US ELECTIONS 2020

Trump - Biden debate: why will they be muted when the other is talking?

The Debates Commission communicated on Monday that the candidates will have their microphones muted during the first two minutes of the opponent's response.

Trump - Biden debate: why will they be muted when the other is talking?
BRENDAN SMIALOWSKI AFP

During portions of the final presidential debate on Thursday President Donald Trump and former Vice President Joe Biden will have their audio feed cut according to a press release from the Commission on presidential Debates on Monday. The decision by the organization came after it meet to discuss potential rule changes that day. The Biden campaign was happy with the change but there was harsh criticism from the Trump side calling it a biased move.

The commission in its statement pointed out that the measure being applied to the second and final debate is not a rule change but that it is adopting “measures intended to promote adherence to the agreed upon rules.”

What are the rules for the debate?

The debate rules call for each candidate to have two minutes of “uninterrupted time” to answer the question presented by the moderator at the beginning of each 15-minute segment. It will be during this period that only the candidate that has the floor will have his microphone functioning. After the candidate that has the floor has used up their time will the opponent’s microphone be activated to allow for open discussion of the topic.

The moderator of Thursday’s debate in Nashville will be Kristen Welker of NBC News, who has chosen the topics for the debate, including race, national security, leadership, America's families, COVID-19 and climate change, as per the rules agree to by both campaigns. The moderator will not be in control of muting the candidates, that will be handled by the debate production staff, but according to the statement the moderator “will apportion roughly equal amounts of time between the two speakers.”

What do the candidates think?

The response from Mr. Trump and his campaign was swift with them calling the changes “unfair” and that the commission was giving an advantage to their preferred candidate. However the Debate Commission is a body made up equally of Republicans and Democrats and the vote was unanimous. Regardless of their opposition to the changes the Trump campaign in a statement said it was “committed to debating” Biden. For his part Biden called the first debate “a national embarrassment” and had called for changes.

Why will the candidates be muted?

The first presidential debate 29 September unraveled quickly with moderator Chris Wallace unable to bring the situation under control as President Trump constantly interrupted both his rival and the moderator in what became a shouting match as opposed to “civil discourse for the benefit of the viewing public.” after the debate the commission decided that “additional structure should be added to the format of the remaining debates in order to ensure a more orderly discussion of the issues.”

It's not exactly clear if the measures being taken will have the intended effect since the rivals will still be able to speak just into a muted microphone and any interruptions that are made may be picked up by the microphone that is unmuted.  

Originally three debates had been scheduled but due to Mr. Trump catching covid-19 the then to be second debate scheduled for 15 October was switched to a virtual format to ensure the safety of the participants. This provoked outrage from Mr. Trump who eventually pulled out of the debate. However he later agreed to do a town hall on 15 October, the same day and at the same time as a Joe Biden town hall previously scheduled in the wake of Trump’s withdrawal.

You can follow the final Presidential debate on our live feed.