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Kristen Welker gets praise as debate moderator, including from Trump

Welker's turn as debate moderator won her praise from people watching at home and from President Trump, who had previously called her 'unfair.'

Presidential debate moderator Kristen Welker received praise for her performance Thursday night from an unexpected source: President Donald Trump.

After spending the week calling Welker "unfair" and a "radical Democrat," Trump took a moment during his debate with former Vice President Joe Biden to tell Welker she was doing a good job.

“So far I respect very much the way you are handling this, I have to say," Trump said.

Welker, an NBC White House correspondent, was facing a bright spotlight following the widely criticized performance of Chris Wallace in the first debate.

Thursday night's debate was less chaotic than the first one. The two candidates -- particularly Trump -- did not interrupt each other nearly as much. Also helping Welker was the fact that each candidate had their microphones cut off for two minutes at the start of each segment so the other could speak uninterrupted.

“I'm jealous,” said Fox News Channel's Wallace. “I would have loved to have been able to moderate that debate and get a real exchange of views instead of hundreds of interruptions.”

Credit: AP
Moderator Kristen Welker of NBC News is listens as President Donald Trump and Democratic presidential candidate former Vice President Joe Biden participate in the final presidential debate at Belmont University, Thursday, Oct. 22, 2020, in Nashville, Tenn. (Jim Bourg/Pool via AP)

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Last weekend, the president tweeted Welker has “always been terrible and unfair, just like most of the Fake News reporters.” He also called her a "radical Democrat," according to The Hill.

Some of Trump's supporters also dug up evidence that Welker's parents had contributed to Democratic campaigns in the past as a way of questioning her objectivity. There have been no such accusations levied against Welker, a registered independent.

When the candidates were allowed to more directly engage, Welker was generally successful in striking the balance between giving them room and cutting off the discussion when it was becoming unproductive.

“Ten seconds, Mr. President, then I have to move on,” she said during a health care discussion.

She was attuned to the news, asking Trump how he would reunite families separated at the southern border following the revelation that the government had lost track of the parents of hundreds of children. She twice followed up when the president didn't directly address the question.

Welker had a sharp retort to Trump when he dodged a question on why the government had failed to agree on a new stimulus package for families suffering financially from the coronavirus.

“Because Nancy Pelosi doesn't want to approve it,” he said.

“But you're the president,” Welker replied.

Welker asked Biden to directly address Americans who feared that his approach to health care would mean too much government involvement, and to square his desire to improve the environment without harming the economy.

She also didn't shy away from recent stories about Biden's son Hunter's involvement in foreign companies and allegations that he took advantage of his father's role as vice president. Somewhat oddly, it was Biden who first brought it up by criticizing Trump's lawyer, Rudolph Giuliani.

"Was there anything about these relationships that was inappropriate or unethical?' Welker asked.

Similarly, in talking about recent reports of a Trump bank account in China, she asked the president, “How can voters know that you don't have any conflicts of interest?”

Welker, a 44-year-old Harvard graduate who was the first Black woman to moderate a presidential debate since 1992, asked the candidates in personal terms what they would say to minorities who felt they had prepare their children for the possibility that law enforcement could target them for the color of their skin.

Some conservatives said on social media that they believed Welker was quicker to cut Trump off than Biden and introduced subjects — the coronavirus, race and climate change — that helped the Democrat.

But she received praise for her performance from across the political spectrum, including conservative personalities Ben Shapiro and Brit Hume.

“Kristen Welker is putting on a master class on how to moderate a presidential debate,” tweeted Philip Rucker, a Washington Post reporter.

Not everyone was thrilled with Welker's performance.

"Does the moderator EVER let Trump finish an answer?" asked conservative Ann Coulter.

But conservative Ben Shapiro gave her props about 30 minutes into the debate.

Some even declared Welker the winner of the debate.