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Major news organizations urge Biden, Trump to commit to presidential debates

CBS News and 11 other major news organizations on Sunday issued a joint statement urging President Joe Biden and former President Donald Trump to commit to debates during the 2024 campaign season

In the letter, the news organizations said it was too early for invitations to go out to candidates for debates, but that it wasn't too early for presidential candidates who expect to meet eligibility criteria to publicly state their commitment to debates in the 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," the organizations said in the joint statement. "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."

ABC News, The Associated Press, CNN, C-SPAN, FOX News Media, NBCUniversal News Group, NewsNation, Noticias Univision (Univision Network News), NPR, PBS NewsHour and USA TODAY joined CBS News in signing the joint statement. 

The Republican National Committee voted unanimously in 2022 to ban future GOP presidential nominees from participating in debates put on by the nonpartisan Commission on Presidential Debates, the body that has sponsored general election debates since 1988.

Trump campaign managers Susie Wiles and Chris LaCivita addressed the Commission on Presidential Debates in a letter on Thursday, saying that Trump was willing to debate. They did not address the 2022 GOP vote, but they did call on the commission to be fair and impartial.

Former U.S. President Trump holds campaign rally in Schnecksville, Pennsylvania
Former President Trump calls on President Biden to debate him, during a campaign rally in Schnecksville, Pennsylvania, on April 13, 2024. Evelyn Hockstein / REUTERS

"Fairness in such a setting is paramount and the Commission must ensure that the 2024 Commission-sponsored debates are truly fair and conducted impartially," they wrote. "The Commission must move up the timetable of its proposed 2024 debates to ensure more Americans have a full chance to see the candidates before they start voting, and we would argue for adding more debates in addition to those on the currently proposed schedule."

Trump, who avoided debating his GOP rivals in primary debates, previously faced some criticism for failing to show up to those debates and face questions on stage alongside other Republican candidates. But in a December interview with conservative radio host Hugh Hewitt, Trump suggested he'd be up for 10 debates with Mr. Biden. He also discussed debating with President Biden in a Thursday post to Truth Social.

"Biden can't speak," Trump said. "Biden can't debate, Biden can't put two sentences together."

At a Saturday rally in Schnecksville, Pennsylvania, Trump had two podiums set up on stage. He spoke to the crowd from one podium and left the other empty except for a placard reading, "Anytime. Anywhere. Anyplace." He pointed to the lectern partway through his campaign speech. 

"See the podium? I'm calling on Crooked Joe Biden to debate anytime, anywhere, any place. Right there," Trump said. "And we have to debate because our country is going in the wrong direction so badly and while it's a little bit typically early we have to debate."

President Biden, when asked on March 8 if he would commit to a debate with Trump, said that "it depends on his behavior." The president previously addressed a potential debate in early February while visiting Las Vegas. After being told that Trump wanted to debate him as soon as possible, Mr. Biden said, "If I were him, I'd want to debate me too.  He's got nothing else to do."

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