Biden and Trump agree to two debates in June and September

President Joe Biden and Donald Trump have agreed to two debates, one on June 27 on CNN and one on Sept. 10 on ABC News, the first onstage clashes between the former president and his successor in more than three years.

While some of the details were still being hammered out, the agreement to the two debates, reached in a series of social-media posts Wednesday morning, raises the likelihood of the earliest general-election debate in modern history and immediately delivered a jolt of electricity to a campaign that had settled into something of a rut.


Both Trump and Biden believe firmly that if the American people get a look at their opponent on a debate stage they will be less likely to vote for them.

Biden opened the exchange Wednesday by saying he was willing to debate Trump twice before the election, and as early as June, but on the condition that the arrangements bypassed the nonpartisan organization that has managed presidential debates since 1988.

Biden and his top aides want the debates to start much sooner than the dates proposed by the organization, the Commission on Presidential Debates, so voters can see the two candidates side by side well before early voting begins in September. They want the debate to occur inside a TV studio, with microphones that automatically cut off when a speaker’s time limit elapses.

And they want it to be just the two candidates and the moderator — without the raucous in-person audiences that Trump feeds on and without the participation of Robert F. Kennedy Jr. or other independent or third-party candidates.

It remains unclear whether the Trump campaign will agree to the Biden campaign’s proposed rules, including the mic cutoff and lack of an audience.

Before the Biden campaign’s debate proposal Wednesday morning, at least one behind-the-scenes conversation between aides to both Biden and Trump had taken place, according to four people familiar with the discussion. The two campaigns had mutual interest in both circumventing the debates commission and in excluding Kennedy.

That mutual interest between the two camps did not necessarily mean mutual agreement.

Trump added a new wrinkle when he announced on his social platform Truth Social that he had agreed to a third debate on Fox News on Oct. 2. But the Biden campaign slammed the door on that.

“President Biden made his terms clear for two one-on-one debates, and Donald Trump accepted those terms,” Biden’s campaign chair, Jennifer O’Malley Dillon, said. “No more games. No more chaos. No more debate about debates.”

Shortly after the Biden campaign had announced that they would consider invitations from news organizations seeking to host the debates, Biden posted on social platform X that he had accepted an invitation from CNN for a debate with Trump on June 27 in Atlanta.

“Over to you, Donald. As you said: anywhere, any time, any place,” Biden wrote.

Trump quickly responded, telling Fox News Digital that he would “be there” and was “looking forward to being in beautiful Atlanta.”

A short time later, Trump posted on Truth Social that he had accepted the ABC News debate. The Biden team then said the president will attend that one as well.

Biden gave Trump what he has openly clamored for: a televised confrontation with a successor Trump has portrayed, and hopes to reveal, as too feeble to hold the job. The move suggests that Biden is willing to take some calculated risks to reverse his fortunes in a race in which most battleground-state polls show the president trailing Trump and struggling to convince voters that he’s an effective leader and steward of the economy.

Biden recently indicated he would debate Trump but had until now declined to give any firm commitment or specific details. Trump had declared repeatedly that he will debate his successor “anytime and anywhere,” and demanded as many debates as possible.

The public back-and-forth over debates started Wednesday morning, after O’Malley Dillon sent a letter to the Commission on Presidential Debates. The letter notified the group that Biden will not be participating in the three general-election debates sponsored by the commission, which are scheduled for Sept. 16, Oct. 1 and Oct. 9.

It was a striking decision for Biden, an institutionalist who has tried to preserve the traditions of Washington. Instead, O’Malley Dillon writes in the letter that Biden will participate in debates hosted by news organizations.

In a video announcing his offer, Biden taunted Trump. “Make my day, pal,” he said, adding a reference to the one weekday Trump’s New York trial is generally not in session. “Let’s pick the date, Donald. I hear you’re free on Wednesdays.”

Trump, in his insult-laden response on Truth Social, said he would like to see more than two debates and for “excitement purposes, a very large venue.” Calling Biden “the WORST” debater and “crooked,” he accused the president of being “afraid of crowds.”

