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You’re on mute: Trump and Biden will have restricted access to the mic during final debate

October 20, 2020, 9:58 AM UTC

President Donald Trump and Democratic nominee Joe Biden will have their microphones turned off during parts of the final presidential debate on Thursday, the Commission on Presidential Debates said Monday night.

Each candidate will have an uninterrupted two minutes to speak at the beginning of each of the six 15-minute segments of the debate at Belmont University in Nashville. Both candidates’ mics will then be turned on for “a period of open discussion” in the segment’s remaining time, the commission said in a statement.

The commission said both campaigns “this week again reaffirmed their agreement to the two-minute, uninterrupted rule,” adding that the measures weren’t a change of the rules, but were intended to make sure the existing rules were enforced.

The decision comes after the commission said it was examining changes in response to the chaotic first debate, in Cleveland on Sept. 29, when Trump repeatedly interrupted Biden and both candidates talked over the moderator, Chris Wallace.

“We realize, after discussions with both campaigns, that neither campaign may be totally satisfied with the measures announced today,” the commission said. “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.”

On Air Force One Monday night, Trump reiterated an allegation made earlier in the day by his campaign manager, Bill Stepien, that the debate was supposed to have been focused on foreign policy, but the list of topics was then changed to help Biden avoid responding to questions about the business dealings of his son Hunter.

“I will participate but it’s very unfair that they changed the topics and it’s very unfair that again we have an anchor who’s totally biased,” Trump said, referring to the moderator, Kristen Welker of NBC News.

Neither the commission nor Welker has said the debate would concentrate on foreign policy. The commission announced Friday that it would cover six topics: Covid-19, American families, race in America, climate change, national security and leadership.

The Trump campaign has made unfounded allegations that Hunter Biden entangled his father in corrupt business dealings in Ukraine and China.

“President Trump is committed to debating Joe Biden regardless of last-minute rule changes from the biased commission in their latest attempt to provide advantage to their favored candidate,” Stepien said in a statement earlier Monday night.

Until now, the Trump campaign has objected to changes to the rules. The president withdrew from the scheduled second debate on Oct. 15 after the nonpartisan panel announced that the session would be virtual as a precaution against the coronavirus.

The Trump campaign’s acquiescence to the mic cutoff is a shift from earlier Monday, when Stepien said in a letter to the commission that its “pro-Biden antics have turned the entire debate season into a fiasco” and said it would be “completely unacceptable” for anyone to be able to turn off a candidate’s microphone.

“A decision to proceed with that change amounts to turning further editorial control of the debate over to the commission,” Stepien wrote.(Updates with Trump’s latest comments, starting in sixth paragraph.)

–With assistance from Mario Parker and Josh Wingrove.