Second presidential debate moves virtual, Trump says he won't 'waste my time'
By WILL STEAKIN, MOLLY NAGLE, LIBBY CATHEY and WILLIAM MANSELL, ABC News
(WASHINGTON) -- The Commission on Presidential Debates announced Thursday morning that the second debate between former Vice President Joe Biden and President Donald Trump will be virtual.
However, shortly after the change was announced, Trump said he would refuse to participate in an interview with Fox Business anchor Maria Bartiromo.
"I'm not going to do a virtual debate," Trump said Thursday morning. "No, I'm not going to waste my time with a virtual debate."
In light of the president's refusal to debate virtually, Biden will instead participate in an ABC News town hall moderated by ABC News Chief Anchor George Stephanopoulos in Philadelphia on Oct. 15, during which he will take questions directly from voters.
The Trump campaign, hours after saying Trump would host a rally on Oct. 15 instead of debating, said it would participate if next week's debate is pushed back a week and the final scheduled debate also was pushed back a week.
"We agree that this should happen on October 22, and accordingly, the third debate should then be shifted back one week to October 29," Trump campaign manager Bill Stepien said in a statement.
The Biden campaign quickly shot down the idea of rearranging the dates of the debates, saying they were agreed to back in June.
"Trump's erratic behavior does not allow him to rewrite the calendar, and pick new dates of his choosing," it said, adding Biden looks forward to participating in the final debate on Oct. 22, which it claimed is tied for the latest debate date in 40 years.
"Donald Trump can show up, or he can decline again. That's his choice," it added.
In an earlier statement, the Biden campaign said it hoped the commission would move the town-hall style format -- where candidates take questions directly from voters -- from the debate scheduled on Oct. 15 to the final debate date of Oct. 22.
"Given the President's refusal to participate on October 15th, we hope the Debate Commission will move the Biden-Trump Town Hall to October 22nd, so that the President is not able to evade accountability. The voters should have a chance to ask questions of both candidates, directly. Every Presidential candidate since 1992 has participated in such an event, and it would be a shame if Donald Trump was the first to refuse," said Biden deputy campaign manager and communications director Kate Bedingfield.
The Biden campaign also said earlier Thursday that the former vice president would still participate in the virtual event.
"Vice President Biden looks forward to speaking directly to the American people and comparing his plan for bringing the country together and building back better with Donald Trump's failed leadership on the coronavirus that has thrown the strong economy he inherited into the worst downturn since the Great Depression," the campaign said in a statement to ABC News.
Biden himself weighed in on Trump saying he wouldn't participate, before heading on a campaign trip to Arizona Thursday morning.
“We don’t know what the president is going to do. He changes his mind every second," he told reporters after a lengthy pause. "For me to comment on that now would be irresponsible. I think that -- I’m going to follow the commission’s recommendation. If he goes off and he’s going to have a rally, I—I don’t know what I’ll do,” Biden said.
Asked by ABC News if he would still participate in the debate if Trump did not, Biden said he didn’t know.
“It depends on—we don’t know enough to know right now. My inclination —I’ll talk to you about this later. I don’t know. I’m just hearing the same thing you’re hearing as we’re going. You never know what’s going to come out of his mouth," he said.
Instead of attending the debate, the Trump campaign said earlier, before proposing both debates be pushed back, that it will hold a rally.
"The safety of all involved can easily be achieved without canceling a chance for voters to see both candidates go head to head. We’ll pass on this sad excuse to bail out Joe Biden and do a rally instead," the campaign said in a statement Thursday morning.
Biden's camp said once again this move proves Trump cares not for the safety of others but only himself, an aide told ABC News.
The scheduled town hall format will remain for the Oct. 15 debate, but CPD said "in order to protect the health and safety of all involved," the candidates would participate remotely from separate locations.
Questioners will still be with moderator Steve Scully at the Adrienne Arsht Center for the Performing Arts in Miami, Florida, as previously planned.
Trump told Fox he was not made aware of the changes before they were announced.
The safety of the next debate came into question after Trump's positive COVID-19 diagnoses last week, which required the president to be hospitalized at Walter Reed Medical Center. Trump returned to the White House on Monday.
ABC News' Mary Bruce, John Verhovek and Will Steakin contributed to this report.
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