The Commission on Presidential Debates on Friday canceled the second presidential debate planned for next week a day after announcing the event would shift to a virtual format "in order to protect the health and safety of all involved," which prompted President Donald Trump—who is battling Covid-19—to refuse to participate and Democratic nominee Joe Biden to make plans for a televised town hall.
In a statement, the commission confirmed reporting by the Wall Street Journal and CNN that the October 15 debate was canceled, citing the candidates' respective positions on their willingness to participate in a virtual debate. The CPD had said Thursday that the event would "take the form of a town meeting, in which the candidates would participate from separate remote locations."
The second Trump/Biden debate is off. If it is not rescheduled, this will be the first election cycle since 1996 not to have three presidential debates. https://t.co/YImHVYLhmJ
— Gabe Fleisher (@WakeUp2Politics) October 9, 2020
"The CPD will turn its attention to preparations for the final presidential debate scheduled for October 22," the commission said Friday. "Subject to health security considerations, and in accordance with all required testing, masking, social distancing, and other protocols, the debate will take place at Belmont University in Nashville, Tennessee."
Trump had indicated his unwillingness to go along with the CPD's safety protocols for the second debate in a Thursday interview on Fox Business. "I'm not going to waste my time on a virtual debate," the president said. "That's not what debating is all about. You sit behind a computer and do a debate, it's ridiculous."
As CNN detailed Friday:
The Trump campaign, in response to their candidate backing out of the debate, issued three statements on Thursday that slammed the commission, pushed the Biden campaign to agree to an in-person debate, and said they would be willing to push the October 15 debate back a week to October 22 and then move the third debate to October 29, just days before the November 3 election.
But Biden's campaign rejected their proposal, with campaign spokeswoman Kate Bedingfield saying in response, "Donald Trump doesn't make the debate schedule; the debate commission does."
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Thursday evening, as the fate of the second debate remained unclear, ABC News announced that it will hold a prime-time town hall featuring Biden on October 15 in Philadelphia. The event hosted by chief anchor George Stephanopoulos "will be held in accordance with state and local government health and safety regulations, as well as guidelines set forward by health officials," the network said.
"Vice President Biden looks forward to making his case to the American people about how to overcome this pandemic, restore American leadership and our alliances in the world, and bring the American people together," Biden campaign spokesperson Andrew Bates said in a statement Friday. "It's shameful that Donald Trump ducked the only debate in which the voters get to ask the questions—but it's no surprise."
The decision to cancel the second debate came shortly before Trump was set to appear on Fox News for an on-air "medical exam" that critics such as Madeline Peltz of Media Matters for America called "a complete sham aimed at rehabilitating a sick president who, along with Fox News, has the blood of hundreds of thousands of Americans who died unnecessarily in this tragic crisis on their hands."
Earlier Friday, news broke that Trump is planning to hold his first in-person event on Saturday since testing positive for Covid-19. An invitation obtained by ABC News reportedly says that the event at the White House will feature "remarks to peaceful protesters for law and order" by the president.
2) Now also confirmed by NYTimes. He will apparently speak from a balcony to people below. But that actually will just give droplets more chance to travel father ballistically. https://t.co/fAJ5CuO1b8
— Eric Feigl-Ding (@DrEricDing) October 9, 2020
The president plans to deliver remarks from one of the White House balconies during the Saturday event, for which Trump's campaign sent out more than 2,000 invitations, according to the New York Times.
The newspaper noted that Trump's campaign also announced that he plans hold a rally in Florida on Monday, and attendees will be asked "to sign a disclaimer stating that 'you and any guests voluntarily assume all risks related to exposure to Covid-19.'"