about bullies. You know about bullies — the kids who make fun. It’s going to change, honey. I promise you,” Biden said. The former Vice President kept in touch with Brayden and his family leading to Brayden speaking at the Democratic convention in August.

Trump allies have been characterizing Biden as declining. Some going as far as mocking his stutter. But, in his video, Brayden reminds Biden that he’ll always be rooting for him.

Poll shows Democrats lead in three Iowa House districts and fourth tightening

New polling in Iowa shows a tightening race in the state’s single Republican-held House seat while Democrats hold leads in the other three districts. A Monmouth University poll released Thursday shows two first-term Democratic incumbents leading in their races while the Democratic candidate leads in an open seat held by the party.

  • Iowa-01: First-term Rep. Abby Finkenauer holds an 8-point lead among registered voters over Republican challenger Ashley Hinson, 52 percent to 44 percent. Women back Finkenauer by a 61 percent to 35 percent margin while men prefer Hinson, 53 percent to 43 percent.
  • Iowa-02: The race to replace retiring Democratic Rep. Dave Loebsack flipped from a slight GOP lead in the summer to a Democratic lead now. Rita Hart leads Mariannette Miller-Meeks by six points, 49 percent to 43 percent among registered. Miller-Meeks had a 47 percent to 44 percent lead in August.
  • Iowa-03: First-term Democratic Rep. Cindy Axne widened her lead over former Rep. David Young in a rematch from 2018 since August — she currently leads 52 percent to 43 percent. Axne has a 25-point lead among registered voters in Polk County, which she won by 16 points two years ago.
  • Iowa-04: The race to replace controversial GOP Rep. Steve King, who lost his primary to Randy Feenstra, has tightened since the summer with Feenstra leading Democrat J.D. Scholten, who lost to King two years ago, by six points, 48 percent to 42 percent. The Republican held a 20-point lead over Scholten in August.

The Monmouth poll was conducted by telephone and online from October 15- 20, sampling 1,547 Iowa registered voters from a voter list file. The results have a margin of error between +/- 4.8 and +/- 5.2 percentage points, depending on the district.

See more Iowa polls here.

'We’re gonna call nonsense': Donald Trump Jr. says they'll be watching who controls the mute button

Natalia Abrahams

Donald Trump Jr. said that the campaign is going to be monitoring the person who controls the mute button during tonight's debate. He told “Fox and Friends” host Ainsley Earhardt that they’re going to have someone in the room and promised, “We’re gonna call nonsense when we see nonsense.”

Trump Jr. claims that the Commission on Presidential Debates messed up his father’s microphone in 2016 during his debate against Hillary Clinton.

He criticized the commission's handling of the debates, saying that they’re biased. 

New polls show tightening races for control of the Senate


Democratic U.S. Senate candidate Mark Kelly’s lead over Arizona Republican incumbent Martha McSally appeared to narrow in a race that could determine control of the Senate, a Reuters/Ipsos poll shows.

Sen. Martha McSally, R-Ariz., speaks to Democratic challenger Mark Kelly from behind a plexiglass divider as he arrives for a debate in Phoenix on Oct. 6.Rob Schumacher / AFP - Getty Images file

Here are the latest results for three Senate races on which Reuters/Ipsos is polling:

  • Arizona: Kelly leads McSally, 51 percent to 44 percent in a poll conducted from Oct. 14-21, but Kelly held a 11-point lead in a previous poll.
  • North Carolina: Democratic challenger Cal Cunningham and incumbent Thom Tillis were tied at 47 percent in a poll conducted from Oct. 14-20. A poll conducted the week before showed Cunningham leading Tillis by four points.
  • Michigan: Democratic incumbent Gary Peters held a 5-point lead over GOP challenger John James, 50 percent to 45 percent, in a poll conducted from Oct. 14-20. Peters led James by eight points in a poll conducted the week before.

The poll was conducted online and in English. The Arizona survey included 658 likely voters and had a credibility interval of 4 percentage points. The earlier Michigan poll surveyed 686 likely voters and had a credibility interval of 4 percentage points. North Carolina’s surveyed 660 likely voters and had a credibility interval of 4 percentage points.

Biden tests negative for Covid-19 ahead of debate

Marianna Sotomayor

Joe Biden was tested for the coronavirus ahead of tonight's debate and his results came back negative.

“Vice President Biden underwent PCR testing for COVID-19 today and COVID-19 was not detected,” the Biden campaign said in a statement passed along by the pool. 


Friday Oct. 2 – negative x2

Sunday Oct. 4 – negative 

Tuesday Oct. 6 – negative 

Thursday Oct. 8 – negative 

Saturday Oct. 10 – negative  

Monday Oct. 12 – negative 

Wednesday Oct. 14  negative

Thursday Oct. 15 - negative 

Friday Oct. 16 – negative

Monday Oct. 19 – negative

Tuesday Oct. 20 – negative

Thursday Oct. 22 - negative 

Trump administration's child separations a voter issue

After taking a back seat to the coronavirus pandemic, the reminder that the Trump administration intentionally separated babies and children from their parents to deter Central American migration is back in the news, two weeks before the presidential election.

This week, American Civil Liberties Union lawyers told a federal judge they have yet to locate the parents of 545 children and that the overwhelming majority of the children’s parents were deported.

The revelation — while many people are voting early — inserts an issue into the election cycle tha