Trump Insists He Would Be Well Enough for In-Person Debate as Biden Agrees to Replacement Town Hall by Himself
President Donald Trump is doubling down on his argument that he can in fact appear in person at next week's presidential debate, despite his recent diagnosis, hospitalization and ongoing recovery from the novel coronavirus.
In a statement Thursday night, the president's campaign insisted there was "no medical reason" why the second debate should be postponed or moved to a virtual setting, which Trump opposes.
The protestations are unlikely to make much difference, with Trump's initial refusal to do a virtual debate — calling it "ridiculous" — seeming to have scrapped the whole affair.
The nonpartisan Commission on Presidential Debates previously said the town hall-style debate scheduled for next Thursday would move to a remote, virtual format out of health concerns in the wake of a coronavirus outbreak in the White House.
The Trump campaign called the commission's move "unilateral" and unacceptable, arguing it was intended to aid Democratic nominee Joe Biden, who has built his pitch to voters on Trump's much-scrutinized handling of the pandemic.
After Trump, 74, balked at a remote debate, Biden announced he would be appearing at an ABC News town hall that same night since, in the words of a Biden campaign spokeswoman, Trump had declined to take questions from voters.
In the Trump campaign's latest statement, released Thursday evening, his campaign manager Bill Stepien claimed there was "no medical reason why the Commission on Presidential Debates should shift the debate to a virtual setting, postpone it or otherwise alter it in any way." (Stepien is one of several senior aides who was infected with the virus in the recent White House outbreak.)
The White House physician, Dr. Sean Conley, said in a memo to reporters earlier Thursday that he "fully anticipate[s] the President's safe return to public engagements" by Saturday.
Neither Trump nor his campaign has released when Trump's most recent negative test for COVID-19 was, however, and his doctors have admitted projecting optimism about his condition — after earlier conflicting accounts of his health over the weekend.
As it currently stands, it seems the two candidates are likeliest to debate one more time, on Oct. 22.
That event is set to take place in-person in Nashville, Tennessee, and was planned to feature a format similar to the first. It could come with its own set of controversies, though, especially considering intense scrutiny of the first debate, which deteriorated after Trump repeatedly interrupted both Biden, 77, and moderator Chris Wallace.
The Biden campaign has said the third debate should now follow a town hall-style format, similar to the one meant to be held Oct. 15. The Trump campaign has not publicly weighed in on that.
On Thursday, the Trump campaign also asked for the remaining debates to be delayed by a week, presumably until after the president is no longer infectious.
The Biden campaign dismissed that.
"We look forward to participating in the final debate, scheduled for October 22, which already is tied for the latest debate date in 40 years," a spokeswoman said in a statement. "Donald Trump can show up, or he can decline again. That's his choice."