Trump Refuses to Participate in Virtual Second Presidential Debate, to Hold Rally Instead

President shuts down debates commission proposal to hold debate with candidates in remote locations amid coronavirus fears

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, September 29, 2020.
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, September 29, 2020. Credit: Patrick Semansky,AP

U.S. President Donald Trump said on Thursday he would not participate in a debate with Democrat Joe Biden under a new format announced by the debates commission in which each candidate would appear at remote locations.

In an interview with Fox Business Network's Maria Bartiromo, Trump said the new virtual format announced by the Commission on Presidential Debates was not acceptable to him.

"I'm not going to do a virtual debate," he said.

Trump's campaign said in a statement he will hold a campaign rally instead.

Trump added he does not believe that he is contagious and is feeling good enough to resume campaign rallies as he tries to boost his flagging reelection bid.

"I'm back because I'm a perfect physical specimen," Trump told Bartiromo.

Trump's contention he was no longer contagious was not yet backed up by solid evidence from his doctors. The White House has refused to say when his last negative test for the virus was and, as a result, it is unclear how long he has been positive.

The debate commission announced Thursday the second presidental debate would be held virtually, amid the fallout from the president’s diagnosis of COVID-19.

The nonpartisan Commission on Presidential Debates cited a need “to protect the health and safety of all involved.” The candidates will “participate from separate remote locations” while the participants and moderator remain in Miami, it said.

The incident comes a week before Biden and Trump were scheduled to face off in Miami.

Trump was diagnosed with the coronavirus a week ago but in a Tuesday tweet said he looked forward to debating Biden on stage in Miami, “It will be great!” he tweeted.

Donald Trump and Joe Biden participate in their first 2020 presidential debate on the campus of the Cleveland Clinic at Case Western Reserve University in Cleveland, Ohio, September 29, 2020. Credit: Olivier Douliery/Pool via Reuters

Biden, for his part, said he and Trump “shouldn’t have a debate” as long as the president remains COVID positive.

Biden told reporters in Pennsylvania that he was “looking forward to being able to debate him” but said “we’re going to have to follow very strict guidelines.”

Trump fell ill with the virus last Thursday, just 48 hours after debating Biden in person for the first time 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.

This would not be the first debate in which the candidates are not in the same room. In 1960, the third presidential debate between Richard Nixon and John F. Kennedy was broadcast with the two candidates on opposite coasts.

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