Biden and Trump agree to debates in late June and September

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WASHINGTON — President Joe Biden and former President Donald Trump agreed Wednesday to participate in general election debates on June 27 and Sept. 10, ending speculation about whether general election debates would happen at all.

CNN will host the first debate in late June at 9 p.m. at its studios in Atlanta, it said in a news release. ABC News said it will host the September debate.

The matchups between the current and former presidents quickly came about Wednesday after the Biden campaign proposed a new debate schedule ahead of the Nov. 5 general election.

"To ensure candidates may maximize the time allotted in the debate, no audience will be present," said CNN, which named Jake Tapper and Dana Bash as co-moderators.

The agreement came just hours after Biden challenged Trump to two debates hosted in a television studio ahead of the November election — a departure from the traditional system.

Trump quickly responded to that challenge, saying he disagreed with Biden's call not to debate in front of a crowd, but he accepted the proposed dates and indicated he, too, was eager to debate.

The public agreement follows private back-channel discussions about possible meetings. Officials with the Biden and Trump campaigns have had informal conversations about debates in recent weeks, focused on meetings that would not involve the Commission on Presidential Debates, the organization that has coordinated presidential debates for decades, according to two sources familiar with the conversations, as well as a Trump campaign official.

The Trump campaign official told NBC News that “contacts” between the two campaigns related to potential debates began after Biden’s interview with radio host Howard Stern late last month, in which Biden said he would be “happy” to debate Trump. Afterward, the Trump campaign official said some brief discussions between the two 2024 teams took place.

“For months, President Trump has said as clearly as anyone can: any time, anywhere, any place,” this person said. “So that is the most important thing above all of this other speculation."

Biden's campaign chair, Jen O'Malley Dillon, referred to Trump's comments about his willingness to debate, saying in a statement that there would be "no more games."

"President Biden made his terms clear for two one-on-one debates, and Donald Trump accepted those terms," she said in a statement. "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."

Preparing for a debate in just six weeks could be a challenge for Biden, especially as he is set to travel to Europe twice in the previous weeks — for the D-Day 80th anniversary in France and the G-7 Summit in Italy. But one senior Biden adviser said that “early prep is overrated,” while another said simply: “He’s ready to go.”

Ron Klain, Biden’s former chief of staff, said he expects to reprise his role in helping organize debate prep for 2024 as he did in 2020. Bob Bauer, a former White House counsel and now personal attorney to Biden, played the role of Trump in mock sessions four years ago; advisers would not yet say whether he planned to reprise the role.

After Biden and Trump made it clear Wednesday morning that they wanted to debate each other, Biden said on X that he had accepted an invitation from CNN to participate in the June 27 debate.

"Over to you, Donald. As you said: anywhere, any time, any place," Biden said.

Shortly after, a Trump aide said the campaign agreed to the CNN debate in Atlanta — and to the fact there will be no crowd for that first debate.

Biden and Trump said later in the morning that they had accepted an invitation by ABC News to participate in a second debate on Sept. 10.

“Trump says he’ll arrange his own transportation," Biden said on X. "I’ll bring my plane, too. I plan on keeping it for another four years.”

Trump said on Truth Social: "It is my great honor to accept the CNN Debate against Crooked Joe Biden, the WORST PRESIDENT in the History of the United States and a true Threat to Democracy, on June 27th. Likewise, I accept the ABC News Debate against Crooked Joe on September 10th. Thank you, DJT!"

In a subsequent Truth Social post Wednesday afternoon, Trump pushed for an additional debate on Fox News, which he said would take place Oct. 2 and be hosted by anchors Bret Baier and Martha MacCallum.

Donald Trump And Joe Biden Participate In First Presidential Debate (Win McNamee / Getty Images file)
Donald Trump And Joe Biden Participate In First Presidential Debate (Win McNamee / Getty Images file)

CNN’s debate criteria leave open the possibility of other candidates’ joining the stage, but it would be difficult.

Independent Robert F. Kennedy Jr. has already hit CNN’s 15% national polling threshold in two qualifying polls, with just two more needed to fulfill the polling criteria. But the network also announced that for a candidate to participate, “a candidate’s name must appear on a sufficient number of state ballots to reach the 270 electoral vote threshold to win the presidency prior to the eligibility deadline,” which appears to be June 20.

Many state deadlines for independent ballot access are after that date. In Ohio, for example, Kennedy’s campaign has announced it has gathered the needed signatures to appear on the ballot. But The Cleveland Plain Dealer reported last week that the campaign would wait to turn in signatures for certification until closer to the state deadline, which is Aug. 7.

In a post on X, Kennedy wrote Wednesday morning that Biden and Trump “are trying to exclude me from their debate because they are afraid I would win.”

Coordination of the debates developed Wednesday after O’Malley Dillon, Biden’s campaign chair, wrote in a letter to the Commission on Presidential Debates that Biden wouldn't participate in any of its debates and would instead do only those hosted directly by news outlets.

"We believe the first debate should be in late June, after Donald Trump’s New York criminal trial is likely to be over and after President Biden returns from meeting with world leaders at the G7 Summit," O'Malley Dillon wrote.

She added that it should be hosted by any broadcast organization that hosted a 2016 GOP primary debate in which Trump participated and a Democratic primary debate in 2020 in which Biden participated.

"A second presidential debate should be held in early September at the start of the fall campaign season, early enough to influence early voting, but not so late as to require the candidates to leave the campaign trail in the critical late September and October period," the letter said.

Trump responded Wednesday morning on Truth Social that he agrees to the proposed times: "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, although Biden is supposedly afraid of crowds — That’s only because he doesn’t get them. Just tell me when, I’ll be there."

"Let's get ready to Rumble!!!" he added.

O'Malley Dillon listed proposed rules: firm time limits for answers and alternating turns to speak "so that the time is evenly divided and we have an exchange of views, not a spectacle of mutual interruption." She added that a candidate’s microphone should be active only when it is his turn to speak.

The letter also proposed that the vice presidential debate should be held in late July after the Republican National Convention.

She said the Biden campaign opposes the Commission on Presidential Debates’ events because they are scheduled to "begin after the American people have a chance to cast their vote early, and doesn’t conclude until after tens of millions of Americans will have already voted." She said that the commission's debates have become "huge spectacles with large audiences" and that they should just be the two candidates in TV studios with the moderators. O'Malley Dillon also said the commission didn't enforce its own rules in 2020.

Along with the letter, Biden posted a brief video on X challenging Trump to debate him. He joked that he hears Trump is free on Wednesdays, alluding to Trump's New York criminal trial, which isn't in session that day.

"Donald Trump lost two debates to me in 2020," he said. "Since then, he hasn't shown up for a debate. Now he's acting like he wants to debate me again. Well, make my day, pal. I'll even do it twice. So let's pick the dates, Donald. I hear you're free on Wednesdays."

For his part, Trump indicated in February that he wanted to debate Biden "immediately," saying: "I’d like to debate him now because we should debate. We should debate for the good of the country."

In a letter in April, Trump’s co-campaign managers Susie Wiles and Chris LaCivita said in a letter that the debates should be held as early as possible. “While the Commission on Presidential Debates has already announced three presidential debates and a vice-presidential debate to occur later this year, we are in favor of these debates beginning much earlier."

The letter made clear Trump's campaign is also in favor of moving up the debates because it would give voters a chance to see the candidates before they cast their ballots. They also said they would support adding even more debates, in addition to the three the commission had previously scheduled.

This article was originally published on NBCNews.com