President Donald Trump said he won’t participate in next week’s presidential debate after organizers announced it would be held virtually “in order to protect the health and safety of all involved.”
Trump, still recovering from COVID-19, said the debate format change announced earlier Thursday by the Commission on Presidential Debates was unacceptable.
“I’m not going to waste my time on a virtual debate,” the president, in a hoarse voice, told Fox Business host Maria Bartiromo in a phone interview.
The debate commission said the next event would take place Oct. 15 in a town hall format as previously planned, but each candidate will participate remotely. Town hall participants and the debate moderator, C-SPAN anchor Steve Scully, will attend in person at the debate venue in Miami.
Biden’s campaign said he will participate and “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.”
Trump campaign manager Bill Stepien, who also has tested positive for COVID-19, called the virtual format a “sad excuse to bail out Joe Biden” and said in a statement that Trump would “do a rally instead.”
Days after last week’s presidential debate in Cleveland, Trump tested positive for COVID-19 and was hospitalized for three days. Since his diagnosis, dozens of people in his orbit have also tested positive, including White House officials, campaign aides and associates who helped in his debate preparations.
On Friday, hours after Trump announced he had tested positive, Biden said he tested negative for COVID-19. He has since tested negative several more times, according to his campaign.
Meanwhile, Trump and his team have flouted coronavirus health guidelines, like wearing face masks. Members of Trump’s family refused a doctor’s admonition to keep their masks on in the debate audience in Cleveland.
Wednesday night’s vice presidential debate was held in person with a plexiglass barrier between Vice President Mike Pence and Democratic nominee Kamala Harris. Audience members were required to wear masks.
However, at the end of the debate, Pence’s wife Karen appeared on stage without one, ignoring guidelines both campaigns had agreed to observe.
Throughout the pandemic, Trump has continued to hold campaign rallies with mostly maskless crowds. He also has mocked Biden for wearing a face mask and observing other coronavirus health guidelines.
“I don’t wear face masks like him,” the president said during last week’s debate. “Every time you see him, he’s got a mask. He could be speaking 200 feet away … and he shows up with the biggest mask I’ve ever seen.”
Nearly 212,000 people in the U.S. have died of COVID-19.
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