Final 2020 presidential debate

By Meg Wagner, Kyle Blaine, Jessica Estepa, Melissa Macaya and Fernando Alfonso III, CNN

Updated 2:27 p.m. ET, November 23, 2020
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2:05 a.m. ET, October 23, 2020

Trump's first answer indicates he isn't changing his approach on coronavirus

From CNN's Kevin Liptak

President Donald Trump participates in the final presidential debate against Democratic presidential nominee Joe Biden at Belmont University on October 22 in Nashville.
President Donald Trump participates in the final presidential debate against Democratic presidential nominee Joe Biden at Belmont University on October 22 in Nashville. Chip Somodevilla/Getty Images

In perhaps a sign of things to come, President’s Trump’s first answer — which was meant to state how he would lead during the next stage of the coronavirus — relied instead on looking backward and wishful thinking about a vaccine.

“It will go away and as I say, we’re rounding the turn, we’re rounding the corner. It’s going away,” he said.

As he does nearly every time he is pressed on his pandemic response, Trump cited his decision to close travel to China, though thousands of people were exempt and were still able to enter the country. He insisted the United States was suffering alongside Europe, which is also experiencing new spikes. But unlike Trump, leaders there — including French President Emmanuel Macron — have imposed new lockdowns.

And he placed nearly all of his optimism on a vaccine, which he claimed would arrive “within weeks.” There is no indication that is true; vaccine trials are still underway and the Food and Drug Administration has imposed rules requiring months of data for emergency use of a new vaccine. Later, Trump acknowledged his promise of a vaccine “within weeks” was not a “guarantee.” But he said he was hopeful for one by the end of the year.

His answers were a sign that Trump doesn’t plan to change his approach to coronavirus, even as cases surge. He said as much earlier this week; in a town hall event, Trump responded when asked what he would do differently: “Not much.”

This is how the question played out:

9:23 p.m. ET, October 22, 2020

Biden: "Anyone who's responsible for that many deaths should not remain as president"

From CNN's Dan Merica

Democratic presidential nominee Joe Biden participates in the final presidential debate against President Donald Trump at Belmont University on October 22 in Nashville.
Democratic presidential nominee Joe Biden participates in the final presidential debate against President Donald Trump at Belmont University on October 22 in Nashville. Chip Somodevilla/Getty Images

Democratic presidential nominee Joe Biden opened the final general election debate on Thursday by arguing President Donald Trump’s handling of the coronavirus pandemic in the United States should guarantee he is voted out of office in November.

“You hear nothing else I say tonight, hear this: Anyone who’s responsible for not taking control, in fact… saying I take no responsibility initially, anyone who’s responsible for that many deaths should not remain as president of the United States of America,” Biden said, referencing Trump telling reporters he takes no responsibility for the virus.

Biden contrasted Trump’s handling of the virus to what he says his own would be: A focus on pushing people to wear masks and more rapid testing for the virus.

“I would make sure that we set up national standards as to how to open up schools and open up businesses so they can be safe and give them the wherewithal, the financial resources to be able to do that,” Biden said.

The former vice president also warned that the worst of the virus could be yet to come, saying the country is about to “go into a dark winter” and Trump “has no clear plan and there’s no prospect that there’s going to be a vaccine available for the majority of the American people before the middle of next year.”

Coronavirus has dominated the general election, with voters telling pollsters and reporters that it is the most important issue on their minds as they consider who to vote for in November.

Watch the moment:

9:18 p.m. ET, October 22, 2020

Trump's evolving view on China and coronavirus

From CNN's Jennifer Hansler

President Trump has in recent months lambasted China over the coronavirus pandemic, but he praised Chinese leader Xi Jinping’s handling of the deadly disease for months at the beginning of the outbreak.

As cases of Covid-19 first began to appear in the United States, Trump spoke highly of Xi’s handling of the outbreak in China and repeatedly said the US was in close coordination with Beijing on the matter.

“I think they've handled it professionally and I think they're extremely capable and I think President Xi is extremely capable and I hope that it's going to be resolved,” he said on Feb. 13.

Hundreds of US deaths later, Trump’s attitude toward Beijing began to change.

“I’m a little upset with China, I’ll be honest with you, because as much as I like President Xi and as much as I respect the country and admire the country — I have great admiration for the country, what they’ve done in a short period of time. … But they should have told us about this,” he said on March 22.

Yet even as cases skyrocketed in the US and Trump’s ire with China grew, he directed his actions not at Beijing but at the World Health Organization.

Trump said he was halting funding to the organization in mid-April and announced his intention to withdraw from the WHO in May after he said it "failed to make the requested and greatly needed reforms."

Trump had denounced the US' contribution to the WHO — $400-500 million — in comparison to China's and consistently accused the organization of aiding China in allegedly covering up the origins of the virus and allowing its spread. In July, he officially initiated the US withdrawal from the WHO, which will be complete next July. 

Trump said last week that he could not say when he had last spoken to his Chinese counterpart.

“I have not spoken to him in a while because I don’t want to speak to him,” he said.

