By LIBBY CATHEY, ABC News

(NASHVILLE, Tenn.) — President Donald Trump and former Vice President Joe Biden, the Democratic nominee, face off in the final presidential debate of the 2020 election cycle from Belmont University in Nashville on Thursday night, marking the candidates’ last chance to pitch themselves to tens of millions of voters in primetime before Nov. 3.

The stakes are high: Trump must make his case as polls show him trailing nationally and in several battleground states key to his reelection hopes. At the same time, Biden has a platform to solidify his lead and avoid any major mistakes with Election Day just 12 days away.

Biden has spent the week hunkered down in Wilmington, Delaware, to prepare — what he’s done before other debates — while Trump has seemingly done less to prepare, telling reporters on Wednesday, “I do prep, I do prep,” without elaborating. Earlier this week Trump said that answering journalists’ questions is the best kind of preparation.

Thursday’s debate was supposed to be the candidates’ third matchup but is instead the second of only two presidential debates this election. Trump refused to participate in the second debate when it was moved to a virtual format following his COVID-19 diagnosis. The candidates ultimately participated in dueling town halls instead.

ABC Television Network coverage begins at 8 p.m. ET with a one-hour special, “Trump vs. Biden: The Final Presidential Debate – A Special Edition of 20/20.” ABC News Live will begin previewing the debate at 7 p.m. The debate begins at 9 p.m. and ABC News’ political team will provide context and analysis on both platforms following the debate.

Here’s how the evening is unfolding. All times Eastern.

Oct 22, 10:49 pm
Fact check: Trump misleads on fundraising

TRUMP’S CLAIM: “Joe, you have raised a lot of money, tremendous amounts of money and every time you raise money, deals are made, Joe. I could raise so much more money as president and as somebody that knows most of those people. I could call the heads of Wall Street, the heads of every company in America. I would blow away every record, but I don’t want to do that because it puts me in a bad position.”
 
FACT CHECK: Trump targeted Biden for raising money for his campaign by claiming he could raise more but would be put in a “bad position” because he would owe donors something in return.
 
However, Trump himself regularly holds private, high-dollar fundraisers raking in millions of dollars and has raised over $1.5 billion so far this election cycle.
 
Just a week ago, the president attended a closed-door fundraiser at the home of Nicole and Palmer Luckey, an entrepreneur — where tickets ranged from $2,800 up to $100,000 per person.

-ABC News’ Will Steakin

Oct 22, 10:46 pm
Trump, Biden take last question of the debate on leadership

The last question of the night was on leadership and what Trump and Biden would say to the people who didn’t vote for them on Inauguration Day.

Trump said that we would have to make the country “totally successful,” and touted low unemployment numbers among all Americans before the pandemic.

“Success is going to bring us together. We are on the road to success,” the president said. “But I’m cutting taxes, and he wants to raise everybody’s taxes, and he wants to put new regulations on everything. He will kill it. If he gets in, you will have a depression the likes of which you’ve never seen. Your 401(k)’s will go to hell, and it’ll be a very, very sad day for this country.”

Biden started his answer by saying that as an American president he would represent all Americans.

“Whether you voted for me or against me, and I’m going to make sure you’re represented. I’m going to give you hope,” he said.

“We’re going to move,” Biden added. “We’re going to choose science over fiction. We’re going to choose hope over fear. We’re going to choose to move forward, because we have enormous opportunities — enormous opportunities to make things better.”

Oct 22, 10:42 pm
Fact check: Trump says he was told by DNI that both Iran and Russia want him to lose the election

TRUMP’S CLAIM: “Through John, who is — John Ratcliffe, who is fantastic, DNI. He said the one thing that’s common to both of them (Russia and Iran), they both want you to lose because there has been nobody tougher to Russia with — between the sanctions. Nobody tougher than me on Russia.”
 
FACT CHECK: While it is unclear whether Trump’s director of national intelligence, John Ratcliffe, told him personally that Russia hopes he would lose the upcoming election, such a statement would contradict what the U.S. intelligence committee has determined.
 
In August, the Office of the Director of National Intelligence assessed “that Russia is using a range of measures to primarily denigrate former Vice President Biden and what it sees as an anti-Russia ‘establishment.’” The office has never stated publicly that Russia hopes Biden will lose the upcoming election.
 
As for Iran, the office said it determined the country in its interference efforts “seeks to undermine U.S. democratic institutions, Trump, and to divide the country in advance of the 2020 elections.”
 
