Remote control mute buttons across the country were put to good use during Donald Trump and Joe Biden’s first presidential debate on September 29. But this Thursday, viewers will be able watch leisurely sans remote (or as leisurely as possible in our current political climate) while Trump and Biden duke it out on TV for the second time. In an announcement from the Commission on Presidential Debates, a unified front decided to try something many Americans have only dreamed of doing for about five years now: they’re cutting Trump’s mic.
How is this going to work, you may be (gleefully) wondering? Well, Thursday’s debate will be divided into six 15-minute segments. At the start of each, both Biden and Trump will be permitted to speak uninterrupted for two minutes before segueing into an open debate. But Biden and Trump will have their microphones cut during their opponent’s opening remarks. The Trump campaign pushed back against the decision, decrying it as an abrupt change of rules, but the nonpartisan commission maintains that this is not a change.
“It is appropriate to adopt measures intended to promote adherence to agreed upon rules and inappropriate to make changes to those rules,” the commission wrote in a statement.
Trump’s campaign manager, Bill Stepien, is not happy about the decision, but says Trump will debate Biden anyway. “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,” Stepien said, as per Reuters.
Stepien has also taken issue with the topics that will be addressed on Thursday’s debate. According to the commission, moderator and NBC correspondent Kristen Welker plans to ask Trump and Biden about the fight against COVID-19, climate change, racism in America, and national security. Stepien argued on Twitter that the final presidential debate should be devoted to foreign policy.
Trump echoed Stepien’s complaint on Monday. “I will participate but it’s very unfair that they changed the topics, and it’s very unfair that again, we have an anchor who’s totally biased,” he told reporters on Air Force One.
Biden’s camp hasn’t yet responded to the news of the mute button, but his press secretary, TJ Ducklo, argued that Thursday’s topics are fair game. “The campaigns and the Commission agreed months ago that the debate moderator would choose the topics,” he said. “The Trump campaign is lying about that now because Donald Trump is afraid to face more questions about his disastrous COVID response.”
The first (and only other) presidential debate saw Trump interrupting Biden a total of 73 times, prompting Biden to tell Trump to shut up on air. The 90-minute event was quickly dubbed “the worst debate in history” and compared to everything from a verbal boxing match to a really bad TikTok duet. The interruptions, however, weren’t even the worst part: Trump made headlines for refusing to denounce white supremacy and telling far-right groups to “stand back and stand by.” He also made false, baseless claims about voter fraud and personal digs at Biden’s son, Hunter.
In the words of Joe Biden: will you shut up, man? Thankfully, this week, Trump won’t have a choice.