Minutes after the bipartisan Commission on Presidential Debates announced on Thursday morning that next week’s second presidential debate would be held virtually, Trump said he would not participate.
“I’m not going to waste my time on a virtual debate,” he told Fox Business host Maria Bartiromo in an interview on Thursday morning. He said a virtual debate was “not acceptable.”
Later on Thursday, Democratic challenger Joe Biden’s campaign criticized Trump for pulling out and announced plans to hold its own town hall on Oct. 15, when the debate had been scheduled. “Donald Trump clearly does not want to face questions from the voters about his failures on COVID and the economy,” Kate Bedingfield, the deputy campaign manager for the Biden campaign, said in a statement.
Bedingfield also called on the debate commission to make the final event, scheduled for Oct. 22, a town-hall format “so that the President is not able to evade accountability” by answering questions directly from voters — adding that Biden would participate whether or not Trump was there. “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,” Bedingfield said in a second statement. “Donald Trump can show up, or he can decline again. That’s his choice.”
Early on Thursday, the commission announced a change in plans for the Oct. 15 debate to “protect the health and safety of all involved” since Trump tested positive for COVID-19 last week and was hospitalized for several days. A number of people in his administration and White House journalists also tested positive.
“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, with Steve Scully of C-SPAN still serving as moderator from a location in Miami where town-hall participants would also be present.
A remote debate is not without precedent. During the third presidential debate in 1960, Richard Nixon and John F. Kennedy participated from opposite coasts.
During the first debate between Trump and Democratic nominee Joe Biden, the candidates stood far apart in an act of social distancing. Most attendees wore masks, though according to moderator Chris Wallace, the president’s family did not. During Wednesday night’s vice presidential debate between Vice President Mike Pence and Sen. Kamala Harris, plexiglass barriers were placed between the two candidates, who sat 12 feet apart.