Washington, 8 October 2020 (dpa/MIA) – US President Donald Trump on Thursday said he would not participate in an online debate with Democratic presidential nominee Joe Biden, but later agreed to delay the event.
“I am not going to waste my time on a virtual debate,” Trump said on the Fox Business Network, after the commission that hosts the event said it was moving to a remote format to protect public health. Trump tested positive for the new coronavirus a week ago.
The Trump campaign later said it was willing to delay next week’s townhall-style debate until October 22, when a regular, moderated stand-off is due to occur, an idea proposed by Biden’s team. The townhall allows voters to directly pose questions to candidates.
Trump’s campaign also insisted that the third and final debate be pushed to October 29, just days before the November 3 election.
“Americans deserve to hear directly from both presidential candidates on these dates, October 22 and 29,” campaign manager Bill Stepien said in a statement. He accused the media of trying to “hide” Biden.
However, Biden’s team promptly rejected the bid to postpone the last debate, saying “Trump’s erratic behaviour does not allow him to rewrite the calendar, and pick new dates of his choosing.”
“Donald Trump can show up, or he can decline again. That’s his choice,” the Biden campaign said about October 22, a date that had already been fixed for a moderated debate.
The debates commission earlier announced that for the October 15 debate, the “candidates would participate from separate remote locations” in order to ensure the health and safety of “all involved.”
Biden’s campaign said he would still make himself available at an “appropriate place” next Thursday to take questions from the voting public.
Trump used his time on Fox, his first interview since he announced he had tested positive, to rant about a range of subjects unrelated to the November election, including about 2016 Democratic candidate Hillary Clinton.
He also discussed his health, insisting he felt “great” and was nearly done with all the medical treatments.
However, the president indicated he remained on steroids, which were first administered several days ago when his oxygen levels dipped. The president has taken an experimental antibody cocktail and a five-day treatment course of a therapeutic.
“I don’t think I’m contagious at all,” Trump said, despite health agency guidelines saying people in his situation should remain in isolation and may still be capable of infecting others.
“I’d love to do a rally tonight. I wanted to do one last night,” Trump said.
The previous day, Trump went to the Oval Office of the White House to work and then recorded a video message in the gardens outside the presidential mansion in Washington.
There has been a coronavirus outbreak at the White House, with a dozen or so people confirmed to have tested positive. Broadcaster ABC said the number was up to 34.
Trump’s campaign aggressively denounced the debates commission and alleged Trump “will have posted multiple negative tests prior to the debate.” It is entirely unclear how the campaign could make such a claim.
Instead of the debate, the campaign will hold a rally with the president.
Poll after poll shows Trump trailing Biden at the national level, with less than a month to go until election day and with early voting already under way. The surveys indicate Trump is also poised to lose in key swing-states.
“I don’t understand it. I don’t believe them, I don’t believe the polls,” Trump said in his interview. He accused the media of being “dishonest” and said the polls are “rigged.”
Trump attacked Biden’s running mate, Senator Kamala Harris, twice referring to the Democratic vice presidential nominee as “this monster” and insisting the liberal from California was a “communist.”
The previous evening, Harris debated Vice President Mike Pence in their only face-off.
“She wants to open up the borders to allow killers, murderers and rapists into our country,” Trump said of Harris.
The vice presidential debate was far more civil and even-tempered than Trump’s first duel with Biden – a chaotic night of bruising cross-talk and insults – even as the two held pointed discussions, including on the coronavirus.
Both ducked questions on a number of issues, including on plans to step in for the septuagenarian presidential contenders if needed.
Trump has long claimed Biden would be the one to cancel the debates.
Presidential debates are a long-standing tradition in US politics, and it is a major development for a sitting president to pull out.
While the president says he won the first debate, surveys have indicated that most people were appalled by the tenor, and that Biden – the former vice president under Barack Obama – gained more than he lost at the event.