Debate commission rejects Trump push for extra showdown with Biden
President Trump questions how voters can mail in ballots before the first debate; Rich Edson reports from Washington.
The Commission on Presidential Debates (CPD) is turning down a formal request by President Trump’s re election campaign that a fourth debate between the president and Democratic challenger Joe Biden be added and that the showdown be held early next month, before many states start sending out absentee ballots to voters.
But the nonpartisan commission – which has organized and conducted the presidential and vice presidential general election debates for more than three decades – added that it would “consider” adding an additional encounter between Trump and Biden to the three that are already scheduled if both candidates agree.
In a letter sent Wednesday to the commission, the Trump campaign asked that, if a fourth showdown can’t be added, then the date of the first debate – scheduled for Sept. 29 – be moved up to the first week of September.
“Simply put, the Commission’s current approach is an outdated dinosaur and not reflective of voting realities in 2020,” Rudy Giuliani argued in the letter.
The former New York City mayor and unsuccessful 2008 Republican presidential candidate joined the president’s personal legal team in 2018 and serves as a Trump campaign representative.
“For a nation already deprived of a traditional campaign schedule because of the COVID-19 global pandemic, it makes no sense to also deprive so many Americans of the opportunity to see and hear two competing visions for our country’s future before millions of votes are cast,” Giuliani said.
The Trump campaign noted that “by the time of the first presidential debate on Sept. 29, 2020, as many as 8 million Americans in 16 states will have already started voting.”
Responding on Thursday, the commission emphasized that “there is a difference between ballots having been issued by a state and those ballots having been cast by voters, who are under no compulsion to return their ballots before the debates. In 2016, when the debate schedule was similar, only .0069% of the electorate had voted at the time of the first debate.”
The commission highlighted that “while more people will likely vote by mail in 2020, the debate schedule has been and will be highly publicized. Any voter who wishes to watch one or more debates before voting will be well aware of that opportunity.”
There has been a surge in voting by absentee ballot in the primaries this spring and summer due to health concerns over in-person voting at polling stations amid the coronavirus pandemic.
The Biden campaign has repeatedly committed to the three debates laid out by the commission, despite some pundits suggesting the former vice president should skip them. The second and third primetime faceoffs are scheduled for Oct. 15 and Oct. 22, with a vice presidential debate on Oct. 7.
The commission highlighted that it’s “found that three 90-minute debates work well to fulfill the voter education purposes the debates are intended to serve.”
But it added that if “the candidates were to agree that they wished to add to that schedule, the Commission would consider that request but remains committed to the schedule of debates it has planned as reflected in the attached release.”
The president’s request was no surprise. Trump and his campaign in recent days have raised their rhetoric in seeking an earlier debate or additional showdowns.
The president, in a wide-ranging interview Wednesday on “Fox & Friends,” argued that “the one problem I have, the debate's very late. It's at the end of September and a lot of ballots will already be cast by that time.”
"Why are they putting the first debate so late? The first debate should be before the first – at least before the first ballots go out. And they have it a month later, almost a month later. It's ridiculous,” Trump added.
The debates being scheduled by the CPD are for roughly the same time period they were held in the 2012 and 2016 presidential election cycles, when early in-person voting and absentee voting had also begun in many states.
The commission, in their letter to the Trump campaign, also noted that they “are pleased that President Trump and Vice President Biden both have agreed to participate in the debates.”
The Trump campaign, in their letter on Wednesday, suggested a list of proposed moderators from which the commission could choose. The list of two dozen people included a number of anchors from Fox News and FOX Business Network, among others.
Responding, the commission noted that they “will adhere to our long-standing procedure of selecting the debate moderators. It will do so with great care, as always, to ensure that the selected moderators are qualified and fair.”