Trump rejects virtual debate with Biden

President Donald Trump on Thursday rejected plans for his next debate with Democratic rival Joe Biden to be a virtual one to guard against spreading COVID-19, complaining that his microphone could be cut off, and his campaign proposed postponing the 15 October encounter by a week.

Trump, who on Monday was released after three days hospitalized with COVID-19, called the format change announced by the nonpartisan commission in charge of the debates unacceptable. With the 3 November election fast approaching, Trump also said he wanted to resume campaign rallies right away even as he continues to receive treatment. His campaign then issued a statement suggesting pushing back the encounter to 22 October, the scheduled date of a third debate between the candidates, while using the town hall-style format planned for 15 October. The Trump campaign proposed holding what would be a third debate on 29 October.

The first Trump-Biden debate, held last week before Trump disclosed on Friday that he had tested positive for the novel coronavirus, descended into chaos with the Republican president interrupting both Biden and the moderator throughout.

“I’m not going to waste my time on a virtual debate. That’s not what debating is all about,” Trump said on a phone interview with Fox Business on Thursday. “You sit behind a computer and do a debate - it’s ridiculous, and then they cut you off whenever they want,” said Trump, who added that he was eager to hold campaign rallies with his supporters.

Some Trump advisers were questioning his decision, arguing Trump would miss an opportunity to make his case to millions of voters in the debate, a source familiar with the situation said.

Trump’s announcement was the latest whiplash development in the presidential race. Biden leads in nationwide opinion polls but they show a tighter race in many of the battleground states that may decide the election.

Their two running mates, Vice President Mike Pence and Democratic vice presidential nominee Senator Kamala Harris, engaged in a debate on Wednesday evening that was far more orderly than the first Trump-Biden encounter.

Trump has faced sharp criticism from Biden and Harris for his administration’s response to a pandemic that has killed more than 210,000 Americans - more than any other country - and thrown millions of people out of work. More than 6 million Americans have already cast ballots ahead of Election Day.

The Commission on Presidential Debates said on Thursday it planned to host a town hall-style conversation on 15 October and that voters and the moderator would ask the candidates questions from the original debate site in Miami.

Before the Trump campaign proposed changing the debate schedule, the Biden campaign said that, in light of Trump’s decision, the commission should move the town-hall format debate to 22 October to give voters a chance to question the candidates.

“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,” Deputy Campaign Manager Kate Bedingfield said in a statement.

Biden would find a venue to take questions from voters on 15 October in lieu of a debate, Bedingfield said.

Saying he was feeling “really good,” Trump said he was ready to resume campaign rallies. Such rallies, particularly held indoors, have raised concern among public health exerts about spreading the virus. Trump said he is still taking steroids to treat the respiratory disease.

Trump said he did not believe he was still contagious, though that contention was not yet backed up by solid evidence from his doctors.

“I’d love to do a rally tonight. I wanted to do one last night,” Trump said, adding that “if I’m at a rally, I stand by myself very far away from everybody.”

US Centers for Disease Control and Prevention guidelines say people who are severely ill with COVID-19 might need to stay home for up to 20 days after symptoms first appear. The White House has not provided detailed information on the severity of Trump’s illness and has refused to say when he last tested negative for the virus.

House of Representatives Speaker Nancy Pelosi, a Democrat, challenged Trump to reveal when he last tested negative for the virus, asking at a press briefing: “Why is the White House not telling the country that important fact?”

Pence and Harris in their debate clashed over the Trump administration’s response to the pandemic.

Weighing in on that debate, Trump told Fox Business he believed Pence “destroyed” Harris and twice referred to her as a “monster.” The comments reignited criticism of Trump for what Democrats call previous sexist and racist attacks against Harris, the first Black woman to appear on a major US party’s presidential ticket.

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