Biden and Trump, trading barbs, agree to 2 presidential debates, in June and September

WASHINGTON (AP) — 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 their first presidential face-off to play out in just over a month.

The quick agreement on the timetable followed the Democrat’s announcement 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 outlets directly organize the debates between the presumptive Democratic and Republican nominees.

The debate is so unusually early on the political calendar that neither Biden nor Trump will have formally accepted his party’s nomination.

Hours later, Biden said he had accepted an invitation from CNN, adding, “Over to you, Donald.” Trump, who had insisted he would debate Biden anytime and anyplace, said on Truth Social he’d be there, too, adding, “Let’s get ready to Rumble!!!” Soon after that, they agreed to the second debate on ABC.

“Trump says he’ll arrange his own transportation,” Biden wrote on X, working in a jab about the perks of incumbency. “I’ll bring my plane, too. I plan on keeping it for another four years.”

The swiftness with which the matchups came together reflects how each of the two unpopular candidates thinks he can get the better of his opponent in a head-to-head showdown. Trump and his team are convinced the debates will exacerbate voters’ concerns about Biden’s age and competence, while Biden’s team believes Trump’s often-incendiary rhetoric will remind voters of why they voted him out of the White House four years ago.

The presidential debates, always a critical moment on the political calendar, could be particularly important in a year when voters are underwhelmed with their choices and have expressed concerns about the candidates’ advanced ages — Biden is 81 and Trump 77.

Sprightly on social media, the rivals traded barbs — 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. “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 June debate is likely to cap a busy and unsettled stretch, following the likely conclusion of Trump’s criminal 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 at 9 p.m. ET in its Atlanta studios with no audience present in a break from recent precedent. Moderators will be anchors Jake Tapper and Dana Bash, CNN said. ABC did not offer details on where its event would be held, but the network said it would be moderated by anchors David Muir and Linsey Davis. Disagreements about moderators and rules were some of the 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 following years of complaints and perceived slights, according to two people familiar with the matter who spoke about internal discussions on condition of anonymity.

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 surveys.

Both CNN and ABC announced the same qualification threshold, saying candidates will need to reach at least 15% in four separate national polls of registered or likely voters that meet their standards.

In response, Kennedy accused Biden and Trump of “trying to exclude me from their debate because they are afraid I would win.” He said, “Keeping viable candidates off the debate stage undermines democracy.”

The debates will be the first televised general election matchups to be hosted by individual networks. The 1960 debates, which helped show the power of the medium to influence public opinion, were hosted jointly by the leading networks of the day. Before the commission was formed in 1987, the presidential debates of 1976, 1980 and 1984 were organized by the League of Women Voters.

Plans for a vice presidential debate have yet to be announced.

Trump has been pushing for more and earlier debates, arguing voters should be able to see the two men face off well before early voting begins in September. He has even proposed a debate outside the Manhattan courthouse where he is currently on trial. He also has been taunting Biden with an empty lectern at some of his rallies.

In a memorandum to Biden campaign chair Jen O’Malley Dillon on Wednesday, Trump senior campaign advisers Chris LaCivita and Susie Wiles challenged Biden to agree to at least two additional debates, suggesting one be held each month, with events in June, July, August and September, in addition to a vice presidential debate.

“Additional dates will allow voters to have maximum exposure to the records and future visions of each candidate,” they wrote.

Trump later posted on Truth Social that he had agreed to a third debate, this one hosted by Fox.

“Please let this TRUTH serve to represent that I hereby accept debating Crooked Joe Biden on FoxNews. The date will be Wednesday, October 2nd. The Hosts will be Bret Baier and Martha MacCallum. Thank you, DJT!” he wrote.

O’Malley Dillon responded with a statement accusing Trump of having “a long history of playing games with debates: complaining about the rules, breaking those rules, pulling out at the last minute, or not showing up at all.”

“No more games. No more chaos, no more debate about debates. We’ll see Donald Trump on June 27th in Atlanta – if he shows up,” she wrote.

In an interview with conservative radio host Hugh Hewitt Wednesday morning, Trump had raised his own doubts about whether Biden would show, and offered his own suggestions. He said the debates “should go two hours” with both men standing, and he also pushed for larger venues.

“It’s just more exciting,” he said.

Biden’s campaign has long held a grudge against the nonpartisan commission, accusing it of 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.

O’Malley Dillon on Wednesday sent a letter to the Commission on Presidential Debates to say that Biden’s campaign objected to its proposed debate dates in the fall, which would come after some Americans begin to vote, repeating a complaint also voiced by the Trump campaign. She also voiced frustrations over past 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 wrote.

There also was little love lost for the commission from Trump, who objected to technical issues at his first debate with Democrat Hillary Clinton in 2016 and was upset when a 2020 debate with Biden was canceled 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 issued a statement on May 1 that said of the debate schedule offered by the commission: “This is unacceptable.”

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

___

Follow the AP’s coverage of the 2024 election at https://apnews.com/hub/election-2024.

Copyright 2024 The Associated Press. All rights reserved. This material may not be published, broadcast, rewritten or redistributed without permission.