Presidential debate: Trump refuses to take part in virtual TV event

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The first debate resulted in insults and interruptions

US President Donald Trump has refused to take part in a virtual television debate with his Democratic rival Joe Biden.

The commission that organized the debate in Miami on October 15 had previously announced that it would have to take place remotely.

It made the decision after Mr Trump was treated for Covid-19. The president said he would not waste his time on a move designed to “protect” his rival.

Mr Biden’s campaign said Mr Trump had tried to evade accountability for his “failures on Covid and the economy”.

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Both teams appeared to agree on a rescheduled date later on October 22nd, although it is unclear what the debate would look like.

The first presidential debate on September 30th resulted in insults and interruptions. The Vice Presidential Debate, which took place Wednesday night between Mike Pence and Kamala Harris, was a far more measured affair.

The US elections will take place on November 3rd. Recent opinion polls suggest Mr Biden has a high single-digit lead nationally, but the result is often decided in battlefield states where the races can be much closer.

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His comments during a phone interview with Fox Business Channel on Thursday touched on a number of key topics, including his health and the possibility of a move towards a stimulus package for the economy.

But it was his comments on the format of the debate that drew the most attention.

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Mr Trump said, “I’m not going to waste my time on a personal debate. Sit behind a computer, ridiculous. You cut you off … I’m not doing a virtual debate.”

He also described the Miami debate host – cable and satellite TV station C-SPAN’s political editor, Steve Scully – as “never a trumper”.

A statement from Trump campaign manager Bill Stepien, who had also previously tested positive for Covid, said the commission’s decision to “rush to Joe Biden’s defense” was “pathetic” and that Mr Trump had “several negative tests before the debate ” released .

He said Mr Trump would hold a rally instead.

Speaking of his health, Mr. Trump said: “I’m back because I’m a perfect physical specimen.”

He said he had stopped taking most “therapeutics” but was still taking steroids and would be tested for Covid “soon” again.

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Although his doctor has said he has no more symptoms, questions remain as to when the president was first infected and whether he could still be contagious.

And while the names of many of the people who have interacted with the President and tested positive are now known, it remains unclear how many have been exposed in the White House. There are new Covid security measures there.

Mr Trump said Thursday that “someone came in and people got infected” but did not provide any further details.

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A September 26 rally to announce the Supreme Court election of Mr. Trump was viewed as a possible “super-spreader” event in which a number of attendees were known to test positive.

What is the position of the Biden team?

Mr Biden had previously been cautious at an event on stage, saying he would attend if medical experts gave permission.

Following Mr. Trump’s comments on the virtual debate, he said, “We don’t know what the president is going to do. He’s changing his mind every second.”

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Joe Biden: “You never know what will come out of your mouth”

Team communications director Kate Bedingfield said in a statement that Mr Biden was prepared for a virtual debate, but “Donald Trump clearly does not want to answer voters’ questions”.

“As a result, Joe Biden will find a convenient place on October 15th to answer questions from voters directly.”

So what happens now

The 90-minute Miami debate was to take place at the Adrienne Arsht Center for the Performing Arts, with residents in the audience asking questions of the candidates.

There now seems to be some consensus between the campaigns that the debate should be postponed until October 22nd.

The Biden team said the town hall-style debate should continue so that voters “have the opportunity to ask questions directly to both candidates,” as every candidate had done since 1992.

The Trump team agreed to the date, saying it should be face to face. The third debate, already scheduled for October 22nd in Tennessee, should be postponed to October 29th just five days before the vote.

The Presidential Debate Commission said the decision announced Thursday to force candidates to attend “from separate remote locations” was made “to protect the health and safety of all concerned.”

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The White House is still trying to deal with a Covid-19 outbreak

What about the economy?

The president had said on Tuesday that he would cut off talks with the Democrats on an overarching Covid stimulus package, but after a negative reaction in the stock markets, he said he would try to negotiate individual deals instead.

He was more optimistic on Thursday, saying he saw “really good” opportunities to reach an agreement on a number of issues.

“We’re starting to have some very productive conversations,” he said.

The main advances were airline support and a stimulus check for workers of $ 1,200 (£ 930).

The Republicans under Treasury Secretary Steven Mnuchin and the Democrats under House Speaker Nancy Pelosi have discussed regularly, but have differed in the amount of money they want to spend.

In the final twist on Thursday, Ms. Pelosi said there would be no separate bill for the airlines without a larger bill.

What happened in the VP debate?

The Wednesday night event in Utah was a civil debate between two smooth communicators compared to the martial showdown between Trump and Biden last week.

But there were intense exchanges.

Ms. Harris accused Mr. Pence and the president of deliberately misleading Americans about the deadliness of the coronavirus.

Mr Pence accused the Biden-Harris campaign of copying the White House’s pandemic strategy.

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Mr. Pence was shocked by the murder of African American George Floyd in Minnesota. But he added, “There is no excuse for the unrest and looting that follows.”

Ms. Harris said the president refused to condemn white supremacists.

BBC North America reporter Anthony Zurcher says it was memorable, with a few strong moments and a few stumbling blocks for both of them, but that in itself would be good news for the Democrats.

  • Read Anthony’s full analysis