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Trump campaign urges change in debate topics but not rules

Jordan Fabian
Bloomberg

Donald Trump’s re-election campaign lashed out at the Commission on Presidential Debates about the topics and potential rule changes for the president’s final face-off against Democratic candidate Joe Biden.

In a two-page letter to the commission, Trump campaign manager Bill Stepien stopped short of threatening to withdraw from the Oct. 22 debate but said the non-partisan commission’s “pro-Biden antics have turned the entire debate season into a fiasco.”

The debate stage, still under construction, in the Curb Event Center at Belmont University is viewed by members of the media during a tour Friday, Oct. 16, 2020, in Nashville, Tenn. The final debate between President Donald Trump and former Vice President Joe Biden is scheduled to be held at Belmont University Oct. 22.

“For the good of campaign integrity and for the benefit of the American people, we urge you to rethink and reissue a set of topics for the October 22 debate, with an emphasis on foreign policy,” Stepien wrote in the letter, which was dated Oct. 19 and posted on his Twitter account.

The campaign chief said the topic list would “insulate Biden from his own history,” referring to unfounded allegations related to the foreign business dealings of the former vice president’s son, Hunter. Stepien said the final debate was “always billed” as a foreign policy debate but that was never announced by the commission or the moderator, NBC’s Kristen Welker.

The Biden campaign said the commission should stick to the plan the candidates’ teams agreed to earlier this year.

“The campaigns and the commission agreed months ago that the debate moderator would choose the topics,” Biden campaign spokesman TJ Ducklo said in a statement. “The Trump campaign is lying about that now because Donald Trump is afraid to face more questions about his disastrous Covid response.”

The commission announced Friday that the last debate will have six topics: Fighting Covid-19, American families, race in America, climate change, national security and leadership. No changes have made to the debate rules, but media reports have indicated the commission has considered whether to cut off candidates’ microphones if they break the rules.

“It is completely unacceptable for anyone to wield such power, and a decision to proceed with that change amounts to turning further editorial control of the debate over to the Commission,” Stepien said.

Trump pulled out of what was supposed to be the second debate with Biden scheduled for Oct. 15 after the commission decided it would be conducted virtually due to the president’s Covid-19 diagnosis on Oct. 1.

The president began traveling again last week after testing negative, according to his physician, and his campaign has said there was no medical reason not to have the debate in person.