Fact check: Trump falsely claims Biden, who has committed to the debates, is trying to get out of debating

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“Now, he’s already saying that he can’t do debates because of Covid. Do you believe it? ‘I can’t do the debates because of Covid.’ That was — I just heard a little inkling of it two days ago. I said, ‘Watch this one,”http://rss.cnn.com/” Trump said during a Fox News town hall event in Wisconsin with host Sean Hannity.

Facts First: Trump’s claim is entirely baseless. Biden has officially committed to participating in the three scheduled presidential debates — and Biden has repeatedly said he is eager to debate Trump even if the pandemic forces them to hold the event online rather than in person.

Trump, conversely, has not officially committed to the scheduled debates. Instead, his campaign has been seeking changes to the debate schedule, and, according to the New York Times, wants an unusual role in selecting the moderators.
Biden’s campaign said in a Monday letter to the Commission on Presidential Debates that Biden will take part in the debates scheduled for September 29, October 15 and October 22.

“Our position is straightforward and clear: Joe Biden will accept the Commission’s debates, on the Commission’s dates, under the Commission’s established format and the Commission’s independent choice of moderators,” Biden campaign manager Jen O’Malley Dillon wrote. “Donald Trump and Mike Pence should do the same. That is what every candidate for President and Vice President have done in modern times, Democrat and Republican alike.”

O’Malley Dillon specifically asked the commission to confirm that it has plans for alternate arrangements in case “COVID control measures threaten to impact the conduct of the debates as planned.”

“There is no reason why Vice President Biden and President Trump cannot meet for debates with appropriate safety and social distancing measures (set by public health authorities) on the three dates the CPD has identified. Nothing should prevent the conduct of debates between Joe Biden and Donald Trump on these dates; again, we do not want to provide President Trump with any excuses for not debating,” O’Malley Dillon wrote.

There was coronavirus-related debate news two days prior to Trump’s Thursday comments, but it had nothing to do with Biden’s stance. The commission announced Tuesday that the October 15 would be moved to Miami from Ann Arbor, Michigan; the University of Michigan said pandemic challenges made their hosting plans infeasible.
Biden himself has said in multiple appearances and interviews that he is eager to debate Trump even if the pandemic makes an in-person debate impossible.

“I can hardly wait to debate Donald Trump. Are you kidding?” Biden said at an April fundraiser, according to a pool report. He added, “Look, I’m ready to debate him. Zoom or Skype or Slack or Hangouts or in person, anytime, anywhere he wants.”

Biden did say in late March that he thought there was no need for additional Democratic primary debates against Sen. Bernie Sanders, over whom he had an overwhelming delegate lead. (Sanders dropped out two weeks later.) Biden said, in explaining his stance at the time, that he was focusing on the pandemic crisis.
But contrary to Trump’s insinuations and assertions in April, May and now June, Biden has never suggested he wants to avoid general election debates with Trump.

Trump’s stance on debates

Trump’s campaign has declined to immediately agree to the three debates scheduled by the commission. Instead, it has sought changes to the debate schedule.

“We want fair debates. We want them sooner and we want a bigger schedule. We also don’t want them up against football games competing for viewers,” campaign manager Brad Parscale said in a statement last week reported by the New York Times. (There is a Thursday night NFL game scheduled for each of October 15 and October 22.)

The Times reported that the Trump campaign wants four debates rather than the planned three — and that Trump lawyer Rudy Giuliani proposed to the commission that both campaigns get a role in choosing the moderators.

The commission announced in the Tuesday statement that the moderators will be chosen, as usual, by the commission.

Trump declined on Thursday to make his own public push for a larger number of debates, explaining to Hannity that he did not want to declare he wants more than three because people would then say, “Oh, he feels he’s losing.”

“What I want to do is, I’ll do the three, and I’ll do any amount that they want. It doesn’t make any difference to me,” Trump said.

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