Trump, battling Covid-19, says he won't 'waste his time' taking part in a virtual debate
President Donald Trump on Thursday pulled out of the next presidential debate, saying he won't "waste his time" on it after the Commission on Presidential Debates announced it would take place virtually to protect "the health and safety of all involved."
Trump is still being treated for Covid-19. His campaign said it would hold a rally instead, and accused the commission of changing the format to benefit former Vice President Joe Biden.
The debate is still set to take place in the form of a town hall, but the commission said that Trump and Biden would be invited to participate remotely. Moderator Steve Scully of C-SPAN is to be at the venue that was slated to host the debate, the Adrienne Arsht Center for the Performing Arts in Miami, next Thursday, Oct. 15.
In an interview on the Fox Business Network on Thursday morning, Trump said the new debate format is "not acceptable to us."
"I'm not going to waste my time on a virtual debate," Trump said, adding that he doesn't like the idea of a virtual debate because a moderator could cut him off at any time.
Biden's deputy campaign manager, Kate Bedingfield, said the commission should delay the town hall debate one week to Oct. 22 — which is when the third debate is slated for.
"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," she said in a statement. "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."
Bedingfield said the campaign hopes the commission will move the town hall debate to the following week "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."
Bill Stepien, Trump's campaign manager, called it "pathetic" for the commission to have "unilaterally" moved to make the debate remote, claiming that Trump will soon be able to test negative for Covid-19. The White House has repeatedly declined to say when Trump last received a negative test result.
"For the swamp creatures at the Presidential Debate Commission to now rush to Joe Biden’s defense by unilaterally canceling an in-person debate is pathetic," he said in a statement, adding, "We'll pass on this sad excuse to bail out Joe Biden and do a rally instead.”
Following Bedingfield's statement, Stepien called for both of the two remaining presidential debates to be delayed by one week.
“The American people should not be deprived of the chance to see the two candidates for president debate face to face two more times just because the Commission on Presidential Debates wants to protect Joe Biden," he said, adding, "The CPD and the media cannot hide Joe Biden forever. Americans deserve to hear directly from both presidential candidates on these dates, October 22 and 29.”
Frank Fahrenkopf, chairman of the Commission on Presidential Debates, told NBC News that "no presidential candidate is required to debate."
A person familiar with the commission's plans said the decision was not made in consultation with the campaigns, and they were told Thursday morning just prior to the information being released publicly, adding that the assumption is the third debate will go forward as planned, provided that both candidates are healthy.
The president first showed symptoms of the coronavirus last Thursday, according to the White House, which was 14 days before the next debate. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention guidelines say people should isolate for 10 days from the point of showing systems and 20 days in severe cases.
This week, Biden, who shared a debate stage with the president just a few days prior to his positive diagnosis, signaled that if Trump was still contagious, the debate may not take place as planned.
"I don't know what exactly the rules are going to be and I'm not sure that what President Trump is all about now — I don't know what his status is," Biden told reporters. "I'm looking forward to being able to debate him, but I just hope all the protocols are followed which is necessary at the time."
Earlier that day, Trump tweeted he was "looking forward" to the debate.
The president's doctors have said he is recovering, though he was placed on a steroid therapy typically used in more severe Covid-19 cases.
So far, 23 people close to the White House and three Republican senators have tested positive for the virus in the days surrounding Trump first showing symptoms.
Biden has repeatedly tested negative since his encounter on the debate stage with Trump last Tuesday, his campaign has said. Meanwhile, in Wednesday's vice presidential debate, Sen. Kamala Harris, D-Calif., was separated from Vice President Mike Pence by a plexiglass barrier.
Pence has tested negative for the virus several times in recent days, his team has said.
The commission was considering changes to the debate format, as well as the rules, after the first Trump-Biden matchup descended into a chaotic shouting match with the candidates — particularly Trump — interrupting during their allotted speaking time.