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

The external wall of the Bentley Post Office was destroyed when a semi drove into the building, resulting is an estimated $50,000 in damages. (Photo Submitted)
Sylvan Lake RCMP lay charges in post office destruction

One suspect is in custody the second suspect has a warrant for his arrest

Alberta chief medical officer of health Dr. Deena Hinshaw said the province still hopes to bring the hospitalization number down before relaxing restrictions. (photography by Chris Schwarz/Government of Alberta)
14 new deaths, 366 new COVID-19 cases in Alberta

Province nearing 100K COVID-19 vaccine doses administered

The first pages of the book, by Kristy Walker.
Sylvan Lake author pens first children’s book about COVID-19

“The Coronavirus Isn’t Scary” by Kristy Walker teaches children to take care of themselves

Minister of Agriculture and Forestry, MLA Innisfail-Sylvan Lake, Devin Dreeshen. (Photo Submitted)
Ag Minister announces 20% off crop insurance for Alberta farmers

Dreeshen says this will support job creators and boosting rural economy during a difficult time

Mom’s Diner owner Wesley Langlois has joined a growing number of Alberta restaurants that are allowing sit-in dining despite public health restrictions. Photo by PAUL COWLEY/Advocate staff
Red Deer diner joins sit-down dining protest

Mom’s Diner has joined a growing list of Alberta restaurants flouting health restrictions

Young hockey players were out on Bentley Tuesday for a march to a support a return to sports. (Photo courtesy of Bobby McKinlay)
(Kraft Dinner/Twitter)
Kraft Dinner launches candy-flavoured mac and cheese just in time for Valentine’s Day

Sweet and cheesy treat will be here just in time for the cheesiest holiday of the year

In this undated image made from a video taken by the Duke of Sussex and posted on @SaveChildrenUK by the Duke of Sussex and Meghan, Duchess of Sussex, shows the Duchess of Sussex reading the book “Duck! Rabbit!” to their son Archie who celebrates his first birthday on Wednesday May 6, 2020. The Canadian Paediatric Society is reminding families that the process of raising a reader starts from birth. (Duke of Sussex/@SaveChildrenUK)
Canadian Paediatric Society says raising a reader starts from birth

CPS says literacy is one of the strongest predictors of lifelong health outcomes

Employment, Workforce Development and Disability Inclusion Minister Carla Qualtrough responds to a question during a news conference Thursday August 20, 2020 in Ottawa. THE CANADIAN PRESS/Adrian Wyld
Easing rules for parental benefits created inequities among parents, documents say

Employment Minister Carla Qualtrough’s office says the government will make any necessary changes

People walk along a pedestrianized zone of Sainte-Catherine street in Montreal, Monday, May 18, 2020, as the COVID-19 pandemic continues in Canada and around the world. Newly released statistics point to a major drop in police-recorded crime during the first eight months of the COVID-19 pandemic. THE CANADIAN PRESS/Graham Hughes
Crime down in first 8 months of pandemic, but mental health calls rise: StatCan

The agency says violent crimes such as assault dropped significantly

(Photo submitted)
Central Alberta researchers recognized for studies in agricultural sciences

Jessica Sperber of Ponoka and David MacTaggart of Lacombe awarded prestigious scholarship

FILE – Canadian Prime Minister Justin Trudeau delivers his opening remarks at a news conference outside Rideau cottage in Ottawa, Tuesday, January 19, 2021. THE CANADIAN PRESS/Adrian Wyld
Vaccine CEO ‘very, very clear’ that Canada’s contracts will be honoured: Trudeau

Trudeau says he spoke to Moderna CEO on the morning of Jan. 26

Most Read