Debates Up in the Air as Trump Rejects Virtual Format amid COVID-19 Recovery and Asks to Postpone the Dates
Ryan Pierse / Getty; GEOFF ROBINS / AFP / Getty Former Vice President Joe Biden (left) and President Donald Trump
Joe Biden's campaign on Thursday sparked a series of duel statements on debate logistics, responding to Donald Trump that he would skip the next match.
It was meant to be a town hall-style debate with voters and was changed to a virtual format after the president was hospitalized with the novel coronavirus.
In an initial statement Thursday afternoon, Biden's top spokeswoman said town hall should be postponed for the final October 22 debate, arguing it would be a "shame" for Trump not to attend one.
The Biden campaign also said that since Trump said he would not participate in the October 15 remote debate, Biden would answer questions from voters on another forum.
"Joe Biden was ready to accept the CPD's proposal for a virtual town hall, but the president has turned it down as Donald Trump clearly does not want to ask voters about his mistakes regarding COVID and the economy," the von said signed statement Biden's Deputy Campaign Manager and Communications Director Kate Bedingfield.
"As a result, Joe Biden will find a convenient place on October 15th to answer questions directly from voters, as he has done several times over the past few weeks," Bedingfield said. "Given the president's refusal to attend on October 15th, we hope the Debate Commission will move Biden-Trump Town Hall to October 22nd so the president cannot evade accountability."
"Voters should be able to ask questions directly to both candidates," Bedingfield continued. "Every presidential candidate since 1992 has attended an event like this, and it would be a shame if Donald Trump were the first to reject it."
The back and forth began Thursday morning shortly after the Presidential Debate Commission announced that the event would take place virtually on October 15 - with each candidate answering questions remotely in the face of the coronavirus outbreak in the White House.
However, Trump announced Fox Business’s Maria Bartiromo later Thursday morning that he would not be attending.
Trump called the new format "ridiculous" and said, "I won't waste my time on a virtual debate."
He also argued that the change was aimed at helping his rival rather than for health reasons, reiterating a key discussion point that 77-year-old Biden is too weak to rule and benefits from distant appearances where he is one Teleprompter can use. (The President also uses a teleprompter at some events.)
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Alexander Tamargo / Getty; Win McNamee / Getty; SAUL LOEB / AFP via Getty From left: Senator Bernie Sanders, former Vice President Joe Biden and President Donald Trump
An initial follow-up statement from Trump campaign manager Bill Stepien, who tested positive for COVID-19 himself last week, confirmed the president's decision and said Trump would hold a rally. That would be less than two weeks after the president left the hospital where he was given supplemental oxygen, steroids, antiviral and experimental antibodies.
"Here are the facts: President Trump will have released several negative tests prior to the debate, so this unilateral statement is not required," Stepien said in a statement. "We're going to pass this sad excuse to save Joe Biden and hold a rally instead."
In a "further statement" released early Thursday afternoon, the Trump campaign said that "a virtual debate is a non-starter" they would personally approve the remaining debates if the debates were postponed for a week - presumably if Trump did is no longer contagious.
Although this position largely coincided with Biden's camp, Trump's campaign manager still beat him.
"The American people shouldn't be deprived of the chance to see the two candidates for the presidential debate twice more in person just because the Presidential Debate Commission wants to protect Joe Biden," Stepien said in his latest statement.
"We agree that this should happen on October 22nd and accordingly the third debate should then be postponed one week to October 29th," he continued.
In a second statement, in response to Stepien's second statement, Biden's spokeswoman Kate Bedingfield denied the new requests.
"Donald Trump is not making the debate plan, the Debate Commission is," she said. "We accepted the three dates - September 29, October 15 and October 22 - in June. Trump today decided to step out of the October 15 debate. Trump's erratic behavior does not allow him to rewrite the calendar and select new dates of his choice. "
"We look forward to taking part in the final debate scheduled for October 22nd, which is linked to the last debate in 40 years," she continued. "Donald Trump can show up or he can refuse again. That is his choice."
The final timetable and logistics of the remaining debates were not immediately clear in the war of words.
Initially, the Democrats hadn't put much emphasis on Trump, saying he would skip the debate and respond that the president might change his mind.
"We don't know what the president is going to do. He's changing his mind every second," Biden said in initial remarks to reporters on Thursday morning. "So it would be irresponsible if I comment on that now."
“I will follow the Commission's recommendation. If he goes out and has a rally I will - I don't know what I'm going to do, ”added Biden.
His reaction was shared by Senator Bernie Sanders, who was asked by MSNBC's Stephanie Ruhle about the president's decision to forego the opportunity to debate his opponent in front of the American people.
"That was 12 seconds ago, wasn't it?" Said Sanders. "Maybe he's changed his mind since then."
Trump announced his positive COVID-19 diagnosis early Friday and could still be contagious on October 15.
Although his fever rise and oxygen levels fell in the days that followed, the president was prescribed a range of drugs and has publicly said he felt "great" while his doctors said on Monday that he may not be "all out of the woods" .
Trump has left Biden behind in state and national polls, noting that his support aligns with key demographics that are critical to election victory.
Skipping the debate would mean losing a platform that reaches millions of American voters - some of whom are undecided. According to the evaluations produced by Nielsen, the first presidential debate on September 29 was followed by more than 73 million people.
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