The co-chair of the Commission on Presidential Debates on Friday rejected efforts by President Donald Trump’s campaign to clear him for in-person participation in next week’s town hall-style forum — noting that the White House still has refused to provide basic information about Trump’s recent coronavirus tests.
The remarks from Frank Fahrenkopf, the co-founder of the nonpartisan debate commission and its Republican co-chair, come amid confusion over the timeline for the two remaining presidential debates — prompted by the commission’s announcement Thursday that the town hall on Oct. 15 would be conducted virtually.
Trump has objected to the change of format, insisting that he does not think he is “contagious at all” and refusing to participate in a virtual event. Sean Conley, the president’s physician, reported Thursday that Trump had completed his coronavirus therapy and that he expected Trump would be able to resume public engagements on Saturday — 10 days since Trump announced his Covid-19 diagnosis.
Shortly after Conley’s assessment, Trump campaign manager Bill Stepien, who has also tested positive for Covid-19, released a statement arguing there was “no medical reason why the Commission on Presidential Debates should shift the debate to a virtual setting, postpone it, or otherwise alter it in any way.”
But Fahrenkopf was adamant Friday that the Oct. 15 debate — if it took place at all — would feature Trump and Democratic presidential nominee Joe Biden participating from separate, remote locations.
“We’re talking about something that will happen in less than a week, if it had originally gone forward. Less than a week,” Fahrenkopf told Fox News host Brian Kilmeade on his radio show. “And right now, as I understand it … at this point in time, there is no evidence whatsoever whether or not when the president tested negative.”
The White House has not made public the details regarding the president’s coronavirus tests in the days leading to his diagnosis. It is not known when Trump last tested negative before becoming infected, and officials have not definitely said when Trump first tested positive. Conley’s memo Thursday also did not say whether Trump had tested positive after finishing therapy.
Kilmeade said Friday that he had communicated with White House chief of staff Mark Meadows prior to his interview with Fahrenkopf, and that Meadows told Kilmeade to say that Trump will have twice tested negative before the Oct. 15 debate.
Fahrenkopf was skeptical about Meadows’ prediction, saying: “Suppose [Trump] passes one, and then the day before, he doesn’t pass the other? Then the whole debate’s gone.”
Even White House press secretary Kayleigh McEnany appeared doubtful Friday that the president would return to the campaign trail by Saturday, telling “Fox & Friends” in an interview that “logistically … it would be tough.”
McEnany also did not reveal whether the president had yet tested positive, instead reporting that Conley told her “there are medical tests underway” to determine Trump’s contagiousness. “Rest assured, that test will show that it’s not transmissible. He won’t be out there if he can transmit the virus,” she said.
It remains unclear whether any type of debate will take place on Oct. 15. The commission’s announcement Thursday set off an hourslong round of public negotiations between the Trump and Biden campaigns, with both teams issuing dueling demands for the dates and formats of the remaining forums.
As of now, Trump’s campaign has proposed postponing the town hall until Oct. 22 — the original date of the third and final debate — and also shifting the third debate back by one week to Oct. 29, just five days before Election Day.
Biden’s campaign, however, has advocated against adding any previously unscheduled debates to the calendar, arguing that it is Trump’s decision not to participate virtually in the Oct. 15 forum. Instead, the campaign says the final forum on Oct. 22 — which was organized as a one-on-one debate between the candidates — should now take the form of a town hall.
In lieu of the Oct. 15 debate, Trump has said he is interested in holding a rally, while Biden has already announced plans to participate in his own town hall hosted by ABC News.
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