Commission on Presidential Debates promises more 'structure' at remaining debates

A moderator might be allowed to cut off a candidate's microphone.

September 30, 2020, 5:49 PM

The Commission on Presidential Debates announced Wednesday that it would consider changes to the remaining debates, citing the need for "structure" after Tuesday night's often chaotic affair was marked by repeated interruptions.

"Last night’s debate made clear that additional structure should be added to the format of the remaining debates to ensure a more orderly discussion of the issues," the commission said in a statement.

"The CPD will be carefully considering the changes that it will adopt and will announce those measures shortly," the statement said. The commission also said it is "grateful" to moderator Chris Wallace "for the professionalism and skill he brought to last night’s debate and intends to ensure that additional tools to maintain order are in place for the remaining debates."

Possible changes include allowing the moderator to mute the microphone of one candidate when the other is speaking, but the commission was adamant Wednesday afternoon, according to sources, that any new structure would not come as a result of negotiations with the campaigns.

The Trump campaign was not pleased, suggesting the Biden campaign was pushing for the changes.

“They’re only doing this because their guy got pummeled last night. President Trump was the dominant force and now Joe Biden is trying to work the refs. They shouldn’t be moving the goalposts and changing the rules in the middle of the game," Trump 2020 communications director Tim Murtaugh said.

The Biden team responded later, saying he is looking forward to the next debates.

“Joe Biden is looking forward to the Town Hall in Miami. He'll be focused on answering questions from the voters there, under whatever set of rules the Commission develops to try to contain Donald Trump's behavior. The president will have to choose between responding to voters about questions for which he has offered no answers in this campaign -- or repeating last night's unhinged meltdown," Biden's communications director, Kate Bedingfield, said in a statement.

PHOTO: Chris Wallace of Fox News tries to moderate as President Donald Trump and Democratic candidate former Vice President Joe Biden both speak during the first presidential debate, Sept. 29, 2020, in Cleveland.
Chris Wallace of Fox News tries to moderate as President Donald Trump and Democratic candidate former Vice President Joe Biden both speak during the first presidential debate, Sept. 29, 2020, in Cleveland.
Patrick Semansky/AP

Before Tuesday, both campaigns had to agree to the structure of the debates. And while their original agreement was settled before the two candidates took the stage Tuesday night, it was not carried out.

The first debate was designed to be in six segments of 15 minutes each, with both President Donald Trump and Democratic nominee Joe Biden having two minutes each to answer a specific question. But the night did not unfold that way, with Trump making constant interruptions, and Wallace, anchor of "Fox News Sunday," repeatedly asking him to not talk during Biden's two minutes of answer time.

At one point, when Trump objected, saying Biden was interrupting him as well, Wallace told him, "Frankly, you've been doing more interrupting than he has."

Biden told reporters Wednesday he hoped the commission could figure out a way to have the two men answer without interruptions, even as he blamed Trump for the disorder.

“He not only attacked me constantly, and my family, but he attacked the moderator ... I just hope there's a way in which the debate commission can control the ability of us to answer the question without interruptions. I'm not going to speculate on what happens in the second or third debate. My hope is that they're able to literally say -- the question gets asked to Trump, he has the microphone, he has two minutes to answer the question, no one else has a microphone. And then, I don't know what the rules are going to be, literally. But that's what seemed to me to make some sense. But I'm looking. I'm looking forward to that,” Biden said.

The second presidential debate, set in Miami two weeks from now, will be town-hall format with voters asking questions and C-SPAN host Steve Scully as moderator.

"I hope that this next debate is going to be in front of real live people. It's going to be a town hall. And I just hope we're able -- so I'm looking forward to it," Biden said. "And I hope we're able to get a chance to actually answer the questions that are asked by the persons in the room. But God only knows what he'll do."

The third and final debate, in Nashville, will be structured the same as Tuesday's.

Trump tweeted his response to the Commission on Presidential Debates promising more “structure” at the remaining debates, saying, "Try getting a new Anchor and a smarter Democrat candidate!"

Terrance Smith and John Verhovek contributed reporting.

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