Debate Commission Will Allow Mics to Be Muted During Final Faceoff

The Commission on Presidential Debates announced changes to Thursday's final 2020 presidential debate in Nashville, between President Donald Trump and Democratic presidential candidate Joe Biden. The changes allow microphones for the candidates to be muted while another candidate is speaking to avoid the interrupting that hobbled the first debate. Each candidate will get two uninterrupted minutes to talk at the start of each 15-minute segment, based on the previously agreed-upon rules by the candidates' campaigns, the commission said.

After the first debate in Cleveland on Sept. 29, the Commission agreed that "additional structure should be added to the format" for the remaining debates. The Commission "determined that it is appropriate to adopt measures intended to promote adherence to agreed-upon roles and inappropriate to make changes to those rules." While a candidate's microphone will be muted during the other candidate's two-minute block at the start of each segment, both microphones will not be muted during the rest of the segment, as these parts are "intended to be dedicated to open discussion." The Commission noted that time taken up by "any interruptions" by the other candidate will be returned to the interrupted candidate.

After the commission made the announcement, the Trump campaign immediately responded by accusing them of making changes to help Biden, without evidence. Trump campaign manager Bill Stepien called the commission "biased" and said the changes were "their latest attempt to provide advantage to their favored candidate." Despite their objections, Trump is "committed" to debating Biden on Thursday.

Biden called the way Trump debated on Sept. 29 a "national embarrassment" afterward. "I just hope there's a way in which the debate commission can control the ability of us to answer the questions without interruptions," Biden said, reports CNN. Stepien objected to the idea of muting the microphones, though, calling that "unacceptable" before Monday's announcement.

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Stepien also objected to the commission's topics for the final debate, moderated by NBC News' Kristen Welker. The debate is supposed to focus on foreign policy, and the individual topics will be "fighting COVID-19," "American families," "Race in America," "Climate Change," "National Security" and "Leadership." Stepien urged the commission to "recalibrate the topics," although he did not say if Trump would refuse to debate Biden if no changes were made.

"The campaigns and the Commission agreed months ago that the debate moderator would choose the topics," Biden spokesman TJ Ducklo said in response to the Trump campaign's objections. "The Trump campaign is lying about that now because Donald Trump is afraid to face more questions about his disastrous COVID response. 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."