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UPDATE: ABC, Biden holding Oct. 15 town hall; 2nd debate in question

By Tim Darnell, Atlanta Journal-Constitution #local-all (CNT)

Trump picks Oct. 22 and 29; Biden says ‘you can’t change the calendar’

The campaigns of President Donald Trump and Democrat Joe Biden sparred vigorously Thursday afternoon over proposals regarding the date of their next debate, after Trump flatly rejected a change in next week’s scheduled encounter from an in-person format to a virtual one.

On Thursday morning, the Commission on Presidential Debates announced next week’s scheduled second debate between Trump and Biden would be held remotely, a decision that was made without consulting either campaign first.

Trump, appearing on Fox Business News, immediately denounced the move as an effort “to protect Biden,” and that he would not participate. “I’m not going to do a virtual debate,” Trump said.

Biden’s campaign accepted the new format, with the candidate himself later reporters, “We don’t know what the president is going to do, he changes his mind every second so for me to comment on that now would be irresponsible. I’m going to follow the commission recommendations.”

Later Thursday morning, Biden’s campaign said their candidate will “find an appropriate place to take questions from all voters directly on Oct. 15.”

Shortly before noon, Biden’s campaign tweeted their hope the commission will move its town hall-style debate to an already scheduled Oct. 22 event in Nashville.

Trump’s campaign fired back around 12:30 p.m., proposing an Oct. 22 debate and a third debate on Oct. 29.

Biden’s campaign responded angrily, saying “Trump’s erratic behavior does not allow him to rewrite the calendar, and pick new dates of his own choosing.”

It is ultimately up to the commission to decide. And, even if Trump and Biden can agree on dates, the logistics could be a nightmare. Finding venues willing to reschedule on such short notice, in the middle of a pandemic, won’t be easy, and where the events might happen in Miami and then Nashville as planned is equally uncertain.

Late Thursday afternoon, ABC News announced it is hosting a town hall with Biden on Oct. 15, moderated by George Stephanopoulos, in Philadelphia. 

The shakeup comes a week before Trump and Biden were set to square off in Miami on Oct. 15 for their second debate.

After his Fox Business News appearance, Trump’s reelection campaign confirmed the president would not participate and would hold a rally instead.

According to the commission, the debate’s format was going to have remained that of a town hall, with moderator Steve Scully of C-SPAN and participants at the Adrienne Arsht Center for the Performing Arts of Miami-Dade County in Miami.

The nonpartisan commission cited a need “to protect the health and safety of all involved with the second presidential debate.”

In a Tuesday tweet, Trump said he looked forward to debating Biden on stage in Miami, “It will be great!” he tweeted.

Biden, for his part, said he and Trump “shouldn’t have a debate” as long as the president remains COVID positive.

Biden told reporters in Pennsylvania that he was “looking forward to being able to debate him” but said “we’re going to have to follow very strict guidelines.”

The decision comes as Trump continues recovering from his own bout of the highly contagious coronavirus. Trump was hospitalized at Walter Reed Medical Center from Friday through Sunday of last week, and returned to the White House early Monday evening.

More than a dozen White House and Pentagon officials are also infected, forcing even more into quarantine.

Trump returned to the Oval Office on Wednesday, with staff wearing gowns, gloves, eyewear and protective masks.

On Wednesday night, Vice President Mike Pence and Calif. Sen. Kamala Harris traded barbs through plexiglass shields in the one and only vice presidential debate.

ExploreAlong Came The Fly: Insect lands on Pence’s head during debate

Both candidates were seated just over 12 feet apart, yet another coronavirus safety precaution in an election that has become increasingly dominated by the pandemic.

The VP debate quickly became a dissection of the Trump administration’s handling of the coronavirus pandemic, with Harris labeling it “the greatest failure of any presidential administration.”

ExploreMike Pence-Kamala Harris debate: 12 best lines from each candidate

Pence, who leads the president’s coronavirus task force, acknowledged Wednesday night “our nation’s gone through a very challenging time this year,” yet vigorously defended the administration’s overall response to a pandemic that has killed more than 210,000 Americans.

If Trump-Biden II actually happens, it would not be the first debate in which the candidates are not in the same room. In 1960, the third presidential debate between Richard Nixon and John F. Kennedy was broadcast with the two candidates on opposite coasts.