Ratcliffe in a Wednesday evening news conference revealed both Iran and Russia recently obtained voter registration data in their efforts to interfere in the 2020 election, and that Iran was separately behind “a series of threatening emails that were found to be sent this week to Democratic voters,” which he said was “designed to intimidate voters, incite social unrest and damage President Trump.”
 
But Democratic leaders have argued Ratcliffe may have inflated Iran’s motivations relating to Trump and instead the country was seeking more broadly to sow chaos in the U.S. democratic process.
 
U.S. officials have also characterized to ABC News that Russia’s interference efforts both in 2016 and 2020 far exceed that of Iran’s in both scope and complexity.

-ABC News’ Alexander Mallin

Oct 22, 10:41 pm
Trump vs. Biden on the issues: Climate change and the environment

Climate change — a hot-button topic for years — has taken on renewed significance ahead of the 2020 presidential election, with wildfires decimating the West, tropical storms pounding the Gulf Coast and year after year of record temperatures.

Both Trump and Biden largely toe their respective party lines when it comes to issues pertaining to environmental policy.

Throughout his presidency, Trump reversed many American commitments to mitigating climate change, most notably pulling out of the Paris Agreement, removing clean water protections and seeking to fast track environmental reviews of dozens of major energy and infrastructure projects, such as drilling, fuel pipelines and wind farms.

Biden has countered the Trump administration’s policies by promising to protect the environment with a proposed a $5 trillion plan.

Oct 22, 10:36 pm
Trump says he’s the ‘the least racist person,’ Biden says crime bill support was ‘a mistake’

Trump responded to a question on the impact of his language on racial conflict in the country by touting his work on criminal and prison reform as well as opportunity zones.

“It makes me sad, because I am, I am the least racist person,” Trump said. “I can’t even see the audience because it’s so dark, but I don’t care who’s in the audience, I’m the least racist person in this room.”

Biden responded by saying that the president “pours fuel on every single racist fire, every single one.”

When asked about his previous support for crime bills in the 1980s and 1990s, Biden said again that his support was “a mistake.”

“I’ve been trying to change it since then, particularly the portion on cocaine,” he said. “That’s why I’ve been arguing that, in fact, we should not send anyone to jail for a pure drug offense. They should be going into treatment across the board.”

Trump asked why Biden couldn’t change those policies during his time as vice president.

“Why didn’t you get it done? See? It’s all talk, no action with these politicians,” he said. “Why didn’t he get it done? That’s what I’m going to do when I become president — you were vice president along with Obama as your president, your leader, for eight years. Why didn’t you get it done?

Biden brought up the Obama administration’s work to release 38,000 federal prisoners and grant clemency. After continuing pressing from Trump, Biden said they couldn’t get more done because “we had a Republican congress.”

Oct 22, 10:33 pm
As candidate tackle race in America, Trump tells Biden: ‘I ran because of you’

To open the section on race in America, Welker described “the talk” to the candidates — when parents of color, regardless of class or income, prepare their children for the chance that they could be targeted by police for no reason other than the color of their skin — giving the first question to Biden.

“I would like you to speak directly to these families,” Welker said. “Do you understand why these parents fear for the children?”

“Yes, I do,” said Biden. “The fact of the matter is there is institutional racism in America. We have always said, we’ve never lived up to it, that we hold these truths to be self-evident, all men and women are created equal. Guess what? We have never, ever lived up to it.”

“We have to provide better economic opportunity, better education, better health care, better access to schooling, better access to borrow money to start businesses,” Biden continued. “And I’ve laid out a clear plan as to how to do those things just to give people a shot. It’s about accumulating the ability to have wealth as well as it is to be free from violence.”

When the same question was posed to Trump, the president raised Biden’s controversial 1994 crime bill and again said no one has done more for the Black community than Trump — other than President Abraham Lincoln.

“Yes, I do,” Trump said, before launching an attack on Biden. “And again, he’s been in government 47 years. He never did a thing, except in 1994, when he did such harm to the Black community.”

“Nobody has done more for the Black community than Donald Trump. And if you look, with the exception of Abraham Lincoln, possible exception, but the exception of Abraham Lincoln, nobody has done what I’ve done,” he added.

Trump went on to rail against Biden for not making the changes he’s pushing when he was in office and said he ran for office as a direct response to Obama and Biden.

“Joe, I ran because of you. I ran because of Barack Obama. Because you did a poor job. If I thought you did a good job, I would have never run,” Trump said. “I ran because of you.”

