Mics will be cut for portions of final presidential debate after commission adopts new rules

Joey Garrison, USA TODAY
·3 min read

WASHINGTON — President Donald Trump and Democrat Joe Biden will have their microphones cut off in Thursday’s debate while their rival delivers their opening two-minute answer to each of the debate topics.

The 90-minute debate is divided into six 15-minute segments, with each candidate granted two minutes to deliver uninterrupted remarks before proceeding to an open debate. The open discussion portion of the debate will not feature a mute button, but interruptions by either candidate will count toward their time in the second and final debate Thursday.

The nonpartisan Commission on Presidential Debates announced the rule changes Monday, three weeks after a chaotic opening faceoff between the two presidential contenders that featured frequent interruptions — most by Trump.

More: Trump and aides oppose debate rule changes and hint they could put future debates at risk

The commission has faced pressure from the Trump campaign to avoid changing the rules, while Biden’s team was hoping for a more ordered debate. In a statement, the commission said it “had determined that it is appropriate to adopt measures intended to promote adherence to agreed upon rules and inappropriate to make changes to those rules.”

After a chaotic first debate in Cleveland last month filled with interruptions, the commission announced it would be adding "additional tools" to avoid a repeat.

In a letter to the commission Monday, Trump campaign manager Bill Stepien objected to the commission empowering any individual with the ability to cut a microphone.

"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 which has already demonstrated its partiality to Biden," he said.

The Trump campaign has been highly critical of the debate commission after it rescheduled the second debate to a virtual format following Trump testing positive for COVID-19. Trump refused to take part and the debate was cancelled.

Stepien also expressed "great concern" over the commission's decision to not have a theme devoted to foreign policy. Instead, the debate themes, as announced by moderator Kristen Welker of NBC News, will be fighting COVID-19, American families, race in America, climate change, national security and leadership.

The commission never publicly announced that the final debate would have a foreign policy focus.

More: Second presidential debate between Joe Biden and Donald Trump canceled

But Stepien called it the "long-standing custom" of the commission to make foreign policy central to the final debate. He urged the commission to "recalibrate the topics and return to subjects which had already been confirmed."

"It is completely irresponsible for the commission to alter the focus of this final debate just days before the event, solely to insulate Biden from his own history," he said.

Related: Trump asked to clarify his position on white supremacy

Contributing: Associated Press. Reach Joey Garrison on Twitter @Joeygarrison.

This article originally appeared on USA TODAY: Presidential debates: Mics will be cut off under new rules from commission