Donald Trump and Joe Biden will face hurdles to interrupting each other in final debate this week, after the organiser said it would mute their microphones at times to prevent the chaos of their first encounter.
The decision followed heavy criticism of last month’s event, which critics said was unwatchable because the president kept interrupting Mr Biden, the Democratic candidate.
The Commission on Presidential Debates said it would mute a candidate’s microphone when his opponent was giving his two-minute opening remarks in each segment of the debate on Thursday night.
“We realise . . . that neither campaign may be totally satisfied,” the commission said. “One may think they go too far, and one may think they do not go far enough. [But] 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.”
Mr Trump and Mr Biden will meet in Nashville, Tennessee on Thursday for their final debate, 12 days before the election. They were scheduled to hold another debate in Miami last week, but Mr Trump withdrew after the commission made the event virtual after the president contracted Covid-19.
The Trump campaign criticised the latest move but said the president was “committed to debating Joe Biden regardless of last-minute rule changes from the biased commission in their latest attempt to provide advantage to their favoured candidate”.
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Earlier on Monday, the Trump campaign had complained to the commission that the moderator had chosen a range of topics, including the pandemic and race relations, instead of focusing on foreign policy.
Bill Stepien, Mr Trump’s campaign manager, said the final debate was supposed to focus on international affairs. But the Biden campaign said both sides had agreed that the moderators would decide the debate topics.
While the decision to mute the microphones was criticised by their team, several Trump advisers said after the first debate that the president should have interrupted less and allowed Mr Biden to ramble.
Under the new rules, the candidates will still be able to respond to, and interrupt, each other once they have given their opening statements on topics that will also include climate change, national security and leadership.
Mr Trump wants to avoid debating the pandemic, particularly as the US death toll surpasses 220,000, and also because it gives Mr Biden a platform to lambast him over his widely-panned handling of the health crisis.
Mr Trump slammed Anthony Fauci, the top US infectious disease expert, calling him a “disaster” as he tried to deflect blame for his response to the pandemic. He was responding to a television interview in which Dr Fauci said he had not been surprised that Mr Trump had contracted the virus.
“People are tired of listening to Fauci and these idiots,” Mr Trump told his campaign team in a call.
Thursday’s debate comes as Mr Trump trails Mr Biden in the polls. Mr Biden leads by just under nine points nationally, according to an average compiled by Real Clear Politics. With the sole exception of Ohio, Mr Biden leads Mr Trump in all swing states, which are critical for securing 270 votes in the electoral college.
Democrats won a victory on Monday when the Supreme Court rejected a push by the Republicans to block a three-day extension to accept mail-in ballots in Pennsylvania, a key swing state, after the November 3 election.
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