The Commission on Presidential Debates announced the upcoming forum will feature the two candidates participating “from separate remote locations.”
By QUINT FORGEY
President Donald Trump said Thursday that he would not participate in the second televised debate with Democratic nominee Joe Biden next week after the nonpartisan commission responsible for producing the forums announced that it will be conducted virtually.
“I’m not going to waste my time on virtual debate. That’s not what debating is all about,” Trump said in an interview with Maria Bartiromo of Fox Business. “You sit behind a computer and do a debate. It’s ridiculous, and then they cut you off whenever they want.”
The remarks from Trump came shortly after the Commission on Presidential Debates revealed Thursday morning that the town hall-style event on Oct. 15 would feature the two candidates participating “from separate remote locations.”https://36da60b41163d339215175e5eb2ea0d5.safeframe.googlesyndication.com/safeframe/1-0-37/html/container.html
The town hall participants and moderator Steve Scully of C-SPAN will be located as planned at the Adrienne Arsht Center for the Performing Arts in Miami, the commission said.
The shift to a virtual format comes as Trump continues treatment for Covid-19 at the White House, after being discharged from Walter Reed National Military Medical Center on Monday evening.
Trump campaign manager Bill Stepien reaffirmed the president’s position in a statement Thursday, saying Trump will “pass on this sad excuse to bail out Joe Biden and do a rally instead.”
Stepien claimed that Trump “will have posted multiple negative tests prior to the debate,” and insisted that the “safety of all involved can easily be achieved without canceling a chance for voters to see both candidates go head to head.”
In her own statement, Biden deputy campaign manager Kate Bedingfield suggested the former vice president would take part in the virtual event, saying that Biden “looks forward to speaking directly to the American people.”
Biden, speaking to reporters in Delaware, said it was still possible Trump would show up because “he changes his mind every second.”
“We don’t know what the president’s going to do,” Biden said, adding that he was “going to follow the commission recommendations.”
If Trump opts to hold a rally instead, “I don’t know what I’ll do,” Biden said.
Trump had previously signaled that he intended to take part in the debate despite his diagnosis, tweeting Tuesday that he was “looking forward” to the forum on Oct. 15 and that it “will be great!”
Trump’s top aides and advisers also expressed hope in recent days that the president would be able to attend.
Biden indicated Monday that he would be willing to participate in the debate “if scientists say that it’s safe,” but advised that “we should be very cautious” in organizing the event.
On Tuesday, however, Biden concluded that “we shouldn’t have a debate” if Trump remains infected with the coronavirus.
The commission had already been exploring alternative formats for next week’s debate in the aftermath of the first clash between Trump and Biden — which saw the president repeatedly interrupt his opponent and moderator Chris Wallace of Fox News.
The commission said last week that the first debate demonstrated the need for “additional structure” in the format of the remaining forums to “ensure a more orderly discussion.”
The latest announcement from the commission Thursday infuriated the president’s advisers, who said they were blindsided.
The Trump campaign was already rankled by the commission’s handling of the vice presidential debate Wednesday night and its decision to erect plexiglass barriers between Republican incumbent Mike Pence and Biden’s Democratic running mate, California Sen. Kamala Harris.
Trump’s team objected to the move, arguing it was medically unnecessary because it would do little to prevent coronavirus transmission.
The reelection effort held a conference call with reporters last week during which they accused the debate commission — which has been overseeing presidential forums for decades and has long had a reputation for being a neutral arbiter — of being a partisan outfit bent on helping Biden.
The campaign was angered by the commission reassessing the need for more structure at future debates, and complained that Wallace showed bias toward the former vice president.
Next week’s presidential debate will not be the first to feature candidates sparring from separate locations.
John F. Kennedy and Richard Nixon met remotely for their third debate in 1960, with the Democratic Massachusetts senator stationed in New York and the Republican vice president broadcasting from Los Angeles.
Still, it is not immediately clear what effects the virtual nature of the debate will have on the 90-minutes of primetime programming. The format change could facilitate the implementation of additional measures to enforce rules governing debate speaking time that some Democrats and media commentators have demanded over the past week.
Further complicating matters is the still uncertain nature of Trump’s health.
Sean Conley, the president’s personal physician, reported in a memo Wednesday that Trump has “been fever-free for more than 4 days, symptom-free for over 24 hours, and has not needed nor received any supplemental oxygen since initial hospitalization.”
But the White House has refused to provide a definitive timeline of the president’s Covid-19 tests in the days leading up to his diagnosis, and the current condition of his lungs has not been disclosed.