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Biden, Trump will be muted at times during their final debate

By Tim Darnell, Atlanta Journal-Constitution

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The Commission on Presidential Debates announced late Monday that President Donald Trump and Democrat Joe Biden will have their microphones turned off during parts of the final presidential debate on Thursday.

Each candidate will have an uninterrupted two minutes to speak at the beginning of each of the six 15-minute segments of the debate at Belmont University in Nashville, Tennessee. Both candidates’ mics will then be turned on for “a period of open discussion” in the segment’s remaining time, the commission said.

The Trump and Biden campaigns agreed to the rule change. The debate begins at 9 p.m. EDT. NBC’s Kristen Welker will moderate.

ExploreDonald Trump-Joe Biden second debate: 6 topics to watch

Thursday night’s debate would have been the third between the two men. Trump and Biden were scheduled to debate Oct. 15, but Trump rejected a last-minute change from the commission that would have made the debate virtual, instead of an in-person, town hall format. The nonpartisan commission cited a need “to protect the health and safety of all involved with the second presidential debate” in the wake of Trump’s recent bout with the coronavirus. It would have been held at the Adrienne Arsht Center for the Performing Arts in Miami and moderated by Steve Scully of C-SPAN.

Earlier Monday, Trump’s reelection campaign lashed out at the commission about the topics and potential rule changes for the president’s final faceoff against Biden.

In a two-page letter to the commission, Trump campaign manager Bill Stepien stopped short of threatening to withdraw from Thursday’s debate but said the nonpartisan commission’s “pro-Biden antics have turned the entire debate season into a fiasco.”

“For the good of campaign integrity and for the benefit of the American people, we urge you to rethink and reissue a set of topics for the October 22 debate, with an emphasis on foreign policy,” Stepien wrote in the letter, which was dated Oct. 19 and posted on his Twitter account.

The campaign chief said the topic list would “insulate Biden from his own history,” referring to allegations related to the foreign business dealings of the former vice president’s son, Hunter. Stepien said the final debate was “always billed” as a foreign policy debate but that was never announced by the commission or Welker.

“The campaigns and the commission agreed months ago that the debate moderator would choose the topics,” Biden campaign spokesman TJ Ducklo said in a statement. “The Trump campaign is lying about that now because Donald Trump is afraid to face more questions about his disastrous COVID response.”

“It is completely unacceptable for anyone to wield such power, and a decision to proceed with that change amounts to turning further editorial control of the debate over to the Commission,” Stepien said.

in their first debate, Trump constantly interrupted Biden and moderator Chris Wallace of Fox News, who promptly lost all control of the debate and was mocked on social media for his performance.

The commission said both campaigns “this week again reaffirmed their agreement to the two-minute, uninterrupted rule,” adding that the measures weren’t a change of the rules, but were intended to make sure the existing rules were enforced.

“We realize, after discussions with both campaigns, that neither campaign may be totally satisfied with the measures announced today,” the commission said. “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.”

Stepien said in a statement the president had agreed to the conditions.

“President Trump is committed to debating Joe Biden regardless of last-minute rule changes from the biased commission in their latest attempt to provide advantage to their favored candidate,” Stepien said.