WASHINGTON - Thursday's debate between President Donald Trump and Democratic challenger former Vice President Joe Biden will feature a mute button to allow each candidate to speak uninterrupted, organizers said Monday, in a bid to avoid the disruptions that marred the first matchup.
The Presidential Commission on Debates said each candidate's microphone would be silenced to allow the other to make two minutes of opening remarks at the beginning of each 15-minute segment of the debate. Both microphones will be turned on to allow a back-and-forth after that time.
Trump's campaign objected to the change but said the president would still take part.
"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," campaign manager Bill Stepien said.
The Biden campaign did not immediately respond to a request for comment on the latest developments.
The news came the day the number of Americans voting early ahead of Election Day on Nov. 3 crossed the 30 million mark and as Trump tries to reframe a contest in which national and state opinion polls show him trailing.
Trump repeatedly interrupted Biden during a chaotic and ill-tempered debate on Sept. 29, and Biden responded with insults.
Trump backed out of a second scheduled debate set for last Thursday over a disagreement about the virtual format following his COVID-19 infection. At that time, he raised concerns about having his microphone muted.
"You sit behind a computer and do a debate - it's ridiculous, and then they cut you off whenever they want," Trump said in an Oct. 8 interview on Fox Business.
On Monday, Trump's campaign said it was unhappy with the announced set of topics for Thursday's debate, arguing that it should focus more on foreign policy and complaining that the nonpartisan group was tilted toward Biden.
Biden's campaign said both sides previously agreed to let moderators choose the subjects. It said Trump wanted to avoid discussing his stewardship of the coronavirus pandemic, which surveys show is the top issue for voters.
"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," Biden spokesman TJ Ducklo said.