Trump Campaign Presses For In-Person Debate Amid Questions Over President's Diagnosis

The Commission on Presidential Debates said late Thursday it was not considering the Trump team’s request.

President Donald Trump’s campaign said there was no medical reason why the next presidential debate should not be held in person, shortly after the White House physician said Trump should be able to resume “public engagements” by Saturday despite the president’s infection with the coronavirus.

The statement, released by campaign manager Bill Stepien, was the latest development in an ongoing debate-related tussle between the Trump and Biden camps since the president’s COVID-19 diagnosis last week. The Commission on Presidential Debates had initially said the next debate, scheduled for Oct. 15, would be held virtually in light of Trump’s illness, but the president retorted by saying that if that was the case, he would not participate.

Just hours later, the White House physician, Dr. Sean Conley, said Trump should be able to hold public events 10 days after his first positive COVID-19 test. Stepien then cited the doctor while saying the next debate should go forward in person.

“There is ... no medical reason why the Commission on Presidential Debates should shift the debate to a virtual setting, postpone it, or otherwise alter it in any way,” Stepien said in a statement. “The commission must stop protecting Joe Biden from this in-person debate and allow the event to proceed as it was agreed to months ago.”

Stepien said the efforts to hold a virtual debate were an “obvious attempt to shield Biden from another shellacking.”

Conley did not say if Trump had returned a negative coronavirus test.

Frank Fahrenkopf, the chair of the Commission of Presidential Debates, said that despite the Trump campaign’s demands, the commission would not reconsider shifting the event to a virtual debate, according to The Associated Press. The stance means the second debate will likely not go forward, although Democratic challenger Joe Biden has said he will hold his own town hall-style event that day, hosted by ABC News.

The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention’s guidance says those who test positive for COVID-19 should isolate for at least 10 days after symptoms first appear (although it warns that coronavirus patients with severe illness, especially those admitted to a hospital who needed oxygen, may need to isolate for up to 20 days).

Trump spent three days in the hospital and was administered supplemental oxygen at the White House. Many questions remain about the state of his health.

Trump has reportedly been itching to get back to the campaign trail, and suggested on Fox News on Friday that he would hold a large rally on Saturday night “if we have enough time to put it together.” Once again, he would not say if he’d had a recent coronavirus test, but promised he would take one the next day “because there’s no reason to test all the time.”

Saying he did not “go into it greatly with the doctors,” he nonetheless claimed that they “found very little infection or virus, if any. I don’t know that they found any.”

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