Trump and Biden’s microphones will be muted by moderator at final presidential debate

Graeme Massie
·5-min read
The debate stage, still under construction, in the Curb Event Center at Belmont University is viewed by members of the media during a tour Friday, Oct. 16, 2020, in Nashville, Tenn. The final debate between President Donald Trump and former Vice President Joe Biden is scheduled to be held at Belmont University Oct. 22. (AP Photo/Mark Humphrey) (AP)
The debate stage, still under construction, in the Curb Event Center at Belmont University is viewed by members of the media during a tour Friday, Oct. 16, 2020, in Nashville, Tenn. The final debate between President Donald Trump and former Vice President Joe Biden is scheduled to be held at Belmont University Oct. 22. (AP Photo/Mark Humphrey) (AP)

The next presidential debate will see organisers mute Donald Trump and Joe Biden’s microphones to allow each candidate two minutes of uninterrupted time per segment.

The Commission on Presidential Debates announced the rule changes for the second and final debate to prevent a repeat of the chaotic scenes of the first. Mr Trump received heavy criticism from political observers and moderator Chris Wallace for repeatedly interrupting his opponent.

After the changes were announced the Trump campaign committed to attending the debate “regardless of last minute rule changes from the biased commission in their latest attempt to provide advantage to their favoured candidate.”

Immediately after the first event, which was held in Cleveland, Ohio, last month, the commission announced it would look at changes for the second debate, which ended up being cancelled in the wake of Mr Trump’s positive Covid-19 test when he refused to debate remotely. Instead he and Mr Biden held rival televised town hall events.

The commission said it “had determined that it is appropriate to adopt measures intended to promote adherence to agreed upon rules and inappropriate to make changes to those rules."

Thursday’s debate is scheduled to take place in Nashville, Tennessee, and will be moderated by NBC’s Kristen Welker.

The 90 minute debate will be divided into six segments of 15 minutes and each candidate will be allowed to deliver their initial two minutes without interruption.

However, the open discussion part of each segment will not see a mute button used on the microphones, said the commission.

This means that both candidates will still potentially be able to talk over the other after the initial two minutes.

The first debate was universally criticised for the manner in which it unfolded.

Mr Trump interrupted Mr Biden from the very start, with the former vice president growing frustrated during the opening segment on the Supreme Court.

“Will you shut up man?” Mr Biden eventually asked Mr Trump as he talked over him.

As Mr Wallace tried to move onto the coronavirus, Mr Biden told him: “That was a really productive segment.”

During a discussion on healthcare, Mr Wallace repeatedly tried to get his question over to Mr Trump, who continued to interrupt him.

“I guess I’m debating you, not him,” said Mr Trump to Mr Wallace.

Following the debate Mr Wallace told the New York Times that it had been “a terrible missed opportunity” for the country.

“I never dreamt that it would go off the tracks the way it did,” he said.

The veteran broadcaster admitted that he never grasped full control of the debate when it became clear the president was not going to stick to the rules they had agreed.

Mr Wallace was asked if muting Mr trump’s microphone would have helped him maintain some control.

“As a practical matter, even if the president’s microphone had been shut, he still could have continued to interrupt, and it might well have been picked up on Biden’s microphone, and it still would have disrupted the proceedings in the hall,” he said.

Mr Wallace also said he was uncomfortable with the idea of muting the two men competing for the White House.

“People have to remember, and too many people forget, both of these candidates have the support of tens of millions of Americans,” he said.

The second debate, which was supposed to have taken place on 15 October, was initially postponed by the commission following Mr Trump’s positive coronavirus test.

The commission then announced that the debate would be held virtually but Mr Trump quickly refused to take part under that format.

Once the president backed out of the debate Mr Biden’s campaign booked him an ABC town hall.

This was followed by the president agreeing to take part in an NBC town hall that was controversially scheduled to go directly up against Mr Biden’s event.

Mr Biden in the end drew a larger TV audience than Mr Trump with an average of 15.1 million viewers compared to 13.5 million for the president.

The cancellation of the second debate had created some doubt as to whether both candidates would agree to go through with the third and final debate.

Hours before the changes were announced on Monday, Mr Trump’s campaign had urged the commission to “rethink and reissue a set of topics” for the debate.

In an open letter posted on Twitter Mr Trump’s campaign manager Bill Stepien demanded the debate be focused on foreign policy.

In it he argued that Americans deserved to know "if a major party candidate for President of the US is compromised by the Communist Party of China."

Moderator Kristen Welker has said that the topics for the debate will be “Fighting COVID-19,” “American Families,” “Race in America,” “Climate Change,” “National Security,” and “Leadership.”

Mr Stepien argued that it was a tradition in past campaigns for topics to be reissued, and said that the commission did not need "to consult with the Biden campaign before replying because we all know what they think."

Mr Trump has also started to try and cast doubt on Ms Welker’s impartiality, telling a campaign rally in Arizona on Monday that the NBC White House correspondent was “a radical Democrat”.

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