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Trump refuses to attend virtual debate, agrees to delay

October 8, 2020

The US President, currently infected with COVID-19, has refused to attend a virtual presidential debate with Joe Biden. He later backtracked and agreed to a delay.

U.S. President Donald Trump and Democratic presidential nominee Joe Biden participate in the first 2020 presidential campaign debate held on the campus of the Cleveland Clinic at Case Western Reserve University in Cleveland, Ohio, U.S., September 29, 2020.
Image: Olivier Douliery/Reuters

US President Donald Trump on Thursday rejected a suggestion to hold the next presidential debate virtually, despite his ongoing fight with the highly infectious COVID-19.

However, he later agreed to a delayed debate in person, while insisting that there still be three debates.

The Commission on Presidential Debates earlier announced that it would change the format of the debate on October 15 to an online virtual one, in light of Trump's coronavirus diagnosis.

"I'm not going to do a virtual debate," Trump told Fox Business News in response, adding that it was "not acceptable to us."

He accused the commission, which is nonpartisan, of acting to "protect" Democratic challenger Joe Biden.

However, he later agreed to delay the debate to October 22. His team also insisted that the third debate be pushed to October 29, just days before the November 3 election. More than 4 million Americans have already voted in the election, due to an expansion of early and mail-in voting prompted by the pandemic.

The debate had originally been scheduled to take place in Miami in a week's time.

Read more: Donald Trump and Joe Biden clash in chaotic first debate

Rally instead

Trump's campaign earlier said that Trump would instead hold a supporter rally instead of attending a virtual rally.

"We'll pass on this sad excuse to bail out Joe Biden and do a rally instead," it said in a statement earlier. It claimed that Trump "will have posted multiple negative tests prior to the debate." 

Trump tested positive for the coronavirus last week, and was hospitalized for three days. His doctors claim that he is no longer showing symptoms, however he appeared to have labored breathing in public appearances.

He is likely still contagious, with patients warned to self-isolate for at least 10 days after testing positive.      

In 1960, the third of four presidential debates was held remotely, with candidates Richard Nixon and John F. Kennedy on opposite coasts.

The previous Trump-Biden debate was almost universally declared a disaster, with constant interruptions and few clear messages to draw.

Senior Republican figure Herman Cain died from COVID-19 after attending a Trump rally in Tulsa, Oklahoma. Many of those in Trump's inner circle have been infected with the coronavirus after a White House function. 

Also on Thursday, officials announced that Vice President Mike Pence had tested negative after his Wednesday night debate with  Democratic vice presidential candidate Kamala Harris. 

Read more: White House COVID-19 outbreak widens, as cases mount

aw/msh (AP, Reuters, AP, dpa)