Political News

Trump team tries to keep debate fight going but others move on

Posted October 11, 2020 6:40 p.m. EDT
Updated October 11, 2020 10:21 p.m. EDT

— President Donald Trump's reelection campaign on Sunday revived its push for an in-person presidential debate even though it seems the Joe Biden campaign -- and the debate commission -- have moved on. The move comes after Trump -- who has repeatedly flouted best public health practices since his Covid-19 diagnosis -- declined last week to participate in a virtual format.

The latest effort from senior campaign surrogates and West Wing staff comes after the White House physician cleared Trump to resume public activity, but declined to say when the President's last negative test took place.

"The President is ready to debate and his doctors have cleared him for participating in public engagements," White House deputy communications director Brian Morgenstern told reporters at the White House Sunday. "They've said he's no longer a risk for transmission so it would be nice if the commission would get the debate back on the schedule."

With the backing of their health advisers, the commission had announced Thursday morning that -- because Trump had recently tested positive for Covid-19 -- the debate that was scheduled for Miami this week would be held virtually, with the two candidates appearing from remote locations.

But Trump swiftly rejected that plan, saying he would not show up. As a result, the President's campaign and Biden's campaign have scrambled to set up dueling town hall events in recent days as a way to still reach voters in the final stretch of the election.

Biden is set to participate in a town hall on ABC, moderated by George Stephanopoulos, Thursday at 8 p.m. ET.

The former vice president's campaign and ABC announced the event the same day that the commission said the second debate would be virtual, and have made their commitment to the network town hall known even as the Trump campaign has pushed for a new debate schedule.

Trump's team, meanwhile, is in talks with NBC about a town hall, according to multiple sources familiar with the planning. The event is conditioned on the President testing negative for the coronavirus, the sources said.

That town hall will likely be in an outdoor setting in Miami, just like the one NBC recently hosted with Biden, the sources added.

But even as the Trump campaign plans for a network town hall event, campaign surrogates continue to mount a forceful push for an in-person debate.

The President's son, Eric Trump, echoed his father's push to reschedule, saying on ABC's "This Week" that his father "wants to stand on the stage with his opponent."

And Trump's daughter-in-law, Lara Trump, praised the President "for saying no," telling Fox News on Sunday, "I think a virtual debate is an absolute disaster."

The last-minute push for an in-person debate reflects the mounting risk of Trump's decision to walk away from the virtual debate at a time when his campaign is trailing in national polls and in a number of key swing states with a little more than three weeks to go until Election Day.

The Commission on Presidential Debates did not immediately respond to CNN's request for comment Sunday.

The commission's decision to cancel the second Trump-Biden contest of the cycle was the culmination of a furious 48-hour back-and-forth between the commission and both Trump's and Biden's campaigns.

"It is now apparent there will be no debate on October 15, and the CPD will turn its attention to preparations for the final presidential debate scheduled for October 22," the commission said in a statement on Friday.

The President has repeatedly signaled that he is ready to put his bout with coronavirus behind him and return to the campaign trail, despite little clarity about his condition, no independent view of his physical state and warnings from health experts he could still be shedding the virus.

He even told Fox News' "Sunday Morning Futures" that it "seems like I'm immune" despite there being no evidence that people are immune if they have been infected once and the US Centers for Disease Control and Protection specifically cautioning people not to assume they are immune.

Biden deputy campaign manager Kate Bedingfield told CNN's Jake Tapper on "State of the Union" Sunday that "we are not going to let Donald Trump whipsaw around at the last second trying to rewrite the rules."

Trump, she said, "doesn't get to set the calendar."

"The debate commission sets the calendar. We all agreed to these debates back in June, and we're not going to let him try to rewrite the rules at the last second."

The commission's October 22 debate is set to be held in Nashville and will likely be the final meeting between the two candidates before Election Day.

This story has been updated with additional reporting.

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