Debate Commission Adopts New Rules To Mute Mics At Final Trump-Biden Showdown
2020 Election

Debate Commission Adopts New Rules To Mute Mics At Final Trump-Biden Showdown

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The Commission on Presidential Debates (CPD) announced in a statement Monday evening that President Trump and Democratic nominee Joe Biden will have their microphones cut off during portions of the final presidential debate, while each candidate will be given two minutes of uninterrupted time at the beginning of each debate segment.

“The Commission is announcing today that in order to enforce this agreed upon rule, the only candidate whose microphone will be open during these two-minute periods is the candidate who has the floor under the rules,” the commission announced in a statement Monday evening. 

Under the new rule adopted by the commission ahead of Thursday’s final presidential debate in Nashville, Tennessee, after the candidates give their two minutes response, the “balance of each segment, which by design is intended to be dedicated to open discussion, both candidates’ microphones will be open.”

The 90-minute commercial-free debate will be divided into six 15-minutes segments for each topic. After each candidate delivers their two-minute answer, the discussion will then move to an open-debate format where both candidates’ microphones will be unmuted. If a candidate interrupts his opponents during the open-debate format, the time lost will be credited to the opponent.

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“During the times dedicated for open discussion, it is the hope of the Commission that the candidates will be respectful of each other’s time, which will advance civil discourse for the benefit of the viewing public,” the commission statement reads. “The moderator will apportion roughly equal amounts of time between the two speakers over the course of the 90 minutes. Time taken up during any interruptions will be returned to the other candidate.”

Following the chaotic first debate late last month, the nonpartisan commission had considered making potential changes to “ensure that additional tools to maintain order are in place for the remaining debates.” It didn’t specify which changes the commission would make until Monday and just 36 hours before the final debate.

The debate commission acknowledged potential pushback from both campaigns, saying that they “realize, after discussions with both campaigns, that neither campaign may be totally satisfied with the measures announced today.”

“One may think they go too far, and one may think they do not go far enough. 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 statement stated.

However, the Trump campaign earlier in a letter to the commission regarding another issue for the third debate addressed reports of potential cutting mics the nonpartisan group was considering prior to the announcement. Stepien denounced the idea of “granting an unnamed person the ability to shut off a candidate’s microphone.”

“It is our understanding from media reports that you will soon be holding an internal meeting to discuss other possible rule changes, such as granting an unnamed person the ability to shut off a candidate’s microphone,” Stepien wrote in a letter to the CPD. “It is completely unacceptable for anyone to wield such power, and a decision to proceed with that change amounts to turning further editorial control of the debate over to the Commission which has already demonstrated its partiality to Biden. This is reminiscent of the first debate in 2016, when the President’s microphone was oscillated, and it is not acceptable.”

In a statement shortly after the debates commission announced the new rule, the Trump campaign said that it was “committed to debating” Biden “regardless of last-minute rule changes from the biased commission in their latest attempt to provide advantage to their favored candidate.”

“This was supposed to be the foreign policy debate, so the President still looks forward to forcing Biden to answer the number one relevant question of whether he’s been compromised by the Communist Party of China,” Trump campaign statement added.

Earlier, the Trump campaign in the letter to CPD objected to the announced topics chosen by NBC News moderator Kristen Welker, saying the majority of those were touched on “at length” during the first debate and reminded the nonpartisan group of its promise to have foreign policy “the central focus” for the final debate.

The following six topics were announced last week for the upcoming debate, including Fighting COVID-19, America’s families, Race in America, Climate Change, National Security, and Leadership.

According to Stepien, the third debate was supposed to be billed as the “Foreign Policy Debate” in the series of events agreed by both campaigns “many months ago.”

“As is the long-standing custom, and as had been promised by the Commission on Presidential Debates, we had expected that foreign policy would be the central focus of the October 22 debate. We urge you to recalibrate the topics and return to subjects which had already been confirmed,” the campaign said in the letter. “This is not the first time the Commission has ceded to the wishes of the Biden campaign. Despite the obvious fact that millions of Americans began casting votes early this year, the Commission steadfastly refused to move the debate schedule earlier or add another event, simply because the Biden campaign objected.”

The Biden campaign pushed back that it agreed with the Trump campaign regarding certain topics, saying they are “lying” and that both campaigns and the commission “agreed months ago that the debate moderator would choose the topics.”

“The Trump campaign is lying about that now because Donald Trump is afraid to face more questions about his disastrous COVID response,” Biden campaign spokesman TJ Ducklo said. “As usual, the president is more concerned with the rules of a debate than he is getting a nation in crisis the help it needs.”

Regarding the debate’s new rules, the Biden campaign had yet to issue a statement whether it welcomes the measure.

The final debate is scheduled to air Thursday, October 22 at 9 pm ET.

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Mona Salama