Oct 22, 10:22 pm
‘We’re trying very hard’ to find parents of 545 children: Trump

Trump said his administration is “trying very hard” to locate the 545 children whose parents can’t be located after being separated from their parents. However, the president also said that some of the children were brought to the U.S. by “coyotes” and “cartels.”

He then pivoted to say that the Obama administration built the detention centers where many migrants are held.

“They had a picture in a certain newspaper, there was a picture of these horrible cages. They said look at these cages. President Trump built them,” Trump said. “Then it was determined they were built in 2014. That was him. They built cages.”

In a fiery response, Biden emphasized that the children came to the U.S. with their parents.

“Coyotes didn’t bring them over, Biden said. “Their parents were with them. They got separated from their parents, and it makes us a laughingstock and violates every notion of who we are as a nation.

Welker asked about the Obama administration’s failure to deliver on immigration reform. Biden said that it took too long to get the policy correct.

“It took too long to get it right. Took too long to get it right,” he said. “I will be president of the United States, not vice president of the United States. And the fact is, I’ve made it very clear, within 100 days, I going to send to the United States Congress a pathway to citizenship for over 11 million undocumented people and all of those so-called dreamers, those DACA kids, they are going to be immediately certified again to be able to stay in this country and put on a path to citizenship.”

Trump responded that Biden “had eight years to do what he said he was going to do.”

Biden and Trump then went back and forth over the catch-and-release policy.

Oct 22, 10:15 pm
Fact check: Trump misstates Fauci’s past comments on masks

TRUMP’S CLAIM: “Nobody knew where it was coming from, what it was. We’ve learned a lot. But Anthony said don’t wear masks. Now he wants to wear masks.”
 
FACT CHECK: Dr. Anthony Fauci, one of the top infectious disease experts in the country, and other public health experts initially told Americans not to wear surgical or N95 masks in the early days of what has become the COVID-19 pandemic.
 
At the beginning of the pandemic, the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention and the World Health Organization, as well as Fauci and other top experts, initially discouraged wearing masks because of concerns that masks and other personal protective equipment were in short supply for health care workers who needed them. Public health officials were also concerned wearing masks could have unintended consequences if people touched their face more often to adjust them or fail to keep social distancing.
 
“There was this feeling that there would be a shortage just for those who really need them very early on,” Fauci said in a recent interview. “That was the big deal. We didn’t have enough PPE including masks. Then it became clear that cloth masks worked reasonably well. And therefore there was no more shortage. Then the different analyses, meta analyses and others came in that in fact, it does work.”
 
In early April, the CDC changed its recommendation about face coverings for the general public, based on evidence that a significant number of people who were asymptomatic or not yet feeling sick were transmitting the virus.
 
Duke University researchers have also concluded that “if 95 percent of people wear cloth masks when within 6 feet of other people in public, it will reduce COVID-19 transmission by at least 30 percent.”
 
Trump also said he thought Fauci was a Democrat, but Fauci is not registered as a member of any political party, according to D.C. voting records.

-ABC News’ Stephanie Ebbs and Arielle Mitropoulos

Oct 22, 10:11 pm
Fact check: Trump says Biden called China travel restrictions ‘xenophobic,’ but that’s not clear

TRUMP’S CLAIM: “When I closed, he said, ‘This is a terrible thing. You’re xenophobic.’ I think he called me racist, even, and — because I was closing it to China. Now, he says I should have closed it earlier. It just — Joe, it doesn’t work.”

FACT CHECK: While Trump claimed that Biden opposed his decision to ban most travel from China at the outset of the coronavirus pandemic and that he called the restrictions “xenophobic,” the former vice president did not explicitly weigh in on the decision when it was announced on Jan. 31. He did call the president xenophobic minutes after the partial travel ban was announced, but did not call Trump a racist for the decision.

During a campaign event that same day in Fort Madison, Iowa, Biden discussed the growing concern over the COVID-19 outbreak and cautioned that Trump should let science “lead the way.”

“In moments like this, this is where the credibility of a president is most needed as he explains what we should and should not do,” Biden told the crowd at the event. “This is no time for Donald Trump’s record of hysterical xenophobia … and fear-mongering to lead the way instead of science.”

The comments came just minutes after the White House announcement, so it was unclear if Biden was referring to the decision specifically, but the former vice president did tweet a similar sentiment the next day.

“We are in the midst of a crisis with the coronavirus,” Biden posted. “We need to lead the way with science — not Donald Trump’s record of hysteria, xenophobia, and fear-mongering. He is the worst possible person to lead our country through a global health emergency.”

Throughout March, Biden used the word “xenophobic” in various speeches and tweets to criticize the president labeling COVID-19 as the “China virus.”

