Van Hollen: ‘I do not have concerns’ about Biden at debate

Written by on May 19, 2024

ABC News

(WASHINGTON) — Sen. Chris Van Hollen, D-Md., said Sunday that he’s unconcerned about how President Joe Biden will fare at his first debate with former President Donald Trump next month.

The two candidates’ agreement bucked the Commission on Presidential Debates, the longtime organizer of such forums. Biden’s camp suggested the body was unable to handle Trump as a candidate on stage, and the former president has long decried the group as biased against him, leveling similar accusations as the ones he does against mainstream media outlets.

Van Hollen, a Biden ally, pointed to the president’s State of the Union address in March during which he delivered a vociferous defense of his record, a speech many supporters touted to suggest worries over his age and mental acuity were overblown. Those concerns will be front and center again after Biden and Trump agreed Wednesday to a June 27 debate hosted by CNN and a Sept. 10 debate hosted by ABC News.

“I do not have concerns. I mean, there were people who said they were concerned about the State of the Union address. He came out swinging, he delivered a very clear message to the American people,” Van Hollen told “This Week” co-anchor Martha Raddatz.

“Look, it’s not about the age of the candidate. It’s about the ideas [of] the candidate, what they’re going to do for the American people going forward,” he added. “Donald Trump is all about revenge, he’s all about the past. Joe Biden is about fighting for the American people and putting forward an agenda for the people.”

Biden and Trump debated twice during their 2020 race, with the first clash a largely chaotic affair followed by a more serious forum after more intense moderator intervention.

This time, the terms the Biden campaign demanded include having no audience and allowing moderators the flexibility to cut off mics for the candidates, including when they’re not speaking.

“I think this is an advantage to the American people. They want the candidates [to] focus on issues, on the economy, on foreign policy,” Van Hollen said. “What Donald Trump likes is a carnival-like atmosphere. He’s more of an entertainer than a serious debater on the issues. And so, I think this helps the American people crystallize the choice.”

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Still, Van Hollen said he would recommend Biden not hold back if Trump is perceived to cross a line during the debate. Biden asked, “Will you shut up, man?” during a 2020 debate when Trump began interrupting him.

“You have to show the human side of people,” Van Hollen said. “… I can understand the president of the United States responding and letting him know that’s what he thinks.

Republicans, meanwhile, think the debates hand Trump an advantage.

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Polls have shown voters trust Trump more than Biden on issues that most concern them, including the economy and immigration.

“I think the choice is going to be clear in this election, and I think people will see it on that debate stage in June,” Marc Lotter, a former Trump-Pence campaign official, told Raddatz on Sunday. “Donald Trump, I think it’s basically a strategy of reality and real life. The reality is that people are struggling in real life to pay for groceries and gas, the open border problem, crime, the wars raging around the world.”

Lotter also nodded to concerns over Biden’s age, noting a debate is different from a State of the Union address and that Trump often speaks off the cuff to reporters and large crowds of supporters.

“I think the American people need to see Donald Trump and Joe Biden side by side,” he said. “This is not a Joe Biden that can shield himself with his staff walking to Marine One or take the short stairs or use a teleprompter. This is going to be live recall, and Donald Trump gets up there two or three times a weekend and pontificates for 90 minutes. Joe Biden rarely does an actual hard interview. This is going to be a challenge for President Biden.”

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