Biden, Trump Agree to Debates in First TV Face-Offs Since 2020

(Bloomberg) -- President Joe Biden and Republican Donald Trump said they would debate each other in June and then again in September, setting the stage for their first televised face-off of the 2024 campaign earlier than expected.

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Biden said Wednesday in a post on X, formerly Twitter, that he “received and accepted” an invitation from CNN to debate Trump on June 27. Trump’s campaign later said he also agreed to attend. The event will take place at 9 p.m. New York time at the network’s Atlanta studios in swing-state Georgia, CNN said in a statement.

Both candidates also said they also accepted invitations from ABC for a second debate on Sept. 10, which the Biden campaign said would also be broadcast from the network’s studios.

The decision erases uncertainty about whether Biden and Trump would square off on stage before the November election. TV debates have become a staple of US presidential campaigns, but the president and his predecessor had previously balked at the schedule and terms laid out by the non-partisan Commission on Presidential Debates, which have controlled the affairs since 1988.

Biden’s campaign earlier Wednesday released a letter to the commission saying he would debate Trump twice starting in late June, but would not participate in debates sanctioned by the organization, which had been set for mid-September and early October.

Jen O’Malley Dillon, Biden’s campaign chair, wrote in the letter that the previously scheduled debates were too late because they would occur after early voting begins in many states.

“Donald Trump lost two debates to me in 2020. Since then, he hasn’t showed up for a debate. Now he’s acting like he wants to debate me again. Well, make my day pal,” Biden said in a video posted to social media.

The letter offered debates in June and September. It came in response to challenges from Trump to debate “anytime and anywhere.” Biden’s campaign also said it wanted debates to be hosted by a news organization and held in a TV studio, instead of in front of a live audience as recent debates have been.

CNN said there would be no audience at the June 27 debate and that moderators would be announced at a later date.

Trump on Wednesday consented to Biden’s time frame, but objected to the other proposed rules, suggesting he wants to debate in front of a large crowd.

“I am Ready and Willing to Debate Crooked Joe at the two proposed times in June and September. I would strongly recommend more than two debates and, for excitement purposes, a very large venue,” the former president posted on his Truth Social platform following the release of the letter.

Trump’s campaign called for two more debates than what Biden proposed, one in July and another in August, for a combined total of four forums.

“We believe the American people deserve more than what the Biden administration has to offer,” Trump campaign advisers Chris LaCivita and Susie Wiles wrote in a memo.

Debate Rules

The debate commission said it is proceeding with plans to hold their sanctioned forums and expressed hope that the nominees would participate.

“Our 2024 sites, all locations of higher learning, are prepared to host debates on dates chosen to accommodate early voters. We will continue to be ready to execute this plan,” the commission said in a Wednesday statement.

The CNN debate will likely occur after the conclusion of Trump’s criminal trial currently underway in New York. Trump is also facing three other criminal indictments, but those trials have been delayed. He has denied wrongdoing in all the cases. Biden in his video took a swipe at Trump, suggesting they could debate on a Wednesday, the day the court is closed. June 27 is a Thursday.

Biden’s campaign also outlined strict proposed rules for answering questions, including firm time limits and microphones that shut off after the candidate’s speaking period has elapsed.

The Biden campaign also proposed a vice presidential debate in July, after the Republican National Convention. Trump has yet to pick a running mate, but says he plans to do so around the time of the convention.

Independent presidential candidate Robert F. Kennedy Jr. accused Biden and Trump of “colluding to lock America into a head-to-head matchup that 70% say they do not want.” It’s unclear if Kennedy would meet the qualification criteria laid out by CNN. Debate participants must appear on enough state ballots to reach the 270 electoral vote threshold to win the presidency and receive at least 15% support in four separate national polls.

Biden and Trump debated twice in 2020 in the middle of the Covid-19 pandemic. Trump repeatedly talked over Biden during their first debate, prompting the Democratic nominee to respond, “will you shut up, man? this is so unpresidential.” The then-president’s poll numbers fell afterward.

The rancor resulted in the debate commission muting microphones during the second debate, so that a candidate was cut off if they spoke over their opponent.

Biden’s 2020 campaign was also frustrated by the fact Trump appeared to be ill during the first debate. Soon afterward, Trump announced he had tested positive for Covid.

The Republican National Committee, which is separate from the Trump campaign, in 2022 voted to withdraw from participating in the commission’s debates.

--With assistance from Gregory Korte.

(Updates to add second debate starting in first paragraph, additional details throughout. An earlier version corrected the date of the Biden campaign’s letter.)

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