Tonight was supposed to be the second presidential debate, according to the schedule laid out by the Commission on Presidential Debates in June. But the president’s COVID-19 diagnosis threw that plan into chaos, and instead of a single bipartisan debate, we’ve ended up with two dueling town halls for each candidate, each limited to a single network (or family of networks).
Each campaign has its own take on how it all happened, so it’s worth laying out exactly how we got here. After President Donald Trump tested positive for COVID-19, the Commission on Presidential Debates announced that the second debate would be hosted in two separate locations to avoid any risk of spreading the infection. President Trump responded by backing out of the second debate, which led to CPD officially canceling the debate.
The Biden campaign scheduled a town hall with ABC in the immediate aftermath of the cancellation. Yesterday, NBC announced a dueling town hall with Trump, a decision that met with significant backlash from other members of the press.
All this is bad in a variety of ways. For a start, it means you won’t be able to track both candidates at once — at least not without switching between streams. The whole point of the debates is to force both candidates into the same event, answering more or less the same questions. We’re not getting that here.
It also means that the events are organized and hosted by TV networks rather than the bipartisan debate commission, which has arranged every presidential debate since 1988. Doing an end-run around that system results in less trustworthy events, and is a generally bad precedent for anyone who wants to see nonpartisan institutions hold powerful politicians accountable.
But with all that said, there are two town halls scheduled for tonight, so here’s how to watch them.
WHAT TIME IS THE BIDEN TOWN HALL?
ABC’s town hall event with Joe Biden will begin at 8PM ET. It is scheduled to run for 90 minutes, with 30 minutes of post-event coverage available on some streaming platforms. The event is technically an episode of ABC’s 20/20 news show, and may be listed as such in TV schedules.
The event will take place at the National Constitution Center in Philadelphia.
WHAT TIME IS THE TRUMP TOWN HALL?
NBC’s town hall with President Trump also begins at 8PM ET, and is scheduled to run for a full hour.
It will be moderated by Savannah Guthrie, and take place in an outdoor area of the Perez Art Museum in Miami. In order to minimize the virus risk, President Trump and Guthrie will be positioned at least 12 feet away from the audience and from each other at all times. Officials from the National Institute of Health say they have conducted extensive testing on the president, and determined that he is “not shedding infectious virus.”
HOW DO I WATCH TONIGHT’S TOWN HALLS?
The Biden town hall will air on ABC and stream through ABC News Live, which is available as an app or channel on a variety of OTT services including Hulu, Roku, YouTube TV, Amazon Fire OS , Xumo, Sling TV, Facebook, Twitter, ABCNews.com, and the ABC News and ABC mobile apps.
The Trump town hall will be carried on NBC, MSNBC, CNBC, and Telemundo. It will also stream online through the NBC News NOW streaming network.
WILL THERE BE ANY MORE DEBATES?
The final debate is scheduled for October 22nd at Belmont University in Nashville, Tennessee, as initially arranged by the Commission on Presidential Debates. As of publication time, both campaigns are still scheduled to participate.