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Biden challenges Trump to two debates: ‘I hear you’re free on Wednesdays’

The president has called on the Republican to debate him in June and September, instead of sticking to the traditional schedule of three events in fall

Donald Trump y Joe Biden
Former U.S. president Donald Trump (left) and President Joe Biden in an image from their first election debate in the 2020 presidential election in Cleveland, Ohio.AFP
Iker Seisdedos

Joe Biden on Wednesday went one step further in his offense against Donald Trump, the presumptive Republican nominee. He proposed at least two debates, in June and September, ahead of the November presidential elections. He suggested the idea in a sarcastic 14-second video message, with a nod to Clint Eastwood’s Dirty Harry. “Make my day, pal. I’ll even do it twice. Let’s pick the dates, Donald. I heard you’re free on Wednesdays,” says the U.S. president in the recording, referring to the fact that the hush money trial against Trump in New York takes recess on Wednesdays.

The announcement was followed by a give-and-take more fitting of a prelude to a barroom brawl. First, the Republican candidate accepted the U.S. president’s challenge on his network, Truth Social. Then, CNN raced to secure the first debate, with the second going to ABC News. And so it was that before the end of the morning, the two dates had been set: the first on June 27 in Atlanta and the second on September 10.

“Trump lost two debates to me in 2020, and since then, he hasn’t shown up for a debate,” Biden says in the video. “Now he’s acting like he wants to debate me again.” The CNN debate will be unusual for two reasons: it will be a face-to-face event without an audience, and secondly, a presidential debate has never been held so early. It will take place before Trump is officially nominated as candidate at the Republican National Convention in Milwaukee, and two months, before the Democratic National Convention in Chicago in mid-August.

“I am ready and willing to debate crooked Joe at the two proposed times in June and September,” Trump responded. “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,” he said. “Just tell me when, I’ll be there.”

Biden’s haste to hold a debate can be interpreted as an attempt to reverse his fall in the polls, which show Trump leading in most of the swing states with six months to go before the November 5 election. And to silence concerns about whether he is fit to remain in the White House despite his age: if he wins the election, he will be 82 when he is sworn in again in January 2025, while Trump would be 78.

The Biden campaign also sent a letter to the Commission on Presidential Debates, the bipartisan organization that has managed the presidential debates since 1988, in which it indicated that it would not follow the tradition of three fall meetings, and that it sought to negotiate the conditions of the debate directly with the Trump campaign. It also suggested a July debate between the vice-president candidates: Democrat Kamala Harris and Trump’s yet-to-be picked running mate.

The conditions proposed by the president’s team include that the debate take place in a television studio and with control over the time allocated to each speaker. The Biden campaign also wants the debates to be held without an audience, and for only the candidates of the two main parties to attend (and a moderator, of course, chosen by the network that broadcasts it). In other words, without third-party aspirants, such as Robert F. Kennedy or philosopher Cornel West.

“The Commission’s model of building huge spectacles with large audiences at great expense simply isn’t necessary or conducive to good debates,” reads the letter sent by Biden campaign chair Jen O’Malley Dillon. “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, who consume valuable debate time with noisy spectacles of approval or jeering.”

Biden’s video on Wednesday is not the first time that he has called on Trump to agree to a debate. He made the same offer last month in an interview with veteran radio star Howard Stern, shortly after the leaders of 12 major media outlets urged the candidates to commit to a presidential debate.

In that instance, Trump responded with a video and message, titled (in all caps) “Letter to Joe,” which was posted on Truth Social. “Dear Joe, now that you’ve committed to Debate on the now dying Howard Stern Show, no less, let’s set it up right now. I’m ready to go anywhere that you are. We could do it in D.C., even pinpoint the White House, or in New York when your Radical Left Fascists are finished with ELECTION INTERFERENCE against your Political Opponent, ME…,” it read.

The letter made reference to New York, which is where Trump is on trial for falsifying business records in connection to hush money paid to the porn actress Stormy Daniels to keep quiet about an alleged extramarital affair. Trump has denied the accusations and claims he is the victim of political persecution.

The Commission on Presidential Debates has traditionally set the rules for debates, choosing the venue, moderators and format. In a campaign as uncertain as this one, one thing seems at least clear: this time, its services to American democracy will not be needed.

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