Today is the day.
It’s the last time the men are expected to face off before the election on Nov. 3.
International media, the U.S. Secret Service and more than 700 personnel from the Nashville police department will be on hand throughout the day.
With a web of COVID-19 protocols in place, it will be a much different scene than in 2008, when Belmont hosted a presidential debate between then-Sen. Barack Obama and Sen. John McCain.
Live updates will be posted here throughout the day.
FINAL PRESIDENTIAL DEBATE:When, where and how to watch Trump and Biden on Thursday night
The heat’s turned up
The debate got more contentious as the night wore on with one of the most heated exchanges occurring about halfway through during a discussion on North Korea.
The candidates were battling over Trump’s relationship with North Korean leader, Kim Jong-un, whom he’s met with.
“He’s legitimized North Korea,” Biden said. “He’s talked about his good buddy who’s a thug, a thug.”
Trump responded that it’s important to have good relationships with other leaders.
“We’re not at war,” he said.
Biden shot back that the nation had a good relationship with Hitler before he invaded Europe.
— Maureen Groppe, USA Today
Biden: Countries that interfere with election will pay
Biden vowed to penalize any country that influences the U.S. election after intelligence officials said Russia, China and Iran are trying to interfere.
“Any country that interferes with us will pay a price because it is our sovereignty,” Biden said.
Biden said a former national security adviser accused Trump’s personal lawyer, Rudy Giuliani, of being a Russian pawn by spreading misinformation. But Biden asked why Trump hasn’t challenged Russian President Vladimir Putin.
“What happens? Nothing happens,” Biden said. “I don’t know why this president is unwilling to take on Putin.”
Trump said he imposed sanctions on Russians.
“There has been nobody tougher on Russia than Donald Trump,” Trump said.
— Bart Jansen, USA Today
Trump shows up in Nashville combative, but more restrained
It was a question that had dominated the pre-debate coverage for days: Would a more subdued Trump show up to the debate stage in Nashville, or would the president hold firm to the pugilistic style he has embraced for much of the campaign.
In a way, in the early moments of the debate at least, he managed to do both.
Trump avoided the interruptions that marred the first the debate, giving Biden more room to speak – a strategy his aides had pushed him to embrace. But he still pressed hard against Biden as the Democrat slammed the administration’s coronavirus response.
“We’re about to go into a dark winter. And he has no clear plan,” Biden argued on COVID at one point.
“He was months behind me. He was way behind us,” Trump countered.
“We’re learning to live with it,” Trump said of the virus. “We can’t lock ourselves in a basement like Joe does.”
The back and forth was tense but less fiery and uncivil than the first debate on Sept. 29.
At one point Trump asked NBC’s Kristen Welker if he could respond to a Biden criticism. When Welker said he could, Trump responded: “Thank you, I appreciate that.”
The exchange represented a departure from the more intense and combative exchanges he has had with the moderators of the first debate and a recent town hall.
— John Fritze and Maureen Groppe, USA Today
Biden: Trump ‘panicked’ over coronavirus
Biden once again went after Trump for telling author Bob Woodward in February that he purposely played down the threat of coronavirus.
Woodward recently released an explosive new book on Trump titled “Rage”, which included the president telling the journalist in a recorded interview weeks before the first death in the U.S. that despite knowing how “deadly” and serious the coronavirus pandemic would be, he wanted to “play it down” and would to continue to do so.
“He was told this was a serious virus that spread in the air and it was much worse than the flu,” Biden said. “He went on record … that he knew how dangerous it was but he didn’t want to tell us because he didn’t want us to panic. Americans don’t panic. He panicked.”
— Ledyard King, USA Today
Crowd outside debate hall
While Trump and Biden sparred at the final presidential debate, crowds outside thinned dramatically.
The folks who stayed behind found creative ways to pass the time. A group of Belmont students set up a “water pong” table and bounced ping pongs back and forth.
“We’re trying to bring people together with team work. You can have a good time, even at such a polarized like event such as this,” said student Jonah Williams. “Not too much fighting not too much at each other’s throats. Kind of relaxed.”
— Mariah Timms, The Tennessean
No early interruptions in Nashville debate
After all the overtalking of the first debate, the debate commission announced that only the microphone of the candidate speaking would be turned on while that candidate had two minutes to give an initial answer to each of the debate topics.
For the first 30 minutes of the debate in Nashville, there were far fewer interruptions.
“I’m going to ask you to please speak one at a time,” Kristen Welker, the debate moderator, requested at the start. “The goal is for you to hear each other and for the American people to hear every word of what you both have to say.”
Welker introduced the first topic, the coronavirus pandemic, and both Trump and Biden gave their initial responses uninterrupted.
