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The Debate Goes Virtual, and Things Go Off the Rails

Debates commission announces change to Oct. 15 debate and Trump bails
By Jenn Gidman,  Newser Staff
Posted Oct 8, 2020 7:15 AM CDT
Updated Oct 8, 2020 1:43 PM CDT

(Newser) – A clamor to make the remaining debates between President Trump and former VP Joe Biden virtual broke out this week, with the New York Times editorial board noting that "under the current circumstances, it would be irresponsible for the show to go on as planned." It looks like those calls were heard, at least for the debate coming up next—though Trump says he won't take part. The nonpartisan Commission on Presidential Debates made the announcement Thursday morning, a week before the two were scheduled to face off in Miami: "In order to protect the health and safety of all involved" in the Oct. 15 "town meeting," the candidates will "participate from separate remote locations," while other participants and the moderator remain in Miami, the commission said. What followed:

  • Shortly after the commission's announcement, Trump said he would not take part if it's going to be a remote format, per the Washington Post. "I'm not going to waste my time on a virtual debate," he told Maria Bartiromo on Fox Business Network. "That's not what debating is all about." He added, per Politico, "You sit behind a computer and do a debate. It's ridiculous, and then they cut you off whenever they want."

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  • His campaign manager echoed that in more colorful language, with Bill Stepien saying the commission was full of "swamp creatures" who made a "pathetic" choice. He noted that by Oct. 15 the president won't be positive for COVID and added, "We'll pass on this sad excuse to bail out Joe Biden and do a rally instead," per the Wall Street Journal.
  • Fox News reports Biden weighed in while talking to reporters in Delaware: "We don't know what the president is going to do, he changes his mind every second, so for me to comment on that now would be irresponsible. I'm going to follow the commission recommendations."
  • The Biden campaign says it was ready to play ball, but since Trump is out, it is, too. "Joe Biden was prepared to accept the CPD's proposal for a virtual town hall, but the president has refused, as Donald Trump clearly does not want to face questions from the voters about his failures on COVID and the economy," said the Biden campaign Thursday, per Axios. "As a result, Joe Biden will find an appropriate place to take questions from voters directly on October 15th, as he has done on several occasions in recent weeks." Late Thursday afternoon, the details fleshed out: Biden will participate in a town hall forum hosted by ABC News that night, per the Hill.
  • The Trump campaign isn't letting the issue end there, though. It is still clamoring for two in-person debates to be held. Here's the latest from Stepien: "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 Biden campaign wants to see things moved, too, just not in exactly the same way. It says: "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 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."
(Read more Commission on Presidential Debates stories.)

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