Trump says he won’t participate in virtual 2nd presidential debate

Washington — The Commission on Presidential Debates announced Thursday morning that the second debate between President Trump and Joe Biden will be held virtually to minimize the risk of spreading the coronavirus, a change the president quickly dismissed as “not acceptable.”

“I heard that the commission a little while ago changed the debate style, and that’s not acceptable to us,” Mr. Trump said in a phone interview with Fox Business anchor Maria Bartiromo. “I’m not going to waste my time on a virtual debate. That’s not what debating is all about. You sit behind a computer and do a debate, it’s ridiculous. And then they cut you off whenever they want.”

Bill Stepien, Mr. Trump’s campaign manager who also recently tested positive for the virus, confirmed the president’s decision. “We’ll pass on this sad excuse to bail out Joe Biden and do a rally instead,” he said in a statement.

The nonpartisan debate commission said the second debate, scheduled for October 15 in Miami, would “take the form of a town meeting, in which the candidates would participate from separate remote locations.” The change was made “in order to protect the health and safety of all involved with the second presidential debate,” the commission said.

Just after the commission’s statement, Biden’s campaign said he would participate in a virtual debate, with deputy campaign manager Kate Bedingfield saying he “looks forward to speaking directly to the American people and comparing his plan for bringing the country together.” But Biden himself later told reporters he doesn’t know what he will do if the president doesn’t participate.

“I don’t know what the president is going to do. He changes his mind every second,” Biden said on the tarmac before boarding a plane in Wilmington, Delaware. “For me to comment on that now would be irresponsible. I think that if I can follow the commission’s recommendations — if he goes off and has a rally, I’ll — I don’t know what I’ll do.”‘

Mr. Trump told Fox Business that the commission had not informed the campaign of their decision to alter the format of the debate before announcing it publicly. A source familiar with the ongoing debate negotiations told CBS News that the commission did not consult either campaign before making the move, saying the commission “decided this unilaterally.”

The president tested positive for the coronavirus just a week ago, and was experiencing symptoms as recently as Tuesday, according to the White House physician. The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention recommends those who test positive for the virus avoid being around others 10 days after their last positive test if symptoms subside. The White House doctor has not said whether the president continues to test positive.

Mr. Trump told Fox Business he remains on dexamethasone, a potent steroid, as he recovers from COVID-19.

The first debate between the two candidates last week was chaotic, featuring frequent interruptions by the president that prompted the debate commission to consider new rules allowing the moderator to enforce time limits. The second debate was set to be moderated by Steve Scully of C-SPAN.

Ed O’Keefe contributed reporting.

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