Donald Trump and Joe Biden will face off in the second and final presidential debate tonight, which will hopefully be less of a train-wreck than…whatever that first one was. In an attempt to foster a more orderly debate, the nonpartisan Commission on Presidential Debates announced earlier this week that Trump and Biden will have their microphones cut during the other’s opening remarks. Both candidates will also be guaranteed two minutes to speak, uninterrupted, after each question. But despite these efforts, it’s still 2020 — there’s no way this debate won’t get a little messy.
Trump has strong feelings about the debate topics, which were announced on Friday and include COVID-19, leadership, and racism in America. He also has a lot to say about the moderator, NBC News correspondent Kristen Welker. Trump wrote on Twitter that Welker is “terrible,” “unfair,” and “just like most of the Fake News reporters.” Basically, she might be the exact moderator we need right now.
So, who is the moderator who has already caught Trump's Fake News eye? Welker first joined NBC News in 2010, and became a White House correspondent one year later. She also regularly appears on NBC shows, including Meet the Press, and co-anchors the Weekend Today show.
But this won’t be her first time moderating a chaotic debate or questioning Trump’s life-threatening policies. According to her Weekend Today show bio, she’s known for her sharp questioning during White House press briefings. In one viral moment, she asked former White House Press Secretary Sarah Huckabee Sanders if Trump had ever racial slurs; in another, she grilled former U.S. Homeland Security Secretary Kirstjen Nielsen about the whereabouts of the young girls at border detention facilities, spawning the “Where Are The Girls” movement on and offline.
Welker doesn’t just have a history of mic-drop moments, though. She has also won multiple awards for her work, including the Washington Women in Journalism Awards’ Outstanding Broadcast Journalist Award and a 2015 Emmy for her coverage of the Malaysia Airlines Flight 17 crash and subsequent investigation.
More recently, Welker moderated one of last Fall’s Democratic debates. Although Trump has accused her of bias, she didn’t hold back from asking Democratic candidates tough questions, too: she grilled Elizabeth Warren, Bernie Sanders, and Biden about their positions on Medicare for All, economic inequality, and America’s housing problem.
Welker’s most notable question, though, was about racism: she directly asked the lineup of Democratic candidates how, as leaders, they would address white supremacist violence in America. And it is likely she’ll press Trump on the same topic after he (now infamously) told the Proud Boys, a white supremacist group, to “stand back and stand by” during the first debate. Although moderator Chris Wallace repeatedly asked Trump to clarify his stance on white supremacy, the general consensus was that Wallace didn’t do enough to keep Trump on track (or stop him from interrupting Biden dozens of times).
But Trump’s campaign manager, Bill Stepien, already wrote an open letter demanding that the Commission on Presidential Debates change the debate’s focus. Stepien argued that the final presidential debate should focus on foreign policy, and suggested that Welker’s chosen topics were adequately addressed in September’s debate.
Biden’s press secretary, TJ Ducklo, disagreed. “The campaigns and the Commission agreed months ago that the debate moderator would choose the topics,” Ducklo said, per the BBC. “The Trump campaign is lying about that now because Donald Trump is afraid to face more questions about his disastrous COVID response. As usual, the president is more concerned with the rules of a debate than he is getting a nation in crisis the help it needs.”
After Trump and Biden were supposed to partake in a virtual debate last week while Trump recovered from COVID-19, there's no telling what the president will do tonight. Last week, Trump deemed a virtual debate a “waste of time,” opting for a town hall instead. But he received a whiplashing from NBC’s Savannah Guthrie, who grilled Trump on his taxes, COVID-19 response, and dubious retweets. This time, though, Trump will have to grapple with being literally cut off.
But we can only hope that Welker will pick up right where Guthrie left off — this week, no one has the energy for a repeat of night number one.