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Biden campaign proposes two debates with Trump ahead of November vote

The Biden-Harris re-election campaign has proposed two TV debates between Joe Biden and Donald Trump, in June and September, ahead of November’s presidential vote.

The proposal bucks a tradition of three debates, typically in the fall, that are organized by the bipartisan Commission on Presidential Debates. Democratic party officials said that moving the timing up, reducing the number of debates, and ending them sooner reflected changes in the “structure of our elections and the interests of voters”.

The Democrats’ proposal noted that debates in previous elections cycles had not concluded until after early voting started and the commission’s debates were “structured like an entertainment spectacle and not a serious exchange of ideas that reflect the enormous stakes of the election”.

Democrats said the commission “has consistently demonstrated an inability to enforce their own rules” in the debates and called for a firm time-limit on 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”.

If the Democratic and Republican political operations can reach agreement, the first Biden-Trump face-off could come next month.

Arranging the presidential debates has become increasingly vexed, with both parties seeking a competitive advantage. But they are considered highly important in gaining the attention of crucial swing voters who may only then be tuning in to the choice of candidates.

While not mandated in any constitutional sense, they are now considered an intrinsic part of the election process. But even the Democrats’ proposal on Wednesday was designed for point-scoring.

“As Donald Trump has said he will debate ‘anytime, anywhere’, we hope both campaigns can quickly accept broadcast media debate invitations on the parameters above,” the Biden campaign chair, Jen O’Malley Dillon, wrote in a letter to the commission. “Americans need a debate on the issues – not a tedious debate about debates.”

The Biden campaign also said it would work directly with news organizations to set up the debates, sidelining the debating commission which has overseen them since 1988.

Until now, there has been uncertainty about whether Biden would agree to debate Trump at all. Trump skipped every Republican primary debate, pointing to his polling lead in that selection process, and Biden refused to debate his Democratic challengers.

With Trump showing polling leads in five of six crucial swing states, he has goaded Biden, saying last month he was willing to debate his rival “anytime, anywhere, any place”, starting “now”.

The Trump campaign called for presidential debates to be held earlier and more frequently so voters “have a full chance” to see the candidates in action and argued that by the time of the first scheduled debate, on 16 September, more than 1 million Americans will probably have already voted, with more than 8.7 million voting by the third debate, penciled in for 9 October.

Last month, 12 US news organizations issued pleas to the campaigns to agree to TV debate schedule.

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“If there is one thing Americans can agree on during this polarized time, it is that the stakes of this election are exceptionally high,” the organizations including ABC, CBS, CNN, Fox News, PBS, NBC, NPR and the Associated Press said in a statement.

“Amidst that backdrop, there is simply no substitute for the candidates debating with each other, and before the American people, their visions for the future of our nation,” they added.

In 2020, Biden and Trump debated twice, with a third debate canceled after Trump tested positive for Covid-19.

On Wednesday, Biden said in a social media post: “Donald Trump lost two debates to me in 2020, and 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.

He then jabbed: “So let’s pick dates, Donald. I hear you’re free on Wednesdays,” referring to the free day in Trump’s current campaign finance violations trial in New York.

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