Biden did acknowledge the travel restrictions put in place by the Trump administration in a March speech, noting they “may” slow the spread.

“Banning all travel from Europe or any other part of the world may slow it, but as we’ve seen, it will not stop it. And travel restrictions based on favoritism and politics rather than risk will be counterproductive,” Biden said.

Biden’s campaign did not explicitly discuss the vice president’s view of the ban until April.

“Joe Biden supports travel bans that are guided by medical experts, advocated by public health officials and backed by a full strategy,” Biden’s deputy campaign manager Kate Bedingfield told CNN. “Science supported this ban, therefore he did too.

-ABC News’ Molly Nagle

Oct 22, 10:10 pm
Trump blames Pelosi for stimulus limbo

Welker turned her attention to the lingering stimulus discussions in Congress and asked Trump why he hasn’t helped the millions of Americans who haven fallen into poverty, particularly minorities and women.

Trump laid the blame on House Speaker Nancy Pelosi.

“But you’re the president,” Welker contended.

“Nancy Pelosi does not want to approve it. We are ready, willing and able to do something,” Trump said.

Biden, however, noted that Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell said he can not pass the stimulus bill because he doesn’t have the votes.

When asked how he would work differently, the vice president said the Democrats have been pushing to pass the bill for the months.

“Look, they passed this act all the way back in the beginning of the summer. This is like — it’s not new. It’s been out there,” Biden said.

Oct 22, 10:04 pm
Biden pitches ‘Bidencare’ as Trump slams the Affordable Care Act

Biden said if he is elected he would pass Obamacare with a public option, deeming it “Bidencare,” and outlining his plan.

“If you qualify for Medicaid and you do not have the wherewithal in your state to get Medicaid, you’re automatically enrolled, providing competition for insurance companies,” Biden said.

“Secondly, we’re going to make sure we reduce the premiums and reduce drug prices by making sure that there’s competition that doesn’t exist now, by allowing Medicare to negotiate drug prices with the insurance companies,” he said.

Biden said private insurance would be protected under his plan.

“Thirdly, the idea that I want to eliminate private insurance — the reason why I had such a fight for — with 20 candidates for the nomination, was I support private insurance,” Biden said. “Not one single person with private insurance would lose their insurance under my plan, nor did they under Obamacare.”

“Lastly, we’re going to make sure we’re in a situation that we actually protect pre-existing conditions. There’s no way he can protect pre-existing conditions. None. Zero,” Biden said, as the Trump administration seeks to dismantle the entire Affordable Care Act which currently protects them.

Trump said earlier, “I’d like to terminate Obamacare, come up with a brand-new beautiful health care.”

Oct 22, 9:55 pm
Trump vs. Biden on the issues: Health

With unprecedented unemployment in the United States, where health care is inextricably linked to employment, and a coronavirus pandemic ravaging the globe, it’s safe to say that on Nov. 3, health is on the ballot.

As it stands, more than 220,000 Americans have died of COVID-19. Another roughly 13 million are unemployed.

Health might be a political football in 2020, but it’s also a deeply personal issue that affects every American voter. Given health’s crucial significance this year, the nonprofit Commonwealth Fund polled 4,220 likely voters in battleground states between Aug. 25 and Sept. 20 on which health care issues mattered most to them, and which candidate — Trump or Biden — they thought would be more likely to address those health concerns.

Here’s what the American public said about which health care issues they care about.

-ABC News’ Erin Schumaker

Oct 22, 9:54 pm
Fact Check: Biden incorrectly attributes mask warning to Trump advisers

BIDEN’S CLAIM: “The expectation is we’ll have another 200,000 Americans dead in the time between now and the end of the year. If we just wore these masks, the president’s own advisers have told him, we could save 100,000 lives.”
 
FACT CHECK: The president’s advisers haven’t used this estimate, though the head of the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention has strongly recommended wearing them. A modeling study by the University of Washington estimated at one point that if most Americans wore masks, it could save 100,000 lives by the end of the year. That estimate has been repeated by Tom Frieden, who led the CDC under President Barack Obama.
 
Dr. Robert Redfield, the current head of the CDC under Trump, has not made such a statement.
 
According to his office, he has said that the pandemic could begin to come under control in eight to 12 weeks “if all people living in America wore a face mask, were smart about social distancing and crowds, and practiced good hand hygiene.”

