(CN) — President Donald Trump and former Vice President Joe Biden will have their microphones muted during Thursday’s final presidential debate when their opponent is given two minutes at the start of each debate topic, the Commission on Presidential Debates said Monday night.
The 90-minute debate is broken into six 15-minute segments, with each candidate given two minutes to speak without interruption at the start. The change comes after the presidential debate last month was dominated by Trump frequently interrupting Biden and the moderator, Chris Wallace.
The two-minute remarks will proceed an open debate session between the candidates.
"We realize, after discussions with both campaigns, that neither campaign may be totally satisfied with the measures announced today," the commission said in a statement. "One may think they go too far, and one may think they do not go far enough. We are comfortable that these actions strike the right balance and that they are in the interest of the American people, for whom these debates are held."
Bill Stepien, Trump’s campaign manager, said the president was still interested in debating Biden despite the changes.
“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 in a statement.
The changes come hours after Trump’s reelection campaign accused the nonpartisan commission of political bias in a letter, objected to the topics selected for this week’s debate and said it should be focused on foreign policy.
The letter, signed by Stepien, said the campaign was expecting a debate on the president’s foreign policy positions. But the topics chosen by the debate’s moderator, NBC’s Kristen Welker, will not allow Trump to tout his foreign policy achievements or call into question Biden’s record, according to the letter.
“It is completely irresponsible for the Commission to alter the focus of this final debate just days before the event, solely to insulate Biden from his own history,” Stepien wrote ahead of Thursday’s scheduled debate in Nashville.
The Trump campaign asked the commission to “recalibrate the topics” and objected to the commission considering changes to the debate format, such as muting a candidate’s microphone when it is not their turn to speak.
“It is completely unacceptable for anyone to wield such power, and a decision to proceed with that change amounts to turning further editorial control of the debate over to the Commission which has already demonstrated its partiality to Biden,” the letter states.
On Friday, the Commission on Presidential Debates announced the six topics Welker chose. Noting they could change, the commission said the topics are: fighting Covid-19, American families, race in America, climate change, national security and leadership.
The campaign’s letter comes days after Trump took to Twitter to criticize Welker, despite praising her in the past.
“She’s always been terrible & unfair, just like most of the Fake News reporters, but I’ll still play the game,” Trump wrote on Saturday.
When Welker was named as co-anchor on NBC’s “Weekend Today” in January, Trump congratulated her, saying the show had “made a very wise decision.”
Neither the Trump campaign, the Biden campaign nor the Commission on Presidential Debates responded to Courthouse News’ requests for comment.
When the commission announced the moderators for this season’s debates, it said only the moderators know of the questions beforehand and “the moderator will regulate the conversation so that thoughtful and substantive exchanges occur.”
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