Presidential debates schedule 2020: Donald Trump and Joe Biden’s virtual face off cancelled

Donald Trump and Joe Biden are supposed to go head-to-head in three debates. But these dates were thrown into doubt since the president tested positive for the coronavirus.

Last Thursday, Donald Trump refused to participate in the second event, set for October 15, after it was announced the event would be held virtually.

“I’m not going to do a virtual debate,” Mr Trump told Fox News, calling the decision “ridiculous” moments after the Commission on Presidential Debates announced the changes.

And on Friday the Commission on Presidential Debates made it official, saying next Thursday’s debate is scrapped, leaving an October 22 event the final Trump-Biden showdown before election day on November 3.

Mr Biden, who duelled with Mr Trump in a bad-tempered and fiery first debate last month, has tested negative.

The coronavirus pandemic has drastically changed how the Republican and Democratic presidential campaigns will be fought this year, meaning the debates have taken on even more significance than in previous years.

The first and only debate for the two parties’ vice-presidential candidates, Mike Pence and Kamala Harris, took place on Wednesday October 7.

When, where and what time are the debates?

September 29, Ohio

The first presidential debate between Mr Trump and Mr Biden was a chaotic squabble between the two candidates.

The rivals ripped chunks out of each other on their records and issues such as the economy, coronavirus and racism.

Mr Trump was rebuked several times by Chris Wallace, the moderator, for speaking over his opponent. At one point, after incessant interruptions from the president, Mr Biden said: “Will you shut up, man?”

Read more: Who won the US election debate?

October 7, Utah

Trading barbs through plexiglass shields, Republican Mike Pence and Democrat Kamala Harris turned the only vice presidential debate of 2020 into a dissection of the Trump administration’s handling of the coronavirus pandemic, with Ms Harris labeling it “the greatest failure of any presidential administration”.

Mr Pence, who leads the president’s coronavirus task force, acknowledged that “our nation’s gone through a very challenging time this year”, yet vigorously defended the administration’s overall response to a pandemic that has killed 210,000 Americans.

They also went head-to-head on abortion, the Supreme Court and the environment.

The meeting, which was far more civil than last week’s chaotic face-off between President Donald Trump and Democrat Joe Biden.

Read more: Who won the vice-presidential debate?

October 15, Florida

On Friday the Commission on Presidential Debates made it official, saying next Thursday’s debate is scrapped, leaving an October 22 event the final Trump-Biden showdown before election day on November 3.

Mr Trump created a political storm on Thursday after saying he would not participate in the October 15 event because it was being held virtually. 

Mr Biden’s campaign had vowed that its candidate would participate in the new-format debate.

“Vice President Biden looks forward to speaking directly to the American people,” the deputy campaign manager Kate Bedingfield said in a statement.

The Commission on Presidential Debates said the new measures had been put in place “to protect the health and safety of all involved with the second presidential debate”.

Steve Scully was due to moderate the 90-minute debate at the Adrienne Arsht Center for the Performing Arts in Miami.

The debate was to take the form of a town hall event, with Miami residents in the audience posing their own questions to the two candidates. 

Read more: Donald Trump vs Joe Biden policies

October 22, Tennessee

The final presidential debate will be at Belmont University in Nashville, Tennessee, on October 22 at 9pm ET (2am UK). 

The 90-minute event, moderated by NBC News correspondent Kristen Welker, will also be divided into 15-minute segments on prepared topics. 

How can I watch the debate in the UK?

Each debate will be streamed by all major US networks, including ABC, CBS, NBC, Fox News, CNN and MSNBC.

The Telegraph will be livestreaming the first debate – watch it above or on our YouTube channel here.

What do we know about the moderators?

The key details for the debates, as well as who moderates them, are decided by the non-partisan Commission on Presidential Debates. 

Moderators can play an outsized role in how the candidates fare because they choose the questions, can push back on vague responses and dictate how many interruptions they allow.

Unlike in previous years, there is only one moderator in each debate as a way to limit the number of people on stage during the coronavirus pandemic.

The Trump campaign outlined its preferred moderators, including a number of Fox News hosts and conservative commentators, in a list that Rudy Giuliani sent to the commission, but none of the suggestions were selected.

The initial debate was overseen by Chris Wallace, a host from Mr Trump’s favourite network Fox News, but one of his toughest questioners at the network.

Mr Wallace was criticised for losing control of the discussion and allowing Mr Trump to frequently speak over his opponent.

Mr Trump may be pleased that none of the three moderators will be from CNN, unlike in 2016.

The second debate was due to be moderated by a journalist from the public service network C-SPAN, and the third by one from NBC. The single vice-presidential debate was moderated by a USA Today newspaper journalist. How important the moderators can be has been shown repeatedly over the years. Their actions can help decide an election.

What does Trump getting coronavirus mean for the debates?

The second debate has now officially been cancelled after Mr Trump said he would not participate in the virtual event. 

In the US those who test positive for coronavirus must self-isolate for 10 days. This means Mr and Mrs Trump could be out of the White House by October 11.

But rules dictate those who show symptoms of the virus, including a high temperature, continuous cough or loss of taste or smell, must isolate for 10 days from the date symptoms first appear. 

Public service C-SPAN anchor Steve Scully was due to host the event in Miami on October 15. 

The debate was to differ from the first in that it was modelled on a town hall, with Miami residents in the audience given the opportunity to quiz Mr Trump and Mr Biden.

Read more: Donald Trump faces uncomfortable questions at a turning point for the US election 

What else do we know about the debates?

With Mr Trump unable to hold his usual large campaign rallies, the debates offer his best shot at narrowing Mr Biden’s poll lead, and the president intends to use the TV appearances to land as many blows as possible.

In the first debate, Mr Trump was able to land several blows on his rival.

The president had been preparing for the debates for some time, with Chris Christie, the former New Jersey governor reportedly playing the role of Mr Biden during his practice sessions.

With Mr Biden avoiding rigorous interviews the debates may prove to be the most arduous test he faces throughout the campaign.