-ABC News’ Anne Flaherty

Oct 22, 9:54 pm
Trump attacks Biden for appealing to families after answer on China

Trump and Biden took questions on how to deal with China more broadly amid transparency concerns with the Chinese government. After Biden said he would make China “play by the international rules,” Trump touted $28 billion in subsidies given to farmers during his administration affected by the U.S.-China trade war.

“First of all, China is paying. They’re paying billions and billions of dollars. I just gave $28 billion to our farmers,” Trump said, before Biden interrupted, “That’s taxpayers’ money.”

Given a chance to respond, Biden turned to families at home.

“There’s a reason why he’s bringing up all this malarkey. There’s a reason for it. He doesn’t want to talk about the substantive issues. It’s not about his family and my family. It’s about your family and your family is hurting badly,” Biden said.

“Are we going to be able to pay the mortgage? Who’s going to tell her she can’t go back to community college? They’re the decisions you’re making in the middle-class families like I grew up in Scranton and Claymont. They’re in trouble. We should be talking about your families, but that’s the last thing he wants to talk about,” Biden added.

Trump scoffed at Biden’s answers and took the chance to define himself as not another “typical politician.”

“That is a typical statement,” Trump responded. “That’s a typical political statement. Let’s get off this China thing. He looks at the family around the table, just a typical politician. I’m not a typical politician. That’s why I got elected. Let’s get off the subject of China. Let’s talk around sitting around the table. Come on, Joe. You can do better.”

Oct 22, 9:45 pm
Biden says countries that interfere in American elections will ‘pay a price’

Biden responded to reports that Russia and Iran obtained voter information as a part of an election disinformation campaign by saying that any country that interferes in American elections will “pay a price.”

” They will pay a price. And it’s been overwhelmingly clear, this election — I won’t even get into the last one — this election, that Russia’s been involved. China’s been involved to some degree,” he said.

“Now we learn that — that Iran is involved. They will pay a price if I’m elected. They’re interfering with American sovereignty,” Biden added.

In a disturbing allegation, the FBI director and director of national intelligence announced Wednesday night that Russia and Iran have conducted counterintelligence operations secretly to obtain voter registration information about Americans, allowing them to directly reach out to voters in Florida and Alaska.

The director of national intelligence portrayed Trump as the victim of the attack, and did not mention Democratic voters that were targeted.

Biden went on to accuse Trump of being a “Russian pawn” and not speaking out for the country’s actions.

“I don’t understand why this president is unwilling to take on Putin when he’s actually paying bounties to kill American soldiers in Afghanistan, when he’s engaged in activities that are trying to destabilize all of NATO. I don’t know why he doesn’t do it, but it’s worth asking the question,” he said.

–John Verhovek

Oct 22, 9:43 pm
Fact check: Trump misleads when comparing COVID-19 pandemic to H1N1, Obama administration response

TRUMP’S CLAIM: “Frankly, (Biden) ran the H1N1, swine flu, and it was a total disaster, far less lethal, but it was a total disaster. Had that had this kind of numbers, 700,000 people would be dead right now.”
 
FACT CHECK: While Trump is correct that the H1N1 virus was much less lethal than COVID-19, it is misleading to call the Obama administration’s response a “failure.”
 
The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention estimates up to 575,000 lives were lost to the swine flu worldwide. Of those, fewer than 13,000 were American, due in part to the Obama administration’s “complex, multi-faceted and long-term response,” the CDC later wrote. Thus far, COVID-19 has taken the lives of over 210,000 Americans, a little over eight months since the first known case of the virus was discovered in the United States.
 
“The team, in my opinion, in 2009, really demonstrated that the planning was worth it. Nothing is ever perfect. But I felt just so impressed and so proud of the job CDC did in 2009,” Dr. Julie Gerberding, a CDC director during the George W. Bush administration, told ABC News.

Oct 22, 9:38 pm
Trump says he’s not ‘knocking’ Fauci

Before moving on to election security, Welker asked Trump about his recent public criticisms of Dr. Anthony Fauci.

“President Trump, this week you called Dr. Anthony Fauci, the nation’s best known infectious disease expert, quote, ‘a disaster.’ You described him and other medical experts as, quote, ‘idiots’. If you’re not listening to them, who are you listening to?” she asked.

“I’m listening to all of them, including Anthony,” Trump said. “I get along very well with Anthony, but he did say don’t wear masks. He did say, as you know, this is not going to be a problem. I think he’s a Democrat, but that’s okay.”

Fauci is registered as an Independent and said not to wear a mask at the start of the pandemic as the task force was concerned with having enough personal protective equipment for health care workers. Once the science became clearer, he recommended the practice.