The Biden campaign also proposes that one vice presidential debate be held in late July after Trump and his running mate are formally nominated at the Republican National Convention in Milwaukee.

For the president, early debates hold significant advantages. Early votes are crucial, especially for Democrats. And polls show that Biden currently trails Trump and that his messages on core issues like the economy are not resonating with enough voters.

The Biden campaign and the president’s White House staff widely feel that the debates were important in 2020 and that they will be important again this year.

The Biden campaign has been trying to remind voters of why a majority removed Trump from office in 2020. People close to the president have said they’re worried about so-called Trump amnesia — that voters are nostalgic about Trump and have forgotten how divisive he was — and some of the recent polling underscores that point.

A side-by-side debate, which could have a large viewing audience, is the most dramatic way for the Biden campaign to give Trump more exposure, in their view.

In the first debate in 2020, Trump barely allowed Biden to get a word in. He was aggressive and constantly interrupting, while sweating and appearing unwell. Biden, exasperated, famously said to Trump, “Will you shut up, man? This is so unpresidential.” And in the days following that first debate, Trump’s poll numbers fell.

The Trump campaign’s top officials, Susie Wiles and Chris LaCivita, see the situation differently and share their boss’s eagerness for him to debate Biden as often as possible. They have indicated that they don’t care who hosts the debate or where it’s held. The Trump campaign believes, almost to a person, that Biden has declined significantly since 2020 and would be exposed in a debate against Trump.

The letter from O’Malley Dillon makes clear that the Biden campaign does not trust the Commission on Presidential Debates to conduct a professional debate, saying it “was unable or unwilling to enforce the rules in the 2020 debates.”

Among other grievances with the commission, Biden aides are still furious that Trump debated Biden in 2020 and appeared visibly under the weather, announcing soon after the debate that he had tested positive for the coronavirus. The Biden team was also livid that members of the Trump family took their masks off when they arrived in the audience for the debate.

Still, the decision to sideline the commission offers clear advantages to Biden.

For starters, Biden and Trump agreed to two debates, but the commission had already scheduled three debates. Also, Biden campaign officials want the debates to be held in a television studio without an in-person audience that could cheer, boo and derail the conversation, as Trump supporters did during a CNN town hall last year. The commission always invites an audience to watch its presidential debates.

There’s also a chance that Kennedy reaches the 15% national polling threshold to qualify for the commission’s debates. The Biden campaign views Kennedy as a spoiler candidate, and people close to the president worry that with the Kennedy name he could attract support from voters who might otherwise support Biden.

O’Malley Dillon writes in her letter that the debate should be one-on-one to allow 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.”

Kennedy criticized Biden and Trump as the debate plans became public. “They are trying to exclude me from their debate because they are afraid I would win,” he wrote in a statement posted on X. “Keeping viable candidates off the debate stage undermines democracy.”

The Biden campaign has proposed rules — including the automatic cutting-off of microphones — to ensure Trump does not blow through his time limits and talk over Biden as he did relentlessly during their first debate in 2020.

“There should be firm time limits for answers, and alternate turns to speak — so that the time is evenly divided and we have an exchange of views, not a spectacle of mutual interruption,” O’Malley Dillon writes in the letter.

She also proposed criteria to limit which television networks are allowed to host debates. It should only be hosted, O’Malley Dillon writes, by broadcast organizations that hosted both a Republican primary debate in 2016 in which Trump participated and a Democratic primary debate in 2020 in which Biden participated — “so neither campaign can assert that the sponsoring organization is obviously unacceptable.” That criteria excludes Fox News.

The Trump campaign has been complaining about the commission for months.

In a statement May 1 condemning the organization, Wiles and LaCivita blasted the group for not agreeing to earlier debates given the fact that early voting begins well before Election Day.

“We must host debates earlier than ever before,” they said. “Again, we call on every television network in America that wishes to host a debate to extend an invitation to our campaign and we will gladly negotiate with the Biden campaign, with or without the stubborn Presidential Debates Commission.”

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