The Commission on Presidential Debates announced on Thursday that next week’s presidential debate will be held virtually, with the candidates participating from remote locations as President Trump continues to be treated for the coronavirus.
But in a phone interview with Fox Business host Maria Bartiromo moments after the format change was announced, Trump said he would not take part.
“I’m not going to do a virtual debate,” he said. “I’m not going to waste my time doing a virtual debate. That’s not what debating is all about. You sit behind a computer and do a debate, it’s ridiculous, and then they cut you off whenever they want.”
On Wednesday, the commission said the Oct. 15 town hall between Trump and Democratic nominee Joe Biden would be held remotely in order to “protect the health and safety of all involved” amid the ongoing pandemic and Trump’s positive COVID-19 diagnosis. The commission said the audience participants and the moderator, C-SPAN’s Steve Scully, would be based in Miami, with Trump and Biden in “separate remote locations.”
Trump’s comments aren’t binding, and he sometimes makes bold public statements while in negotiations, only to compromise afterward.
Speaking to reporters before departing Delaware for campaign stops in Arizona, Biden remained skeptical about whether Trump would actually skip the debate.
“We don’t know what the president’s going to do,” Biden said. “He changes his mind every second. For me to comment on that now would be irresponsible.”
“I’m going to follow the commission recommendations,” the former vice president added.
The president, who announced his COVID-19 diagnosis on Oct. 2, spent three days at Walter Reed National Military Medical Center after falling ill at the White House. He was given supplemental oxygen and an experimental antibody cocktail, as well as steroids. He was released Monday.
Trump likely remains infectious for COVID-19. The CDC states on its website that patients with mild to moderate cases of the disease remain contagious for at least 10 days, while those with more severe cases can transmit it for up to 20 days.
In his Fox Business interview, Trump said he is continuing his steroid treatment in isolation, dismissing medical experts who believe he is still shedding the virus.
“I don’t think I’m contagious at all,” he said, adding: “I think I’m better. I’d love to do a rally tonight.”
The White House and the Trump campaign have not disclosed when the president last tested negative for the virus.
Asked by Bartiromo whether he had been tested for the virus recently, Trump replied: “I’ll be tested first noon.”
Moments after Trump’s remarks, the Biden campaign said the former vice president had agreed to the virtual format.
“Vice President Biden looks forward to speaking directly to the American people,” Biden campaign communications director Kate Bedingfield said in a statement, “and comparing his plan for bringing the country together and building back better with Donald Trump’s failed leadership on the coronavirus that has thrown the strong economy he inherited into the worst downturn since the Great Depression.”
In a subsequent statement, the Biden campaign suggested that the debate be pushed back a week, to Oct. 22.
“Given the President's refusal to participate on October 15th, we hope the Debate Commission will move the Biden-Trump Town Hall to October 22nd, so that the President is not able to evade accountability,” the statement read.
Trump’s campaign manager, Bill Stepien, one of the president’s many political and government aides to have recently contracted the virus, released a statement complaining about the commission’s decision, and vowing that Trump would “do a rally instead.”
“President Trump won the first debate despite a terrible and biased moderator in Chris Wallace, and everybody knows it,” Stepien said. “For the swamp creatures at the Presidential Debate Commission to now rush to Joe Biden’s defense by unilaterally canceling an in-person debate is pathetic. That’s not what debates are about or how they’re done.
“Here are the facts: President Trump will have posted multiple negative tests prior to the debate, so there is no need for this unilateral declaration,” Stepien added. “The safety of all involved can easily be achieved without canceling a chance for voters to see both candidates go head-to-head. We’ll pass on this sad excuse to bail out Joe Biden and do a rally instead.”
The Trump campaign later released another statement saying it would agree to move the dates of debates back a week so the president could appear in person.
“The American people should not be deprived of the chance to see the two candidates for president debate face to face two more times just because the Commission on Presidential Debates wants to protect Joe Biden,” the statement read. “As President Trump said, a virtual debate is a non-starter and would clearly be a gift to Biden because he would be relying on his teleprompter from his basement bunker. Voters should have the opportunity to directly question Biden’s 47-year failed record of leadership. We agree that this should happen on October 22, and accordingly, the third debate should then be shifted back one week to October 29. The CPD and the media cannot hide Joe Biden forever. Americans deserve to hear directly from both presidential candidates on these dates.”
The Biden campaign followed with a statement objecting to the Trump campaign’s request to move the date of the third debate.
“Donald Trump doesn’t make the debate schedule; the Debate Commission does,” the statement read. “We accepted the three dates — Sept. 29, Oct. 15, and Oct. 22 — in June. Trump chose today to pull out of the October 15th debate. Trump’s erratic behavior does not allow him to rewrite the calendar, and pick new dates of his choosing. We look forward to participating in the final debate, scheduled for October 22, which already is tied for the latest debate date in 40 years. Donald Trump can show up, or he can decline again. That’s his choice.”
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