Biden responded by saying it was Trump who panicked when the virus hit U.S. soil, not the American people, drawing on interviews with journalist Bob Woodward.

“Think about what the president knew in January and didn’t tell the American people. He was told this was a serious virus that spread in the air and it was much worse — much worse than the flu,” Biden said. “Americans don’t panic. He panicked.”

Oct 22, 9:36 pm
Biden and Trump on shutdowns

Biden responded to concerns that another shutdown could harm the economy, already hurting from closures caused by the pandemic.

“I’m going to shut down the virus, not the country,” he said. “It’s his ineptitude that caused the virus — caused the country to have to shut down in large part. Why businesses have gone under, why schools are closed, why so many people have lost their living and why they’re concerned.”

After attacking Trump for golfing during the pandemic, Biden said he hadn’t ruled out additional shutdowns if necessary.

“You need standards,” he said. “The standard is if you have a reproduction rate in a community that’s above a certain level, everybody says slow up. More social distancing. Do not open bars and do not open gymnasiums.”

In rebuttal, Trump criticized Democratic governors in several states for shutting down in response to the pandemic.

“They’re shut down so tight and they’re dying,” he said. “They’re dying. And he supports all these people. All he talks about is shutdowns. No, we’re not going to shut down. And we have to open our schools.”

In an example of how young people have better outcomes with coronavirus, the president mentioned his son Baron who tested positive.

“By the time I spoke to the doctor the second time, he was fine. It just went away. Young people — I guess it’s their immune system,” he said.

Oct 22, 9:27 pm
Trump: People ‘learning to live’ with COVID-19; Biden: People ‘learning to die with it’

Trump and Biden have contradictory views on the president’s handling of the pandemic with Trump asserting he’s done better than any other world leader and Biden claiming he’s done “virtually nothing.”

Trump’s insisted again that the pandemic is “going away,” touting his administration’s efforts on therapeutics and vaccines.

“I don’t think we’re gonna have a dark winter at all,” Trump said. “I say we’re learning to live with it. We have no choice. We can’t lock ourselves up in a basement like Joe does,” drawing a laugh from Biden.

Biden emphasized the lives already lost, making a direct appeal to those at home.

“Number one, he says that we’re, you know, we’re learning to live with it. People are learning to die with it,” Biden said. “You folks home who have an empty chair at the kitchen table this morning, that man or wife going to bed tonight and reaching over to try to touch their — out of habit where their wife or husband was is gone. Learning to live with it? Come on.”

When Trump threatened that Biden would shutdown the country if elected, causing massive economic depression, Biden said, “I’m going to shut down the virus, not the country.”

Oct 22, 9:18 pm
In his first answer, Biden attacks Trump for his handling of COVID-19

In response to a question on how he would lead the country out of the crisis caused by the COVID-19 pandemic, Biden cited the more than 220,000 Americans who had died from the virus.

“Anyone who’s responsible for that many deaths should not remain as president of the United States of America,” he said.

Biden went on to say that Trump doesn’t have a plan for dealing with the virus. He called for mask wearing, and a national policy on mask wearing, more testing and a national policy on reopening schools and businesses.

“I will take care of this. I will end this,” Biden said to close out his first answer. “I will make sure we have a plan.”

Oct 22, 9:15 pm
Trump takes first question on COVID-19, repeats virus is ‘going away’

Trump tackled the first question on the coronavirus pandemic but stuck to his stance the pandemic is “rounding the corner” and “going away.”

“Since the two of you last shared a stage, 16,000 Americans have died from COVID,” Welker said. “So please be specific, how would you lead the country during this next stage of the coronavirus crisis?”

“As you know, 2.2 million people modelled out were expected to die,” Trump began. “We closed up the greatest economy in the world in order to fight this horrible disease that came from China.”

He went on to draw from his personal experience contracting COVID-19, downplaying its side effects and touting the country’s therapeutics.

“I can tell you from personal experience that I was in the hospital. I had it. And I got better,” Trump said. “And I will tell you that I had something that they gave me, a therapeutic, I guess they would call it, some people could say it was a cure. But I was in for a short period of time and I got better very fast or I wouldn’t be here tonight. And now they say I’m immune. Whether it’s four months or a lifetime, nobody has been able to say that, but I’m immune.”

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

Oct 22, 9:06 pm
Debate is underway

The final presidential debate has kicked off from Belmont University in Nashville marking Trump and Biden’s final chance to pitch themselves to voters in primetime ahead of Nov. 3. The audience of roughly 200 people in stadium-style seating applauded as the candidates took the stage.

