President Donald Trump says he will not participate in the second presidential debate this October 15th after the Commission on Presidential Debates announced that they are changing the debate format to a virtual town-hall in which “candidates would participate from separate remote locations,” reports Axios.
The bipartisan commission made these changes shortly after President Trump and several of his campaign staff members tested positive for coronavirus, in order “to protect the health and safety of all involved with the second presidential debate,” according to their statement.
The President responded to the news, saying, “I’m not going to waste my time on a virtual debate. It’s not what debating is all about. … It’s ridiculous.” Trump Campaign Manager Bill Stepien took a more accusatory stance, complaining that the decision was “extremely suspect,” and that the campaign would “pass on this sad excuse to bail out Joe Biden and do a rally instead.”
Joe Biden’s campaign says they are willing to participate in the virtual debate, but that they would find an appropriate place to take voter questions if the President chooses not to participate. They also asked the Commission on Presidential Debates to change the third presidential debate, scheduled for October 22nd, to a town-hall format as well, according to The Wall Street Journal.
Co-chairman of the Commission on Presidential Debates, Frank Fahrenkopf, told USA Today that they cannot force the President to participate in the debates. “There’s no way you can force a presidential candidate to debate,” Fahrenkopf said. “It’s up to them whether they debate or not.”
Top Trump advisor, Larry Kudlow told Fox News that he expects the virtual debate to be “renegotiated” if Trump manages to present several negative COVID-19 tests prior to the debate, reports Mediaite. Bill Stepien echoed that sentiment, saying, “President Trump will have posted multiple negative tests prior to the debate, so there is no need for this unilateral declaration.” Nonetheless, the Trump campaign has offered an alternative solution; Stepien has suggested moving both of the scheduled presidential debates back a week to October 22nd and the 29th.
“Voters should have the opportunity to directly question Biden’s 47-year failed record of leadership,” said Stepien. “We agree that this should happen on Oct. 22, and accordingly, the third debate should then be shifted back one week to Oct. 29.”
Fahrenkopf says that the Commission will stick to an in-person debate on October 22nd. When the 25-year veteran of the Commission on Presidential Debates was asked about the controversial decision, he said “I heard this morning, ‘Well, they should have consulted us.’ We never consult on these sorts of things, and we’ve been saying from the very beginning that we are going to follow the advice of the medical people who are advising us, the Cleveland Clinic.” He added, “They supported what we are doing. We are doing this for the safety of everyone involved.”