Biden, Trump trade barbs after debate challenge levied with two frontrunners agreeing to square off

After a rapid back-and-forth, the two men agreed to face-off on stage in June and September

Andrew Feinberg
Washington DC
Wednesday 15 May 2024 22:13 BST
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Related video: Biden announces he’ll debate Trump – twice

President Joe Biden and Republican challenger Donald Trump traded barbs after the two candidates agreed to debates ahead of November’s election.

Biden threw the first jab when in the morning he released a video challenging Trump to a debate and made reference to the former president’s ongoing trial over alleged huh-money payments - which takes breaks in the middle of the week.

“I hear you’re free on Wednesdays,” the president said.

After a rapid back-and-forth between Mr Biden and the former president, the two men agreed to face-off on stage for the first time since 2020, on June 27.

“Just tell me when, I’ll be there. ‘Let’s get ready to Rumble!!!’,” Trump said in response to Biden’s challenge.

Trump and Biden face-off during the 2020 presidential debate
Trump and Biden face-off during the 2020 presidential debate (Reuters)

Mr Biden’s initial video shows the president declaring that Mr Trump lost both of the debates they participated in during the 2020 election cycle.

He went on to mock the former president for his refusal to show up for a single debate during the 2024 Republican primary, claiming that Mr Trump keeps accusing him of being unwilling to debate with him.

“Now he’s acting like he wants to debate me again? Well, make my day, pal – I’ll even do it twice,” he said. “So let’s pick the dates, Donald. I hear you’re free on Wednesdays.”

Mr Trump fired back at the challenge in a characteristic rant on his social-media platform, Truth Social.

“Crooked Joe Biden is the WORST debater I have ever faced – He can’t put two sentences together! Crooked is also the WORST President in the history of the United States, by far,” he wrote.

“It’s time for a debate so that he can explain to the American People his highly destructive Open Border Policy, new and ridiculous EV Mandates, the allowance of Crushing Inflation, High Taxes, and his really WEAK Foreign Policy, which is allowing the World to ‘Catch on Fire’.”

Mr Trump said that he was “Ready and Willing” to agree to the two debates in June and September, and claimed that he would “strongly recommend more than two debates and, for excitement purposes, a very large venue, although Biden is supposedly afraid of crowds – That’s only because he doesn’t get them.”

Joe Biden challenges Donald Trump to debate him in June
Joe Biden challenges Donald Trump to debate him in June (Biden campaign)

Soon after, Mr Biden took Mr Trump at his word for being willing to debate him “anywhere, any time, any place” and revealed that he had accepted an invitation from CNN to take part in a debate at 9pm ET on 27 June in Atlanta.

“I’ve received and accepted an invitation from @CNN for a debate on June 27th. Over to you, Donald. As you said: anywhere, any time, any place,” Mr Biden posted on X.

In turn, Donald Trump told Fox News Digital that he had accepted the invitation and is “looking forward to being in beautiful Atlanta.”

In a post on Twitter/X, Mr Biden said his and Mr Trump’s campaign teams have also agreed to a second debate on September 10, to be hosted by ABC.

“Trump says he’ll arrange his own transportation. I’ll bring my plane, too. I plan on keeping it for another four years,” he wrote.

Mr. Trump, not to be bested, also took to Truth Social to claim a debate had been arranged with Fox News.

“Please let this TRUTH serve to represent that I hereby accept debating Crooked Joe Biden on FoxNews. The date will be Wednesday, October 2nd. The Hosts will be Bret Baier and Martha MacCallum. Thank you, DJT!”

It’s unclear whether Fox had agreed to host the extra debate before Mr Trump issued his social media post, and it’s unlikely that the Biden campaign will be amenable to the amended request for more debates, particularly on networks that did not host Democratic primary debates during the 2020 cycle.

But Jen O’Malley Dillon, the Biden campaign chair, hit back against the ex-president’s demand in a statement noting that Mr Trump ”has a long history of playing games with debates: complaining about the rules, breaking those rules, pulling out at the last minute, or not showing up at all – which he’s done repeatedly in all three cycles he’s run for president”.

“He said he would debate President Biden anytime, anywhere, anyplace. In fact, he’s said and posted it dozens of times with varying degrees of comprehension and basic grammar. President Biden made his terms clear for two one-on-one debates, and Donald Trump accepted those terms. No more games. No more chaos, no more debate about debates. We’ll see Donald Trump on June 27th in Atlanta – if he shows up,” she said.

Republican presidential candidate and former U.S. President Donald Trump gestures during a campaign rally at the Forum River Center in Rome, Georgia, on March 9
Republican presidential candidate and former U.S. President Donald Trump gestures during a campaign rally at the Forum River Center in Rome, Georgia, on March 9 (REUTERS)

The first debate will now take place before either candidate has even officially been named as their party’s presidential nominee, with the Republican National Convention taking place in July and the Democratic National Convention in August.

Mr Biden’s proposal for the first debate to take place in June bypasses the nonpartisan commission that has organised and hosted a trio of general election presidential debates for decades in favour of a pair of sessions to be held under terms negotiated directly between his campaign and that of Mr Trump.

In a letter to the debate commission, obtained by The Independent, O’Malley Dillon said the debates should take place in a television studio with both candidates and a moderator sans audience, just like the first groundbreaking 1960 debate between the then senator John F Kennedy and the then-vice president Richard Nixon.

“The Commission’s model of building huge spectacles with large audiences at great expense simply isn’t necessary or conducive to good debates,” she wrote. “The debates should be conducted for the benefit of the American voters, watching on television and at home – not as entertainment for an in-person audience with raucous or disruptive partisans and donors, who consume valuable debate time with noisy spectacles of approval or jeering.”

She added the decision was influenced by failures of the nonpartisan group in past years, including the commission’s inability to enforce the rules to keep the candidates within their allotted speaking time.

The outcome of that failure, she said, “was far from – indeed entirely inconsistent with – the orderly and informative process the voters deserved in 2020 and should be able to expect in 2024”.

The Biden campaign has also suggested the debates be split between two broadcast networks that also participated in both Republican and Democratic primary debates in 2016 and 2020, limiting the choices to CNN, ABC News, Telemundo and CBS News, with moderators chosen from the host networks’ “regular personnel.”

That last point is expected to be contested by Mr Trump, who has frequently complained about debate moderators.

But the timing of the two debates might be amenable to Mr Trump, who has often groused about the late timing of the 2020 debates, citing the increased prevalence of postal balloting and early voting in modern elections. Last month, his two senior campaign advisers, Susie Wiles and Chris LaCivita,?said the timing of this year’s debates as proposed was “unacceptable.”

Biden calls Trump a 'clown' during debate on healthcare

“We are committed to making this happen with or without the presidential debate commission,” they said. “We extend an invitation to every television network in America that wishes to host a debate, and we once again call on Joe Biden’s team to work with us to set one up as soon as possible.”

Ms O’Malley Dillon appeared to echo Mr Trump’s criticisms in her letter, writing that the schedule “has debates that begin?after?the American people have a chance to cast their vote early, and doesn’t conclude until after tens of millions of Americans will have already voted”.

“The commission’s failure, yet again, to schedule debates that will be meaningful to all voters – not just those who cast their ballots late in the fall or on election day – underscores the serious limitations of its outdated approach,” she added.

A source familiar with the former president’s thinking told The Independent that Mr Trump genuinely believes he can best Mr Biden in head-to-head sessions because he has internalised his frequent claim that the 46th president suffers from dementia.

There is no evidence that Mr Biden has such a condition. But Mr Trump, the source said, believes the debates will give him a chance to make his successor look addled and aged.

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