2nd presidential debate questioned after Trump opposes virtual format

Washington – The status of the second presidential debate between President Trump and Joe Biden was questioned on Thursday after the commission that organized the event said it would be held virtually to minimize the risk of the coronavirus spreading.

The Presidential Debates Commission announced that the second debate scheduled for Oct. 15 in Miami would instead feature virtual appearances by the two candidates, a change the president quickly called “unacceptable”, marking the start of a dizzying day of statements by the President. back and forth. between campaigns that jeopardize the status of future debates.

“I am not going to waste my time on a virtual debate. That is not the purpose of the debate,” Mr. Trump said in a maintenance with Fox Business presenter Maria Bartiromo earlier in the morning. “You sit behind a computer and have a debate, it’s ridiculous. And then they cut you off whenever they want.”

Mr Trump’s decision to forgo the event also led the Biden campaign to back down, with deputy campaign manager Kate Bedingfield urging the commission to reschedule town hall for the following week. Bedingfield said the campaign was ready to accept the new format, but would now find “a suitable place to answer voters’ questions directly” on the day of the debate. Hours later, ABC News announced he would organize a municipal event with Biden on October 15, moderated by George Stephanopoulos.

Bill Stepien, Mr Trump’s campaign manager who also recently tested positive for the virus, confirmed the president’s decision after his interview with Fox Business. “We will pass on this sad excuse to bail out Joe Biden and organize a rally instead,” he said in a statement. In a second statement, Stepien agreed that the second debate should be moved to October 22 and the third to October 29.

“We are okay with this happening on October 22 and therefore the third debate should then be postponed for a week until October 29,” Stepien said.

But the Biden campaign rejected Stepien’s proposal to postpone the third and final debate, Bedingfield issuing another statement saying: “Donald Trump doesn’t schedule debates; the Debates Committee does.”

“Trump’s erratic behavior does not allow him to rewrite the schedule and pick new dates of his choosing,” she said. “We look forward to participating in the final debate, scheduled for October 22, which is already tied for the last debate date in 40 years. Donald Trump can run, or he can decline again. It’s his choice.”

Then on Thursday evening, the Trump campaign released another statement calling for the second debate to proceed as scheduled on October 15. She highlighted the statement by Mr Trump’s doctor, Dr Sean Conley, predicting that the president would be healthy enough to resume public events on Saturday, 10 days after his initial diagnosis of COVID. Noting that Saturday is five days before the initial debate date, the campaign statement argued, “So there is no medical reason why the Presidential Debates Committee should move the debate to a virtual setting, postpone it. or modify it in any way. . “

“[T]The DPC must change course and let the debate continue, ”the campaign argued.

The committee rejected the proposal, according to the Associated Press, which reported Thursday evening: “The chairman of the Presidential Debates Committee said he was not considering moving the second debate from virtual to in-person, despite a request from President Donald Trump. team.”

In its unexpected announcement early Thursday morning, the non-partisan debate committee said the second debate “would take the form of a city assembly, in which candidates would participate from separate remote locations.” The change was made “in order to protect the health and safety of all involved in the second presidential debate,” the group said.

Right after the commission’s statement, Biden’s campaign announced he would participate, with Bedingfield saying the former vice president “looks forward to speaking directly to the American people and comparing his plan to bring the country together.” But Biden himself told reporters he didn’t know what he would do if the president didn’t participate, until the campaign announced he would step down as well.

“I don’t know what the president is going to do. He changes his mind every second,” Biden said on the tarmac before boarding a plane in Wilmington, Delaware. “For me to comment on this now would be irresponsible. I think if I can follow the commission’s recommendations – if he leaves and holds a rally, I – I don’t know what I’ll do.”

Mr Trump told Fox Business the commission did not notify the campaign of its decision to change the format of the debate before announcing it publicly. A source familiar with the ongoing debate negotiations told CBS News that the commission did not consult any of the campaigns before taking action, saying the commission “decided this unilaterally.”

President tested positive for coronavirus and started experiencing symptoms a week ago, Oct. 1, according to White House doctor Sean Conley. The president had been asymptomatic for more than 24 hours on Wednesday, according to Conley.

The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) recommended those who fall “seriously ill” from COVID-19 – including those who need hospitalization and supplemental oxygen, which is true for the president – to avoid being with them others for at least 10 days after the onset of symptoms, and possibly up to 20 days. The CDC says patients should see their doctors to see if this period could be shortened if and when they start to test negative for the virus. The White House doctor did not say whether the president continued to be positive.

Mr Trump told Fox Business he remains on dexamethasone, a potent steroid, as he recovers from COVID-19.

The first debate between the two candidates last week was a chaotic affair, characterized by frequent interruptions by the president which prompted the Debates Committee to consider new rules allowing the moderator to enforce deadlines. The second debate was to be moderated by Steve Scully of C-SPAN.

Full Trump-Biden debate


Ed O’Keefe and Sara Cook contributed reporting.

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