President Donald Trump on Thursday pulled out of the next presidential debate, saying he won’t “waste his time” on it after the Commission on Presidential Debates announced it would take place virtually to protect “the health and safety of all involved.”

Trump is still being treated for Covid-19. His campaign said it would hold a rally instead, and accused the commission of changing the format to benefit former Vice President Joe Biden.

The debate is still set to take place in the form of a town hall, but the commission said that Trump and Biden would be invited to participate remotely. Moderator Steve Scully of C-SPAN is to be at the venue that was slated to host the debate, the Adrienne Arsht Center for the Performing Arts in Miami, next Thursday, Oct. 15.

In an interview on the Fox Business Network on Thursday morning, Trump said the new debate format is “not acceptable to us.”

“I’m not going to waste my time on a virtual debate,” Trump said, adding that he doesn’t like the idea of a virtual debate because a moderator could cut him off at any time.

Biden’s campaign responded to the announcement with an indication that he has no such qualms.

“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,” deputy campaign manager Kate Bedingfield said.

Bill Stepien, Trump’s campaign manager, called it “pathetic” for the commission to have “unilaterally” moved to make the debate remote, claiming that Trump will soon be able to test negative for Covid-19. The White House has repeatedly declined to say when Trump last received a negative test result.

“For the swamp creatures at the Presidential Debate Commission to now rush to Joe Biden’s defense by unilaterally canceling an in-person debate is pathetic,” he said in a statement, adding, “We’ll pass on this sad excuse to bail out Joe Biden and do a rally instead.”

Frank Fahrenkopf, chairman of the Commission on Presidential Debates, told NBC News that “no presidential candidate is required to debate.”

A person familiar with the commission’s plans said the decision was not made in consultation with the campaigns, and they were told Thursday morning just prior to the information being released publicly, adding that the assumption is the third debate will go forward as planned, provided that both candidates are healthy.

The president first showed symptoms of the coronavirus last Thursday, according to the White House, which was 14 days before the next debate. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention guidelines say people should isolate for 10 days from the point of showing systems and 20 days in severe cases.

This week, Biden, who shared a debate stage with the president just a few days prior to his positive diagnosis, signaled that if Trump was still contagious, the debate may not take place as planned.

“I don’t know what exactly the rules are going to be and I’m not sure that what President Trump is all about now — I don’t know what his status is,” Biden told reporters. “I’m looking forward to being able to debate him, but I just hope all the protocols are followed which is necessary at the time.”

Earlier that day, Trump tweeted he was “looking forward” to the debate.

The president’s doctors have said he is recovering, though he was placed on a steroid therapy typically used in more severe Covid-19 cases.

So far, 23 people close to the White House and three Republican senators have tested positive for the virus in the days surrounding Trump first showing symptoms.

Biden has repeatedly tested negative since his encounter on the debate stage with Trump last Tuesday, his campaign has said. Meanwhile, in Wednesday’s vice presidential debate, Sen. Kamala Harris, D-Calif., was separated from Vice President Mike Pence by a plexiglass barrier.

Pence has tested negative for the virus several times in recent days, his team has said.

The commission was considering changes to the debate format, as well as the rules, after the first Trump-Biden matchup descended into a chaotic shouting match with the candidates — particularly Trump — interrupting during their allotted speaking time.

Speaking with MSNBC’s Stephanie Ruhle on Thursday, Sen. Bernie Sanders, I-Vt., suggested Trump’s decision to back-out of the debate may not be final.

“That was 12 seconds ago right?” Sanders said. “He may have changed his mind since then.”

Source : NBC News

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