University of Michigan backs out of October presidential debate, citing coronavirus

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DETROIT — Citing coronavirus-related safety issues, the University of Michigan has opted out of the presidential debate it was scheduled to hold Oct. 15, according to two sources with direct knowledge of the decision.

The university was wary of bringing together so many people — candidates, staff, media and the viewing public — during the pandemic, said the sources, who requested anonymity.

UM spokesman Rick Fitzgerald said he didn’t “have any information to share at this time” about the move to step away from the debate between President Donald Trump and presumed Democratic nominee Joe Biden on Oct. 15. UM is expected to announce the decision Tuesday.

The move comes as UM President Mark Schlissel announced that the fall semester will resume as scheduled Aug. 31, with a mix of in-person and online classes. He described the approach as “public health informed.”

UM revealed in October 2019 that it had been selected as one of three debate sites, along with the University of Notre Dame in South Bend, Indiana, on Sept. 29 and Belmont University in Nashville, Tennessee, on Oct. 22.

The university had agreed to pay at least $2.5 million to lock up the debate at Crisler Center, with all money raised from donors. The university was required to pay its first $1.25 million in November and the second half by Jan. 4, but the university will get the money back because of a clause in the contract with the Commission on Presidential Debates that allows a refund if a replacement site is found.

The New York Times reported Monday night that the debate will be moved to Miami’s Adrienne Arsht Center for the Performing Arts, site of the first Democratic debates in the 2020 primaries.

The presidential candidates have sparred over the number and timing of the debates, with the Trump campaign pushing for a fourth event that would precede the three already announced.

Trump campaign manager Brad Parscale and former New York City Mayor Rudy Giuliani have also proposed that each campaign have a voice in the selection of moderators, a decision historically made by the debate commission.

A letter to the commission obtained by The Associated Press from Biden’s campaign manager, Jen O’Malley Dillion, said, “Our position is straightforward and clear: Joe Biden will accept the Commission’s debates, on the Commission’s dates, under the Commission’s established format and the Commission’s independent choice of moderators.

“Donald Trump and Mike Pence should do the same.”

The presidential debate in Ann Arbor would have been the second held in Michigan. Incumbent George H.W. Bush squared off against Democrat Bill Clinton and Texas independent Ross Perot at the Wharton Center in East Lansing on Oct. 19, 1992.

The move to Miami puts two major campaign events in Florida — both relocated.

The celebration of Trump’s acceptance of the nomination was moved to Jacksonville after North Carolina Gov. Roy Cooper wouldn’t promise a full-scale Republican National Convention in Charlotte without pandemic-related social distancing.

Contractual obligations will keep the first part of the convention in Charlotte before Trump’s acceptance speech.


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