Live: President Trump and Joe Biden square off in first presidential debate

Live: President Trump and Joe Biden square off in first presidential debate

Follow our live coverage of the presidential debate between Donald Trump and Joe Biden. Be sure to refresh the page once we get closer to kickoff. 

Biden tweets photo of headphones and ice cream to mock Trump

The Joe Biden campaign had some pre-debate fun on Twitter, throwing shade on President Donald Trump’s accusations that Biden could be on performance-enhancing drugs and wearing an earpiece during the debate.

“It’s debate night, so I’ve got my earpiece and performance enhancers ready,” Biden tweeted with a photo of earphones and a tub of Jeni’s Splendid Ice Creams.

The choice of Jeni’s, based in Columbus, Ohio, was seemingly a nod to Cleveland, Ohio, which is hosting the debate.

It’s debate night, so I’ve got my earpiece and performance enhancers ready.

— Joe Biden (@JoeBiden) September 29, 2020

Trump has routinely level baseless accusations that Biden – whose mental fitness he has questioned throughout the campaign – is taking performance-enhancing drugs.  

The Trump campaign Tuesday accused the Biden campaign of agreeing several days ago to a “pre-debate inspection for electronic earpieces” but “abruptly reversed themselves” today.

During a press call Tuesday, Biden deputy campaign manager Kate Bedingfield said Biden will not be wearing an earpiece and fired back, alleging the Trump campaign asked debate moderator Chris Wallace to not mention the number of COVID-19 deaths during the debate.

— Joey Garrison 

How to watch?

Viewers can stream the match-up live at and all of our social platforms. The debate also will be aired on most major networks and cable news channels, including Fox News, CNN, ABC, CBS, NBC, MSNBC, PBS and C-SPAN.

The debate is scheduled to start at 9 p.m. ET. 

Presidential debate city: In the COVID era, it only takes a village

CLEVELAND – In a “normal” year, a presidential debate site is like a small city: Many hundreds of people roam sidewalks throughout the day, meeting, talking and generally taking in the scene.

This year’s opening debate at the Cleveland Clinic is more like a village, or a series of gated communities.

Fewer hundreds of people are hanging out this time, and most of them are in isolated cells required by hosts who want to block an outbreak of coronavirus at the most-watched event of the presidential election.

“This is very subdued and very scaled back,” said Aaron Kall, the director of debate at the University of Michigan who snagged a seat in the media filing center.


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Most print reporters are based in the filing center at the Intercontinental Hotel that sits in the middle of the Cleveland Clinic complex.

A few blocks over, most television reporters do stand-ups from positions in a white-tented city, entry to which requires a special credential. Previously, many television networks set up broadcast facilities from within the general media filing center.

In previous presidential years, the temporary citizens of debate cities past could walk down the street – or hang out at the filing center – and bump into folks like future George W. Bush presidential counselor Karen Hughes (in 2000) or future Barack Obama presidential press secretary Josh Earnest (in 2008).

Not so this year: Campaign officials are largely sequestered in spaces across the Cleveland Clinic campus, popping out mostly for television interviews that are largely sealed off.

One group remains in force even in this shrunken community: Security.

Blue-uniformed police officers and camouflage-clad soldiers patrolled campus throughout the day. They formed a large perimeter just outside the TV tents when Trump and Biden did walk-throughs in the debate hall itself. Security choppers whomped overhead during a cloudy, windy day.

In the late afternoon, less than a dozen anti-abortion demonstrators gathered but drew relatively little attention.

The television island is across the street from the debate hall, where Trump and Biden will probably feel the biggest effect from the scaled-back debate city.

Only 70 or so people will be allowed into the debate hall, and that could well affect the performances of the candidates.

As a political candidate, Trump has never debate before so small a crowd, and in the past, he has thrived on crowd reactions, Kall noted. Biden at least has the experience of having debated Democratic primary rival, Bernie Sanders, in front of no crowd at all.

