This combination of Sept. 29, 2020, photos shows President Donald Trump, left, and former Vice President Joe Biden during the first presidential debate at Case Western University and Cleveland Clinic, in Cleveland, Ohio. The Commission on Presidential Debates says the second Trump-Biden debate will be ‘virtual’ amid concerns about the president’s COVID-19. (AP Photo/Patrick Semansky)

Trump, Biden teams debate debate: Virtual or not, next week?

Commission on Presidential Debates made the decision to shift to a virtual debate unilaterally

It’s suddenly up in air when the next presidential debate, or maybe debates, may take place.

President Donald Trump said Thursday he would skip next week’s faceoff with Democratic nominee Joe Biden after organizers said it would be held virtually after Trump got COVID-19, the back-and-forth further disrupting the president’s efforts to shift focus away from a virus that has killed more than 210,000 Americans this year.

Biden’s campaign countered by asking for next Thursday’s town hall style event — the second debate for the candidates —to instead be moved back a week “so the president is not able to evade accountability.” Trump advisers counter-countered that a short time later by saying the second debate should indeed be delayed until Oct. 22 and that a third should be rescheduled for the following week, just before Election Day. And they insisted anew that the candidates must meet face to face.

The nonpartisan Commission on Presidential Debates made the decision to shift to a virtual debate unilaterally, citing the need to “to protect the health and safety of all involved with the second presidential debate.” Some staffers associated with producing the debate raised safety concerns after Trump tested positive for the virus following his first faceoff with Biden last week, according to a person familiar with the matter.

But Trump, who is recovering from COVID-19 at the White House after spending three days in the hospital, insisted he’s in “great shape” and called the idea of a debate other than face-to-face a “joke.”

“I’m not going to do a virtual debate,” he told Fox Business moments after the announcement.

Biden’s campaign said he was prepared to move forward with the virtual debate next Thursday but also asked that the town hall version be rescheduled for Oct. 22 with questions from voters.

A short time later, Trump 2020 campaign manager Bill Stepien responded, that, “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.”

With less than four weeks until Election Day and with millions of voters casting early ballots, pressure is building on Trump to turn around a campaign that is trailing Biden nationally and in most battlegrounds, where the margin is narrower. A debate before an audience of tens of millions of television viewers could provide that reset.

But another debate could also expose Trump to political risks. GOP strategists say the party’s support began eroding after his seething performance against Biden last week when he didn’t clearly denounce a white supremacist group.

Trump’s apparent unwillingness to change his style to win back voters he needs — particularly women — was on display again Thursday during his Fox Business interview when he referred to Democratic vice-presidential nominee Kamala Harris as a “monster.”

The president’s campaign manager, Bill Stepien, said Trump would stage a rally rather than debate next Thursday, though it’s not yet clear if he will be well enough to do that.

“For the swamp creatures at the Presidential Debate Commission to now rush to Joe Biden’s defence by unilaterally cancelling an in-person debate is pathetic,” Stepien said in a statement. “The safety of all involved can easily be achieved without cancelling 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.”

It’s not the first time Trump has skipped a debate. During the 2016 Republican primary, he boycotted the last debate before Iowa’s first-in-the nation’s caucuses, holding a fundraiser for veterans instead — a move he later speculated may have contributed to his loss in the state.

Boarding a flight to campaign in Arizona on Thursday, Biden said it would be “irresponsible” for him to comment on Trump’s decision.

“We don’t know what the president’s going to do,” Biden said. “He changes his mind every second.”

It was unclear whether Biden would attend the debate by himself or whether the event would be fully scrapped. Asked about that prospect, Biden said, “We don’t know enough to know right now.”

His deputy campaign manager, Kate Bedingfield, simply said Biden “looks forward to speaking directly to the American people.”

She said in a statement that Biden was prepared to accept 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.” Bedingfield said instead 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.” But she also asked that the commission delay the scheduled town hall debate one week, to Oct. 22.

“The voters should have a chance to ask questions of both candidates, directly,” Bedingfield said. “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.”

Stepien suggested the decision to move to an all virtual format would benefit Biden but added, “We agree that this should happen on October 22, and accordingly, the third debate should then be shifted back one week to October 29.” Election Day is Nov. 3.

Biden said earlier in the week that he was “looking forward to being able to debate” but added that he and Trump “shouldn’t have a debate” as long as the president remains COVID positive.

Trump fell ill with the virus last Thursday, just 48 hours after debating Biden in person in Cleveland. While the two candidates remained a dozen feet apart during the debate, Trump’s infection sparked health concerns for Biden and sent him to undergo multiple COVID-19 tests before returning to the campaign trail.

Trump was still contagious with the virus when he was discharged from Walter Reed National Military Medical Center on Monday, but his doctors have not provided any detailed update on his status. According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, those with mild to moderate symptoms of COVID-19 can be contagious for as many as — and should isolate for at least — 10 days.

