Questions of how and when to hold the remaining U.S. presidential debates dominated the campaign Thursday, with President Trump insisting he won’t participate in a virtual face-off, and former Vice President Joe Biden declining to postpone the debate schedule. The controversy erupted a day after their vice presidential running mates met in their only debate of the campaign. Amna Nawaz reports.
To debate or not to debate, in-person or not in-person. Those questions dominated the U.S. presidential campaign this day. President Trump insisted he won't agree to a virtual encounter online, and Joe Biden balked at delaying their debate.
It all came a day after their running mates faced off.
Amna Nawaz begins our coverage.
With 26 days until Election Day, the Democratic ticket headed to Arizona, where former Vice President Joe Biden took a moment to hail Senator Kamala Harris' debate performance the night before.
Former Vice President Joe Biden:
This is one of the finest persons I have ever dealt with. This is a person who is ready on day one to be the president of the United States of America.
This is a person who has more integrity in their little finger than most people have in their whole body. And the idea — it's obvious he cannot — he has great difficulty dealing with strong women.
Meanwhile, back in Washington, President Trump threw next week's debate with Biden into turmoil.
President Donald Trump:
No, I'm not going to waste my time on a virtual debate. That's not what debating is all about, you sit behind a computer and do a debate. It's ridiculous.
First refusing to take part after the Debate Commission this morning announced a virtual format to — quote — "protect the health and safety of all involved," later agreeing with a Biden campaign suggestion that the debate be delayed one week, so it could still be held in-person.
In a statement, Trump campaign manager Bill Stepien said — quote — "We agree that this should happen on October 22, and, accordingly, the third debate should then be shifted back one week to October 29."
Biden campaign manager Kate Bedingfield fired back, writing: "Trump's erratic behavior does not allow him to rewrite the calendar," and insisting the final debate remain on October 22. "Donald Trump can show up," Bedingfield said, "or he can decline again."
We set the dates. I'm sticking with the dates. I'm showing up. I will be there. And, in fact, if he shows up, fine. If he doesn't, fine.
In another scheduling shift, this afternoon, ABC News announced it would host a Biden town hall in Philadelphia on October 15, now that the president had backed out of that night's debate.
The back-and-forth on debate planning comes after an intense back-and-forth between the vice presidential candidates last night.
Sen. Kamala Harris, D-Calif.:
No, I — no, but, Susan, I — this is important…
Vice President Mike Pence:
Susan, I have to weigh in here.
Sen. Kamala Harris:
Mr. Vice President, I'm speaking.
I have to weigh in.
In a debate dominated by the pandemic, Senator Harris slammed the White House response, calling it:
The greatest failure of any presidential administration in the history of our country.
I want to ask the American people, how calm were you when you were panicked about where you're going to get your next roll of toilet paper? How calm were you when your kids were sent home from school and you didn't know when they could go back?
Vice President Pence, the head of the White House Coronavirus Task Force, defended the decision to not create a federally coordinated response.
The difference here is President Trump and I trust the American people to make choices in the best interest of their health.
Joe Biden and Kamala Harris consistently talk about mandates. We're about freedom and respecting the freedom of the American people.
In stark contrast to the first presidential face-off, peppered with interruptions and heckling from the president, Harris and Pence largely stuck to the issues, and their campaign messages.
Your Green New Deal, your massive new mandates, your Paris Climate Accord, it's going to kill jobs this time just like it killed jobs in the last administration.
I just need to respond very briefly, please.
Joe Biden believes you measure the health and the strength of America's economy based on the health and the strength of the American worker and the American family. On the other hand, you have Donald Trump, who measures the strength of the economy based on how rich people are doing.
Voters from both sides of the aisle who watched the debate with us, said they welcomed the change in tone.
Who felt better about the way the debate went tonight? Raise your hand if you felt better.
But most were unsatisfied with the candidates' answers.
I do feel like both candidates were dodging the question.
We get it. You all don't like Trump. We get it. Attack the points.
And they're wary of what the next presidential debate could bring.
I hope it doesn't repeat itself, but, if it does, I don't see any sense in continuing to watch.
Weighing whether or not to tune in the next time the candidates take to the debate stage.
For the "PBS NewsHour," I'm Amna Nawaz.
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Amna Nawaz joined PBS NewsHour in April 2018 and serves as the program's chief correspondent and primary substitute anchor.
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