Biden and Trump agree to two televised debates, bucking commission

Joe Biden wants to debate Donald Trump twice. He wants the first debate in June
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WASHINGTON − President Joe Biden and Donald Trump agreed Wednesday to debate each other twice, first in June and again in September, after a rapid back-and-forth between their campaigns and a flurry of taunts and insults from the candidates.

CNN announced it will host a debate in Atlanta on June 27, and ABC announced a second one on Sept. 10 after Biden began the day challenging Trump to two debates under his terms − bucking the format of the bipartisan Commission on Presidential Debates, the traditional host of the televised events.

Trump, the former president and presumptive Republican nominee, agreed to both debates in social media posts. His campaign called for additional debates in July and August.

The agreement sets the stage for the earliest televised general election debate since the tradition started in 1960 while also removing any debates during the homestretch of the campaign in October, when people in many states are already voting.

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

Trump labeled Biden "the WORST PRESIDENT in the History of the United States" as he accepted. "Crooked Joe Biden is the WORST debater I have ever faced - He can’t put two sentences together!"

How the debates came together

Trump later said on his social media site, Truth Social, that he agreed to an invitation by Fox News for a third debate on Oct. 2 − outside the parameters put forward by Biden. The Biden campaign rejected the proposal.

"President Biden made his terms clear for two one-on-one debates, and Donald Trump accepted those terms," said Jen O’Malley Dillon, chair of the Biden campaign. "No more games. No more chaos, no more debate about debates."

For months, it had been unclear whether Biden and Trump would even square off in a debate before the November election. But after having not committed, Biden said last month that he would be willing to debate Trump.

In a video posted online Wednesday, Biden said he was willing to debate Trump twice before the general election − and proposed the first face-off take place in June. Biden's campaign informed the Commission on Presidential Debates, which has hosted the matches since 1988, that it would not be participating in its series of three debates scheduled for the fall.

In a statement, the Biden campaign said it wants the first to debate to take place in June, when Trump's hush money trial in New York is "likely to be over" and after Biden returns from the Group of Seven Summit in mid-June before Republicans officially award their nomination. The campaign proposed a second debate in September "prior to the beginning of early voting," echoing a Trump campaign demand.

Joe Biden wants to debate Donald Trump twice. He wants the first debate in June
Joe Biden wants to debate Donald Trump twice. He wants the first debate in June

The Biden campaign proposed the debates be hosted by television networks that previously hosted a Republican primary debate in 2016 and a Democratic primary debate in 2020 "so neither campaign can assert that the sponsoring organization is obviously unacceptable." Biden's team also suggested a vice presidential debate take place in late July.

The general election involved three presidential debates and a vice presidential debate for nearly two decades, until one was abruptly called off in 2020 when Trump rejected the commission's plan to make it virtual after his COVID-19 diagnosis. Before then, the last time the debate schedule was limited to two face-offs was in 1996.

Both campaigns frustrated with the commission on debates

Debates organized by the nonpartisan, nonprofit Commission on Presidential Debates − the corporation that has traditionally picked the times, locations and moderators of sparring matches − had been set to begin Sept. 16 and continue into October.

"The American public deserves substantive debates from the leading candidates for president and vice president," the Commission on Presidential Debates said in a statement Wednesday, adding that it will "continue to be ready to execute" its original series of debates before the election.

Both campaigns have expressed frustration with the Commission on Presidential Debates.

The Biden team has long complained that the commission failed to enforce its own rules in 2020, when Trump constantly interrupted Biden. Trump complained about commission bias against him.

The Republican National Committee in 2022 passed a resolution saying it would not allow its nominee to participate in a debate sponsored by the Commission on Presidential Debates, although Trump said earlier this year that he would be willing to forgo that resolution if he could secure a match-up with Biden.

Before Biden's challenge, Trump's team had called for earlier debates to accommodate early voting. And the GOP candidate accepted Biden's proposed time frame for the debates in a social media post almost immediately.

Trump says he wants more than two debates

Trump said he was "Ready and Willing to Debate" him "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," Trump wrote. "That’s only because he doesn’t get them. Just tell me when, I’ll be there. 'Let’s get ready to Rumble!!!'"

Trump and Biden had been sparring over the timing of the debates for weeks, and the back-and-forth heated up Wednesday.

In a video posted to social media Wednesday morning, Biden took a jab at Trump for refusing to participate in a single Republican primary debate this cycle. He said he'd make good on a promise to debate Trump, telling him, "Make my day pal, I'll even do it twice."

"Let's pick the dates Donald, I hear you're free on Wednesdays," Biden said, making a veiled reference to Trump's criminal trial in New York.

Meanwhile, Robert F. Kennedy, an independent candidate running a distant third for president, will not be joining Biden and Trump on the debate stage.

Among its criteria, the Biden campaign said the debate should also be "one-on-one," allowing voters to compare the only two candidates with any statistical chance of prevailing in the Electoral College."

The latter stipulation was intended to ensure that third-party candidates such as Kennedy are not allowed on stage. Prior debates have had a 15% debate threshold. Kennedy had 8% support in the latest USA TODAY/Suffolk University poll.

Kennedy accused Trump and Biden of trying to avoid a robust discussion about their time in office.

"They are trying to exclude me from their debate because they are afraid I would win. Keeping viable candidates off the debate stage undermines democracy," he said in a post on X, formerly Twitter.

Contributing: Rachel Barber

This article originally appeared on USA TODAY: Biden and Trump agree to two debates, with the first in June