Joe Biden is planning to participate in three previously-scheduled debates with President Trump — and not one more, his campaign said Monday.
The Biden campaign is also calling on the nonpartisan Commission on Presidential Debates to explain how it plans to hold the in-person debates scheduled for September and October, despite the coronavirus pandemic.
"There is no reason why Vice President Biden and President Trump cannot meet for debates with appropriate safety and social distancing measures (set by public health authorities) on the three dates the CPD has identified. Nothing should prevent the conduct of debates between Joe Biden and Donald Trump on these dates; again, we do not want to provide President Trump with any excuses for not debating," the Biden campaign wrote in a letter to the commission on Monday.
The commission has organized the televised debates dating back to 1988. This year, debates are also set to occur on September 29 at the University of Notre Dame in South Bend, Indiana; October 15 at the University of Michigan in Ann Arbor, Michigan; and October 22 at Belmont University in Nashville. The vice presidential debate is scheduled for October 7 at the University of Utah in Salt Lake City.
In a statement Monday, the commission said that it's proceeding with its current plans according to schedule. All it would say regarding its plans to adapt to the pandemic is that "in cooperation with federal agencies, the CPD will continue to monitor and assess developments regarding public health and safety as debate planning proceeds."
The disclosure of Biden's debate intentions comes just days after President Trump announced last week that he was asking his personal attorney, Rudy Giuliani, to negotiate for a fourth face-to-face debate with Biden. Giuliani was also going to negotiate an earlier start to the debates than late September because absentee balloting will begin in some states by early September and because an earlier start would also likely avoid an anticipated crush of live sports coverage from contests postponed due to the pandemic.
But Biden aides said Monday that they immediately laughed at these suggestions, noting that the Trump campaign is contradicting itself when it comes to mail-in voting, since the president regularly casts doubt on the reliability of mail-in ballots – even though he used one himself to vote in Florida earlier this year.
"Joe Biden looks forward to facing Donald Trump in a multi-debate series that the American people have come to expect from their leaders; we hope that President Trump would not break that tradition or make excuses for a refusal to participate," the Biden campaign wrote in its letter to the commission. "Now that Donald Trump is trailing badly in the polls, and is desperate to change the subject from his failed leadership of the country, we are seeing reports that he has his own proposal for debates – after having said, just six months ago, that he might not want to participate at all in planned debates. No one should be fooled: the Trump campaign's new position is a debate distraction. The Trump position seems to be saying that he will debate if he can pick the moderators: clearly the President, who largely conducts interviews only with favorable news outlets, is afraid of facing questions from a neutral moderator. The Trump campaign proposal for elaborate negotiations is merely an effort to dodge fair, even-handed debates."
Trump campaign spokesman Tim Murtaugh said Monday that the former vice president's decision is a sign "that Joe Biden's handlers are afraid to send their candidate out without a script and teleprompter handy. An earlier and longer debate schedule is necessary so Americans can see the clear difference between President Trump's vibrant leadership and Biden's confused meandering."
Here's the Biden campaign's letter: