Trump, Biden campaigns spar over earpieces before debate

Jennifer Epstein

Donald Trump’s campaign accused Joe Biden’s team of backing away from an agreement that the two candidates should be inspected for earpieces as both sides engaged in gamesmanship ahead of the first presidential debate on Tuesday.

The assertion by the president’s team that a third-party inspection of the candidates’ ears is necessary is part of the Trump campaign’s contention that Biden is not mentally fit for the debate.

“Joe Biden’s handlers several days ago agreed to a pre-debate inspection for electronic earpieces but today abruptly reversed themselves and declined,” Trump campaign spokesman Tim Murtaugh said in a statement Tuesday.

Former Vice President Joe Biden, left, and President Donald Trump.

The Biden campaign denied the earpiece allegations as little more than a “distraction,” and then it fired back with an accusation that the Trump team demanded that the moderator, Fox News’s Chris Wallace, refrain from mentioning the number of people in the U.S. who have died from Covid-19.

“The Trump team asked that Chris Wallace never once mention the number of Covid deaths once during the debate,” deputy campaign manager Kate Bedingfield said on a pre-debate call with reporters.

“You can consider that confirmed from the Biden campaign,” she said but then seemed to suggest she was making it up. “See how easy that was to try to throw up a distraction? It is pathetic. It’s weak.”

The coronavirus pandemic has claimed more than 200,000 lives in the U.S. and Biden has made what he calls Trump’s “criminal” mismanagement of the crisis a key theme of his campaign.

Tim Murtaugh, the Trump campaign spokesman, dismissed the claims. “This is a lie and it never happened,” Murtaugh said on Twitter. “This is the height of playing politics with a public health crisis.”

Murtaugh also said that Biden’s staff had asked for “multiple breaks” during the debate, which the Trump campaign rejected, and again repeated Trump’s call for a drug test before the debate.

The Biden campaign did not directly address whether it had gone back on an agreement around the ear inspection, though it did deny the break request. “Of course he is not wearing an earpiece and we never asked for breaks,” deputy campaign manager Kate Bedingfield said on a pre-debate call with reporters.

Bedingfield suggested that the Trump campaign is “lying” and questioning the process around the debate “because they don’t want to debate Joe Biden on substance.” Trump “may not do well tonight and they’re already laying the groundwork for how they’re going to lie about why. It is completely absurd,” she said.