“The lack of a crowd,” Kall said, “makes a huge difference.”

David Jackson

Today in #Election2020:

•There are 35 days to Election Day

•The first presidential debate takes place in Cleveland

— USA TODAY Politics (@usatodayDC) September 29, 2020

Who are Trump, Biden inviting?

A UFC fighter, a steelworker and an outspoken critic of the U.S. response to the coronavirus pandemic are among the guests President Donald Trump and former Vice President Joe Biden invited to watch the debate Tuesday.

For Trump, invited guests include UFC fighter Colby Covington; his personal attorney, Rudy Giuliani, and Alice Marie Johnson, a criminal justice reform advocate Trump pardoned in August. Johnson also spoke at the Republican National Convention last month.

Biden invited two Ohioans as guests: A union steelworker, James Evanoff Jr,. and Gurnee Green, a clothing shop owner. Another Biden guest: Kristin Urquiza, a Trump critic who spoke at the Democratic convention about how COVID-19 claimed her father’s life in June. 

The guest campaigns choose to highlight can signal messages they hope to raise: In this case, Trump’s decision to invite Johnson suggests he’ll discuss his bipartisan efforts to reform the criminal justice system. By choosing Urquiza, Biden is highlighting criticism of Trump’s handling of the pandemic.  

John Fritze and Courtney Subramanian

Milkshakes are on the menu at Pence’s debate watch party

Instead of cheering his boss on in Cleveland, Vice President Mike Pence kicked off a debate watch party for supporters in an old alfalfa field in Pennsylvania.

More than 250 people gathered at Meadow Spring Farm, a dairy farm in Lancaster County – although Pence, himself, didn’t stick around after speaking to the crowd. Instead, he returned to Washington, D.C., where he planned to watch the debate.

Attendees are dining on barbecue washed down with “Farm Show Milkshakes,” the dairy concoction usually sold at the state’s farm show but coming to Trump/Pence supporters via a food truck.

Adding to the carnival atmosphere is a makeshift photo booth set up in the barn, featuring hay bales, a tractor and a Trump/Pence sign.

Only a handful of supporters are using face masks. Trump campaign apparel is popular. Some are wearing traditional Amish or Mennonite apparel.

Trump won 57% of the vote in Lancaster County in 2016. And on the drive to the farm from the Lancaster airport, Pence was greeted by about 30 supporters waving Trump 2020 signs and chanting “Four more years.”

“Everyone here understands that pathway to victory runs right through where we are standing tonight,” Rep. Lloyd Smucker, R-Pa., said in remarks to the crowd that got them roaring when he mentioned

President Donald Trump’s Supreme Court nominee Amy Coney Barrett.

Maureen Groppe

No openers, no ‘spin room,’ no shakes

If the debate between President Donald Trump and former Vice President Joe Biden looks different from debates of the past, that will be by design – and due to the pandemic.

Trump and Biden agreed to skip the traditional handshake to open their first face-to-face match-up, for instance. The audience, meanwhile, will be less of a factor than it has been in the past: About 70 people will watch in person, compared with hundreds who attended in the past.

Also absent: The “spin room,” where campaign surrogates give interviews to crowds of journalists as they make their case on why their candidate won the debate. Those interactions can shape the post-debate coverage, which is how millions of Americans learn about the key exchanges.

Trump, Biden and moderator Chris Wallace will not be required to wear masks once they take the stage, said Peter Eyre, a senior adviser to the Commission on Presidential Debates. But nothing prevents Biden from wearing one as he walks onto the stage, which would almost certainly draw the first contrast between himself and Trump.

Courtney Subramanian and John Fritze

Just the facts

USA TODAY is going to have a team of experts who will be offering up facts during the debates. Will COVID-19 be a major topic tonight? Yeah, that’s likely. Thankfully we’ve covered the topic extensively and can offer in-the-moment context and facts.

The Supreme Court, health care, taxes and border security could all become topics of debate tonight. No worries, we’ve got you covered. 

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