9:07 p.m. ET, October 22, 2020

The candidates are being asked about coronavirus. Here are the latest facts you should know.

From CNN's Amanda Watts and Ben Tinker

The first question of tonight's debate is about the coronavirus pandemic, which has become a pivotal issue of the 2020 election.

Here are key facts you need to know:

  • US deaths: More than 222,000 people have died from coronavirus in the US.
  • US cases: The US leads the world in total confirmed coronavirus cases, with more than 8.4 million infections since the pandemic began, according to Johns Hopkins University data. India, Brazil and Russia follow behind.
  • Daily infections: Yesterday’s new case total climbed to 63,735 and was the most for a Wednesday since late-July. The average new cases per day has climbed to just under 60,000 (59,990) — a level it hasn’t been at since the first week of August. The seven-day total of new cases is 419,932, climbing 15% week over week.
  • Vaccine development: There are currently 10 Covid-19 vaccine candidates in late-stage, large clinical trials around the world as of Tuesday, according to the World Health Organization.
  • Vaccine timeline: US Food and Drug Administration Commissioner Dr. Stephen Hahn said Wednesday that the agency does not have a set timeline to review a Covid-19 vaccine. The goal, he said, is that everyone could get a vaccine by spring. To speed up the process, Hahn said the FDA has been working with manufacturers from day one and have stayed in touch throughout the manufacturing process, rather than reviewing everything at the end of the process.

Here's where new cases are rising across the US in comparison to the previous week:

9:07 p.m. ET, October 22, 2020

The final Trump-Biden debate has begun 

From CNN's Maeve Reston

Source: Pool
Source: Pool

The final 2020 presidential debate between President Trump and Democratic presidential nominee Joe Biden just kicked off in Nashville. 

Trump enters the debate in need of a major shakeup that will change the trajectory of the race as he trails Biden in both national polls and key swing states that will determine whether he has a path to victory in the Electoral College.

With just 12 days to go before Election Day, Trump has been campaigning across the country with grievance-laden rallies, lashing out at his advisers and medical experts, blaming China for the spread of coronavirus and refusing to take any blame for his poor handling of the pandemic, which has created a huge drag on his poll numbers.

Biden currently has a larger lead in national polls than Hillary Clinton did at this point in 2016. In CNN's Poll of Polls, Biden is leading Trump by 10 points nationally and he is also showing considerable strength in the key battleground states of Pennsylvania, Michigan and Wisconsin where Trump won by narrow margins in 2016.

9:08 p.m. ET, October 22, 2020

Melania Trump has entered the debate hall

From CNN's Kate Bennett

First lady Melania Trump arriving before the start of the second and final presidential debate on Thursday in Nashville.
First lady Melania Trump arriving before the start of the second and final presidential debate on Thursday in Nashville. Julio Cortez/AP

Melania Trump has entered the debate hall and is wearing a mask.

Her attendance marks a shift from Tuesday, when, citing an "abundance of caution" and a "lingering cough" after her bout with Covid-19, Trump backed out of a planned appearance with her husband to introduce him at a Pennsylvania rally.

8:56 p.m. ET, October 22, 2020

Here's what some undecided voters are looking for in tonight’s debate

CNN's Aditi Sangal

CNN's Gary Tuchman is watching tonight's presidential debate with 11 undecided voters in Davidson, North Carolina.

One voter says she's looking get some more specifics tonight before making a decision.

"I haven't gotten specifics that tell me that there is a candidate among them who has the will and the wherewithal and the temperament to do what's right for our country," she said.

Another voter is split between voting on policy issues or election fairness.

"Well, I really oppose abortion. But I'm concerned that President trump is a threat to the fairness of elections, so I'm really torn," he said.

We'll check in with these voters at the end of the debate to get their reaction and ask them if they've made a decision. 

Hear what the voters had to say:

2:00 a.m. ET, October 23, 2020

Win or lose, tonight is Trump’s final presidential debate ever

From CNN's Kevin Liptak

Win or lose, tonight is President Donald Trump’s final appearance ever on a presidential debate stage. 

His methods haven’t changed much since his first time out in a primary debate in 2015 — when he sparred with moderator Megyn Kelly and later made sexist attacks on her. He still enters the sessions relying primarily on his instincts as a brawler and doesn’t prepare nearly as much as his adversaries.

He held a brief and informal session earlier on Thursday with some of his team, but did not conduct a full mock debate before tonight.

That has been his practice for most of his relatively brief debating career. Trump has preferred more ad-hoc sessions, with advisers peppering him with questions during down moments, than a full dress rehearsal. 

He’s had some hits and misses along the way. Some of his general election debates in 2016, and particularly his final one against Hillary Clinton, were viewed by his team as a success.

After that first debate with a large GOP primary field in 2015, many Republicans wondered how much longer they would have to contend with his outbursts and behavior.

Five years later, those traits — and those concerns — are as present as ever.

8:44 p.m. ET, October 22, 2020

Trump has arrived at the debate site

President Trump's motorcade has arrived at Belmont University in Nashville, Tennessee, for his final debate with Democratic presidential nominee Joe Biden.

The debate begins at 9 p.m. ET.