The Commission on Presidential Debates (CPD) announced on Thursday that the second Trump-Biden encounter, originally scheduled for Oct. 15, “will take the form of a town meeting, in which the candidates would participate from separate remote locations.”
The town meeting participants and the moderator, it added, will be located at the Adrienne Arsht Center for the Performing Arts in Miami, Florida.
The change to format, which came as Trump is recuperating from COVID-19 infection at the White House and aims to “protect the health and safety of all involved” with the second debate, was immediately opposed by the president.
“I’m not going to do a virtual debate,” he said in an interview with Fox Business. “I’m not going to waste my time with a virtual debate. That’s not what debating is all about. You sit behind a computer and do a debate, that is ridiculous.”
Trump tested positive for COVID-19 on Oct. 1 and was later admitted to a military hospital, where he stayed for three days while receiving treatment, before returning to the White House.
After infection, Trump experienced a high fever and two drops in his oxygen level. He was given the antiviral medication Remdesivir, anti-inflammatory steroid dexamethasone, and an experimental antibody cocktail produced by U.S. drug maker Regeneron during the course of his treatment.
In a new memo released on Thursday evening, White House physician Sean Conley wrote that Trump has completed his therapy and that he expects the president to be able to safely return to public events from Saturday, the 10th day since his COVID-19 diagnosis.
Eager to project strength and show himself doing well, Trump worked from the Oval Office on Wednesday and Thursday despite concern that he may be still contagious. He has also filmed several videos touting his recovery. However, the White House has repeatedly refused to disclose when the president last had a negative test result.
The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention recommends that individuals self-isolate for at least 10 days after the onset of symptoms from COVID-19, which has infected about 7.6 million people and killed more than 212,000 in the United States.
Bill Stepien, Trump’s reelection campaign manager, said in a statement that there is no medical reason why the CPD “should shift the debate to a virtual setting, postpone it, or otherwise alter it in any way,” citing Conley’s assessment.
Kate Bedingfield, Biden’s deputy campaign manager and communications director, acknowledged earlier in the day that the former U.S. vice president was prepared to attend the virtual debate.
“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,” said Bedingfield in a statement, adding that the campaign hopes that the organizers would move the event to later this month.
The presidential opponents met for their first debate in the 2020 race in Cleveland, Ohio, on Sept. 29, two days before the incumbent was diagnosed with COVID-19. Biden has undergone multiple tests since Trump publicly confirmed he had contracted the disease, with each one returning negative.
ABC News announced on Thursday that Biden will attend a town hall the night previously scheduled for the second face-off with Trump, who is trailing his Democratic rival in national polls by nearly double digits on average.
The primetime event will take place in Philadelphia, Pennsylvania, where Biden will answer questions from voters, with moderator and “Good Morning America” anchor George Stephanopoulos, according to the broadcaster.
In a new interview with Fox News Thursday night, Trump reiterated he is “not going to do a virtual debate.”
Meanwhile, the president didn’t tell if he has been tested again but only said he will receive one on Friday. He also floated an idea of going out on Saturday for a rally in Florida, a battleground state key to this year’s presidential race.
Frank Fahrenkopf, chair of the CPD, told CNN on Thursday that the panel spoke with both campaigns “just before” it announced the decision to hold the Miami debate virtually, but did not consult with them about the decision.
Fahrenkopf added that the decision has the support of the Cleveland Clinic, the commission’s health advisers, while also acknowledging that it is fully within Trump’s right to decline to debate.
“There is no law requiring any presidential candidate to debate,” he explained. “So it is up to every candidate to decide whether they want to debate or not.”
In another interview with The Associated Press, Fahrenkopf said the nonpartisan group is not reconsidering shifting the second debate from virtual back to in-person, despite a request from Trump’s team.