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Trump pulls out of virtual debate with Biden – CNET


The first of three planned debates between Joe Biden and Donald Trump was a spectacle. Now, with Trump having tested positive for COVID-19, will the other debates go on as planned?  

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The second debate — a virtual one — between President Donald Trump and Democratic nominee and former vice president, Joe Biden, was on. Until it wasn’t.

The Commission on Presidential Debates said on Thursday that the next debate, scheduled for Oct. 15, would be a virtual one with both candidates appearing from different locations. The move comes after Trump returned to the White House after contracting the coronavirus. He’s still receiving treatment for COVID-19 since testing positive for the virus last week. 

But Trump said on Fox News shortly after that he wouldn’t participate in the debate. Trump campaign manager Bill Sepien, who also contracted COVID-19, said in a statement that the president would hold a rally instead. 

“For the swamp creatures at the President Debate Commission to now rush to Joe Biden’s defense by unilaterally canceling an in-person debate is pathetic,” he said. 

Democratic presidential nominee Joe Biden said on Tuesday that the second presidential debate should not be held if Trump continues to test positive for the virus. But he added that he’d base his decision to participate in the debate on recommendations from health officials. 

“Well, I think if he still has COVID, we shouldn’t have a debate,” Biden told reporters. “I think we’re gonna have to follow very strict guidelines. Too many people have been infected and it’s a very serious problem.”

Biden has been tested four times since he and Trump stood together on a debate stage in Ohio last week, his campaign said. All four of those tests have come back negative.

Trump previously said he still intended to debate Biden on Oct. 15, his campaign told CBS News on Monday. The president tested positive for the coronavirus last week and spent the weekend at Walter Reed National Military Medical Center. On Monday night, he returned to the White House, where he continues to be monitored by a team of doctors.

On Sunday, White House physician Sean Conley told reporters that Trump’s blood oxygen level had dropped suddenly on two occasions and that the president was being given the steroid dexamethasone. A number of specialists say the steroid suggests Trump’s condition is serious. 

Trump left the hospital on Monday evening, however, and returned to the White House. He appeared on a balcony and also tweeted out a video in which he said he was better and downplayed the threat of the virus, which has killed nearly 210,000 Americans. “Don’t let it dominate you,” he said. “Don’t be afraid of it.” 

It’s still unclear if Trump’s condition will change. Conley told reporters that the president “may not be entirely out of the woods yet” and that Trump’s medical team will continue close monitoring at the White House. On Tuesday, Conley released a memo in which he reported that Trump had told doctors that morning that he wasn’t experiencing symptoms related to COVID-19.

Since the president came down with the virus, his reelection campaign has either postponed his events or switched them to virtual offerings. So far, the Commission on Presidential Debates has’t made a statement regarding the status of the next two presidential debates, which are scheduled for Oct. 15 in Miami, Florida, and Oct. 22 in Nashville, Tennessee. Also, there hasn’t been any word on what precautions may be taken to ensure the safety of the candidates. The commission didn’t respond to a request for comment. 

Representatives of the Biden and Trump campaigns weren’t available to comment for this article. 

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What we do know is that the one and only vice presidential debate, between Vice President Mike Pence and Sen. Kamala Harris, is set to happen Oct. 7 in Salt Lake City, Utah. The Commission on Presidential Debates has approved the use of plexiglass to create a barrier between the two candidates. 

So, in keeping with the unpredictable and unprecedented year we’ve had, a lot could happen before the next presidential debate.

Here’s a look at what Trump’s condition could mean for the next two presidential debates. 

They could be canceled

The timeline for when Trump became infected and when he first started showing symptoms is fuzzy. But he said the positive test result was returned on Thursday, and technically he should be in isolation for 14 days, according to guidelines from the US Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. That would take us right to the day of the debate, and he could continue to test positive until then. Also, even though he’s left the hospital and says he’s better, specialists say there’s a chance he could take a turn for the worse, and given his age and weight, he’s still at risk of developing serious illness.  

They could be postponed

If Trump were to experience complications or if health officials advising the campaigns suggest it’s unsafe to debate on Oct. 15 or Oct. 22, the commission may postpone the events. But logistically that could be difficult, given how close we are to the Nov. 3 election. It would likely be hard to find new dates that would satisfy both campaigns. Still, if there wasn’t time to reschedule both debates, perhaps one of them would still take place.

They could go virtual

If Trump’s health takes a turn or if health officials don’t feel it’s safe enough to get the candidates together in person, a virtual debate could get the go-ahead. It’s doubtful that either campaign would agree to put its faith in a broadband connection and agree to such a debate format. The last thing either candidate wants is for voters to see his grimacing face frozen on the screen.

They could go on as planned

It’s clear from the past few days that Trump wants to project an image of health and dominance over the coronavirus. So it’s likely he’ll push for the debates to go on as planned, regardless of whether health officials recommend it. The answer may come down to what the Biden campaign decides to do. If Trump continues to test positive, the Biden team will likely cancel or possibly postpone at least the first debate. If Trump tests negative and doesn’t experience a relapse in the next week, both debates may go on as expected. 

So stay tuned.

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