Trump says he won’t participate in next debate after commission announces it will be virtual

By Dan Merica, Kevin Bohn and Chandelis Duster, CNN

Trump says he won’t participate in next debate after commission announces it will be virtual

Washington (CNN) — President Donald Trump said Thursday that he will not participate in the second presidential debate with Joe Biden after the Commission on Presidential Debates said the event will be held virtually in the wake of the President’s positive coronavirus diagnosis.

“I am not going to do a virtual debate,” Trump said on Fox Business. “I am not going to waste my time on a virtual debate.”

Biden’s campaign on Thursday swiftly agreed to the virtual format. But Trump’s comment throws the debate into question after the commission took the significant step to wholly remake the event. The move was seen as needed by members of the debate commission given the uncertainty around the President’s health.

Neither the Biden nor Trump campaigns were consulted about the change in format.

Bill Stepien, Trump’s campaign manager, accused the commission on Thursday of “unilaterally canceling an in-person debate” to help Biden and said the President will be holding a rally instead of attending the debate. A Biden campaign adviser told CNN they also learned Thursday morning about the commission’s announcement.

“The second presidential debate will take the form of a town meeting, in which the candidates would participate from separate remote locations,” the commission said in a statement about the debate, which is scheduled to be held on October 15 in a town hall format.

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The commission went on to say that the debate moderator, Steve Scully, and the attendees who will ask Trump and Biden questions will appear from Miami, the original site of the debate.

The future of debates between Trump and Biden have been in question ever since the President’s positive diagnosis last week. CNN reported on Monday that the commission was considering moving debates to a virtual format.

“The Commission, including me, is certainly open to virtual operations of the debates, without question,” said a commission member, who asked for anonymity to speak openly about forthcoming deliberations.

Thursday’s announcement by the commission came hours after Vice President Mike Pence and Democratic vice presidential nominee Kamala Harris debated in person on Wednesday night, albeit separated by plexiglass.

Even before the vice presidential debate, however, members of the commission have been consumed by what to do about the upcoming presidential contests and said that whether the event happened in person or virtually centered on one thing: Trump’s well-being.

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“It is all going to depend on the President’s health,” a commission member said before the vice presidential debate. “We have to plan like it is going to happen. … If he is quarantined in the White House, they have a way to bring him” live to the hall.

This story is breaking and will be updated.