Opinion | How can we hold the next debate without full transparency on Trump’s health?

And the White House won’t say whether he was tested between then and the first debate with Joe Biden on Sept. 29. In other words, officials won’t say whether he tested negative in the days leading up to the debate.

We know Trump tested positive late on Thursday, Oct. 1, and announced his positive test early on the morning of Friday, Oct. 2. But the White House won’t say when he last tested negative.

This raises the possibility that Trump might have tested positive before the Sept. 29 debate, failed to disclose it and showed up at the debate anyway. At the least, we can’t rule this out.

How can subsequent debates go forward under such conditions?

Government guidelines say people are infectious for 10 days, but as the New York Times notes, that can double in serious cases. Biden is saying he won’t debate Trump on Oct. 15 if he “still has covid,” though he’ll be guided in this decision by the Cleveland Clinic.

Meanwhile, Frank J. Fahrenkopf, a co-chair of the Commission on Presidential Debates, is also saying the debate will only take place if the Cleveland Clinic deems it safe.

“What we’re going to do is say to the Cleveland Clinic, ‘Is it safe to do it?’” Fahrenkopf told journalist Ronald Brownstein. “If they say ‘yes,’ we can do it. If they say ‘no,’ we have to make some other plans.”

But how can we ever know it’s safe if we can’t trust the White House to tell us the truth about Trump’s health?

For starters, we need to know whether Trump showed up at the first debate while knowing he’d tested positive, just to understand how deceptive and reckless he’s prepared to be when it comes to the second Trump-Biden debate.

The White House won’t answer this question. And even Trump’s medical team at first engaged in all kinds of dissembling to conceal the full truth about his condition. It’s not clear how the Biden campaign, the commission on debates or even the Cleveland Clinic can be sure of getting good information about Trump’s condition.

As Jennifer Rubin explains, the debate commission has already squandered a good deal of credibility by being too willing to get pushed around by the Trump team’s flouting of its own safety protocols.

Making this worse, the commission is not being that clear about how it will deal with uncertainty about the true state of Trump’s health before the next presidential debate. As Brownstein reports, before the first debate the campaigns were required to certify to the Cleveland Clinic that they had tested negative.

But even now, with uncertainty about whether that was true in Trump’s case, Fahrenkopf deferred Brownstein’s questions about whether that process should change to the Cleveland Clinic.

Obviously one should hope the Cleveland Clinic will not designate the debate safe if it suspects there remains serious uncertainty about the true state of Trump’s health. But the Cleveland Clinic also declined to respond to Brownstein’s questions about whether its testing regime should change this time.

The debate commission should not be allowing this to proceed amid such uncertainty. As Jon Allsop puts it:

Biden says that he’ll be there, too, as long as Trump is better — but it seems likely, at this point, that any determination on Trump’s condition will be made by Trump himself. The debate commission shouldn’t put Biden in the politically-fraught position of having to pull out — it should insist the second debate takes place remotely or not at all.

On another level, at some point we need to say that Trump simply cannot behave in such a staggeringly depraved and reckless way anymore without a hard stop being placed on it.

The second Trump-Biden debate probably shouldn’t take place in person at all. But if the White House won’t say when Trump last tested negative, and if it’s going to keep withholding basic information that could help contact trace coronavirus spread that might have been initiated by Trump’s recklessness — contact tracing that would benefit the public — then it really shouldn’t take place in person at all.

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