US President Donald Trump said on Thursday that he would not participate in a virtual debate with 2020 Democratic presidential nominee Joe Biden after organizers plan to stage the rivals’ next face-off virtually to protect the health and safety of those involved.
“I’m not going to do a virtual debate,” Trump, who’s recovering from COVID-19 at the White House, said in an interview with Fox Business.
“I’m not going to waste my time with a virtual debate. That’s not what debating is all about. You sit behind a computer and do a debate, that is ridiculous,” Trump said.
The Commission on Presidential Debates announced on Thursday morning that the second Trump-Biden encounter, scheduled for October 15, “will take the form of a town meeting, in which the candidates would participate from separate remote locations.”
The town meeting participants and the moderator, it added, would be located at the Adrienne Arsht Center for the Performing Arts in Miami, Florida.
Bill Stepien, Trump’s campaign manager, said in a statement that “there is no need for this unilateral declaration,” referring to the change to the debate format.
“The safety of all involved can easily be achieved without canceling a chance for voters to see both candidates go head to head,” said Stepien, who also recently tested positive for COVID-19.
“We’ll pass on this sad excuse to bail out Joe Biden and do a rally instead,” Stepien said.
The presidential candidates met for their first debate in the race in Cleveland, Ohio on September 29, two days before the incumbent tested positive for COVID-19. Biden has undergone multiple tests since Trump’s diagnosis, with each one returning negative.
The former vice president has said the second debate should not be held if his Republican opponent still has the virus.
Kate Bedingfield, Biden’s deputy campaign manager, said on Thursday that the Democrat intended to take part in the virtual debate next week.
“Vice President 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 on the coronavirus that has thrown the strong economy he inherited into the worst downturn since the Great Depression,” the spokesperson said in a statement.
Frank Fahrenkopf, head of the CPD, told CNN that the panel spoke with both campaigns “just before” it announced the decision to hold the Miami debate virtually, but did not consult with them about the decision.
Fahrenkopf said that the decision had the support of the Cleveland Clinic, the commission’s health advisers, while also acknowledging that it was fully within Trump’s right to decline to debate.
“There is no law requiring any presidential candidate to debate,” he explained, adding: “So it is up to every candidate to decide whether they want to debate or not.”
Trump returned to the White House on Monday, where he continues to receive COVID-19 treatment after a three-day hospitalisation.
Speaking to Fox Business on Thursday, the president said he was feeling “perfect,” while appearing eager to hit the campaign trail as Biden’s lead over him in national polls continues widening.
“I think I’m better … to a point where I’d love to do a rally tonight. I wanted to do one last night.
“I feel perfect. There’s nothing wrong,” Trump said.
The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention recommends that individuals self-isolate for at least 10 days after the onset of symptoms from COVID-19, which has infected more than 7.55 million people and killed nearly 212,000 in the US.