— Maureen Groppe, USA Today
Debate begins as Trump, Biden discuss the coronavirus
Trump and Biden took the debate stage in Nashville shortly after 8 p.m. Thursday. The first question was about the coronavirus. Watch live on tennessean.com.
Outside the debate hall, hundreds of people had gathered to greet the candidates’ motorcades. As the debate began crowds outside dispersed quickly with smaller groups of demonstrators remaining on the perimeter of Belmont’s campus.
— Adam Tamburin, The Tennessean
Who Trump, Biden will bring to the debate as guests
Trump is expected to bring Tony Bobulinski as a guest, who is a former business associate of Joe Biden’s son, Hunter Biden. Bobulinski has accused the former vice president of accepting influence payments from foreign entities.
Zweli and Leonardo Williams, a couple struggling to keep their restaurant afloat during the pandemic, are expected to join Biden. The couple owns a Zimbabwean restaurant named Zweli’s kitchen in Durham, North Carolina.
— Rachel Wegner, John Fritze and Joey Garrison, USA TODAY Network
Crowd grows as Biden, Trump arrive at Belmont
Minutes before Trump and Biden were set to square off on the debate stage, a thick throng of onlookers gathered along Wedgewood Avenue to catch a glimpse of the candidates’ motorcades.
Biden’s motorcade arrived at Belmont at about 7:30 p.m. as the crowd cheered, “Let’s go Biden!” Trump arrived on campus soon afterward.
More than 700 police personnel were expected on campus in addition to other state and federal law enforcement. Officers lined the street as the start time approached.
Officers blocked off parking lots and closed Wedgewood Avenue at about 7 p.m. At the same time, Trump’s motorcade prepared to leave the JW Marriott hotel downtown.
Nashville Mayor John Cooper entered the debate hall an hour before its scheduled to begin, with his wife Laura Cooper, and son.
— Cole Villena, Cassie Stephenson, Mariah Timms and Yihyun Jeong, The Tennessean
Crowds gathered outside loud but eschewing conflict
Demonstrators outside Belmont were loud but mostly eschewed conflict.
Biden supporters started a call-and-response chant from different sides of the street.
“We love Biden, yes we do! We love Biden, how bout you?” they said, back and forth chant across the intersection.
Opposing groups — including Biden and Trump supporters — largely stayed apart, staking out territory along different patches of sidewalk on Wedgewood Avenue.
Hundreds of people came to campus for the historic moment.
Bucket drummers chanted and sang protest songs. Preachers with megaphones criticized liberal policies. Throngs of people wearing American flag gear chanted, “Four more years.”
J.P. Spitz, 20, music business major at Belmont and Rocco Cipriano, 26, musician, are neighbors on 15th Avenue South across from campus.
When they heard all the noise, Cipriano suggested they grab their amps and jam.
“All the people were screaming and we wanted to do something,” Cipriano’s roommate John Owen, 25, said.
Spitz played from his balcony. Cipriano joined in from his front yard.
Electric guitar licks rose above the crowd as night fell.
Passing cars joined in, honking and blasting songs.
Stephanie and Duane Evans said they traveled to the debate from Ringgold, Georgia. Both voted early for Biden.
Stephanie Evans said that while Biden was not her first choice, they matched on issues she cared about, like reproductive rights, raising the minimum wage and affordable health care.
The couple have two daughters, one of whom is studying to be a teacher. Both worried that she would be unable to pay off her education on a teacher’s salary.
“I want to show my girls that it’s important to stand up for your rights, especially women’s rights,” Stephanie Evans said.
One nearby home had an “OPEN CUBA” sign on their hedges facing a campus roundabout. Residents were hosting a party, making Cuban food and smoking cigars.
Students lined up outside and dancing to the blaring music.
Betty Malo, 42, said the sign championed immigration reform.
“We can agree to disagree but I hate to be this close and not participating,” Malo said. “t would be a missed opportunity.”
On the other end of campus, near Belmont Boulevard, separate groups showed up to support Trump and Biden, respectively.
Kory Winning, 22, a Belmont student from Arkansas studying history showed up hours before the debate began.
“I’m here to support my president. I support him on social media, my friends support him, I’m going to vote for him, why wouldn’t I come out here today?” Winning said. “It’s not very often you get the president visiting down the street from your house.”
Across the street, Renee Kansan, 61, an out-of-work pastry chef, was on the opposite side of the political spectrum.
“I’m just so disturbed at the direction this country has taken under Trump and feel everyone has the responsibility to take a stance,“ Kansan said.
Some demonstrators didn’t support either major party candidate.
Zebedee Hackett-Reichet, 31, said he has attended protests since he was 8 months old and his mom got arrested at a Gulf War protest.
