The presidential debate scheduled for Oct. 15 in Miami has been canceled, although both candidates have agreed to appear for the Oct. 22 date in Nashville, officials announced Friday.
The news isn’t a surprise: President Donald Trump said he wouldn’t participate in the Oct. 15 virtual debate, which had been suggested after he contracted the coronavirus.
Trump and the Democratic nominee, Joe Biden, met for a 90-minute debate last week in Cleveland that was historically chaotic and confusing. In the immediate aftermath, many inside and outside media questioned whether there would be any more presidential debates, especially after the Commission on Presidential Debates promised a more rigid enforcement of the rules at future debates, including potentially muting microphones, which the Trump campaign objected to.
Since then, however, Trump, 74, entered and exited the hospital; others who joined him at that debate, including his wife and top aide Hope Hicks, tested positive for the virus; and an array of officials, including sitting senators and senior military leaders, have too.
At 77, Biden, meanwhile, has generally taken strict precautions about the virus, though he has continued to travel in recent weeks despite sharing a stage with Trump. (His campaign has said Biden has repeatedly tested negative.)
The Trump campaign lashed out at the decision Friday, and accused the commission of "protecting" Biden.
"There's 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," Tim Murtaugh, communications director for the Trump campaign, said in a statement. "It's time for the biased commission to stop protecting Biden and preventing voters from hearing from the two candidates for president."
Murtaugh also said the Trump campaign had suggested holding debates on Oct. 22 — which was scheduled originally as the third debate — and another on Oct. 29.
"There's nothing that says that President Trump and Joe Biden can't debate together without the overlords at the commission having a say in the matter," the statement added. "We would be glad to debate one-on-one without the commission's interference."
The Cleveland Clinic, which cohosted the first debate, said that candidates and campaign aides tested themselves before arrival on site. That protocol caused outrage in the aftermath of the debate, as Trump’s last negative test has become a point of controversy. People in politics and media also criticized the venue for not more strictly enforcing a mask mandate indoors; some members of the Trump party, including his family, did not wear masks once seated.
Still, a few days after the debate, a ventilation expert told BuzzFeed News that there was a “low probability” of transmission between the candidates during the debate because of the distance between them and the air circulation generally in auditoriums.
That same expert, Jose-Luis Jimenez, a professor of chemistry at the University of Colorado at Boulder, cautioned that people who had been in smaller settings like debate prep and backstage rooms, or who had traveled on planes and been around an infected person, should get tested. In the days following the debate, multiple people who participated in Trump’s debate prep tested positive for the virus.
Biden is scheduled to participate in an ABC News town hall on Oct. 15, and Trump reportedly may participate in a similar event.
Kristen Welker of NBC News will serve as moderator for the Oct. 22 debate.