Presidential debate committee to silence candidates during their opponent’s first responses to avoid interruptions

The decision came after the committee met on Monday afternoon to discuss potential changes to the debate format rules. They decided the changes were necessary because of how the first debate between Biden and Trump escalated into chaos, with the president frequently interrupting the former vice president.

“I’m going to participate. I just think it’s very unfair,” Trump said, when asked by reporters about the change on Monday.

A source close to the commission told CNN that the decision to turn off the microphones was unanimous among its members and stressed that “this is not a rule change but rather a move to promote compliance with the rules agreed by the two campaigns “.

“A change in the rules would have required protracted and ultimately, in our opinion, unworkable negotiations between the two campaigns,” the source said.

Yet the change drew a swift rebuke from Trump campaign communications director Tim Murtaugh, who accused, without evidence, that the commission’s decision was an “attempt to favor their preferred candidate.”

But Trump, Murtaugh said in a statement, is still “determined to debate Joe Biden” regardless of the change.

The commission’s statement appeared to anticipate the wrath of Trump and his campaign, who have repeatedly signaled that any change in procedures would be unacceptable to them.

“We realize, after discussions with both campaigns, that neither campaign can be fully satisfied with the measures announced today,” the statement said. “You might think they are going too far, and you might think they are not going far enough. We are convinced that these actions strike the right balance and that they are in the best interests of the American people, for whom these actions. debates are held. “

Muting will work as follows: At the start of each of the six segments of the debate, each candidate will have two minutes to answer a first question. During this game, the opposing candidate’s microphone will be muted.

“According to the agreed debate rules, each candidate should have two uninterrupted minutes to make remarks at the start of each 15-minute segment of the debate. These remarks should be followed by a period of open discussion,” the committee said. in a report. “Both campaigns this week have once again reaffirmed their agreement to the unbroken two-minute rule.”

The statement continued: “The Commission announces today that in order to apply this agreed rule, the only candidate whose microphone will be open during these two-minute periods is the candidate who has the floor according to the rules. For the rest of each segment, which by design is meant to be dedicated to open discussion, the microphones of both candidates will be open. “

Both microphones will be reactivated once each candidate has delivered their two-minute answer.

“During the periods devoted to the open discussion, the Commission hopes that the candidates will respect each other’s time, which will advance the civil discourse for the benefit of the public,” the statement said. “As in the past, the moderator will allocate approximately the same time between the two speakers during the 90 minutes. Time taken during interruptions will be returned to the other candidate.”

The committee’s second presidential debate was called off after Trump refused to enter a virtual competition, a change that was made due to his positive coronavirus diagnosis.

Following the first debate, the committee did not specify what changes it would make, but its statement at the time indicated that it intended “to ensure that additional tools to maintain order be in place for the remaining debates “.

The commission was also to certify that Trump and Biden met the 15% threshold of the polls needed to qualify for the debate at Monday’s meeting.

Biden had made it clear that he wanted the debate committee to change the rules and said the way Trump conducted himself in the first debate was a “national embarrassment.”

“I just hope there is a way the Debate Committee can control our ability to answer questions without interruption,” Biden said the day after the first debate.

The Trump campaign had previously spoken out against any rule changes. Murtaugh told CNN in a statement after the first debate that the committee “shouldn’t move the goalposts and change the rules in the middle of the game.”

In a letter to the committee on Monday, Trump’s campaign manager Bill Stepien previously called the muting of candidates’ microphones “unacceptable.”

“It is totally unacceptable that anyone wielding such power, and a decision to make this change amounts to giving additional editorial control of the debate to the Commission which has already demonstrated its bias towards Biden,” Stepien wrote in a statement released before. the campaign accepted the change.

He had also criticized the subjects announced for Thursday’s debate for not being more focused on foreign policy. The commission announced last week that the topics would be “Fighting COVID-19,” “American Families,” “Race in America,” “Climate Change,” “National Security” and “Leadership”.

“We urge you to recalibrate the subjects,” Stepien wrote in the letter. At no point did Stepien indicate that Trump would withdraw from the third debate if the change was not made.

Biden spokesman TJ Ducklo responded to the Trump campaign’s complaint, saying in a statement: “The campaigns and the Commission agreed months ago that the debate moderator would pick the topics. The Trump campaign lies about it now because Donald Trump is afraid to face more questions about his disastrous response to COVID. As usual, the President is more concerned with the rules of a debate than he gets at a nation in crisis the help she needs. ”

This story and its title have been updated with the commission’s change to the rules of debate and comments from the Trump and Biden campaigns.

CNN’s Kevin Bohn and Paul LeBlanc contributed to this report.

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