Biden and Trump agree to debate in June and September, but at odds over key details

Democrat hopes for debate without live crowd, like in the 1960s, so that focus is on voters, not entertainment; Trump wants large crowd and auditorium ‘for excitement purposes’

In this combination photo, US President Joe Biden speaks May 2, 2024, in Wilmington, North Carolina, left, and Republican presidential candidate former president Donald Trump speaks at a campaign rally, May 1, 2024, in Waukesha, Wisconsin. (AP Photo)
In this combination photo, US President Joe Biden speaks May 2, 2024, in Wilmington, North Carolina, left, and Republican presidential candidate former president Donald Trump speaks at a campaign rally, May 1, 2024, in Waukesha, Wisconsin. (AP Photo)

WASHINGTON (AP) — US President Joe Biden and former president Donald Trump on Wednesday appeared to agree on a timetable to participate in two debates before the November general election, as the Democrat announced that he would 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 organizations 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 two proposed times in June and September.

Still, the two camps remain far apart 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, including Robert F. Kennedy Jr.

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.”

File: Then-US president Donald Trump and then-Democratic presidential candidate Joe Biden participate in the final presidential debate in Nashville, Tennessee, Oct. 22, 2020. (Jim Bourg/Pool via AP)

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 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.

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.”

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.

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

“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 added. “Just tell me when, I’ll be there.”

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.”

Trump has repeatedly dared Biden to debate him, keeping a second podium open at rallies and claiming that his rival would not be up for the task.

Trump said at a Pennsylvania rally before his hush money trial began that the debates were needed.

“We have to debate because our country is going in the wrong direction so badly,” Trump said with the empty podium next to him. “We have to explain to the American people what the hell is going on.”

Most Popular
read more: