Trump team pushes to reschedule in-person debate after Trump declines virtual format

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The latest effort from senior campaign surrogates and West Wing staff on Sunday comes after the White House physician cleared Trump to resume public activity, but declined to say when the President’s last negative test took place.

“The President is ready to debate and his doctors have cleared him for participating in public engagements,” White House deputy communications director Brian Morgenstern told reporters at the White House Sunday. “They’ve said he’s no longer a risk for transmission so it would be nice if the commission would get the debate back on the schedule.”

With the backing of their health advisers, the commission had announced Thursday morning that — because Trump had recently tested positive for Covid-19 — the debate that was scheduled for Miami would be held virtually, with the two candidates appearing from remote locations.

Trump swiftly rejected that plan, saying he would not show up and setting off a series of events that put the future of all general election debates into question.

The President’s son, Eric Trump, echoed his father’s push to reschedule, saying on ABC’s “This Week” that his father “wants to stand on the stage with his opponent.”

And Trump’s daughter-in-law, Lara Trump, praised the President “for saying no,” telling Fox News on Sunday, “I think a virtual debate is an absolute disaster.”

The last-minute push for an in-person debate reflects the mounting risk of Trump’s decision to walk away from the virtual debate at a time when his campaign is trailing in national polls and in a number of key swing states with less than four weeks to go until Election Day.

The commission on Presidential Debates did not immediately respond to CNN’s request for comment Sunday.

The commission’s decision to cancel the second Trump-Biden contest of the cycle was the culmination of a furious 48-hour back-and-forth between the commission and both Trump and Democratic nominee Joe Biden’s campaigns.

“It is now apparent there will be no debate on October 15, and the CPD will turn its attention to preparations for the final presidential debate scheduled for October 22,” the commission said in a statement.

The President has repeatedly signaled that he is ready to put his bout with coronavirus behind him and return to the campaign trail, despite little clarity about his condition, no independent view of his physical state and warnings from health experts he could still be shedding the virus.

He even told Fox News’ “Sunday Morning Futures” that it “seems like I’m immune” despite there being no evidence that people are immune if they have been infected once — and the US Centers for Disease Control and Protection specifically cautions people not to assume they are immune.

The Biden campaign responded to Trump’s refusal to participate by saying Biden would have been happy to appear virtually, but that the former vice president would hold a town hall elsewhere if the President declined to agree to a virtual contest.

Biden deputy campaign manager Kate Bedingfield told CNN’s Jake Tapper on “State of the Union” Sunday that “We are not going to let Donald Trump whipsaw around at the last second trying to rewrite the rules.”

Trump, she said, “doesn’t get to set the calendar.”

“The Debate Commission sets the calendar. We all agreed to these debates back in June, and we’re not going to let him try to rewrite the rules at the last second.”

The commission’s October 22 debate is set to be held in Nashville and will likely be the final meeting between the two candidates this election cycle.

CNN’s Dan Merica, Kevin Liptak and Kevin Bohn contributed to this report.

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