Debate commission says it will mute Trump, Biden while opponent talks

The commission said in a statement that it 'had determined that it is appropriate to adopt measures intended to promote adherence to agreed upon rules and inappropriate to make changes to those rules.'

The Commission on Presidential Debates (CPD) will mute President Trump and former Vice President Joe Biden during the two-minute response times allotted to their opponents for commenting on topics during Thursday's debate in Nashville.

The commission said in a statement that it "had determined that it is appropriate to adopt measures intended to promote adherence to agreed-upon rules and inappropriate to make changes to those rules.”

Also included in the debate will be an open discussion forum that won't include the mute option. Thursday’s debate will consist of six 15-minute segments, totaling 90 minutes in all as in the first debate.

Trump's and Biden's initial debate was widely panned as both candidates faced backlash for their behavior. The two candidates skipped the second presidential debate after Trump was diagnosed with the novel coronavirus and declined to participate in a virtual format. 

Announced on Monday, the new rule drew scrutiny from the Trump campaign, which urged the commission earlier in the day to include more discussion of foreign policy in the next debate.

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"President Trump is committed to debating Joe Biden regardless of last minute rule changes from the biased commission in their latest attempt to provide advantage to their favored candidate," read a statement from campaign manager Bill Stepien

In a letter, Stepien had accused the commission of adding to a broader pattern of "pro-Biden antics" with its choice of topics. The upcoming debate topics included fighting COVID-19, American families, national security, leadership, climate change, and race in America.

The commission did not immediately respond to Fox News' request for comment. The Biden campaign responded to Stepien's letter by suggesting that he was lying.

"The campaigns and the Commission agreed months ago that the debate moderator would choose the topics,” National Press Secretary TJ Ducklo said in a statement provided to Fox News.

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“The Trump campaign is lying about that now because Donald Trump is afraid to face more questions about his disastrous COVID response. 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."

But Ali Pardo, Deputy Communications Director for the Trump campaign, told Fox News that "[o]ver the past several months, the CPD [Commission on Presidential Debates] verbally confirmed on multiple occasions that the third debate would have a foreign policy focus."

Senate Minority Leader Chuck Schumer, D-N.Y., previously suggested a "mute button" would be necessary for another debate to take place.

"Maybe we should give the moderator a mute button, given how President Trump just interrupts at will," Schumer said a day after the first debate. "And the bottom line is Donald Trump doesn't follow the rules [and] the commission has got to get a lot tougher."

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But his counterpart in the House, Minority Leader Kevin McCarthy, R-Calif., argued a mute button gave the moderator too much power. 

"If you are going to run for the free leader of this world we want to hear what you have to say, but now we're going to allow one person to moderate it to determine what the American people can hear from our candidates?" he previously said on "Fox & Friends."

Fox News' Brooke Singman and the Associated Press contributed to this report.