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Trump campaign demands change to final debate topics

The Trump campaign is demanding that the Commission on Presidential Debates adjust the topics for the final presidential debate so that the meeting focuses on foreign policy.

Trump campaign manager Bill StepienBill StepienTrump's refusal to concede sows confusion among staff Biden to campaign in Georgia for Democrats in Senate runoffs Trump campaign, RNC announce 0 million post-election fundraising haul MORE penned a letter to the commission Monday raising objections with the topics announced by moderator and NBC News correspondent Kristen Welker last week, saying the commission should observe “long-standing custom” by making foreign policy the central focus of Thursday’s debate. Stepien also claimed the campaigns had agreed to the third debate being focused on foreign policy.

“As is the long-standing custom, and as has been promised by the Commission on Presidential Debates, we had expected that foreign policy would be the central focus of the October 22 debate. We urge you to recalibrate the topics and return to subjects which had already been confirmed,” Stepien wrote.

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Stepien accused Democratic nominee Joe BidenJoe BidenAzar in departure letter says Capitol riot threatens to 'tarnish' administration's accomplishments House Democrats introduce measures to oppose Trump's bomb sale to Saudis On The Money: Retail sales drop in latest sign of weakening economy | Fast-food workers strike for minimum wage | US officials raise concerns over Mexico's handling of energy permits MORE of being “desperate to avoid conversations about his own foreign policy record” and said the commission was trying to alter the course of the final debate in order to “insulate Biden from his own history.”

“The Commission’s pro-Biden antics have turned the entire debate season into a fiasco and it is little wonder why the public has lost faith in its objectivity,” he wrote.

Biden’s campaign, however, says that there was a prior agreement that the moderator would select the topics and that the Trump campaign is lying so that Trump could sidestep questions about his administration’s “disastrous” response to the coronavirus pandemic.

"The campaigns and the Commission agreed months ago that the debate moderator would choose the topics,” said national press secretary TJ Ducklo. “The Trump campaign is lying about that now because Donald TrumpDonald TrumpCIA chief threatened to resign over push to install Trump loyalist as deputy: report Azar in departure letter says Capitol riot threatens to 'tarnish' administration's accomplishments Justice Dept. argues Trump should get immunity from rape accuser's lawsuit MORE is afraid to face more questions about his disastrous COVID response. As usual, the president is more concerned with the rules of a debate than he is getting a nation in crisis the help it needs."

Stepien's letter comes days after Welker announced that the topics of the debate would be fighting the coronavirus pandemic, American families, race in America, climate change, national security, and leadership.

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Trump’s campaign has consistently claimed that the Commission on Presidential Debates, which describes itself as a nonpartisan panel, is working to assist Biden in the debates.

The Trump campaign has pushed back against the commission’s decision to consider changes to the debate rules after the first debate, moderated by Fox News’s Chris WallaceChristopher (Chris) WallaceMulvaney: Earlier Trump controversies were 'policy differences' or 'stylistic,' but 'Wednesday was existential' Clyburn: House has responsibility to impeach Trump over Georgia call Fox's Chris Wallace: Pence 'chose the Constitution' over helping Trump MORE, descended into chaos as Trump repeatedly interrupted him and Biden.

The commission also canceled the second debate, originally scheduled for Oct. 15, after Trump objected to new plans making the meeting virtual for health concerns after Trump was diagnosed with COVID-19.

Stepien’s letter does not threaten to pull out of the third debate, but it could raise questions about the president’s plans to appear if the commission does not agree to adjust the topics. Representatives for the commission did not immediately return a request for comment Monday afternoon.

Trump has already gone after Welker repeatedly ahead of the debate in preemptively arguing that it will be unfair. During a campaign rally in Arizona on Monday afternoon, Trump described Welker as a “radical Democrat” and said she would be “no good.”

Trump is currently trailing Biden in national and swing-state polling, roughly two weeks before Election Day. Trump’s first debate performance was widely viewed by Republicans as a missed opportunity in which Trump may have hurt his standing with swing voters. Thursday’s debate will mark one of the last opportunities for Trump to try to draw a contrast with Biden as voters head to the polls. 

—Updated at 4:53 p.m.