Next Biden-Trump Debate to Be a Virtual Matchup

Next Biden-Trump Debate to Be a Virtual Matchup


The next debate between President Trump and Joseph R. Biden Jr. is to be held virtually, rather than in person, because of health concerns about the coronavirus, the Commission on Presidential Debates said on Thursday.

Mr. Trump and Mr. Biden had been scheduled to debate on the same stage in Miami on Oct. 15, but the commission is now preparing for the candidates and moderators to appear remotely.

“The second presidential debate will take the form of a town meeting, in which the candidates would participate from separate remote locations,” the commission said in a statement, citing “the health and safety of all involved.”

It was not immediately clear if the Trump campaign would agree to a virtual meeting of the candidates or if Mr. Trump, who tested positive last week for the coronavirus, would participate.

A virtual debate might seem like a technological marvel of the Zoom-heavy pandemic era, but there is a precedent dating back 60 years to the dawn of mass media campaigns.

In 1960, the third debate between John F. Kennedy and Richard M. Nixon was held remotely. Kennedy debated from a television studio in New York; Nixon appeared from Los Angeles.

A split-screen camera feed allowed viewers to watch both candidates simultaneously, with the men filmed on a pair of identical sets. The moderator of that debate, Bill Shadel of ABC News, conducted the proceedings from a third studio in Chicago.

How to safely stage a pair of indoor, in-person debates between Mr. Biden and Mr. Trump has been the subject of intense conversations among board members of the debate commission in recent days.

The second Biden-Trump debate was originally scheduled for Oct. 15

The moderator, Steve Scully of C-SPAN, will still conduct the proceedings from Miami at the Adrienne Arsht Center for the Performing Arts, the commission said. The debate will be held in a town-hall-style format with questions from South Florida voters.

Both candidates have previously said they plan to participate in the Miami debate, with Mr. Trump insisting that he is “looking forward” to attending the event despite the ongoing uncertainty over his health.

Aides to Mr. Trump had privately discussed the notion of debates held outdoors, but people familiar with the debate commission’s deliberations said the Trump campaign had never formally proposed that idea.

Mr. Biden has said he is deferring to the debate commission and its health adviser, the Cleveland Clinic, to ensure a safe physical environment for the audience and participants.

“If he still has Covid, we shouldn’t have a debate,” Mr. Biden told reporters on Tuesday night after a speech in Gettysburg, Pa. “I will be guided by the guidelines of the Cleveland Clinic and what the docs say is the right thing to do.” His aides have said the onus is on Mr. Trump to demonstrate that he would not be contagious onstage.

The vice-presidential debate took place as planned on Wednesday evening in Salt Lake City, with Senator Kamala Harris of California and Vice President Mike Pence debating in person — albeit with plexiglass dividers between them.

Patricia Mazzei contributed reporting.


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