(Reuters) - The planned Oct. 15 debate between U.S. President Donald Trump and Democratic challenger Joe Biden was officially canceled on Friday a day after Trump rejected a decision by the nonpartisan commission organizing it to change its format to a virtual event to guard against the spread of COVID-19.
The debate, originally scheduled as a town hall-style encounter in Miami, was intended to be the second of three presidential debates. The final one is planned for Oct. 22 in Nashville, Tennessee. After Trump refused to take part in the Oct. 15 debate, Biden scheduled a televised town hall-style event for himself that evening.
The Commission on Presidential Debates (CPD) said in an emailed statement: “It is now apparent there will be no debate on October 15, and the CPD will turn its attention to preparations for the final presidential debate scheduled for October 22.”
Trump announced last Friday that he had tested positive for the novel coronavirus and spent three days hospitalized receiving treatment before being released on Monday. The Republican president, seeking re-election on Nov. 3, on Thursday called the format change in which he and Biden were to participate from remote locations “ridiculous” and said it would be a waste of his time to take part.
Trump’s campaign on Friday accused the commission, headed by a former chairman of the Republican National Committee, “biased” toward Biden.
“There is no medical reason to stop the October 15 debate in Miami from proceeding as scheduled, since the President will be healthy and ready to debate,” Trump campaign spokesman Tim Murtaugh said.
The commission said both candidates have agreed to participate in the Oct. 22 debate and would be subject to required coronavirus testing, mask-wearing and social distancing protocols.
“It’s shameful that Donald Trump ducked the only debate in which the voters get to ask the questions - but it’s no surprise,” Biden campaign spokesman Andrew Bates said.
Trump constantly interrupted and talked over both Biden and the moderator in the chaotic first debate.
Questions remain about whether Trump is still contagious. The White House has declined to say when Trump last tested negative for the virus. But Trump, eager to get back on the campaign trail despite his bout with COVID-19, is set to give remarks to supporters outdoors at the White House on Saturday, and hold a rally in Florida two days later.
Trump has faced criticism for his handling of the pandemic, as well as for a lax approach to mask-wearing and social distancing in the White House and - in recent days - confusing messages about how ill he has been.
A new Reuters/Ipsos poll showed Americans steadily losing confidence in how Trump has managed the pandemic, with his net approval rating on the issue hitting a new low.
Reporting by Michael Martina and Jim Bourg; Editing by Chris Reese and Will Dunham
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