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RNC threatens to advise candidates against participating in presidential debates

Republican National Committee Chairwoman Ronna McDaniel blasted the Commission on Presidential Debates in a letter on Tuesday over its handling of the 2020 debates and threatened to advise future GOP candidates against participating in the organization's events. 

"The CPD's repeated missteps and the partisan actions of its Board Members make clear that the organization no longer provides the fair and impartial forum for presidential debates which the law requires and the American people deserve," McDaniel wrote.

"Our sincere hope is that the CPD accepts this criticism and works to correct its mistakes," she added. "If not, the RNC will have no choice but to advise future Republican candidates against participating in CPD-hosted debates, and the RNC will look for other options for its candidates to debate the issues before the American people in a neutral and nonpartisan forum."

The CPD has sponsored all of the general election presidential debates since 1988. The nonpartisan organization was created to ensure that general election debates between the leading candidates for president and vice president are a "permanent part of the electoral process."

McDaniel laid out several concerns with the CPD's decisions leading up to the 2020 election, including: holding the first debate after early and absentee voting had begun in several states, deciding to make the second debate virtual and selecting a moderator who had once been an intern for Mr. Biden. She also accused some members of the CPD's board of directors of bias against Mr. Trump. 

The CPD announced the second debate would be virtual for health and safety reasons after former President Trump tested positive for COVID-19. Mr. Trump sharply criticized that decision, and his campaign refused to participate in a virtual format, which caused the CPD to cancel the event

Republicans criticized the scheduled moderator for that debate, CSPAN's Steve Scully, because he had interned for then-Senator Biden decades earlier. Scully also asked former White House communications director Anthony Scaramucci, a vocal critic of Mr. Trump, for advice on Twitter, writing "@Scaramucci should I respond to trump," after the former president referred to Scully as a "Never Trumper." Scully initially claimed he had been hacked but later admitted he had sent the tweet.

McDaniel said the CPD's decision to switch to the virtual format "without any attempt to accommodate the candidates in-person" during the Scully controversy, "was a massive disservice to the candidates" and "deprived the American people the opportunity to see the candidates on stage together at a critical juncture." She added that it should be "obvious" that a moderator should not be someone "who previously worked for one of the candidates."

Her letter also praised Mr. Trump for catching an "amateur error" before the third debate that "nearly derailed" the event. She said his "background in television" led him to point out a potential issue with plexiglass shields that were set up. 

"Had it not been caught by the President of the United States, the CPD's unforced error would have caused a surprising and awkward distraction for both candidates once the cameras started to roll,"  McDaniel wrote.

The CPD has not responded to CBS News' request for comment about the letter.

"The Republican Party needs assurances that the CPD will make meaningful reforms to the debate process by working with stakeholders to restore the faith and legitimacy it has lost," McDaniel said in a statement. 

The RNC is asking the CPD to establish term limits for its board of directors, implement a code of conduct for officers, commit to hosting at least one debate before early voting begins, establish criteria for selecting moderators that disqualifies people "who have an appearance of bias" and create a code of conduct for moderators. 

McDaniel asked the CPD to respond by July 31. 

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