Trump’s Objection to Virtual Plan Puts Next Debate in Jeopardy

The president also sought repeatedly to undermine the integrity of the debate commission. He accused the scheduled moderator of the next debate, Steve Scully of C-SPAN, of being a “never Trumper,” without offering evidence for his claim. He said the moderator of the first debate, Chris Wallace of Fox News, “was a disaster” who favored Mr. Biden. And he said the commission’s plan for a remote matchup was about “trying to protect Biden.”

In fact, a presidential debate with candidates in different locations is not unprecedented.

In 1960, the third debate between John F. Kennedy and Richard M. Nixon was held remotely. Kennedy debated from a television studio in New York; Nixon appeared from Los Angeles, with the men filmed on a pair of identical sets. The moderator of that debate, Bill Shadel of ABC News, conducted the proceedings from a third studio in Chicago.

How to safely stage a pair of indoor, in-person debates between Mr. Biden and Mr. Trump, who tested positive for the coronavirus last week and spent three days at the Walter Reed National Military Medical Center, has been the subject of intense conversations among board members of the debate commission in recent days.

Aides to Mr. Trump had privately discussed the notion of debates held outdoors, but people familiar with the commission’s deliberations said the Trump campaign had never formally proposed that idea.

Both candidates have previously said they planned to participate in the Miami debate, with Mr. Trump insisting that he was “looking forward” to attending the event, despite the uncertainty over his health.

Mr. Biden has said he would defer to the debate commission and its health adviser, the Cleveland Clinic, to ensure a safe physical environment for the audience and participants. His aides have said the onus is on Mr. Trump to demonstrate that he would not be contagious onstage.

The debate commission did not address the third debate in its statement on Thursday. That matchup is scheduled to be held at Belmont University in Nashville on Oct. 22, with Kristen Welker of NBC News as the moderator.

The vice-presidential debate took place as planned on Wednesday in Salt Lake City, with Senator Kamala Harris of California and Vice President Mike Pence debating in person — albeit with plexiglass dividers between them.

Patricia Mazzei contributed reporting.

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