Apr 14, 2024 - Politics & Policy

TV networks push Biden, Trump to commit to fall debates

headshot
Photo illustration of Donald Trump and Joe Biden.

Photo illustration: Aïda Amer/Axios. Photo: Olivier Douliery-Pool/Getty

A dozen news organizations, led by the networks, on Sunday issued a joint statement urging President Biden and former President Trump "to publicly commit to participating in general election debates."

Why it matters: The networks want both presumptive nominees to commit early in a year when they may have different reasons to duck or play coy.

For 40+ years (beginning in 1976), debating has been a staple of American general elections.

  • "Since 1988, the nonpartisan Commission on Presidential Debates has sponsored all presidential general election debates," the statement says, adding that it's not too early for the candidates "to publicly state their support for — and their intention to participate in — the Commission's debates planned for this fall."

Susie Wiles and Chris LaCivita, the Trump campaign's co-managers, released a letter last week agreeing with the network statement, which leaked as a draft. They said they want debates "much earlier" than the commission's scheduled Sept. 16 kickoff, and more often:

  • "Former President Abraham Lincoln and former U.S. Senator Stephen A. Douglas held seven debates in their storied 1858 U.S. Senate battle in Illinois. Certainly today's America deserves as much."

Biden, asked in March about debating Trump, said: "It depends on his behavior."

Sunday's statement is signed by ABC News, AP, CBS News, CNN, C-SPAN, Fox News Media, NBCUniversal News Group, NewsNation, NPR, "PBS NewsHour," Univision 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.
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.
Since 1988, the nonpartisan Commission on Presidential Debates has sponsored all presidential general election debates. The Commission has previously announced dates, times, and eligibility criteria for 2024 debates. Though it is too early for invitations to be extended to any candidates, it is not too early for candidates who expect to meet the eligibility criteria to publicly state their support for — and their intention to participate in — the Commission's debates planned for this fall.
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.
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