Trump Says He Won’t Participate in Virtual Debate With Biden

President Donald Trump said he will not participate in next week’s debate with Democratic nominee Joe Biden if it will be conducted virtually as a precaution against the spread of the coronavirus.

“No I’m not going to waste my time on a virtual debate,” Trump said in a telephone interview with Fox Business Thursday. “That’s not what debating’s about.”

He said he would hold a rally instead.

The Commission on Presidential Debates announced earlier that the Oct. 15 town hall-style forum in Miami, the second of three presidential debates, would be conducted with the participants appearing from remote locations.

The decision was made “in order to protect the health and safety of all involved,” the commission said in a statement.

Both campaigns said the commission acted unilaterally, without consulting them.

It comes after Trump was hospitalized with Covid-19 over the weekend. The White House has reported that a dozen staffers have become infected with the virus, which has killed more than 210,000 people in the U.S.

“Vice President Biden looks forward to speaking directly to the American people 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,” Biden deputy campaign manager Kate Bedingfield said in a statement.

Trump campaign manager Bill Stepien assailed the commission’s decision, saying that it was rushing to Biden’s “defense by unilaterally canceling an in-person debate.”

“President Trump will have posted multiple negative tests prior to the debate, so there is no need for this unilateral declaration,” Stepien said in a statement. “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.”

Moderator Steve Scully, C-SPAN’s political editor, will be live from the planned location of the Adrienne Arsht Center for the Performing Arts of Miami-Dade County, and the commission says the White House press pool will “provide coverage.”

Trump disclosed on Oct. 2 that he tested positive for Covid, almost two weeks before the next scheduled debate. He was hospitalized Friday before returning to the White House on Monday.

Trump has boasted of feeling better. The president’s doctor has refused to release key details since Monday, such as Trump’s specific vital signs, when he last tested negative, when he actually fell ill, and whether he’s still receiving a steroid, dexamethasone.

The virus has circulated widely throughout the White House. Aside from Trump and the first lady, aides Hope Hicks, Nick Luna, Stephen Miller and Kayleigh McEnany have all tested positive, as well as Stepien, former New Jersey Governor Chris Christie, who helped with debate prep, and several other aides.

Trump is pushing to return to normal, having gone to the Oval Office on Wednesday, despite still being in the active phase of the virus. The campaigns had haggled over rule changes after the first debate, which was marked by a series of interruptions from Trump in particular. The campaign has said that Trump “intends to be ready to debate” by Oct. 15, and had opposed rule changes, such as a mute button that would allow moderators to cut off the microphone of a candidate.

The idea of having the candidates debate each other from separate locations is not new. In the third debate of the famous 1960 debates between John F. Kennedy and Richard Nixon, the candidates sparred remotely with Kennedy in New York City and Nixon in Los Angeles.

— With assistance by Jennifer Epstein

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