“I don’t believe in the two-party system, it is designed to divide us,” he said. “It’s important to listen to each other and find common ground and maybe someday come together. “
— Cole Villena and Mariah Timms, The Tennessean
Trump at downtown fundraiser; Biden awaiting debate at local home
The president and several members of the first family, including Ivanka and Tiffany Trump, were still at a downtown fundraiser late Thursday afternoon.
Kid Rock and Lee Greenwood were on hand at the JW Marriott hotel where the fundraiser is taking place.
Biden is staying at a local home while he awaits the debate.
— Natalie Neysa Alund and Adam Tamburin, The Tennessean
Biden arrives in Nashville
Biden’s plane landed in Nashville at 3:20 p.m., and his motorcade was rolling soon afterward.
The former vice president and his wife Jill Biden were wearing masks when they got off the plane.
Biden arrived a short time later to do a walk thru at Belmont ahead of the debate before leaving.
— Adam Tamburin, The Tennessean
Trump arrives at downtown fundraiser
Trump’s motorcade pulled up to the JW Marriott hotel for a fundraiser at about 3 p.m. He was ushered by throngs of Secret Service agents.
More than a hundred onlookers — including protesters and supporters — verbally sparred outside the hotel as Trump walked in. State troopers, Metro police and Nashville Fire Department ambulances lined streets.
Inside, hotel guests peered out large windows, many snapping photos.
— Natalie Neysa Alund, The Tennessean
Biden campaign: Debate down to temperament
In a briefing with reporters Thursday afternoon, Biden’s campaign emphasized that the evening debate would come down to temperament.
“The question isn’t the mic button,” said Symone Sanders, Biden’s senior adviser. “It’s whether Trump is coming for a serious discussion of his record and plans for the future, or more antics and distractions.”
Kate Bedingfield, Biden’s deputy campaign manager, said viewers would see a “powerful contrast” between the two men, suggesting that Trump may result to “hurling personal insults” at Biden’s family.
“We have certainly every expectation that Donald Trump is going to behave the way he did in the first debate,” Bedingfield said.
As the call wrapped up, Biden’s national press secretary TJ Ducklo, a Nashville native, offered reporters his expertise on the local dining scene.
“If you need restaurant recommendations, let me know, I’ve got thoughts,” Ducklo said at the end of the call.
— Natalie Allison, The Tennessean
Trump, Biden to visit debate site this afternoon
Trump and Biden are expected to visit the Curb Event Center at Belmont this afternoon, hours before their final debate is set to begin.
Trump arrived for a final walk-through of the debate site at about 2:30 p.m. Biden is expected on campus later this afternoon.
— Yihyun Jeong, The Tennessean
Trump greets crowd at Nashville airport
Trump and first lady Melania Trump exited Air Force One at about 2 p.m. The presidential motorcade was waiting.
The president waved to the crowd, including lines Tennessee Air National guardsman who stood in formation on the tarmac.
Local officials, including Republican Senate candidate Bill Hagerty and Tennessee House Speaker Cameron Sexton, were there to greet the Trumps.
— Holly Meyer, The Tennessean
Police prepare for Trump fundraiser in downtown Nashville
Scores of uniformed Nashville police officers, armed security guards and police dogs crowded the street in front of the JW Marriott hotel in downtown Nashville, where Trump is expected to appear for a fundraiser ahead of the debate.
A line of people waited inside after making their way past metal detectors and security pat downs.
At about 1:45 p.m. a handful of protesters carrying signs were escorted off the hotel property.
Police blocked the interstate between the airport and the downtown hotel after Air Force One landed in Nashville.
— Natalie Neysa Alund, The Tennessean
Trump arrives in Nashville, Biden expected soon
The sky over Nashville was sunny and nearly clear Thursday afternoon as members of the military, law enforcement, media and more waited for President Donald Trump’s arrival at Berry Field Air National Guard Base.
Air Force One landed just before 1:50 p.m.
Dozens of guardsman from the 118th Wing of the Tennessee Air National Guard stood in formation on the tarmac waiting for Air Force One to touch down. Nearby, several law enforcement officers also assembled beside their lined up motorcycles.
At about the same time, Biden’s motorcade arrived at a Delaware airport to take off for Nashville.
“Hopefully everyone’s been tested,” Biden told reporters before boarding the plane.
“We’re looking forward to this.”
— Holly Meyer and Adam Tamburin, The Tennessean
Labor organizers call for Biden, Trump to focus on workers during tonight’s debate
The Central Labor Council of Nashville and Middle Tennessee is calling on Joe Biden and Donald Trump to focus on key labor issues in tonight’s debate.
Representatives of the education, construction, hospitality and transportation industries called for the candidates to support labor unions, provide a new stimulus package and protect frontline workers during the pandemic.
“The working class built this country. The working class will continue to build this country,” said Jacen Davidson, president of the Iron Workers 492 labor union. “Give them good-paying jobs, give them a safe work environment, and we will do our job. And we will do it well.”
