An announcement by the Commission on Presidential Debates (CPD) that the second debate between President Donald Trump and Democratic presidential nominee Joe Biden would take place virtually set off a chain of public negotiations regarding the status of the remaining debate schedule.
For the third time on Thursday, Trump's campaign issued a statement concerning the Oct. 15 debate.
The virtual format was likely made with safety in mind, as Trump contracted COVID-19 last week and may still be infected next Thursday. Biden had said earlier this week that debates should not be held while Trump is infected with COVID-19 for the safety of those involved.
On Thursday, Trump's physician Dr. Sean Conley said he expects that Trump can resume public activity on Saturday following a 10-day isolation period from the coronavirus. The Trump campaign subsequently said that an in-person debate must move forward on Oct. 15. The campaign also accused the commission of "protecting Joe Biden."
New tonight: And now the Trump campaign says it wants the president to debate Joe Biden in person on the originally planned dates. pic.twitter.com/bWqAdNZXUX
— Kelly O'Donnell (@KellyO) October 9, 2020
Just minutes after the CPD's announcement, Trump told Fox Business that he would not "waste his time" with a virtual debate.
Throughout the day on Thursday, his campaign has since backtracked and said it would be open to rescheduling the second debate so it could take place in person.
As it currently stands, both the Biden campaign and the Trump campaign have agreed to hold a town hall debate on Oct. 22 — the day that the CPD originally set as the third and final presidential debate date. However, the Trump campaign is insisting that the third debate also be rescheduled to Oct. 29 — which the Biden campaign has not agreed to.
"Trump chose today to pull out of the October 15th debate. Trump's erratic behavior does not allow him to rewrite the calendar and pick new dates of his choosing. We look forward to participating in the final debate, scheduled for October 22, which is already tied for the latest debate in 40 years," Biden campaign communications director Kate Bedingfield said.
The dispute began on Thursday morning when the Commission on Presidential Debates announced that the second debate, originally scheduled for Oct. 15, would be held virtually, but candidates would join remotely.
There is precedent for hosting debates remotely. In the 1960s, candidates Richard Nixon and John F. Kennedy debated from different cities. However, shortly after the announcement, President Donald Trump said in an interview on Fox Business that he would not participate.
"That's not acceptable to us," Trump said. "...I'm not going to waste my time on a virtual debate. That's not what debating is all about."
"I'm not going to waste my time on a virtual debate" -- Trump, on with Maria Bartiromo, begins his first post-coronavirus interview by saying he's pulling out of the second debate. (He sounds a little hoarse.) pic.twitter.com/R43JSszfll
— Aaron Rupar (@atrupar) October 8, 2020
Upon the CPD's announcement, the Biden campaign said the former Vice President would participate in a virtual debate.
"Biden looks forward to speaking directly to the American people and comparing his plan for bringing the country together and building back better with Donald Trump's failed leadership," Beddingfield said Thursday.
Trump campaign manager Bill Stepien lambasted the notion that the CPD would host a "virtual debate" on Thursday morning.
"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," Stepien's statement read, in part. "Here are the facts: President Trump will have posted multiple negative tests prior to the debate, so there is no need for this unilateral declaration. The safety of all involved can easily be achieved without canceling a chance for voters to see both candidates go head to head. We'll pass on this sad excuse to bail out Joe Biden and do a rally instead."
Campaign manager says Trump would have posted several negative tests by debate time (which isn’t possible to know right now) and that they’ll do a rally instead. pic.twitter.com/bctppZft9H
— Maggie Haberman (@maggieNYT) October 8, 2020
Meanwhile, ABC News announced it is holding a primetime town hall featuring Biden on Oct. 15, just hours after Trump said he would not agree to a virtual debate.
It's impossible to know whether Trump will test negative for COVID-19 between now and next Thursday. Though the White House has refused to report when Trump last tested negative for the virus, Trump announced his positive test on Friday morning. COVID-19 is typically active for about two weeks, sometimes longer. That would mean Trump would likely still be infected by next Thursday.
Just in: The next presidential debate will be virtual. Here is the announcement from the Commission on Presidential Debates: pic.twitter.com/jqktmvvSTo
— J. Justin Boggs (@jjboggs) October 8, 2020
Biden's running mate, Sen. Kamala Harris, requested that plexiglass shields be installed next to podiums during Wednesday's vice presidential debate. Vice President Mike Pence's staff initially called the measure "unnecessary" before agreeing to the change.
Prior to Trump's diagnosis, the Commission promised "changes" to upcoming debates that would "ensure a more orderly discussion of the issues."
The first debate between Biden and Trump has been described as "chaotic," with candidates often interrupting each other to get points across. Following that event, Wallace placed the blame for the mayhem on Trump.
"He bears the primary responsibility for what happened on Tuesday night," Wallace said on Fox News last week.