Presidential Debate Commission to Mute Microphones to Prevent Interruptions

A network television pool cameraman sits in a plexiglass box during technical run-throughs a day ahead of the 2020 vice presidential debate in Salt Lake City, Utah, October 6, 2020. (Jim Bourg/Reuters)

The Commission on Presidential Debates announced Tuesday it will mute the microphones of President Trump and Democratic nominee Joe Biden during their opponent’s designated response times on Thursday in the second and final debate.

At the beginning of the six segments of the debate, each candidate will be allotted two minutes to answer an initial question, during which time the opposing candidate’s microphone will be muted.

“Under the agreed upon debate rules, each candidate is to have two minutes of uninterrupted time to make remarks at the beginning of each 15 minute segment of the debate. These remarks are to be followed by a period of open discussion,” the commission said in a statement. “Both campaigns this week again reaffirmed their agreement to the two-minute, uninterrupted rule.”

The statement added: “The Commission is announcing today that in order to enforce this agreed upon rule, the only candidate whose microphone will be open during these two-minute periods is the candidate who has the floor under the rules. For the balance of each segment, which by design is intended to be dedicated to open discussion, both candidates’ microphones will be open.”

The Commission said that it “had determined that it is appropriate to adopt measures intended to promote adherence to agreed-upon rules and inappropriate to make changes to those rules.”

Trump told reporters on Monday that he would still participate in the debate, though he added, “I just think it’s very unfair.”

Trump campaign manager Bill Stepien accused the commission of being biased toward the former vice president.

“President Trump is committed to debating Joe Biden regardless of last minute rule changes from the biased commission in their latest attempt to provide advantage to their favored candidate,” Stepien said in a statement.

Before the rule change was announced, the Trump campaign had urged the commission to add foreign policy as a topic at Thursday’s debate in Nashville. Instead, the topics will include COVID-19, American families, national security, leadership, climate change, and race in America.

Stepien charged that these topics were another in a series of “pro-Biden antics.” 

The Biden campaign pushed back, saying the campaigns and the commission had agreed months ago that the debate moderator would choose the topics. 

“The Trump campaign is lying about that now because Donald Trump is afraid to face more questions about his disastrous COVID response,” Biden’s national press secretary TJ Ducklo told Fox News. “As usual, the president is more concerned with the rules of a debate than he is getting a nation in crisis the help it needs.”

The debate Thursday comes after last week’s scheduled debate was canceled in light of President Trump’s coronavirus diagnosis earlier this month. The debate was nixed without being rescheduled after Trump would not agree to participate in a virtual debate.

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