The prospect of holding two more presidential debates between President Donald Trump and Democratic candidate Joe Biden teetered Thursday after organizers proposed having candidates hold forth from separate locations for the next meeting, previously slated for October 15.
The Commission on Presidential Debates, the non-partisan organization behind these election-year staples, earlier on Thursday said it had decided to put in place new measures “to protect the health and safety of all involved” for the second debate. Under new rules, the two participants would hold forth from remote locations while moderator Steve Scully curated “town hall” questions from people at the Adrienne Arsht Center for the Performing Arts of Miami-Dade County in Miami.
But both campaigns began to spar over the conditions. President Trump indicated he would not take part in a revamped second presidential debate. “I’m not going to waste my time on a virtual debate,” Trump said to Fox Business Network anchor Maria Bartiromo during an appearance on her program Thursday morning. Meanwhile, the Biden campaign proposed doing its own town hall on the same date if President Trump would not take part. The Trump campaign responded by proposing holding a second and third debate in late October.
Trump was discharged earlier this week from Walter Reed Medical Center, where he was being treated for symptoms related to coronavirus. While doctors have said his symptoms have improved, there have been many questions about his health and several White House and government officials have also confirmed infection with the contagion in recent days, including Kayleigh McEnany, the White House Press Secretary, and a handful of Republican senators.
New practices were evident last night during the Commission’s vice-presidential debate between Vice President Mike Pence and Sen. Kamala Harris, where plexiglass shields were placed on stage between the two seated candidates.
The first debate between Trump and Biden was a fiery, unruly affair, with the president interrupting his rival on multiple occasions and Biden calling Trump “a clown,” among other epithets. Since Trump was diagnosed with coronavirus, the two candidates have expressed different attitudes toward taking part in a second event, with Trump eager to do so despite his infection and Biden signaling more wariness.
There is precedent for a remote debate. In 1960, a debate between Democratic candidate John F. Kennedy and Republican hopeful Richard M. Nixon was held with Kennedy in a New York TV studio and with Nixon in Los Angeles.