NATIONAL NEWS

Biden and Trump agree on debates on June 27 and in September, but details could be challenging

May 15, 2024, 7:01 AM | Updated: 1:17 pm

FILE - This combo image shows President Joe Biden, left, Jan. 5, 2024, and Republican presidential ...

FILE - This combo image shows President Joe Biden, left, Jan. 5, 2024, and Republican presidential candidate former President Donald Trump, right, Jan. 19, 2024. Biden and Trump each won the White House through razor-thin margins in key states. Now they each must try to rebuild their once-winning coalitions. (AP Photo, File)

(AP Photo, File)

WASHINGTON (AP) — President Joe Biden and former President Donald Trump on Wednesday agreed to hold two campaign debates in June and September — the first on June 27 hosted by CNN — but their camps appeared far apart on key details like the ground rules for the presidential face-offs.

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, with the first to be held in late June and the second in September before early voting begins. Trump, in a post on his Truth Social site, said he was “Ready and Willing to Debate” Biden at the proposed times.

Hours later, Biden said he accepted an invitation from CNN to a debate on June 27, adding, “Over to you, Donald. As you said: anywhere, anytime, any place.” Trump told Fox News Digital he accepted the invitation: “I’ll be there,” he told the outlet.

Still, the two sides appeared to be hold significant differences on key questions of how to organize the debates, including agreeing on media partners, moderators, location and rules — some of the very questions that prompted the formation of the Commission on Presidential Debates in 1987. Biden’s proposal would exclude third-party candidates, such as Robert F. Kennedy Jr.

Trump’s team did not immediately weigh in on the details of the Biden proposal, but Trump expressed his desire for a large live audience.

“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.

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 — and Biden’s team has held talks with television networks and some Republicans about ways to circumvent the commission’s grip on presidential debates.

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.

One of those commission-sponsored debates was scheduled to be hosted by the University of Utah in October.

The commission did not immediately respond to a request for comment on Wednesday.

The Trump campaign issued a statement 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.

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.

O’Malley Dillon said the debates “should be one-on-one, allowing voters to compare the only two candidates with any statistical chance of prevailing in the Electoral College – and not squandering debate time on candidates with no prospect of becoming President.”

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 obviously 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 Telmundo 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!”

The Democrat suggested that the two candidates could pick some dates, taking a dig at Trump’s ongoing New York hush money trial by noting that the Republican is “free on Wednesdays,” the usual day off in the trial.

The president first indicated he would be willing to debate Trump during an interview with the radio host Howard Stern last month, telling him that “I am, somewhere. I don’t know when. But I’m happy to debate him.”

Biden indicated again last week that he was preparing to debate, telling reporters as he was leaving a White House event: “Set it up.”

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Biden and Trump agree on debates on June 27 and in September, but details could be challenging