Donald Trump has doubled down on his refusal to participate in a virtual US presidential election debate during a bizarre 55-minute long phone call with Fox Business.
The president called phoned in on Thursday morning (local time) to talk live with host Maria Bartiromo before launching into what numerous viewers deemed a “rambling rant”.
The 74-year-old vented about the October 15 debate with Joe Biden (which he pulled out of when it changed to a virtual event), his dislike for his Democratic opponent and how he believes he is not contagious despite being treated for coronavirus.
Trump, who was hospitalised for three days after disclosing last Friday he had tested positive for Covid-19, blasted the format change announced by the nonpartisan commission in charge of the debates and expressed concern his microphone could be cut off.
"I'm not going to waste my time on a virtual debate. That's not what debating is all about," Trump said in the nearly hour-long phone interview with Bartiromo.
"You sit behind a computer and do a debate - it's ridiculous, and then they cut you off whenever they want."
He told Fox News he was feeling "really good" and might return to the campaign trail on Saturday night, possibly with a rally in Florida.
“I don’t think I’m contagious at all,” the President said, before debating the effectiveness of face masks.
“I feel that I’m great. You catch this thing. A lot of people caught it. Look, you have the governor of Virginia, he wore a mask all the time. You’d never see the guy without a mask. He catches it.”
The president also slammed Biden, claiming he is “not mentally capable of being president” and wants to ban fracking, which his running mate Senator Kamala Harris denied during the Vice Presidential debate on Wednesday (local time).
“He gets up and he says, ‘We’re not fracking. We’re not fracking.’ He was fracking for six months. He was fracking. He was raising his very thin hand, and he was fracking. And now all of a sudden he’s not fracking,” Trump said.
“It’s ridiculous. He said he’s not fracking. That’s all he said. And then all of a sudden he goes to a fracking mode. And how about her? She committed her life to it. And all of a sudden she’s a fracker, she’s a big fracker.”
Covid: Doctor gives Trump the all-clear
The president’s physician said in a memo Trump had completed his course of therapy and could return to public engagements on Saturday.
The 74-year-old said he would likely get tested again for Covid-19 on Friday.
Trump's decision not to participate in a virtual debate means the second and final debate between the two White House contenders will be on October 22, less than two weeks before the November 3 election.
In lieu of the October 15 debate, Biden's campaign quickly arranged a town hall-style event in Philadelphia that night to be hosted by ABC News.
The chairman of the debate commission, Frank Fahrenkopf, said the switch to a virtual format was not being reconsidered.
Some Trump advisers questioned his decision not to participate in the new debate format, arguing he would miss an opportunity to make his case to millions of voters tuned in, a source familiar with the situation said.
With Trump's handling of the pandemic dominating the campaign, a new poll showed Americans steadily losing confidence in how the president has managed the health crisis, his net approval on the issue hitting a low.
The poll taken Tuesday through Thursday found 37 per cent of American adults approved of Trump's handling of the pandemic and 59 per cent disapproved.
The net approval rating of negative 22 percentage points is the lowest in the poll dating back to March 2 and has steadily declined over the last 10 days.
Biden: ‘I’m showing up’
Trump's rejection of the shift in the debate format sparked a flurry of statements back and forth between the two camps.
Trump's campaign proposed holding another debate on October 29, which Biden's campaign rejected.
"We set the dates. I'm sticking with the dates," Biden told reporters.
"I'm showing up. I'll be there. And in fact, if he shows up, fine; if he doesn't, fine."
Even before his illness was announced, Trump's performance in the chaotic first debate with Biden last week prompted calls for a change in format.
Trump constantly interrupted and talked over both Biden and the moderator.
Some had proposed giving the moderator in future debates the power to cut off any candidate who disrupted the proceedings.
The debate commission said nothing about muting the participants in its announcement, while describing the new format as needed "to protect the health and safety of all involved".
As Election Day approaches, early voting has exceeded records.
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