Oct. 8 (UPI) — The Commission on Presidential Debates said Thursday the next exchange between President Donald Trump and Democratic nominee Joe Biden will be a virtual affair — which Trump immediately rejected.
The commission said its decision was made to “protect the health and safety of all involved with the second presidential debate.” Trump is recovering from COVID-19, for which he was hospitalized last weekend.
“The second presidential debate will take the form of a town meeting, in which the candidates would participate from separate remote locations,” the commission said in a statement.
“The town meeting participants and the moderator, Steve Scully, senior executive producer & political editor, C-SPAN Networks, will be located at the Adrienne Arsht Center for the Performing Arts of Miami-Dade County in Miami, Fla.”
The debate was already planned as a “town hall” style event in Miami, during which potential voters pose questions to the candidates. The only change with Thursday’s announcement is that neither Trump nor Biden will be physically present at the Miami location.
Just minutes after the announcement, Trump told Fox Business that he will not participate.
“I’m not going to waste my time on a virtual debate,” he said. “The commission changed the debate style and that’s not acceptable to us.”
The commission’s switch to a virtual debate was a direct result of Trump’s illness, which has also spread to his campaign and White House staff and first lady Melania Trump. The president spent three days in the hospital last weekend and has since been taking multiple treatments, including steroids.
Trump told Fox Business he doesn’t think he’s contagious.
His physician, Dr. Sean Conley, said Thursday night that Trump completed his therapy for COVID-19 and has remained stable since returning to the White House.
“Saturday will be Day 10 since Thursday’s diagnosis, and based on the trajectory of advanced diagnostics the team has been conducting, I fully anticipate the president’s safe return to public engagements at that time,” he said.
In response to Trump’s refusal to participate the Oct. 15 debate, the Biden campaign asked the commission to change the following and final debate on Oct. 22 to be a town hall.
“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,” said Kate Beddingfield, Biden’s deputy campaign manager.
“The voters should have a chance to ask questions of both candidates, directly. Every presidential candidate since 1992 has participated in such an event, and it would be a shame if Donald Trump was the first to refuse.”
Shortly after the Biden camp’s request, ABC News announced it would hold a town hall event Oct. 15 featuring the former vice president.
“ABC News will host a town hall with @JoeBiden moderated by [George Stephanopoulos] on October 15th,” the news organization tweeted.
“The primetime event will take place in Philadelphia where the former vice president will answer questions from voters.”
At the first debate in Cleveland last week, several members of Trump’s family, White House and campaign staff members were seen without masks before the event and some of them violated protocol by removing their masks while seated during the debate.
Biden said this week the next debate should not be staged as an in-person event if Trump is still infected with the coronavirus. Biden has tested negative for COVID–19 multiple times since Trump’s diagnosis.
Trump’s has faced heavy criticism for downplaying the pandemic, which has killed more than 1 million people worldwide — including more than 210,000 in the United States.
At Wednesday’s vice presidential debate in Salt Lake City, the Commission on Presidential Debates expanded COVID-19 safety precautions by placing Vice President Mike Pence and Democratic nominee Sen. Kamala Harris 12 feet apart. They were also separated by two plexiglass dividers.
First presidential debate takes place in Cleveland
President Donald Trump (L) and Democratic presidential nominee Joe Biden (R), with Chris Wallace moderating, face off in the first of three scheduled 90-minute presidential debates in Cleveland on Tuesday. Photo by Kevin Dietsch/UPI | License Photo