By Noah Bierman and Eli Stokols — Los Angeles Times
WASHINGTON — After two days of confusion, the bipartisan group that organizes presidential debates said Friday that it had canceled the scheduled face-off next week between President Donald Trump and former Vice President Joe Biden, but that it expects them to debate once more before the election.
Barring any last-minute snags, the second and final presidential debate will take place Oct. 22 in Nashville, Tennessee. Like the first, it will be a face-to-face exchange on a stage, and not a virtual town-hall style event, as the commission had proposed for the now-canceled debate.
The Commission on Presidential Debates announced the decision Friday hours after Trump, who was hospitalized for COVID-19 last weekend, announced plans to resume live campaign events this weekend despite continuing questions about whether he is still contagious or could be re-infected.
Eager to erase the image of a COVID-stricken patient, Trump will stand on a White House balcony Saturday and address hundreds of invited guests for what the campaign billed as a "peaceful protest for law & order."
Attendees will be required to bring masks and "instructed" to wear them, but doing so won't be mandatory, according to an official familiar with the planning. They will be asked about their health and have their temperatures taken, but will not be given a coronavirus test, the official said.
Trump also will host a campaign rally at an airport hangar in Sanford, Florida, on Monday, marking the president's first travel since he was airlifted to Walter Reed National Military Medical Center on Oct. 2 with COVID-19. He was released Monday and has been confined to the White House.
The planned gatherings raised concerns about not only the president's health, but also potential risks for his supporters, who often disdain masks and social distancing
Numerous people who attended a crowded White House event Sept. 26, when Trump introduced Supreme Court nominee Amy Coney Barrett, have since tested positive for the virus.
Dr. Anthony Fauci, the nation's top infectious disease authority, labeled that assembly a "superspreader event in the White House" onFriday in a CBS News Radio interview.
The White House has refused to say when Trump last tested negative for the coronavirus, and the president said Friday night in a Fox News interview that he did not know the results of his tests. The claim seemed implausible given White House testing facilities and access to top laboratories.
He then added, cryptically, that he was "either at the bottom of the scale or free," which is not how the coronavirus tests results typically are reported.
Trump also said he was no longer taking the steroid dexamethasone, which makes some patients behave erratically.
On Thursday, Trump's physician, Dr. Sean Conley, said Trump appeared on track to be able to safely return to public life Saturday. That was a shift from several days earlier, when Conley said the president would need to stay in isolation until at least Monday. He did not explain why he moved up the timeline.
The White House has said nothing about first lady Melania Trump's health since she tested positive for the coronavirus last week and tweeted she had mild symptoms.
Her chief of staff, Stephanie Grisham, did not respond Friday to questions about her recovery, saying in an email only, "She's doing well."
The debate dispute erupted Thursday when the commission, concerned about Trump's infection, said the Oct. 15 town-hall-style debate would be virtual, with the two candidates speaking from separate locations.
Trump swiftly refused, saying he couldn't debate that way.
Both candidates said they would still debate on Oct. 22, but Trump's campaign insisted on a third debate a week later, or five days before the election. Biden rejected that, and the commission agreed.