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Thursday’s Presidential Debate Canceled After Spat Over Coronavirus Safety Concerns

The stage of this week's vice presidential debate Salt Lake City.
Image credit: Eric Baradat

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Updated at 7:44 p.m. ET

The second presidential debate has been canceled, organizers confirmed, following a disagreement between the campaigns and the Commission on Presidential Debates regarding safety protocols for Thursday’s event.

“On October 8, CPD announced that for the health and safety of all involved, the second presidential debate, scheduled for October 15 in Miami, would be conducted virtually,” the commission said in a statement Friday.

“Subsequently, the campaigns of the two candidates who qualified for participation in the debate made a series of statements concerning their respective positions regarding their willingness to participate in a virtual debate on October 15, and each now has announced alternate plans for that date.

“It is now apparent there will be no debate on October 15,” the commission said.

Organizers said the final debate on Oct. 22 is still scheduled to take place at Belmont University in Nashville with testing, masking and social distancing protocols in place. It will be a one-on-one debate moderated by NBC News correspondent Kristen Welker.

The Trump campaign on Friday responded to the commission’s decision with a statement reiterating its position that there is “no medical reason” to stop the debate and accusing the commission of being biased against President Trump.

“There’s nothing that says that President Trump and Joe Biden can’t debate together without the overlords at the commission having a say in the matter. We would be glad to debate one-on-one without the commission’s interference,” campaign communications director Tim Murtaugh said in a statement.

The fracas surrounding debate safety regulations began following last week’s revelation that Trump had tested positive for the coronavirus, days after having traveled to Cleveland for the first official debate against his rival, Democrat Joe Biden.

Organizers on the commission moved quickly to attempt to schedule a virtual debate in lieu of the traditional in-person showing as a result of the president’s diagnosis, but Trump criticized the new format as “a waste of time.”

The Biden campaign responded to Trump’s refusal to participate in a virtual event, saying that the president “clearly does not want to face questions from the voters about his failures on COVID and the economy.”

Biden will instead participate in a townhall hosted by ABC News at that date in Philadelphia.

The Trump campaign is expected to hold a rally in lieu of the debate.

Copyright 2020 NPR. To see more, visit https://www.npr.org.

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