There was a last-minute change to remove the plexiglass partitions placed between the two candidates after Dr. Anthony Fauci weighed in and each tested negative for COVID-19. They remain socially distanced with at least 12 feet of space between them.

The first question from moderator Kristen Welker, NBC News White House correspondent, was on COVID-19 and went to the president.

Biden’s mic will be muted while the president answers, and Trump’s mic will follow suit when it’s the former vice president’s turn to weigh in.

Oct 22, 8:51 pm
Fauci weighed in on plexiglass partitions, pandemic landscape still on display in hall

Debate organizers removed the plexiglass barriers initially placed between the candidates’ lecterns after speaking with the government’s top expert on infectious diseases Dr. Anthony Fauci.

Fauci told ABC News Chief White House Correspondent Jonathan Karl that he got a call from Trump’s chief of staff Mark Meadows asking if in his opinion there was a need to have plexiglass between the two candidates.

Meadows then had Fauci talk to a doctor working with the Commission on Presidential Debates, and Fauci explained to the doctor that because the candidates were 12-feet apart, there was no need for plexiglass as droplets wouldn’t reach that far and aerosol isn’t stopped by plexiglass anyway.

Even with the removal of the plexiglass partitions, the coronavirus pandemic is still on display inside the debate hall at Belmont University in Nashville.

All audience members are required to wear masks and will be removed from the event if they refuse, organizers said. The mask requirement comes after several members of the Trump family removed their masks once seated at the first presidential debate in Cleveland.

Singer Kid Rock and professional golfer John Daly, both Trump supporters, were spotted in the audience ahead of the debate’s start without their masks. They put them back on after they were approached by debates staffers.

Oct 22, 8:34 pm
What to watch for during the final debate

The FiveThirtyEight politics crew discusses how the last presidential debate might affect the election. Is there still time to shift opinions, or have voters already made up their minds?


Oct 22, 8:21 pm
No mute button, but mics will be muted

In the wake of that canceled second showdown and a chaotic first debate before it, the Commission on Presidential Debates announced earlier this week it would mute candidates’ microphones at certain points Thursday to avoid interruptions and “maintain order.”

Trump and Biden will now have two minutes each of uninterrupted time to speak at the beginning of each 15-minute segment, of which there are six, in the 90-minute debate.

After the first four minutes of each segment, both of their microphones will go live for an “open-discussion portion,” the commission co-chair said. The moderator will not have control of the candidates’ mics at any point. Those will instead be controlled by event production staff.

ABC News Chief Congressional Correspondent Mary Bruce said on ABC News Live Prime ahead of the debate, “Just because your microphone is down, doesn’t mean that you necessarily will stop talking.”

Trump has attacked the integrity of the debate commission and its chosen moderators in recent weeks, deeming it all “crazy” and the new mic rule “very unfair” — but sources have told ABC News Chief White House Correspondent Jonathan Karl that some advisers think muting the mics will actually help the president.

ABC News Chief Anchor George Stephanopoulos said the big question for Biden, who leads in nationwide polls, is whether he can close the deal with voters from Nashville. For Trump, it’s how will he adjusts his performance after the “disastrous” first debate more than three weeks ago.

“Even the president’s own aides called his blustering performance a self-inflicted wound,” Stephanopoulos said

Oct 22, 7:11 pm
Trump expected to fire off personal attacks as aides advise him to highlight policy issues

Trump’s advisers have urged him to highlight his policy differences with Biden and present his case to the American people as to why he deserves another four years in office, sources said.

He trails Biden in the polls and this is his final opportunity to pitch himself to a large audience in primetime before Election Day.
 
Some top advisers would like to see a less combative, calmer Trump at the debate but concede that is an uphill battle given the president will focus on Biden’s family, which aides hope will get under Biden’s skin, multiple sources said. However, other top advisers don’t think that focus helps move any of the remaining swing voters.

Aides have also urged him not to interrupt Biden as much and have been re-watching the last debate with Hillary Clinton in 2016 as a guide as the White House views that debate as his strongest. The president’s team also intends to heavily monitor the mute button usage, sources said.

Trump has held no mock debates leading up to his final face-off with Biden and has prepped — in what one source described as a “very compartmentalized” way — with different subject matter experts providing the president a briefing and preparing notes for the president on a particular topic. He has said his best preparation comes from his exchanges with the press.
 
The group advising the president has also slimmed down. For example, his former counselor Kellyanne Conway and former New Jersey Gov. Chris Christie have taken less prominent roles.
 
