The campaigns for President Trump and Joe Biden both called on the Commission on Presidential Debates to postpone the next scheduled debate by a week after the president said that he would not participate in a virtual version of the event.
But Biden campaign rejected the Trump team’s proposal reschedule the third and final presidential debate, indicating that Biden will one agree to face off against Trump one more time.
Both called for the Oct. 15 town hall-style debate to take place on Oct. 22 — the date of the third and final scheduled one-on-one debate slated to take place in Nashville, Tennessee. But Trump’s campaign also called for the Oct. 22 debate to also be pushed back a week, to Oct. 29.
Top Biden aide Kate Bedingfield rejected that proposal.
“Donald Trump doesn’t make the debate schedule; the Debate Commission does,” she said in a statement on Thursday. “We accepted the three dates — Sept. 29, Oct. 15, and Oct. 22 — in June. 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 already is tied for the latest debate date in 40 years. Donald Trump can show up, or he can decline again. That’s his choice.”
An hour-and-a-half earlier, Biden’s campaign was the first to call for a new debate date.
“Given the President’s refusal to participate on October 15th, we hope the Debate Commission will move the Biden-Trump Town Hall to October 22nd, so that the President is not able to evade accountability,” Bedingfield said. “The voters should have a chance to ask questions of both candidates, directly. 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.”
In negotiating debate formats earlier this year, the Biden campaign pushed hard to keep a traditional town hall format for one of the debates.
Trump’s campaign followed Biden shortly later with its own statement reiterating the president’s opposition to a virtual debate style.
“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,” Trump campaign manager Bill Stepien said in a statement. “Voters should have the opportunity to directly question Biden’s 47-year failed record of leadership. We agree that this should happen on October 22, and accordingly, the third debate should then be shifted back one week to October 29. The CPD and the media cannot hide Joe Biden forever. Americans deserve to hear directly from both presidential candidates on these dates, October 22 and 29.”
Stepien floated an unfounded claim that Biden would use a teleprompter during a virtual debate and speculated that the decision to make the Oct. 15 debate viral was a conspiracy designed to harm the Trump ticket.
“It remains extremely suspect that the CPD announced the brand new virtual format at 7:30am ET today immediately after Vice President Mike Pence had just wiped the floor with Senator Kamala Harris. Clearly the commission wanted to shift attention away from Pence’s complete victory,” Stepien said. “As President Trump said, a virtual debate is a non-starter and would clearly be a gift to Biden because he would be relying on his teleprompter from his basement bunker.”
Early Thursday morning, the debate commission announced that it would make next week’s event a virtual format “in order to protect the health and safety of all involved with the second presidential debate.” The decision – made by a unanimous vote of the commission’s members – came after the president tested positive for the coronavirus last week, just two days after he debated the Democratic presidential nominee, potentially exposing Biden to the virus.
Biden’s campaign initially accepted the change, but the president was quick to say that he would not participate.
“No, I’m not going to waste my time on a virtual debate,” the president said in a Fox Business interview Thursday morning. “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 you want.”
The president’s refusal to participate appears to have changed the Biden campaign’s calculus.
Biden’s campaign also indicated that he would participate in a single-candidate “debate,” slated to be a town hall-style event with questions coming from undecided voters, if Trump does not participate.
“Joe Biden was prepared to accept the CPD’s proposal for 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. “As a result, Joe 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.”
Earlier on Thursday, Biden speculated that Trump might change his mind about participating in a virtual debate.
“I don’t know what the president is going to do. He changes his mind every second. 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,” Biden told reporters.