Kristen Welker, a White House correspondent for NBC News and a co-anchor of Weekend Today, will moderate the final 2020 presidential debate between President Donald Trump and Democratic nominee Joe Biden on Thursday in Nashville, Tennessee.
Welker interned with the Today show while a student at Harvard University and has been with NBC full time since 2005. She started as a reporter and weekend anchor at NBC’s affiliate station in her hometown of Philadelphia, then became a correspondent at the West Coast headquarters of NBC News in 2010. Welker, who has been a White House correspondent for the network since 2011, was named co-anchor of Weekend Today in January 2020.
On Friday, the Commission on Presidential Debates announced the six topics for the final face-off between Trump and Biden: fighting Covid-19, American families, race in America, climate change, national security, and leadership. But just as they did for the first presidential debate, the subjects have already sparked some controversy.
The Trump campaign sent a letter to the commission on Monday, demanding a bigger focus on foreign policy. The president sees foreign policy as a winning issue for him, as he can discuss his administration’s efforts to normalize relations between Israel and the United Arab Emirates — and, potentially, raise conspiracy theories about Biden, his son Hunter, and Ukraine — and deflect attention from his mishandling of the Covid-19 pandemic. Trump campaign manager Bill Stepien accused the commission of “pro-Biden antics.”
Biden’s national press secretary, TJ Ducklo, said in a statement that both campaigns agreed months ago that it would be up to the moderator to select the topics.
Trump and his campaign criticizing a debate moderator is par for the course, although this time they’re getting started before the debate itself. At a rally in Arizona on Monday, the president called Welker a “radical Democrat,” saying she will be “no good.” That followed his tweet from last Saturday, when he said Welker has “always been terrible [and] unfair, just like most of the Fake News reporters.”
Welker works for the same network as Savannah Guthrie, who moderated Trump’s town hall event last week to widespread commendation. As Vox’s Emily Stewart explained, Guthrie “came in ready”:
She didn’t let Trump just drone on in silence, but she also didn’t come back at him with a list of facts. She just asked him to explain himself, to really answer her question, to just say the thing that is true.
Guthrie was blasted on right-wing media after the event, with Sean Hannity of Fox News saying she was nasty to Trump.
Whether Welker will have a similar experience with both men on stage remains to be seen. She was one of four moderators for a Democratic primary debate in fall 2019, but this will be her first time moderating a general-election debate. Fox News anchor Chris Wallace and USA Today Washington bureau chief Susan Page, who moderated the first presidential debate and the vice presidential debate, respectively, struggled to assert control at times, so the pressure will be on Welker to help maintain order.
The debate commission made a recent rule change that should help her in that area: Both Biden and Trump will have two uninterrupted minutes to make their opening remarks for each discussion topic, during which time the other candidate’s mic will be turned off. After that, they’ll be allowed to talk back and forth about the issues.