Biden and Trump agree to two presidential debates in June and September

AP , Thursday 16 May 2024

President Joe Biden and former President Donald Trump on Wednesday agreed to hold two campaign debates, the first on June 27 hosted by CNN and the second on Sept. 10 hosted by ABC, setting the stage for the first presidential face-off in just weeks.

Joe Biden and Donald Trump
US President Joe Biden, and Republican presidential candidate former President Donald Trump. AP


The quick agreement on the timetable to meet followed the Democrat's announcement that he will not participate in fall presidential debates sponsored by the nonpartisan commission that has organized them for more than three decades.

Biden's campaign instead proposed that media outlets directly organize the debates with the presumptive Democratic and Republican nominees. Trump, in a post on his Truth Social site, said he was “Ready and Willing to Debate” Biden.

Hours later, Biden said he accepted an invitation from CNN, adding, “Over to you, Donald.” Trump said on Truth Social he'd be there, adding, “Let’s get ready to Rumble!!!” And soon after that, they agreed to the second debate on ABC.

“Trump says he’ll arrange his transportation," Biden wrote on X. “I’ll bring my plane, too. I plan on keeping it for another four years.”

The swiftness with which the match-ups came together reflects how each of the two profoundly unpopular candidates thinks he can get the better of his opponent in a head-to-head showdown.

The first debate will play out amid a busy and unsettled political calendar, following the expected conclusion of Trump’s hush money trial in New York, foreign trips by Biden to France and Italy, the end of the Supreme Court’s term, and the expected start of two criminal trials for the president’s son, Hunter Biden.

CNN said that its debate would be held in its Atlanta studios and that “no audience will be present.” It said moderators and other details would be announced later. Disagreements about moderators and debate rules were some of the very questions that prompted the formation of the Commission on Presidential Debates in 1987.

The two campaigns and television networks had held weeks of informal talks on ways to circumvent the commission’s grip on presidential debates, owing to years of complaints and perceived slights, according to two people familiar with the matter.

Biden's campaign had proposed excluding third-party candidates, such as Robert F. Kennedy Jr., from the debates outright. Under the debate commission’s rules, Kennedy or other third-party candidates could qualify if they secured ballot access sufficient to claim 270 Electoral Votes and polled at 15% or higher in a selection of national polls.

Kennedy accused Biden and Trump of “colluding to lock America into a head-to-head match-up that 70% say they do not want.”

“They are trying to exclude me from their debate because they are afraid I would win,” Kennedy said. "Keeping viable candidates off the debate stage undermines democracy.”

CNN held open the door to Kennedy’s participation if he or any other candidate met polling and ballot access requirements similar to the commission’s.

As recently as Wednesday morning, Trump expressed his desire for a large live audience for his debates with Biden.

“I would strongly recommend more than two debates and, for excitement purposes, a very large venue, although Biden is supposedly afraid of crowds - That’s only because he doesn’t get them,” Trump said. “Just tell me when I’ll be there.”

Trump has been pushing for more debates and earlier debates, arguing voters should be able to see the two men face off well before early voting begins in September.

He has repeatedly said he will debate Biden “anytime, anywhere, any place,” even proposing the two men face off outside the Manhattan courthouse where he is currently on criminal trial in a hush-money case.

He also has been taunting Biden with an empty lectern at some of his rallies.

Trump’s campaign on Wednesday challenged the Biden campaign to agree to at least two other debates between the two candidates, besides the June and September dates. The Biden campaign did not immediately respond to a request for comment.

Biden’s campaign has long held a grudge against the nonpartisan commission for failing to evenly apply its rules during the 2020 Biden-Trump matchups,  most notably when it didn’t enforce its COVID-19 testing rules on Trump and his entourage.

Biden campaign chair Jen O’Malley Dillon on Wednesday sent a letter to the Commission on Presidential Debates to say that Biden’s campaign objected to the fall dates selected by the commission, which come after some Americans begin to vote, repeating a complaint also voiced by the Trump campaign.

She also voiced frustrations over the rule violations and the commission's insistence on holding the debates before a live audience.

“The debates should be conducted for the benefit of the American voters, watching on television and at home — not as entertainment for an in-person audience with raucous or disruptive partisans and donors," she said.

”As was the case with the original televised debates in 1960, a television studio with just the candidates and moderators is a better, more cost-efficient way to proceed: focused solely on the interests of voters."

There was little love lost for the commission as well from Trump, who objected to technical issues at his first debate with Democrat Hillary Clinton in 2016 and was upset after a debate with Biden was canceled in 2020 after the Republican came down with COVID-19.

The Republican National Committee had already promised not to work with the commission on the 2024 contests.

The Trump campaign stated on May 1 that objected to the scheduled debates by the commission, saying that the schedule “begins AFTER early voting” and that “this is unacceptable” because voters deserve to hear from the candidates before ballots are cast.

The commission said in a Wednesday statement that “the American public deserves substantive debates from the leading candidates for president and vice president,” adding that its mission is “to ensure that such debates reliably take place and reach the widest television, radio, and streaming audience.”

The Biden campaign also proposed that the Biden-Trump debates this year be hosted by “any broadcast organization that hosted a Republican Primary debate in 2016 in which Donald Trump participated, and a Democratic primary debate in 2020 in which President Biden participated, so neither campaign can assert that the sponsoring organization is unacceptable: if both candidates have previously debated on their airwaves, then neither could object to such venue.”

Those criteria would eliminate Fox News, which did not host a Democratic primary debate in 2020, and potentially NBC News, which did not host a GOP one in 2016, though its corporate affiliates CNBC and Telemundo were co-hosts of one debate each that year.

In teeing up the debates, both Biden and Trump traded barbs on social media, each claiming victory the last time they faced off in 2020.

“Donald Trump lost two debates to me in 2020, since then, he hasn’t shown up for a debate,′ Biden said in a post on X, the site formerly known as Twitter. “Now he’s acting like he wants to debate me again. Well, make my day, pal.”

Trump, for his part, said Biden was the “WORST debater I have ever faced - He can’t put two sentences together!”

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