Biden has repeatedly tested negative for the virus since, but his campaign has refused to say whether his going into quarantine was ever discussed. After Arizona, the former vice-president was set to campaign Friday in Las Vegas.

Zeke Miller And Will Weissert, The Associated Press

Like us on Facebook and follow us on Twitter.

Want to support local journalism? Make a donation here.

Donald TrumpJoe BidenU.S. election

Get local stories you won't find anywhere else right to your inbox.
Sign up here

Just Posted

Northern Health saw 14 cases in one day earlier this week, the highest in one day since the beginning of the pandemic. (Image courtesy CDC)
Northern Health sees highest number of new COVID-19 cases in one day

Oct. 27 saw the highest number of new cases in the Health Authority since the start of the pandemic

Members of the Sipekne’katik First Nation load lobster traps on the wharf in Saulnierville, N.S., after launching its own self-regulated fishery on Thursday, Sept. 17, 2020. When Jaime Battiste was in his early 20s, cable news channels were full of images of Mi’kmaq fishermen in New Brunswick battling federal fisheries officers over seized lobster traps. (THE CANADIAN PRESS/Andrew Vaughan)
Nisga’a Lisims Government calls on Prime Minister to act in N.S. fisheries dispute

NLG President: “We are shocked by what’s happening in Nova Scotia”

A nurse prepares a flu shot. The public vaccine for the 2020-2021 flu season is now in pharmacies in Terrace. (AP Photo/David Goldman, File)
Private flu vaccines scarce at Terrace pharmacies

Public flu vaccines still available for those with greatest need

“We have to make a call out to address this now so our people don’t have to feel fearful,” said Tribal Chief Mina Holmes. (Carrier Sekani Tribal Council Facebook photo)
Carrier Sekani Tribal Council seeks Indigenous-led task force in northern B.C. hospitals

Request made in an open letter to federal minister Carolyn Bennett

A woman wears a face mask and plastic gloves while browsing books as a sticker on the floor indicates a one-way direction of travel between shelves of books at the Vancouver Public Library’s central branch, after it and four other branches reopened with limited services, in Vancouver, on Tuesday, July 14, 2020. (THE CANADIAN PRESS/Darryl Dyck)
B.C. reports 234 new COVID cases, 1 death of senior who had attended small birthday party

Roughly 5,700 people are isolating due to being exposed to a confirmed case

Burnaby RCMP responded to a dine-and-dash suspect who fell through a ceiling in March 2020. (RCMP handout)
VIDEO: Suspected dine-and-dasher falls through ceiling of Burnaby restaurant

A woman believed to be dashing on her restaurant bill fell through the kitchen ceiling

A can of Canada Dry Ginger Ale is shown in Toronto on Thursday Oct. 29, 2020. The maker of Canada Dry Ginger Ale has agreed to pay over $200,000 to settle a class-action lawsuit launched by a B.C. man who alleged he was misled by marketing suggesting the soda had medicinal benefits. THE CANADIAN PRESS/Joseph O’Connal
B.C. man’s lawsuit over marketing of Canada Dry ginger ale settled for $200K

Soda’s maker, Canada Dry Mott’s Inc., denied the allegations and any liability

Vancouver Island-based Wilson’s Transportation has expanded to fill some of the routes left unserviced by Greyhound as of Nov. 1, 2018. (Black Press files)
B.C. bus companies say they need help to survive COVID-19

Like airlines, motor coaches have lost most of their revenue

Join Black Press Media and Do Some Good

Pay it Forward program supports local businesses in their community giving

A deer was spotted in October 2020 in Prince Rupert, B.C., with a bright pink yoga ball stuck in its antlers. (Kayla Vickers/Chronicles Of Hammy The Deer Official Page)
Hammy 2.0? Prince Rupert deer spotted with bright pink yoga ball stuck in antlers

The BC Conservation Officer Service is aware of the deer roaming around the city

RCMP. (Phil McLachlan - Black Press Media)
Kelowna Mountie hit with 2nd lawsuit in 2 months for alleged assault

Const. Julius Prommer is accused of breaking a woman’s knee during while responding to a noise complaint

Hirdeypal Batth, 24, has been charged with sexual assault and forcible confinement in relation to an incident in August 2020. (VPD handout)
Man, 24, charged with sex assault after allegedly posing as Uber driver in Vancouver

Investigators believe there could be more victims outside of the Vancouver area

B.C. Premier John Horgan and Washington Gov. Jay Inslee arrive for annual Cascadia conference in Vancouver, Oct. 10, 2018. They have agreed to coordinate the permanent switch to daylight saving time. (B.C. government)
B.C. still awaiting U.S. approval to eliminate daylight saving time

Clocks going back one hour Nov. 1 in Washington too

Most Read