(Bloomberg) -- A day-long back and forth over how to conduct next week’s debate between President Donald Trump and Democratic nominee Joe Biden ended late Thursday where it started with the Commission on Presidential Debates insisting it will be virtual, leaving its future unclear.
Commission chairman Frank Fahrenkopf told The Associated Press that the nonpartisan group was not going to rescind its decision to conduct the debate remotely after Trump was infected with the coronavirus, despite demands from the Trump campaign that they do so. The commission did not immediately respond to a request for comment.
The move leaves the second debate, which had been scheduled for Oct. 15 in Miami, in doubt since Trump has refused to participate in a virtual face-off.
“The commission’s a joke,” the president said in a telephone interview with Fox News on Thursday night. “I’m not going to do a virtual debate.”
Throughout the day, the Trump and Biden campaigns volleyed options for the debate calendar through competing public statements, with the Trump camp consistently demanding to meet in person. At one point they said that if next week’s debate is pushed back, another should be scheduled for Oct. 29.
But Biden rejected that plan.
“Trump chose today to pull out of the Oct. 15th debate,” Kate Bedingfield, Biden deputy campaign manager, said in a statement. “Trump’s erratic behavior does not allow him to rewrite the calendar, and pick new dates of his choosing.”
The commission announced early Thursday that the Oct. 15 town hall-style forum in Miami, the second of three presidential debates, would be conducted with the participants appearing from remote locations, “in order to protect the health and safety of all involved.”
In addition to Trump and his wife, Melania, more than 10 people who either work at the White House or are part of the president’s re-election campaign have become infected with the virus, which has killed more than 210,000 people in the U.S.
On Thursday night, the Trump campaign, citing a memorandum by the president’s physician, demanded that the candidates face one another in Miami after all. The physician, Sean Conley, said Trump could probably “safely return to public engagements” on Saturday.
“There is therefore 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,” the campaign said in a statement.
Both campaigns said the commission acted unilaterally, without consulting them. Biden’s campaign said he had been prepared to accept the virtual format before Trump’s refusal.
Moderator Steve Scully, C-SPAN’s political editor, was to be live from the Adrienne Arsht Center for the Performing Arts of Miami-Dade County, and the commission says the White House press pool would “provide coverage.”
ABC News later announced that it would broadcast a town hall just with Biden hosted by George Stephanopoulos in Philadelphia on Oct. 15 if Trump continues to refuse.
Trump disclosed last Friday that he had tested positive for Covid-19. He was hospitalized later that day and returned to the White House on Monday.
Conley, said in the memo that Trump had completed his course of therapy for Covid-19 and “had responded extremely well to treatment.”
The virus has circulated widely throughout the White House. Aides Hope Hicks, Nick Luna, Stephen Miller and Kayleigh McEnany have all tested positive, as well as campaign manager Bill Stepien, former New Jersey Governor Chris Christie, who helped with debate preparations, and several other aides.
Trump is pushing to return to normal, having gone to the Oval Office on Wednesday, despite still being in the active phase of the virus. The campaigns had haggled over rule changes after the first debate, which was marked by a series of interruptions from Trump in particular.
The idea of having the candidates debate each other from separate locations is not new. In the third debate of the famous 1960 debates between John F. Kennedy and Richard Nixon, the candidates sparred remotely with Kennedy in New York City and Nixon in Los Angeles.
(Updates with Trump comment, in fourth paragraph.)
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