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Biden and Trump face off this week in the first presidential debate. Here's what we know so far about the debate, prep and more

Trump, Biden prepare for first 2024 debate
Trump, Biden prepare for first 2024 debate 02:13

Washington — President Biden and former President Donald Trump are set to face off this week in the first presidential debate of the cycle, as the nation prepares for a rematch of the 2020 race. 

The debate, hosted at CNN's Atlanta studios at 9 p.m. ET on Thursday, is the first between a sitting president and former president, and marks the first debate for both men in the 2024 race, as the two cruised to their parties' presumptive nominee status without participating in primary debates.  

The debate plans came together quickly last month after the Biden campaign said in a letter that he was willing to debate his Republican opponent on two occasions ahead of the November election. In a matter of hours, the two debates had been set for June and September. 

The debate settings are a departure from previous matchups, traditionally held by the nonpartisan Commission on Presidential Debates, which has overseen presidential debates since 1988. But the Biden campaign said the president wouldn't participate in debates sponsored by the commission due to what it said was an unwillingness to enforce the rules during the 2020 debates.

Donald Trump and Joe Biden at a presidential debate at Belmont University in Nashville, Tennessee, on Thursday, Oct. 22, 2020.
Donald Trump and Joe Biden at a presidential debate at Belmont University in Nashville, Tennessee, on Thursday, Oct. 22, 2020.  Jim Bourg/Reuters/Bloomberg via Getty Images

What we know about the debate structure so far

Thursday's 90-minute debate, moderated by anchors Jake Tapper and Dana Bash, will take place without an audience "to ensure candidates may maximize the time allotted in the debate," CNN said. It's also set to feature two commercial breaks, when campaign staff will not be allowed to interact with the candidates.

When one candidate is speaking, the other's microphone will be muted. There also aren't expected to be opening statements, and the candidates will have two minutes to answer questions, sources say.

Mr. Biden's team won a coin toss, CNN reported, which allowed them to determine either who gets to make the closing argument or where the candidates stand on the stage. The president's team chose his position on the stage, selecting the lectern on the right. That decision tees up Trump to cap the night with closing arguments. 

Debate prep underway

Mr. Biden headed to Camp David late last week, where a source tells CBS News that preparations began with informal sessions with previous advisors and top White House and campaign aides. Mock debates will also be held, where Bob Bauer, the president's personal attorney, is expected to play Trump.

Leading the group helping the president prepare is Ron Klain, the former White House chief of staff who has served Mr. Biden in various roles for nearly four decades. He said at the time of the debate planning that he would once again help his old boss prepare for televised debates with Trump. Klain previously helped Al Gore, Barack Obama and Hillary Clinton prepare for their respective debates.

The Biden campaign sees the debate as an opportunity to highlight the president's record and vision for the next four years, while contrasting it with the former president's. In a memo released Sunday, the Biden campaign said Americans "will see two distinct visions for the future on stage in Atlanta."

Meanwhile, Trump's debate prep appeared more informal. The former president has held a series of private meetings with allies. And Trump was on the campaign trail over the weekend, appearing at a rally in Philadelphia on Saturday where he quipped about his coming debate with the president. 

"How should I handle him? Should I be tough and nasty?" Trump said. "Should I be tough and nasty and just say 'you're the worst president in history'? Or should I be nice and calm and let him speak?"

After the debate, Trump is set to return to Virginia for a campaign event, as his team ramps up its efforts in the states that Biden won by 10 points in 2020. Mr. Biden is set to head to North Carolina for a rally following the debate.

The debate comes weeks ahead of the Republican and Democratic nominating conventions, when party delegates choose their respective presidential nominees, making it an especially early matchup. But Mr. Biden and Trump received enough delegates to clinch their respective nominations in mid-March, setting up a rematch of the 2020 contest for the White House.

Who qualified for the debate? 

In order to qualify for the debate, the candidates had to meet criteria outlined by CNN, including receiving at least 15% in four separate national polls of registered or likely voters and having their name appear on enough state ballots to reach the threshold of 270 electoral votes needed to win the presidency. Robert F. Kennedy Jr. failed to meet the debate criteria by last week's deadline, cementing the one-on-one debate.

Though the independent presidential candidate will not appear alongside Trump and Mr. Biden at Thursday's debate, he's expected to run counter programming. His running mate, Nicole Shanahan, teased the move in a post on social media, saying if Americans don't want to watch the "fake debate" on Thursday, "we've got you covered."

Kennedy's campaign on Tuesday issued a press release confirming that he plans to respond to the debate in real-time in his own "debate." 

Nancy Cordes, Robert Costa, Aaron Navarro and Allison Novelo contributed to this report.

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