A combination picture shows Donald Trump and Joe Biden speaking during the first 2020 presidential campaign debate. File / Reuters
President Donald Trump on Thursday rejected plans to hold his next debate with Democratic rival Joe Biden virtually to reduce the risk of spreading COVID-19, complaining that his microphone could be cut off in that format.
The first debate between the two, held last week before Trump disclosed that he had tested positive for the novel coronavirus, descended into chaos with the Republican US president interrupting both Biden and the moderator throughout.
"I'm not going to waste my time on a virtual debate, that's not what debating is all about," Trump said on a phone interview with Fox Business after the nonpartisan commission in charge of presidential debates announced the new format on Thursday morning.
"You sit behind a computer and do a debate - it's ridiculous and then they cut you off whenever they want," said Trump, who added that he was eager to hold campaign rallies with his supporters.
His decision to forego the debate is the latest whiplash development in the presidential race ahead of the November election.
Biden leads in nationwide opinion polls but they show a tighter race in many of the battleground states that may decide the election.
Their two running mates, Vice President Mike Pence and Democratic vice presidential nominee Senator Kamala Harris, engaged in a debate on Wednesday evening.
Biden told reporters on Thursday he would follow the recommendations of the debate commission.
Biden said he did not know what action he would take if Trump refused to take part.
"We don't know what the president's going to do. He changes his mind every second," Biden added.
Even before becoming infected, Trump had faced criticism for his administration's response to a pandemic that has killed more than 210,000 Americans - more than any other country - and thrown millions of people out of work.
Trump's disclosure last Friday that he had tested positive brought the crisis back to the centre of the race.
The 74-year-old president spent three days in a hospital in Maryland receiving multiple different types of treatment.
More than 6 million Americans have already cast ballots ahead of Nov. 3's formal Election Day.
The Commission on Presidential Debates said on Thursday it planned to host a town hall-style conversation and that voters and the moderator would ask the candidates questions from the original debate site in Miami. The debate was planned as the second of three between Trump and Biden, with the third set for Oct. 22.
Both campaigns said they were not consulted on the move, but a Biden aide said the Democratic nominee was still prepared to take part.
"Vice President Biden looks forward to speaking directly to the American people and comparing his plan for bringing the country together and building back better with Donald Trump's failed leadership on the coronavirus that has thrown the strong economy he inherited into the worst downturn since the Great Depression," Deputy Campaign Manager Kate Bedingfield said.
The pair's last televised showdown spiraled into an ugly confrontation marred by interruptions and name calling, prompting organizers to introduce mic-muting this time to try to keep things civil.
In a tweet accompanied by a three-and-a-half minute video, Biden said giving Trump four more years in power would be extremely dangerous and "fundamentally alter the character of this nation, who we are."
Nineteen of the Democrats running for president were in New Hampshire for the state party convention on Saturday — an event that provides an important chance for them to woo political power brokers in the first-in-the nation primary state.
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