Major media organizations urge Biden and Trump to debate

Written by on April 14, 2024

ABC News

ABC News is among a unified grouping of the five chief broadcast and cable news networks, along with major wire, print and radio organizations, that have penned an open letter asking presidential candidates to publicly commit to taking part in televised debates ahead of the general election.

In addition to ABC News, the letter is signed by CBS News, CNN, NBCUniversal News Group and FOX News Media, along with The Associated Press, C-SPAN, NewsNation, Noticias Univision (Univision Network News), NPR, PBS NewsHour and USA TODAY.

“With the contours of the 2024 general election now coming into clear focus, we — the undersigned national news organizations — urge the presumptive presidential nominees to publicly commit to participating in general election debates before November’s election,” the letter, published on Sunday, reads.

This unusual move comes amid an election cycle during which the practice of debates, a decades-old American campaign tradition, has been met with uncertainty from both President Joe Biden and former President Donald Trump.

Trump, who skipped all four Republican National Committee-sanctioned 2024 primary election debates and pulled out of one of his three debates with Biden in 2020, has enthusiastically urged Biden to participate in the three general debates scheduled for this fall — a position echoed by his campaign again on Sunday.

“President Trump has been very clear: he is willing to debate Joe Biden any time, any where, any place. We once again call on Joe Biden to commit to debates,” spokeswoman Karoline Leavitt said.

The Biden campaign has expressed concern with the organization of these debates by the Commission on Presidential Debates, signaling that the nonpartisan group that has sponsored the events since the 1980s has been unclear about their ability to administer a “fair” debate with Trump.

In April 2022, the Republican National Committee also voted unanimously to withdraw from the Commission on Presidential Debates.

The Biden campaign declined to comment on the new letter but the president has previously played down Trump’s eagerness to get on stage with him.

“Well if I were him I’d want to debate me, too. He’s got nothing else to do,” Biden told reporters in February.

“General election debates have a rich tradition in our American democracy, having played a vital role in every presidential election of the past 50 years, dating to 1976. In each of those elections, tens of millions have tuned in to watch the candidates debating side by side, in a competition of ideas for the votes of American citizens,” the media organizations urged in their letter.

“If there is one thing Americans can agree on during this polarized time, it is that the stakes of this election are exceptionally high. 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,” the letter concludes.

Biden has mostly avoided commenting publicly on engaging in debate with Trump. Asked following his State of the Union address in March if he would commit to one, Biden remarked to ABC News: “It depends on his behavior.”

The Democratic National Committee, which has thrown all of its support behind Biden, did not hold any primary election debates this cycle despite the urging of his long shot challengers. There is no precedent for an incumbent president to have participated in a primary debate, however, since the first modern debate was held in 1948– even when presented with high-profile primary opponents.

Trump’s campaign is still lobbying hard for general election debates against Biden. On Thursday, the former president’s senior campaign advisers sent a letter to the Commission on Presidential Debates calling for “much earlier” and “more” presidential debates than initially proposed, saying voting is beginning “earlier and earlier.”

“Voting is beginning earlier and earlier, and as we saw in 2020, tens of millions of Americans had already voted by the time of the first debate,” top Trump campaign advisers Susie Wiles and Chris LaCivita wrote in the letter.

“Specific to the Commission’s proposed 2024 calendar, it simply comes too late,” they wrote, listing estimates of how many votes Americans will have likely voted by current proposed dates.

The two claimed Americans were “robbed of a true and robust” debate in 2020 because the debate commission accepted the Biden campaign’s wish amid the coronavirus pandemic.

In 2020, there were only two debates involving Biden and Trump. A third scheduled debate was canceled after the former president backed out because it was moved from being an in-person to virtual event because of COVID-19.

Trump then attacked the commission, claiming he would not accept any of their changes intended to enforce the rules and limit interruptions at the remaining presidential debates.

The RNC’s vote in 2022 to pull back from comission-sanctioned debates mandated that candidates pledge not to participate in them. The national party has not revised its position.

The commission has announced it plans to hold the first debate on Sep. 16 at Texas State University, the second on Oct. 1 at Virginia State University and the third on Oct. 9 at The University of Utah, Salt Lake City. It plans to hold a vice presidential debate on Sept. 25 at Lafayette College in Pennsylvania.

ABC News’ Gabriella Abdul-Hakim, Libby Cathey, Fritz Farrow, Lalee Ibssa, Soo Rin Kim and Mike Pappano contributed to this report.

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