Trump ‘intends to be ready’ to debate Biden, opposes mute button

Democratic presidential nominee Joe Biden seen as he begins a one-day campaign trip to Florida, on Oct 5, 2020.
Democratic presidential nominee Joe Biden seen as he begins a one-day campaign trip to Florida, on Oct 5, 2020. PHOTO: AFP

WASHINGTON (BLOOMBERG) - President Donald Trump “intends to be ready to debate” Democratic nominee Joe Biden next week, despite having been hospitalised with Covid-19, Trump campaign spokesman Tim Murtaugh said on Monday (Oct 5).

Mr Murtaugh added, however, that the campaign would not agree to the moderator being able to mute the candidates when their time has expired to prevent the kind of interruptions and cross-talk – mostly by Mr Trump – that marred the first presidential forum last week.

“We would adamantly oppose a mute button, which would place too much authority and power into the hands of a member of the media to decide what a candidate for president is permitted to say to the American people,” he said. 

“No one elected the moderators to anything.” 

Mr Biden said earlier on Monday that he would meet Mr Trump in a second debate “if the scientists say that it’s safe”. 

Mr Biden and Mr Trump are scheduled to meet on Oct 15 in Miami, which is just two weeks after Mr Trump was diagnosed.

Meanwhile, the Commission of Presidential Debates on Monday evening announced the Covid-related precautions for the debate between the Democratic presidential nominee, Senator Kamala Harris, and Vice-President Mike Pence in Salt Lake City on Wednesday.

Mr Pence and Ms Harris will be separated by plexiglass, and will be seated 3.7 metres apart, rather than 2.1m, as initially planned. 

There will be no physical contact, including a handshake, though the candidates and the moderator, Ms Susan Page of USA Today, won’t wear masks once onstage.

Everyone in the debate hall, including a small number of ticketed guests, will be required to take a Covid test and wear a mask. Anyone who does not wear a mask will be escorted out.

The 90-minute debate will be divided into nine segments of 10 minutes each, without opening or closing statements from the candidates.

At the first presidential debate, in Cleveland on Sept 29, Mr Trump and his wife Melania, who has also been diagnosed with Covid-19, and other family members entered the hall wearing masks, but removed them once seated. 

An employee of the Cleveland Clinic, which hosted the debate, offered them masks but they refused.

Mr Pence tested negative for the coronavirus again on Monday, but was in contact with the President before he fell ill.

Ms Katie Miller, Mr Pence’s press secretary who herself recovered from Covid-19 earlier this year, said in a statement that was reported by Politico that if Ms Harris “wants to use a fortress around herself, have at it”. 

Harris press secretary Sabrina Singh tweeted in response: “Interesting that @VPComDir Katie Miller mocks our wanting a plexiglass barrier on the debate stage, when her own boss is supposedly in charge of the Covid-19 task force and should be advocating for this too.”

Mr  Trump was taken to Walter Reed National Military Medical Centre after testing positive for the coronavirus on Friday, three days after the first debate with Mr Biden. 

He was released from the hospital on Monday evening and called on Americans not to fear the virus, which has infected more than 7.4 million people in the US and has killed more than 210,000.