WASHINGTON: President Donald Trump pulled out of a debate with Democratic rival Joe Biden on 15 October after it was changed to a virtual event.
Trump, who was hospitalized for three days after disclosing last Friday he had tested positive for the novel coronavirus, criticised the format change announced by the nonpartisan commission in charge of the debates and expressed concern his microphone could be cut off.
“I’m not going to waste my time on a virtual debate. That’s not what debating is all about,” Trump said in a nearly hour-long phone morning interview with Fox Business. “You sit behind a computer and do a debate – it’s ridiculous, and then they cut you off whenever they want.”
On Thursday night, the US president said he was feeling “really good” and might return to the campaign trail on Saturday night, possibly with a rally in Florida. His physician said Trump had completed his course of therapy and could return to public engagements on Saturday.
Trump’s decision not to participate in a virtual debate means the second and final debate between the two White House contenders will be on 22nd October, less than two weeks before the presidential election. Some Trump advisers questioned his decision not to participate in the new debate format, arguing he would miss an opportunity to make his case to millions of voters.
Trump’s rejection of the shift in the debate format sparked a flurry of statements back and forth between the two camps. Trump’s campaign proposed holding another debate on 29th October which Biden’s campaign rejected.
Even before his illness was announced, Trump’s performance in the chaotic first debate with Biden last week prompted calls for a change in format. Trump constantly interrupted and talked over both Biden and the moderator.
Some had proposed giving the moderator in future debates the power to cut off any candidate who disrupted the proceedings. The debate commission said nothing about muting the participants in its announcement, while describing the new format as needed “to protect the health and safety of all involved.”
Trump has not been seen in public since he returned to the White House from the hospital, although he has released several videos. The White House has not provided detailed information on the severity of Trump’s illness and has refused to say when he last tested negative for the virus.