The co-chair of the Commission on Presidential Debates on Tuesday defended the group’s decision to mute microphones for parts of Thursday’s debate, saying the organization is just trying to enforce rules the Trump and Biden campaigns have already agreed to.
The CPD announced Monday night it would cut off Donald Trump and Joe Biden’s microphones while their opponent delivers initial two-minute answers on each topic at the Nashville debate, a decision the president told reporters he thought was “very unfair.”
In an interview Tuesday on MSNBC, CPD co-chair Frank Fahrenkopf noted the campaigns previously had agreed their candidates would give their opponent two minutes of uninterrupted time to answer each of the initial six topic questions.
“Both parties agreed before the first debate and also agreed again before the second,” Fahrenkopf told Ayman Mohyeldin.
“If you watched the first debate, it’s easy to see those rules were not followed, even though they’d agreed to,” Fahrenkopf said, referring to last month’s chaotic faceoff between Trump and Biden, which featured both candidates, but mostly the president, interrupting and trying to talk over each other. One TV anchor described it as “a hot mess inside a dumpster fire inside a train wreck.”
As for the microphone muting, Fahrenkopf said, “We didn’t create a rule. We didn’t touch the rules. All we did is put in a situation where if someone is interrupting, they won’t be allowed to interrupt.”
“Once they’ve completed their two minutes, then the microphones are on for the rest of the debate of that section,” he said, adding that he hoped the freeform time will be “a little bit” with “a little more civility” than the Cleveland debate.
Fahrenkopf also defended the debate’s moderator, NBC News’ Kristen Welker, who the president called “terrible” in an interview with “Fox & Friends” on Tuesday morning.
“I think it’s unfair,” Fahrenkopf said. “I think she’s going to do a great job and a fair job.”
He noted that Trump campaign adviser Jason Miller has previously called Welker “very fair in her approach” and a “very good choice” for the debate.
Dareh Gregorian is a politics reporter for NBC News.