The University of Michigan is withdrawing from hosting a presidential debate between Republican incumbent Donald Trump and Democratic challenger Joe Biden, sources told the Detroit Free Press. The official announcement is expected to come Tuesday.
U-M is making the move because of concerns of bringing the campaigns, media and supporters of both candidates to Ann Arbor and campus during a pandemic, two sources with direct knowledge of the move told the Free Press. The sources spoke on the condition of anonymity because they weren’t authorized to speak on behalf of the university.
U-M had been scheduled to host the second debate of the cycle on Oct. 15 and had been planning a wide range of events and education around it.
U-M spokesman Rick Fitzgerald told the Free Press he had no information to share on any such news. Officials with the Commission on Presidential Debates were unable to be reached for comment.
On Monday, the university announced it would resume face-to-face instruction in the fall, but said many classes would remain online or be some sort of hybrid. President Mark Schlissel said the university was planning a “public health informed” semester.
We will protect our students, faculty and staff with a broad array of research-based public health measures and tools,” Schlissel said in making the announcement of U-M’s plans for fall.
The move comes on the same day Biden’s campaign said he would commit to participating in three debates, not four like Trump’s campaign was pushing for.
“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,” said Biden Campaign Manager Jen O’Malley Dillon in a letter to the Commission on Presidential Debates, the nonprofit group that sponsors general election debates, which was obtained by the Associated Press. “Donald Trump and Mike Pence should do the same.”
The letter, which was first reported by the Washington Post, came in response to a request made by Trump campaign manager Brad Parscale and former New York City Mayor Rudy Giuliani to add another, earlier debate to the current schedule of three. They also proposed that each campaign have a role in selecting the debate moderators.
The debate had been scheduled to take place largely on the university’s athletics campus. Crisler Center is home to the men’s and women’s basketball teams and the women’s gymnastics team. Educational and outreach activities were scheduled to take place in facilities near Crisler Center and in other parts of the Ann Arbor campus.
This would have been the first presidential debate in Michigan since 1992. That one took place at Michigan State University. Both parties have had debates among presidential candidates for their nominations in Michigan, including the Democrats meeting in Detroit in July.
Debates in Michigan have been the setting for some historic moments, including some candidates would like to forget.
The top one has to be former Texas Gov. Rick Perry, who, during a 2011 presidential debate at Oakland University in Rochester was flummoxed by a question on which federal departments he would eliminate. “Commerce, Education,” he said pausing, while counting on his fingers and listening while his rivals suggested other potential candidates for shutdowns. “The third one, I can’t. Sorry. Oops.” He never recovered and suspended his campaign two months later.
In 2000, it was Texas Gov. George W. Bush’s turn in the hot seat during a debate at Calvin College in Grand Rapids, with most of the other GOP candidates ganging up on him. But he had a moment of levity with U.S. Sen. John McCain, when the two shook hands on stage and promised not to run negative ads against one another, while businessman Steve Forbes, who had been running attack ads against Bush, said “I will continue to tell the truth.”
Ten days after the debate, Bush and McCain started airing negative ads against one another in the days leading up to the Michigan presidential primary. By the time Michigan’s primary election rolled around, Forbes had dropped out of the race and McCain won the battle, winning Michigan. But Bush won the election war and then narrowly won the Electoral College in the general election over Democrat Al Gore.
U-M has been the host to a variety of key moments in history, including President Lyndon B. Johnson’s “Great Society” speech and the clinical trials of the Salk polio vaccine. It was on the steps of the Michigan Union that presidential hopeful John F. Kennedy delivered his speech in 1960 announcing his vision of what would become the Peace Corps.
The Associated Press along with Free Press reporters Kathleen Gray and Todd Spangler contributed to this report. Contact David Jesse: 313-222-8851 or [email protected], Follow him on Twitter: @reporterdavidj
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