Commission on Presidential Debates says it will mute mics during parts of final debate

Donald Trump

FILE – This combination of Sept. 29, 2020, file photos shows President Donald Trump, left, and former Vice President Joe Biden during the first presidential debate at Case Western University and Cleveland Clinic, in Cleveland, Ohio. Amid the tumult of the 2020 presidential campaign, one dynamic has remained constant: The Nov. 3 election offers voters a choice between substantially different policy paths. (AP Photo/Patrick Semansky, File)

WASHINGTON D.C. (CBS) — The Commission on Presidential Debates said in a statement on Monday that President Trump and former Vice President Joe Biden will have two minutes of uninterrupted time at the beginning of each 15-minute segment at the final debate, which is set to be held Thursday. To enforce this rule, the candidate who does not have the floor will have his mic muted.

After the two minutes of uninterrupted time, the mics will be on for open discussion.

“We realize, after discussions with both campaigns, that neither campaign may be totally satisfied with the measures announced today,” the Commission on Presidential Debates said in statement. “One may think they go too far, and one may think they do not go far enough. We are comfortable these actions strike the right balance, and that they are in the best interest of the American people, for whom these debates are held.”

In a statement, the Trump campaign said President Trump is “committed” to the final debate.

But earlier Monday, Trump campaign manager Bill Stepien called it a “completely unacceptable” possibility that an “unnamed” person might have the power to cut the mics.

Stepien also objected to the topics announced for the final presidential debate in a letter to the Commission on Presidential Debates. Stepien said the topics stray away from the usual devotion of the final debate to foreign policy.

“As is 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,” Stepien said in the letter. “We urge you to recalibrate the topics and return to subjects which had already been confirmed.”

According to the commission, moderator Kristen Welker of NBC News has chosen the following topics for the upcoming debate: fighting COVID-19, American families, race in America, climate change, national security and leadership.

At a campaign rally in Arizona on Monday, Mr. Trump called Welker a “radical Democrat.” “She’s been screaming questions at me for a long time, and she’s no good,” he said.

But in a call with reporters this earlier month, Trump campaign senior adviser Jason Miller called the NBC News correspondent “very fair in her approach,” predicting she’d do an “excellent job.” Miller told reporters, “I have a very high opinion of Kristen Welker.”

Stepien also addressed reports that the commission has been considering cutting mics, to prevent a repeat of the first debate.

“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,” Stephen wrote.

For their part, the Biden’s campaign said in a statement Monday that both campaigns and the commission had formerly agreed 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 in a statement to CBS News. “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.”

What was supposed to be the second debate last week was canceled after the commission unilaterally made it virtual and the president declined to show up. Instead, the two candidates had dueling town halls.

The final debate is set to start at 9 p.m. ET on Thursday.

Ed O’Keefe contributed to this report.

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