The Commission on Presidential Debates said on Thursday that the next debate between President Trump and Joseph R. Biden Jr. would be held virtually because of health concerns about the coronavirus.
But President Trump immediately dismissed the idea, declaring that he would not participate and calling the idea of a remote debate “ridiculous.”
The high-stakes standoff between Mr. Trump and the debate organizers emerged on Thursday morning, after the commission, with no warning to campaign representatives, said the Oct. 15 debate would feature candidates debating remotely “in order to protect the health and safety of all involved.”
But Mr. Trump, who tested positive last week for the coronavirus, immediately objected to the concept in a television interview, saying: “I’m not going to waste my time on a virtual debate, that’s not what debating is all about. You sit behind a computer and do a debate — it’s ridiculous.”
“That’s not acceptable to us,” Mr. Trump told the anchor Maria Bartiromo on Fox Business of the virtual debate format. “I’m not going to do a virtual debate.”
Mr. Trump said he only learned of the debate commission’s decision on Thursday morning, minutes before he got on the phone for an interview. He accused the commission of “trying to protect Biden.”
Mr. Biden’s campaign issued a more receptive statement on Thursday. “Vice President Biden looks forward to speaking directly to the American people,” said Kate Bedingfield, a Biden deputy campaign manager.
A virtual debate might seem like a technological marvel of the Zoom-heavy pandemic era, but there is a precedent dating back 60 years to the dawn of mass media campaigns.
In 1960, the third debate between John F. Kennedy and Richard M. Nixon was held remotely. Kennedy debated from a television studio in New York; Nixon appeared from Los Angeles.
A split-screen camera feed allowed viewers to watch both candidates simultaneously, with the men filmed on a pair of identical sets. The moderator of that debate, Bill Shadel of ABC News, conducted the proceedings from a third studio in Chicago.
How to safely stage a pair of indoor, in-person debates between Mr. Biden and Mr. Trump has been the subject of intense conversations among board members of the debate commission in recent days.
The second Biden-Trump debate was originally scheduled for Oct. 15
The moderator of the next debate, Steve Scully of C-SPAN, will still conduct the proceedings from Miami at the Adrienne Arsht Center for the Performing Arts, the commission said. The debate will be held in a town-hall-style format with questions from South Florida voters.
Both candidates have previously said they plan to participate in the Miami debate, with Mr. Trump insisting that he is “looking forward” to attending the event despite the ongoing uncertainty over his health.
Aides to Mr. Trump had privately discussed the notion of debates held outdoors, but people familiar with the debate commission’s deliberations said the Trump campaign had never formally proposed that idea.
Mr. Biden has said he is deferring to the debate commission and its health adviser, the Cleveland Clinic, to ensure a safe physical environment for the audience and participants.
“If he still has Covid, we shouldn’t have a debate,” Mr. Biden told reporters on Tuesday night after a speech in Gettysburg, Pa. “I will be guided by the guidelines of the Cleveland Clinic and what the docs say is the right thing to do.” His aides have said the onus is on Mr. Trump to demonstrate that he would not be contagious onstage.
The vice-presidential debate took place as planned on Wednesday evening in Salt Lake City, with Senator Kamala Harris of California and Vice President Mike Pence debating in person — albeit with plexiglass dividers between them.
The debate commission did not address the third debate in its statement. That matchup is scheduled to be held at Belmont University in Nashville on Oct. 22, with Kristen Welker of NBC News as the moderator.
Patricia Mazzei contributed reporting.