Biden-Trump debate: What you didn’t see on TV from inside — and outside — the showdown in Atlanta

ATLANTA — The debate between President Biden and former President Donald Trump on Thursday night was watched and streamed by millions on CNN both on television and online. But there was much more that viewers didn’t see, like the unprecedented security outside the debate hall, the giddy Trump surrogates flooding the spin room, the Robert Kennedy Jr. fans doling out lemonade on the sidewalk and the curious Georgia Tech students playing beer pong while watching the waves of media roll into a basketball arena that served as a filing center for hundreds of credentialed journalists.

Here are four things you didn't see on TV from inside — and outside — the debate hall.

Large building at the end of an orange-cone-lined road ending with chain link fence. The building has large signs reading: CNN presidential debate
This is literally as close as credentialed members of the media were allowed to get to the debate, which was held in an empty studio in the building beyond the temporary metal barricades across the street from the media center. (Dylan Stableford/Yahoo News)

There had never been a debate between a current and former president before Thursday, and the security surrounding the debate was indicative of that. A giant steel barricade blocked the street between the debate hall and the so-called spin room, which was on the floor of McCamish Pavilion, an 1,800-seat basketball arena on the Georgia Tech campus.

There was only one entrance for credentialed journalists, who were wanded and asked to go through metal detectors.

A general view of the CNN Spin Room.
A general view of the CNN "Spin Room" inside McCamish Pavilion. (Dylan Stableford/Yahoo News)

That studio itself, across the street with the barriers, was empty save for the two candidates, co-moderators Jake Tapper and Dana Bash, and a handful of camera operators and still photographers — making it the first presidential debate without an in-person audience since 1960, when the first televised presidential debate aired.

So the hundreds of reporters who traveled to Atlanta watched a live feed of the debate on dozens of flatscreens scattered around the McCamish Pavilion and on the jumbotron above the “spin room,” which was nearly empty throughout the 90-minute debate.

That included the traveling White House press pool, which was not permitted to enter the debate hall.

Lara Trump speaks to reporters.
Lara Trump, co-chair of the Republican National Committee, speaks to reporters in the spin room following the debate in Atlanta on Thursday. (Andrew Harnik/Getty Images)

Moments after the debate concluded, Trump's surrogates — a lot of them, in fact — were on the floor of the CNN spin room. And they were in a great mood.

Among them: Republican National Committee co-chair Lara Trump, Sen. Marco Rubio of Florida, Sens. Tim Scott and Lindsey Graham of South Carolina, Reps. Byron Donalds and Matt Gaetz of Florida, Rep. Elise Stefanik of New York, former Republican presidential candidate Vivek Ramaswamy, and Trump campaign advisers Corey Lewandowski, David Bossie and Stephen Miller, each fanning out across the McCamish Pavilion, questioning — like some Democrats — whether President Biden is fit for office.

"As president of the United States, you have to adapt, you have a lot of things coming at you at all times," Lara Trump said. "If he had a cold, maybe that's what they're gonna tell people. But I don't think that the cold is the problem."

"Joe Biden was lost on several topics," Donalds said. "They kept asking, I think the moderators asked him several times, 'You have 89 seconds left, you have 34 seconds left, President Biden. Do you want to add to your answer?' You can't have that in our country."

"I think anybody who loves the United States of America today recognizes it is a national security threat for this man to be responsible for defending the United States of America," Ramaswamy said. "This isn't just funny anymore. This is dangerous."

Reporters hold cameras above their heads.
Reporters swarm Biden surrogates, including Sen. Raphael Warnock and California Gov. Gavin Newsom. (Dylan Stableford/Yahoo News)

When Biden's surrogates, including Sen. Raphael Warnock and California Gov. Gavin Newsom, arrived about 20 minutes later, they were swarmed by reporters and camera crews. The scrum was too deep for this reporter to hear their spin.

A woman stands at a lemonade stand below a sign that reads: CNN lemons = Kennedy lemonade
A woman hands out lemonade in protest of Robert F. Kennedy Jr. being left off of CNN's debate stage. (Dylan Stableford/Yahoo News)

Robert F. Kennedy Jr. did not qualify for Thursday night's debate. But on the streets surrounding the debate site, his fans were out in full force. One, Kyle Kemper, a Canadian who now lives in Florida, showed up in a large RV with his family. (It's the first stop on what Kemper said will be a summerlong tour that includes stops at both the Democratic and Republican national conventions as well as former President Donald Trump's sentencing hearing in New York next month.)

Kyle Kemper stands next to a child  in front of an RV.
Kyle Kemper, a Canadian who now resides in Florida, is driving his young family around the U.S. in an RV in support of Robert F. Kennedy Jr.'s long-shot presidential bid. (Dylan Stableford/Yahoo News)

Another set up a lemonade stand and handed out free lemonade along with leaflets promoting Kennedy's live debate counterprogramming.

The lemonade, it should be noted, was organic from Trader Joe's — and was delicious.

Cup filled with ice and liquid reading: Kennedy for president 2024
The aforementioned lemonade. (Dylan Stableford/Yahoo News)

And RFK Jr. did win at least one debate-related contest: the yard-sign battle outside the arena.

An RFK Jr. campaign sign is seen in front of a Biden-Harris one in a mulch bed along a brick sidewalk.
An RFK Jr. campaign sign is seen in front of a Biden-Harris one outside the debate in Atlanta. (Dylan Stableford/Yahoo News)
Three people smiling, two on lawn chairs, one standing behind them, on a lawn between buildings.
Students at Georgia Tech's Phi Gamma Delta across the street from the media check-in for Thursday's debate. (Dylan Stableford/Yahoo News)

The media check-in for the debate was across from Georgia Tech's fraternity row, and some curious students at Phi Gamma Delta were out on the lawn early as journalists picked up their credentials.

Brandon, 20, Caleb, 22, and Michael, 21, said they were planning to have a debate watch party at the fraternity house, with some beers, of course. (Nearly every fraternity house has a beer pong table set up on its front lawn.)

The students said they were engaged but still undecided about the race.

"There's a lot going on, trying to wrap my head around everything and do my research," Brandon said. "I think that's the most important thing, is to make an informed decision."

The members of nearby Kappa Alpha, pictured below, appear to have their minds made up about the election.

Members of Georgia Tech's Kappa Alpha fraternity sit outside their fraternity house ahead of Thursday night's debate. (Dylan Stableford/Yahoo News)
Members of Georgia Tech's Kappa Alpha fraternity watch as members of the media arrive ahead of Thursday’s debate. (Dylan Stableford/Yahoo News)

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  • Swing state voters react to presidential debate, Biden's weak performance. "At a watch party organized by the Biden campaign, some voters were adamant that Biden had a strong debate performance, while others expressed reservations." [ABC News]

  • Who won the Biden-Trump debate? Biden's freeze draws age concerns. "The biggest moment of the night came early, when Biden froze for several seconds while answering a question about the economy." [USA Today]

  • Fact Focus: Here's a look at some of the false claims made during Biden and Trump's first debate. "President Joe Biden and former President Donald Trump traded barbs and a variety of false and misleading information." [Associated Press]

  • After a devastating debate performance, Biden aides try to reassure panicky Democrats. "Biden aides stressed that whatever happened on the debate stage, the fundamentals of the race are unchanged." [NBC News]

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