Debate Commission says it will mute mics at final debate

▶ Watch Video: Biden to prep for debate as campaign focuses on battleground states

The Commission on Presidential Debates said in a statement on Monday that President Trump and Democratic presidential nominee Joe Biden will have two minutes of uninterrupted time at the beginning of each 15-minute segment at the final debate, which is set to be held Thursday. To enforce this rule, the candidate who does not have the floor will have his mic muted. 

After the two minutes of uninterrupted time, the mics will be on for open discussion. 

“We realize, after discussions with both campaigns, that neither campaign may be totally satisfied with the measures announced today,” the Commission on Presidential Debates said in statement. “One may think they go too far, and one may think they do not go far enough. We are comfortable these actions strike the right balance, and that they are in the best interest of the American people, for whom these debates are held.”

On September 30, after the first debate, CBS News was first to report that the commission planned to implement changes that included cutting off the candidates’ mics if they broke the rules.  

In a statement, the Trump campaign said President Trump was “committed” to the final debate. 

But earlier Monday, Trump campaign manager Bill Stepien called it a “completely unacceptable” possibility that an “unnamed” person might have the power to cut the mics. 

Stepien also objected to the topics announced for the final presidential debate in a letter to the Commission on Presidential Debates. Stepien said the topics strayed from the usual devotion of the final debate to foreign policy.   

“As is long standing custom, and as had been promised by the Commission on Presidential Debates, we had expected that foreign policy would be the central focus of the October 22 debate,” Stepien said in the letter. “We urge you to recalibrate the topics and return to subjects which had already been confirmed.”

According to the commission, moderator Kristen Welker of NBC News has chosen the following topics for the upcoming debate: fighting COVID-19, American families, race in America, climate change, national security and leadership.

At a campaign rally in Arizona on Monday, Mr. Trump called Welker a “radical Democrat.” “She’s been screaming questions at me for a long time, and she’s no good,” he said. 

Speaking to reporters on Air Force One on his way back to Washington from Arizona, Mr. Trump said he would participate in the Thursday debate, but he took issue with both the moderator and the chosen debate topics, calling them “unfair.”

“I’ll participate. I just think it’s very unfair,” the president complained. “I will participate but it’s very unfair that they changed the topics and it’s very unfair that again, we have an anchor who’s totally biased.”

In a call with reporters this earlier month, however, Trump campaign senior adviser Jason Miller called Welker “very fair in her approach,” predicting she would do an “excellent job.” 

“I have a very high opinion of Kristen Welker,” Miller told reporters.  

When he spoke earlier, Stepien also addressed the commission’s consideration of cutting mics to prevent a repeat of the first debate.

“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,” Stepien wrote. 

The Biden campaign said in a statement Monday that both campaigns and the commission had formerly agreed the debate moderator would choose the topics. 

“The Trump campaign is lying about that now because Donald Trump is afraid to face more questions about his disastrous COVID response,” Biden campaign spokesman TJ Ducklo said in a statement to CBS News. “As usual, the president is more concerned with the rules of a debate than he is getting a nation in crisis the help it needs.”

What was supposed to be the second in-person debate last week was cancelled, with the commission unilaterally deciding to hold it virtually instead given coronavirus concerns, and the president declined to show up. Instead, the two candidates had dueling town halls

The final debate is set to start at 9 p.m. ET on Thursday. 

Ed O’Keefe contributed to this report.

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