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)

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

File photo
Gov’t of Alberta identifies estimated 300 new COVID-19 cases Sunday

Online COVID-19 dashboard unavailable as upgrades being completed

COVID
Red Deer down to 313 active cases of COVID-19

Alberta reports an additional 411 COVID-19 cases

Seniors in the 65-unit Piper Creek Lodge are among those waiting for COVID-19 vaccinations. (File photo by Advocate staff)
Central Alberta senior lodges anxiously waiting for COVID-19 vaccinations

“Should be at the front of the line, not the back of the line”

THE CANADIAN PRESS/Alex Panetta
Economists “cautiously hopeful” for economic recovery in Alberta

Charles St. Arnaud says Alberta’s recovery will rebound along with roll-out of the COVID-19 vaccine

Elvira D’Angelo, 92, waits to receive her COVID-19 vaccination shot at a clinic in Montreal, Sunday, March 7, 2021, as the COVID-19 pandemic continues in Canada and around the world. THE CANADIAN PRESS/Graham Hughes
‘It’s been a good week’: Tam hopeful on vaccines as pandemic anniversary nears

Tam says the addition of two new vaccines will help Canadians get immunized faster

Kiara Robillard is seen in an undated handout photo. When the pandemic began, Robillard had to rush back home to Alberta from California, where she had been living for five years, after she was struck by a truck that broke her spine in two places. THE CANADIAN PRESS/HO-Kiara Robillard, *MANDATORY CREDIT*
‘It kind of clicks:’ Text4Hope program helps with depression, anxiety during pandemic

Participants receive one text message every morning for three months

(The Canadian Press)
‘Worse than Sept. 11, SARS and financial crisis combined’: Tourism industry in crisis

Travel services saw the biggest drop in active businesses with 31 per cent fewer firms operating

Hockey hall-of-fame legend Wayne Gretzky, right, watches the casket of his father, Walter Gretzky, as it is carried from the church during a funeral service in Brantford, Ont., Saturday, March 6, 2021. HE CANADIAN PRESS/Nathan Denette
Walter Gretzky remembered as a man with a ‘heart of gold’ at funeral

The famous hockey father died Thursday at age 82 after battling Parkinson’s disease

Supporters rally outside court as Pastor James Coates of GraceLife Church is in court to appeal bail conditions, after he was arrested for holding day services in violation of COVID-19 rules, in Edmonton, Alta., on Thursday March 4, 2021. THE CANADIAN PRESS/Jason Franson
‘Law remains valid:’ Pastor accused of violating health orders to remain in jail

The Justice Centre for Constitutional Freedoms is representing the pastor

A decommissioned pumpjack is shown at a well head on an oil and gas installation near Cremona, Alta., Saturday, Oct. 29, 2016. The Alberta Energy Regulator says it is suspending all of the licences held by an oil and gas producer with more than 2,200 wells and 2,100 pipelines after it failed to bring its operations into compliance. THE CANADIAN PRESS/Jeff McIntosh
Alberta Energy Regulator suspends licences of oil and gas producer that owes $67M

The company is being asked to comply with past orders to clean up historic spills and contamination

Prime Minister Justin Trudeau holds a press conference in Ottawa Friday, March 5, 2021. THE CANADIAN PRESS/Sean Kilpatrick
Trudeau holds firm on premiers’ health-care funding demands, COVID-19 aid comes first

Premiers argue that the current amount doesn’t keep pace with yearly cost increases of about five per cent

Pictured here is Stettler’s Jenner Smith with a guide dog from Aspen Service Dogs. An online auction will be running soon to help raise funds for Jenner to receive his very own service dog later this year. Jenner, who is four years old, was diagnosed with Autism Spectrum Disorder in 2019. photo submitted
An online auction is planned to raise funds for a service dog for a Stettler family

Jenner Smith, four, was diagnosed with Autism Spectrum Disorder in 2019

Most Read