WASHINGTON—The presidential candidates’ microphones will be muted during parts of their final debate Thursday as organizers seek to limit the interruptions and crosstalk that marked their previous meeting.
The nonpartisan Commission on Presidential Debates on Monday announced a plan for the debate, which will be divided into six segments, each with a different topic. President Trump and Democratic presidential nominee Joe Biden will be silenced while their opponent gives a two-minute opening statement at the start of each 15-minute segment. During the rest of the discussion in each block, the microphones will be open.
After the first debate on Sept. 29 was marred by frequent interruptions, mostly by Mr. Trump, the Commission said it would consider changes. In a statement Monday, it said that neither campaign may be fully satisfied with the plans.
“One may think they go too far, and one may think they do not go far enough,” the statement said. “We are comfortable that these actions strike the right balance and that they are in the interest of the American people, for whom these debates are held.”
The debate in Nashville, Tenn. will be the final meeting of the two candidates before Election Day. It will be moderated by NBC’s Kristen Welker. It was expected to be the third debate, but the second debate, scheduled for Oct. 15, was canceled when Mr. Trump refused to agree to a virtual debate after he contracted Covid-19.
Trump campaign manager Bill Stepien said in a statement that Mr. Trump “is committed to debating Joe Biden regardless of last minute rule changes from the biased commission.”
In a letter to the Commission earlier in the day, Mr. Stepien criticized possible rule changes including silencing microphones, saying it “is completely unacceptable for anyone to wield such power.” He also said earlier in the day that the debate was supposed to have a foreign policy focus and asked for a change in topics. The Commission said that wasn’t the case.
Biden campaign spokesman T.J. Ducklo said in a statement that the “campaigns and the Commission agreed months ago that the debate moderator would choose the topics,” adding that the president didn’t want to “face more questions about his disastrous COVID response.”
Mr. Trump is seeking to close a polling gap with Mr. Biden in the final days of the race. He expressed confidence about his chances Monday on a conference call with campaign aides that included reporters. In that call, he renewed his criticism of Dr. Anthony Fauci, the nation’s top infectious-disease expert, as deaths from Covid-19 approach 220,000.
Mr. Trump called Dr. Fauci “a disaster” and said the nation’s death toll from Covid-19 would be far higher had he relied on advice from the doctor, who has urged administration officials to rely on the guidance from public-health experts on how to safely reopen the economy and bring the pandemic under control.
“People are tired of hearing Fauci and all these idiots,” Mr. Trump said, adding that Dr. Fauci, who has served under six administrations, was a nice guy but also a mess. “He’s been here for 500 years.”
More than 219,000 Americans have died from the coronavirus so far this year. A majority of Americans have said they disapprove of Mr. Trump’s handling of the pandemic, according to seven consecutive Wall Street Journal/NBC News polls.
The federal response to the coronavirus pandemic has become a central issue in the election.
“Every time he goes on television there’s always a bomb, but there’s a bigger bomb if you fire him,” Mr. Trump said about Dr. Fauci.
Dr. Fauci, the director of the National Institute of Allergy and Infectious Diseases, didn’t respond to a request for comment.
Mr. Trump continued to criticize Dr. Fauci at a Monday afternoon rally in Arizona. “Biden wants to lock it down. He wants to listen to Dr. Fauci,” the president said, referring to coronavirus-related restrictions. He added again that he thinks Dr. Fauci is a nice person but called him a “promoter.”
Responding to the president’s comments, Mr. Biden said in a statement: “Mr. President, you’re right about one thing: the American people are tired. They’re tired of your lies about this virus.”
Mr. Trump has criticized Dr. Fauci for months, including last week after the doctor said a Trump campaign ad had featured his comments out of context and without his permission.
Mr. Trump made the initial remarks on Monday during about 30 minutes he spent talking with campaign staffers. Mr. Stepien and pollster Brock McCleary also spoke on the call.
The president spent much of his time criticizing recent news coverage of his campaign, which has been struggling to close the gap with Mr. Biden in most national polls. Mr. Trump said he wanted to address the staff to say he was increasingly confident that he would win re-election.
“I wouldn’t have told you that maybe two or three weeks ago,” Mr. Trump said, explaining later he was referring to the three nights he spent in a hospital being treated for the coronavirus.
Mr. Stepien echoed Mr. Trump’s optimism about re-election during a call with reporters Monday.
“We feel better about our pathway to victory right now than we have at any point in the campaign this year,” he said. He stressed the GOP ground game and Republican voter registration, and said polls are tightening in key states.
“I don’t agree with the Biden campaign about very much, but I do agree with their assertion that this is a close race,” Mr. Stepien said, referring to a memo Mr. Biden’s campaign manager sent supporters, warning against complacency.
Mr. Biden is leading the president in most national polls, sometimes by double digits. The former vice president is also leading Mr. Trump in polls in several battleground states, though by smaller margins.
Mr. Biden has also been outraising Mr. Trump in recent months. He and Democrats raised $383 million in September and had $432 million in the bank for the final stretch of the campaign. Mr. Trump raised $247.8 million and had $251.4 million on hand.
Mr. Stepien said the campaign and the Republican National Committee would spend $55 million jointly on ads during the final two weeks of the race. The RNC is spending in Arizona, Iowa, Michigan, North Carolina and Wisconsin, and the campaign in Arizona, Florida, Georgia, Maine’s second congressional district, Michigan, North Carolina, Nevada, Ohio, Pennsylvania and Wisconsin.
“We have more than sufficient air cover, almost three times as much as 2016,” he said.
RNC Chairwoman Ronna McDaniel said ads would focus on seniors, citing one ad that will talk about Medicare costs in Michigan. Polls suggest Mr. Biden has made gains with seniors who supported Mr. Trump in 2016.
Mr. Stepien argued the campaign has “multiple” pathways to 270 electoral votes needed to win.
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Appeared in the October 20, 2020, print edition as ‘Mics to Be Muted in Part Of Debate.’
Source: Wall Street Journal