Who is Kristen Welker? A look at the life and career of the moderator ahead of final presidential debate
Following the cancellation of the October 15 debate, all eyes are now on Welker as she takes the spot for the final showdown
President Donald Trump and his Democratic rival Joe Biden will finally lock horns in the presidential debate ahead of Election Day after the second one was canceled. Set to be moderated by Kristen Welker, it will be held at Belmont University in Nashville, Tennessee on Thursday, October 22, 2020, from 8 pm to 9.30 pm CDT.
Originally, the debate was designed to be the third one in line but now it's only the second one following the cancellation of the October 15 debate due to Covid-19 concerns and a series of back-and-forths between the Trump and Biden campaigns. Both the moderators assigned for the first and second debates — Chris Wallace of Fox News and Steve Scully of C-SPAN — faced much scrutiny for being biased.
Now, all eyes are on Kristen Welker as she takes the spot for the final showdown. The Commission on Presidential Debates announced last month that the NBC News White House correspondent and co-anchor of 'Weekend TODAY' will oversee the debacle. She previously co-moderated one of the debates during the Democratic primary campaign last year. Before the debate is held, let's take a look at her early years, life and career.
Who is Kristen Welker?
Born in Philadelphia on July 1, 1976, Welker was raised by her mother Julie — a prominent Black real estate broker who ran for City Council — and her Native American father Harvey — who works as a consulting engineer — in the city's Fairmount neighborhood. After attending Germantown Friends School (Class of '94) in Philadelphia, she graduated from Harvard College with a Bachelor of Arts in 1998 and majored in history.
One of her 11th-grade English teachers Anne Gerbner called her “inquisitive, warm-hearted, a great communicator and serious-minded but also very funny” and told the Chestnut Hill Local in January, “... (M)y main memory is ... the class would pretty much start because she would walk in and ask a question.”
More than two decades ago in 1997, she took her first step toward pursuing her dream of being a journalist as an NBC intern for TODAY. Did you know she first dreamed to be a journalist when she was just in sixth grade? After starting her professional career as a researcher for Weekend TODAY, she began her on-air job at ABC affiliates WLNE-TV in Providence, Rhode Island, and KRCR-TV in Redding, California.
In 2010, she joined NBC News as a correspondent based at the NBC News West Coast Headquarters in Burbank, California, and became a White House correspondent in December 2011. Back in January, she was named co-anchor of Weekend TODAY with her good friend and fellow NBC News White House correspondent Peter Alexander.
Welker abides by a piece of advice that journalist Soledad O’Brien gave her at the start of her career: “Kristen, the job of a journalist is to listen.”
White House correspondent for the Obamas
Back in 2008, Welker covered the presidential election and interviewed Barack Obama, Hillary Clinton, and John McCain. That was a pivotal time in her career to get her up the ladder at NBC News. “I can’t remember a time when I didn’t want to be a White House correspondent,” she told Philly Mag in 2011 after taking up residence at the White House. “This is the most exciting moment of my life.”
The report described her typical workday “from 6 am to 7 pm and she’s on call 24/7.” It further elaborated on how she traveled to Burma with then-Secretary of State Hillary Clinton and to South Africa with then-First Lady Michelle Obama. If that was not all, she accompanied then-president Barack Obama throughout Europe for the G8 Summit.
“It was incredibly exciting,” she recalled. “It felt like a new level of being; like I was actually a member of the White House press corps at that moment … I knew I wouldn’t have been called on if I hadn’t put in so much time in being at the White House.” She also said, “This is all I ever wanted to do. My goal right now is to become a great White House correspondent. If NBC would have me, I’d be happy to be here for years and years.”
A look at her career as an anchor
Welker got the seat as the co-anchor after Sheinelle Jones' announcement that she will be stepping away from the show to spend more time with her family. “This is something that you dream about that I've worked so hard for,” Welker said. “It is the honor of a lifetime. It's coming full circle.”
To welcome her in the role, TODAY played archival footage of a 21-year-old Welker — a student at Harvard University back then reading the news for her demo reel in her internship days, as per an NBC Boston report. Reminiscing those days, she said, “To have come here as an intern for the TODAY show, to shoot that reel — I looked so serious,” adding, “To be terrified like that and then to come and sit at this desk, to sit next to my friend Peter Alexander every Saturday, it is the honor of a lifetime.”
Looking back at her career, she also said, “I promised myself I wasn't going to get emotional but that was unbelievable.” Her friend Alexander added, “Kristen is what I call my ‘big little sister’” He added, “She is one of my best friends in the world, not just professionally but personally. I really do consider her a part of my family.”
Controversies and links to Democrats
Just like the past debate moderators, Trump and his son Donald Trump, Jr didn't bat an eyelid before taking a swipe at her. Trump Jr, who has been actively involved in his dad's reelection campaign, cited a New York Post article titled ‘Kristen Welker, upcoming presidential debate moderator, has deep Democrat ties’ and tweeted, “Yikes! Here we go again.” Retweeting his son's post, Trump wrote, “She’s always been terrible & unfair, just like most of the Fake News reporters, but I’ll still play the game. The people know! How’s Steve Scully doing?”
Yikes! Here we go again 🙄 https://t.co/MqvVUeoGM9— Donald Trump Jr. (@DonaldJTrumpJr) October 17, 2020
She’s always been terrible & unfair, just like most of the Fake News reporters, but I’ll still play the game. The people know! How’s Steve Scully doing? https://t.co/uS3EWzfFPy— Donald J. Trump (@realDonaldTrump) October 17, 2020
In 2012, Welker and her family celebrated Christmas at the White House with the Obamas. A photo from Kristen's Facebook page shows the reporter posing with the Obama family. The picture soon made its way to Twitter and was shared by several users. Todd Starnes wrote, “And here's a photograph of the next moderator of the @debates #KristenWelker.”
The New York Post report reads: “Welker comes from an established Democratic family — who have poured cash into party coffers, and to Trump opponents, for years.” It further went on to state that her family has donated “tens of thousands of dollars to Democratic candidates and close to $20,000 to Barack Obama alone. There was also $3,300 for Joe Biden’s 2020 campaign and $2,100 for Hillary Clinton’s doomed 2016 presidential effort against Trump. Another $7,300 was contributed to the Democratic National Committee between 2004 and 2020.”
Although Kristen Welker’s party registration is not listed today, she was a registered Democrat in Washington, DC, in 2012 and in Rhode Island in 2004. The report discloses that she deleted her Twitter account a while back to remove attention from her past statements and views. It was later restored. “Anyone who’s ever dealt with Welker knows she’s an activist, not a reporter. The White House press team views her the same way they would AOC or Pelosi if they walked in the office,” a senior White House official told The Post.