-ABC News’ Katherine Faulders, John Santucci and Will Steakin

Oct 22, 6:53 pm
Biden plans to focus on reaching at-home viewers

As he boarded his plane to Nashville earlier, Biden spoke briefly with reporters, telling them he’s looking forward to the debate and said he hopes Trump plays by the rules.

“There’s plenty of time to talk when this is over, OK? So hopefully he’s going to play by the rules. Hopefully everyone’s been tested. Hopefully it’s all worked out, the way the rules are. I’m looking forward to this,” Biden said before getting on the plane.

Biden’s team has remained tight-lipped about their debate preparation for the final debate, but allies and advisers to Biden said they aren’t expecting much of a change from either candidate ahead of the crucial matchup.

“I think Joe Biden is prepared for a completely unconventional debate in which the President of the United States does not act presidential (for) one minute. And the challenge is to not be distracted by the Trump show, and to make sure that Joe effectively puts out his positive vision,” Sen. Chris Coons, D-Del., told ABC News.

An aide to Biden said the former vice president plans to again focus on his message to viewers at home, but would not be shy about standing up to Trump’s interjections when necessary, especially given reports of the president’s planned personal attacks on Biden and his family.

-ABC News’ Molly Nagle

Oct 22, 6:39 pm
Previewing the debate topics

The debate between Trump and Biden will run from 9 p.m. to 10:30 p.m. with no breaks for commercials.

The program will be divided into six segments of 15 minutes each with topics decided by the moderator, NBC News White House Correspondent Kristen Welker.
 
Topics for Thursday’s debate are:

 

  • Fighting COVID-19
  • American families
  • Race in America
  • Climate change
  • National security
  • Leadership

Oct 22, 6:23 pm
Plexiglass removed from debate stage

The debate commission has removed the two plexiglass barriers that were positioned between the candidates’ lecterns.

Peter Eyre, senior advisor with the Commission on Presidential Debates, said that circumstances on the ground have changed and it’s unlikely that the plexiglass partitions will be put back up, according to a pool report.

The news follows both candidates reporting testing negative for COVID-19. It’s unclear if those who accompanied them to travel to Nashville were also tested.

-ABC News’ Drew Millhorn

Oct 22, 6:13 pm
Trump to early vote in Florida on Saturday

The White House announced Trump will vote early in Florida on Saturday.

“President Trump plans to early vote on Saturday in West Palm Beach, Florida,” spokesman Judd Deere said.

It had been expected that the president would vote absentee, because even as he has railed against mail-in voting, he has also justified his own practice of voting absentee in the past.

-ABC News’ Jordyn Phelps


Oct 22, 5:55 pm
Trump vs. Biden: On the issues

ABC News has broken down where each candidate stands on some of the key issues:

Election security and integrity

Racial justice

Health

Economy

Climate change and the environment

Foreign policy

Oct 22, 5:42 pm
Early voting hits record numbers across the country

With early voting having kicked off in all 50 states plus Washington, D.C., at least 47 million votes have already been cast in the 2020 general election as early voting data continues to break records across the country.

In 2016, there was a total of 47 million early votes cast, meaning the country has narrowly passed its 2016 early voting data with 12 days still left.
 
According to the United States Elections Project, spearheaded by University of Florida’s political expert Michael McDonald, as of Thursday at 5 p.m. ET an unprecedented 47,095,528 voters have already cast their ballots and at least 85,133,505 ballots have been requested in early voting states.

TargetSmart, a Democratic firm that collects political data including early voting statistics, reports that 10 million voters who have already voted in the 2020 election did not participate in the 2016 election. Many of these early votes are coming from young voters as well as first time voters with individuals under 30 years old having cast 9.1% of early votes.

During an earlier press conference, TargetSmart predicted that there will still be an additional 40 million early votes as well as between 60-70 million votes on Election Day. Their prediction allots for at least 150 million ballots cast. In comparison, in the 2016 election, there were 138 million total votes.

-ABC News’ Kelsey Walsh

Oct 22, 5:26 pm
Candidates to face off at a social distance between plexiglass partitions

Plexiglas partitions were placed on the debate stage next to each candidates’ lectern — already set up at least 12 feet apart — as a coronavirus precaution for the second and final presidential debate in Nashville.

According to a source familiar with the debates, the partitions were added under the direction of the Cleveland Clinic as part of its responsibility to keep debate participants safe.

Plexiglass became an issue prior to the vice-presidential debate when the two campaigns squabbled over whether to have physical barriers separate the two candidates.

The insistence on barriers was initially met with resistance by Vice President Mike Pence’s team, but they were ultimately used.

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