The news conference was held at the Nashville AFL-CIO labor union’s headquarters before a backdrop of pro-Biden campaign signs. The Central Labor Council will hold a larger event at 4 p.m., where members will hear from more speakers and then march from 14th Avenue South to Belmont’s campus, where tonight’s debate is taking place.
Brenda Waybrant, a restaurant worker who’s been out of work since just before the pandemic started in March, called the $600 unemployment check provided by the CARES Act a “lifeline.” She said extending the program, which expired on July 31, will be essential to keep jobseekers like herself afloat.
“For the first time in my life, I wasn’t worried about where money was going to come from paying my bills,” she said of the CARES Act funding. “Without it, I am scrambling, and I am worried.”
Stanley Cunningham of the Amalgamated Transit Union Local 1235 agreed, saying that transit workers need “a new stimulus package altogether.”
“People depend on this operation to get back and forth to their jobs,” he said. “We need the president that’s coming in to fund this.”
Amanda Kail, president of the Metro Nashville Education Association, called for increased protections to teachers and students as public schools reopen.
“It is unconscionable that we are demanding that teachers go back without providing them the safety to keep themselves and their students and their families safe,” she said. “Until that time, nobody should be setting foot in a classroom, and to say otherwise is to deliberately put in harm’s way our school employees, our students and their families.”
Jacen Davidson, representing construction workers, had a simpler message.
“If you want to make America great again, make unions great again,” he said.
— Cole Villena, The Tennessean
WeGo Transit announces service delays
Due to the presidential debate Thursday, all riders should be prepared for significant interruptions to service today, WeGo Public Transit announced.
From 10 a.m. to 8 p.m., 8th Avenue will be closed from Broadway to the roundabout requiring routes 8 8th Avenue South, 18 Airport, and 96 Nashville/Murfreesboro to be on detours.
There will also be other delays and detours due to motorcade travel and rolling street closures.
Riders traveling by the airport/Donelson, Belmont University, and areas south of downtown should also expect significant delays.
For more information visit https://www.nashvillemta.org/pdf/fn976.pdf.
— Natalie Neysa Alund, The Tennessean
Advocacy groups take to the sky with banners
Several advocacy groups’ planes were spotted flying around Nashville with banners Thursday morning prior to the evening’s slated debate.
About 9 a.m., an airplane banner reading “Mute The Bully & His Lies. Vote Biden” flew over the downtown area. The banner was commissioned by MoveOn Political Action, and according to a statement from the group, the banner reflects the demands made to mute Trump’s microphone after the first presidential debate.
About 9:20 a.m., massive airplane tow banners with anti-abortion slogans “Unborn Black Lives Matter” & “Vote Anti-Abortion” were also being pulled by a plane over downtown.
“We will demonstrate that the BLM Foundation and the Democratic Party do not care about hundreds of thousands of black lives – namely, all the preborn black babies that Planned Parenthood and other abortionists kill every year,” the group Created Equal, who commissioned the banners, said in a statement.
— Natalie Neysa Alund, The Tennessean
Biden tests negative for COVID-19 ahead of debate
Former Vice President Joe Biden tested negative for COVID-19 on Thursday morning. He took the test in Delaware before traveling to Nashville, according to his campaign.
“Vice President Biden underwent PCR testing for COVID-19 today and COVID-19 was not detected,” the campaign said.
Republican President Donald Trump and Joe Biden, the Democratic nominee, will both be tested for coronavirus before their final debate at Belmont University tonight, and all audience members will be required to wear masks throughout the event, according to an official from the Commission on Presidential Debates.
Peter Eyre, senior adviser for the commission, said the focus of the upcoming debates was “the tens millions of people who will be watching from around the world,” but the event will still have a small audience of about 200 people consisting of journalists, officials from the Commission and Belmont University, health safety workers and guests invited by each candidate, including family members.
— Duane W. Gang and Brett Kelman, The Tennessean
How the debate might change your commute
The following roads will be closed all day
The following roads will be closed from 10 a.m. until 8 p.m. due to a Trump fundraiser at the J.W. Marriott hotel downtown:
- 8th Avenue South from Broadway to the Roundabout
- Demonbreun Street from 6th to 10th Avenues South
- 9th Avenue South from Lea Avenue to Clark Place
- Clark Place from 8th to 10th Avenues South
How to watch
The 90-minute debate will start at 8 p.m. and will be broadcast on most major TV networks. It will be streamed online at Tennessean.com.
The Tennessean’s Civility Tennessee Facebook group is hosting a presidential debate virtual watch party from 7:30 p.m. to 10 p.m. in partnership with the Tennessee World Affairs Council.
The live streamed watch party will feature pre- and post-debate discussion with a bipartisan panel.