Presidential debate commission adopts rules to mute microphones

Maanvi Singh
·4 min read
<span>Photograph: Brian Snyder/Reuters</span>
Photograph: Brian Snyder/Reuters

Donald Trump has complained that a rule change to mute microphones for part of his final televised debate with Joe Biden is “very unfair” and objected to the topics chosen by the moderator.

When the two face off on Thursday for a final televised debate, each candidate will have their microphones cut off while the other is delivering responses to questions on American families, race in America, climate change, national security and leadership.

The 90-minute debate is divided into 15-minute segments on the six topics, with each candidate granted two minutes to deliver uninterrupted remarks before proceeding to an open debate for nine minutes of each segment.

The non-partisan Commission on Presidential Debates (CPD) on Monday announced 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”. Both mics will be unmuted for open discussion.

Related: Trump attempts to save himself in battleground states as Covid cases surge

The commission added in a statement: “We realize, after discussions with both campaigns, that neither campaign may be totally satisfied with the measures announced today. One may think they go too far, and one may think they do not go far enough. We are comfortable that these actions strike the right balance and that they are in the interest of the American people, for whom these debates are held.”

The Trump campaign voiced objections to the change but said the Republican would still take part in the Thursday night event, one of his last chances to reach a large prime-time audience before voting ends on 3 November.

“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,” Trump’s campaign manager, Bill Stepien, said.

The Trump campaign earlier contested the topics of some of the questions the debate moderator, the NBC News correspondent Kristen Welker, had chosen for the debate with Stepien claiming the campaigns already agreed foreign policy would be the focus.

Trump said the conditions of the debate were unfair: “I will participate but it’s very unfair that they changed the topics and it’s very unfair that again we have an anchor who’s totally biased.”

At a recent rally, Trump griped that Welker is “extremely unfair”. He has also tweeted, “She’s always been terrible & unfair, just like most of the Fake News reporters, but I’ll still play the game.”

A spokesman for Biden replied that the campaigns and debates commission had agreed Welker 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, said.

“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 rule change on microphones comes after a chaotic first debate on 30 September during which the presidential candidates constantly spoke over each other, with Trump relentlessly interrupting and attacking his Democratic rival.

Trump interjected so frequently that Biden at one point lost his patience and snapped: “Will you shut up, man? This is so unpresidential.”

Republicans and Trump have been critical of the CPD for canceling the second debate due to safety concerns after Trump was diagnosed with Covid-19.

Trump is facing intense pressure to turn around his campaign, hoping for the type of last-minute surge that gave him a come-from-behind victory four years ago, as he trails Biden in national polls and battleground states. But another rise in virus cases and his attacks on experts like Anthony Fauci, the US top infectious disease expert, of who he said on Monday “people are tired of hearing Fauci and all these idiots”, could undermine his final efforts to appeal to voters outside his most loyal base.

“I’m not running scared,” Trump told reporters before taking off for Tucson, Arizona, for his fifth rally in three days. “I think I’m running angry. I’m running happy and I’m running very content ’cause I’ve done a great job.”

Biden was off the campaign trail on Monday, preparing for the debate, but his campaign praised Fauci and criticised Trump for “reckless and negligent leadership” that “threatens to put more lives at risk”.

“Trump’s closing message in the final days of the 2020 race is to publicly mock Joe Biden for trusting science and to call Dr Fauci, the leading public health official on Covid-19, a disaster and other public health officials idiots,” the campaign said.

Concerns about a possible loss to Biden that have been spilling into the open in recent days have been percolating behind the scenes at the Trump campaign. Trump himself has alternated between disbelief and anger at the idea that he could lose to a candidate whom he views as washed up and incompetent, according to three campaign and White House officials not authorised to speak publicly about private conversations.

The Associated Press contributed to this report