2020 Election Live Updates: Next Debate in Jeopardy After Virus-Stricken Trump Rejects Virtual Face-off and Biden Camp Calls for Delay

The Commission on Presidential Debates had announced that the Oct. 15 debate would be held remotely “to protect the health and safety of all involved.” At her debate with Vice President Mike Pence, Senator Kamala Harris called the White House’s response to the coronavirus “the greatest failure of any presidential administration.”

Here’s what you need to know:

  • Trump unleashes a barrage of attacks in interview, pulling focus from V.P. debate.
  • The virus took center stage in the skirmish between Mike Pence and Kamala Harris.
  • Pelosi rules out aid covering only airlines as Trump claims stimulus talks are back on.
  • Maya Wiley, ex-lawyer for Mayor de Blasio and commentator, is running for mayor of New York.
  • Biden, Harris and Pence are all visiting Arizona today.
  • Pence, a peerless Trump defender, confronted his limits at the debate.
  • Kamala Harris faced a double standard on the debate stage.
  • What a fly on a candidate’s head tells us about America (just kidding, here are the jokes).

Biden campaign says next week’s debate should be pushed back after Trump refuses to appear virtually.

The prospect of future presidential debates was thrown into jeopardy on Thursday after President Trump rejected a plan by the Commission on Presidential Debates to hold the next face-off virtually to keep participants safe from the coronavirus outbreak that has coursed through the White House, and the Biden campaign called for the debate to be pushed back a week “so that the president is not able to evade accountability.”

“Joe Biden was prepared to accept the C.P.D.’s proposal for a virtual Town Hall, but the president has refused, as Donald Trump clearly does not want to face questions from the voters about his failures on Covid and the economy,” Joseph R. Biden Jr.’s deputy campaign manager and communications director, Kate Bedingfield, said in a statement.

She said that Mr. Biden would “find an appropriate place to take questions from voters” on Oct. 15, the day the town-hall style debate was scheduled to be held in Miami, and called for the commission to move the debate back a week.

Just days after being released from the hospital, where he was treated for the coronavirus, which has been coursing through the White House, Mr. Trump rejected the commission’s call for a remote debate as “ridiculous” on Thursday.

After the Biden campaign called for the debate to be pushed back a week, the Trump campaign expressed openness to the idea, in a statement that was highly critical of the debate commission, suggesting without evidence that it was trying to help Mr. Biden.

“We agree that this should happen on Oct. 22, and accordingly, the third debate should then be shifted back one week to Oct. 29,” Bill Stepien, Mr. Trump’s campaign manager, said in a statement.

The high-stakes standoff between Mr. Trump and the debate organizers emerged after the commission, with no warning to campaign representatives, said the Oct. 15 debate would feature candidates debating remotely “in order to protect the health and safety of all involved.”

Mr. Trump immediately objected to the concept in an interview on Fox News, saying: “I’m not going to waste my time on a virtual debate, that’s not what debating is all about. You sit behind a computer and do a debate — it’s ridiculous.”

Mr. Biden, speaking briefly to reporters before boarding a plane to Arizona on Thursday, suggested that he would be open to following the commission’s recommendations, and said that Mr. Trump had once again shown himself to be impulsive and unpredictable.

“We don’t know what the president is going to do,” Mr. Biden said. “He changes his mind every second.”

The Trump campaign has sought to shift attention away from the administration’s response to the pandemic in the debates, and a virtual debate would by its very structure call attention to the degree to which the virus has upended the country.

The format would also presumably make it easier for the moderator to cut off the candidates from going over their time limit or interrupting each other, which would further impede any effort by the president to change the subject away from the virus.

The virus was front and center, both visually and verbally, at last night’s vice-presidential debate between Mr. Pence and Senator Kamala Harris, who faced off from behind plexiglass barriers. Ms. Harris delivered a stinging indictment of the missteps by the federal government.

Trump unleashes a barrage of attacks in interview, pulling focus from V.P. debate.

President Trump left Walter Reed military hospital on Monday after being treated for Covid-19. 
President Trump left Walter Reed military hospital on Monday after being treated for Covid-19. Credit…Doug Mills/The New York Times

President Trump attacked two cabinet members who are closest to him, insisted he wouldn’t take part in a virtual debate against his Democratic challenger and revisited the events of the 2016 campaign in a meandering, hourlong telephone interview on Fox Business Channel on Thursday.

Mr. Trump called the Democratic vice-presidential nominee a “monster” and the F.B.I. director “disappointing,” posited that he might have contracted the coronavirus from a member of a military family, maintained that he is almost off medical treatments for the virus and complained about not being allowed to hold rallies while he remains in isolation.

“I don’t think I’m contagious at all,” Mr. Trump said, although his positive diagnosis was revealed last Friday and people with the virus are typically contagious for at least a week and often longer. Of his treatments, he insisted, “I think I’m taking almost nothing.” His doctor has not said how long he will remain on steroids.

Mr. Trump’s interview effectively wiped out attention being paid to the vice-presidential debate the night before, which Trump allies felt had gone well for Vice President Mike Pence.

The president’s circuitous conversation with the host Maria Bartiromo came as he has been eager to dispel questions about his health after spending four days at Walter Reed, following a drop in his oxygen levels and a fever, chills and a cough related to the virus.

But Mr. Trump’s standing in the race against Joseph R. Biden Jr., whom he trails in polls, was clearly frustrating to him.

Mr. Trump criticized both Attorney General Bill Barr and Secretary of State Mike Pompeo, two cabinet members often described as among his closest aides.

Mr. Trump said of investigations into the origins of the probe of his 2016 campaign and whether it conspired with Russian officials, “Bill Barr is going to go down either as the greatest attorney general in the history of the country or he’s going to go down as a very sad, sad situation. I mean, I’ll be honest with you. He’s got all the information he needs.”

At another point, Mr. Trump took aim at Mr. Pompeo for not releasing documents related to Hillary Clinton, who was secretary of state under President Obama.

“They’re in the State Department, but Mike Pompeo has been unable to get them out, which is very sad, actually. I’m not happy about him for that reason,” Mr. Trump said. The president has been tweeting this week about documents that purportedly show that Mrs. Clinton planned to gin up a scandal tying Mr. Trump to Russia. Democrats say the documents that the administration released are misleading.

“These people should be indicted — this was the greatest political crime in the history of our country,” Mr. Trump said. “And that includes Obama, and it includes Biden.”

Mr. Trump also criticized the F.B.I. director, Christopher A. Wray, for not backing up Mr. Trump’s view, despite overwhelming evidence to the contrary, that voting by mail is rife with fraud, and he declined to commit to keeping Mr. Wray in a second term.

And he referred to Senator Kamala Harris, Mr. Biden’s running mate, as a “monster” twice and a “communist” four times.

He tried to downplay the seriousness of the medication he’d been taking, as well as the virus itself. After calling an experimental antibody cocktail that is still being studied a “cure,” Mr. Trump claimed he didn’t need to take medicine.

“It’s not a heavy steroid,” Mr. Trump said of the heavy steroid he’s been taking, dexamethasone.

And he theorized that he could have caught the virus from a relative of a fallen service member at a ceremony he hosted for Gold Star families.

Mr. Trump said those relatives insisted on hugging him or thanking him. “I can’t back up, Maria, and say, ‘Give me room, I want room, give me 12 feet, stay 12 feet away.’ They come within an inch of my face sometimes,” he said. “They want to hug me and they want to kiss me. And they do. And frankly, I’m not telling them to back up.”

— Maggie Haberman

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