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Trump and Biden will have mics muted for part of last presidential debate

U.S. President Donald Trump and Democratic presidential nominee Joe Biden speaking during the first 2020 presidential campaign debate.

Brian Snyder | Reuters

President Donald Trump and Democratic nominee Joe Biden will at times have their microphones temporarily cut during their next debate, the event’s sponsors announced Monday.

When one of the two candidates is given a chance to provide a two-minute answer to each of the six debate topics, his opponent’s microphone will be muted, the Commission on Presidential Debates said in a statement.

“It is the hope of the Commission that the candidates will be respectful of each other’s time, which will advance civil discourse for the benefit of the viewing public,” the statement said.

The final debate scheduled between Trump and Biden is set for Thursday at 9 p.m. ET in Nashville. It will be moderated by NBC News’ Kristen Welker. It will run 90 minutes in length, with each of the six topics allotted 15 minutes.

The topics, selected by Welker, are:

  • Fighting Covid-19
  • American families
  • Race in America
  • Climate change
  • National security
  • Leadership

The changes were implemented in the wake of the vicious and messy first debate in late September, during which Trump frequently interrupted the former vice president and at times argued with the moderator, Fox News’ Chris Wallace.

The debate commission’s statement Monday night said it “considered the opinion of many who expressed concern the debate fell short of expectations, depriving voters of the opportunity to be informed of the candidates’ positions on the issues.”

In order to allow the candidates to freely share their views in the final debate, the commission announced that “the only candidate whose microphone will be open during these two-minute periods is the candidate who has the floor under the rules.”

“We realize, after discussions with both campaigns, that neither campaign may be totally satisfied with the measures announced today. One may think they go too far, and one may think they do not go far enough,” the commission said in the statement.

“We are comfortable that these actions strike the right balance and that they are in the interest of the American people, for whom these debates are held.”

Spokesmen for the Trump and Biden campaigns did not immediately respond to requests for comment on the announcement. The commission’s statement noted that “both campaigns this week again reaffirmed their agreement to the two-minute, uninterrupted rule.”

The commission had originally scheduled three debates between the two presidential candidates. Trump had previously pushed for a fourth debate to be scheduled.

But the second debate was canceled after Trump refused to participate, following the commission’s decision hold the event virtually, rather than in person. That move was made following Trump’s diagnosis with the coronavirus and subsequent hospitalization.

The president and his campaign have aggressively criticized the debate commission and its chosen slate of moderators. Wallace, who had repeatedly admonished Trump during the debate to wait his turn before speaking, was attacked by the president and his surrogates.

The now-canned second debate was set to be moderated by C-SPAN’s political editor, Steve Scully. Beforehand, Trump had accused Scully of political bias.

After the debate had already been scrapped, Scully was suspended by C-SPAN after he admitted to lying that his Twitter account had been “hacked.” Scully had made the false claim after tweeting a message to former White House official-turned-critic Anthony Scaramucci, which had apparently been intended to be private.

On Saturday, Trump said of Welker in a tweet: “She’s always been terrible & unfair, just like most of the Fake News reporters, but I’ll still play the game.”

Earlier Monday, Trump campaign manager Bill Stepien shared a letter on Twitter urging the debate hosts to ensure that foreign policy would be the main focus, rather than the coronavirus, climate change or race in America.

— CNBC’s Amanda Macias contributed to this report.

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