IE 11 is not supported. For an optimal experience visit our site on another browser.

Trump suggests he's opposed to any rule changes for next Biden debates

The debate commission said it was planning changes after Tuesday's chaotic first debate.
Image: President Donald Trump at the first presidential debate in Cleveland
President Donald Trump at the first presidential debate in Cleveland on Sept. 29, 2020.Brian Snyder / Reuters

President Donald Trump on Thursday suggested he would not agree to any rule changes for the second and third presidential debates, while his campaign launched an extraordinary attack on debate organizers for saying they planned to adjust their formatting following Tuesday's chaotic faceoff.

"Why would I allow the Debate Commission to change the rules for the second and third Debates when I easily won last time?" the president tweeted a day after the Commission on Presidential Debates said it planned on adding "additional structure" to the future debates.

In a call with reporters later Thursday, Trump campaign manager Bill Stepien blasted the leadership and trustees of the CPD by name.

"Joe Biden is a creature of this city. He's been cozying up to this city's wheelers, dealers and insiders for the last half-century. And lo and behold, that's exactly who runs this commission," Stepien said.

Campaign spokesman Jason Miller went even farther, calling them "permanent swamp monsters."

"Rather than a cross-section of America, this group very much comes across as what you might see at an evening gala at the Metropolitan Club in D.C.," Miller said.

The first debate was widely criticized as lacking substance and being unwatchable, thanks to the president's frequent interruptions and his and Joe Biden's attempts to speak over each other.

In a statement Wednesday, the CPD said the "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 CPD will be carefully considering the changes that it will adopt and will announce those measures shortly," the panel said.

A source close to the commission said Wednesday that among the changes under consideration was giving the moderator the ability to cut off a candidate’s microphone when the rules are violated.

The CPD works with both candidates ahead of the debates to arrive at an agreed-upon set of rules. It was not immediately clear what Trump's apparent opposition to any changes would mean for any proposed changes.

The rules for the first debate had been simple. The pair would discuss six topics chosen by the moderator for 15 minutes each, with each candidate getting two minutes to deliver their initial answer before engaging in a deeper discussion of the issues.

Trump frequently cut into Biden's two minutes, and the hoped-for deeper discussions became cacophonous free-for-alls. An aggravated Biden at one point told the president, "Will you shut up, man?"

Moderator Chris Wallace repeatedly reminded Trump that his campaign had agreed to the rules ahead of time, but the president was undeterred.

Wallace said on Fox News on Thursday that "I was really hoping for the debate that I think America wanted to see, which was a serious exchange of views. I felt like I'd gotten together all of the ingredients. I had baked this beautiful, delicious cake and then frankly, the president put his foot in it. That was frustrating."

Miller jabbed at Wallace during the conference call with reporters Thursday, saying he "came in second" in the debate, ahead of Biden.

The Democratic presidential nominee told reporters Thursday that he was open to changes for the next debate, a town hall-style event, but would participate regardless. "As long as we have an opportunity to respond to the questions from the people in the audience," Biden said.

On Wednesday, he said, "I just hope there's a way in which the debate commission can control the ability of us to answer the question without interruption."

Miller said the Trump campaign was not open to any changes, and that Trump is "ready to go" for the next round of debates. "President Trump fully plans on participating in and winning the second and third debates," he said.

White House press secretary Kayleigh McEnany said earlier Thursday the president "wants to debate, he plans on being at the debate, but he wants the rules to be fair and wants a fair exchange and doesn’t want rules that cover for a certain candidate’s inability to perform well."

The president has said he was satisfied with the debate set up, and tweeted on Wednesday that the commission should try "getting a new Anchor and a smarter Democrat candidate!"

The next debate, between Vice President Mike Pence and Democratic vice presidential nominee Sen. Kamala Harris, D-Calif., is set Oct. 7 in Utah.

Two more presidential debates are expected later in the month— one in Florida on Oct. 15 and one in Tennessee on Oct. 22, hosted by NBC's Kristen Welker.