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Biden campaign agrees to 3 debates with Trump and slams push for more debates as a 'distraction'

Joe Biden's campaign said Monday that the former vice president will particip...

Posted: Jun 22, 2020 12:45 PM
Updated: Jun 22, 2020 2:30 PM

Joe Biden's campaign said Monday that the former vice president will participate in the three previously announced fall debates with President Donald Trump and continued to criticize the Trump campaign's push for additional debates.

In a letter to the Commission on Presidential Debates, obtained by CNN and first reported by The Washington Post, Biden campaign manager Jen O'Malley Dillon said Biden will face off with Trump in those debates already planned -- on September 29, October 15 and October 22. A vice presidential debate will be held on October 7.

The letter comes as the Trump campaign last week was setting up for an aggressive push for more general election presidential debates. While the Biden campaign dismissed Trump's push last week in a statement from deputy campaign manager and communications director Kate Bedingfield, this is the campaign's first formal communication with the commission.

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'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,' O'Malley Dillon said in the letter.

As CNN previously reported, at one point Trump considered boycotting the debates, but his thinking about them has changed as the campaign has been forced to shift because of the coronavirus pandemic. One source who talks to the President on a regular basis told CNN that Trump really wants to debate Biden because he believes he can highlight the former vice president's weaknesses, especially as they play into the campaign's overt argument that Biden isn't mentally fit to be president. In addition to asking for the commission to host more debates, the campaign is interested in having a say in picking the moderators.

O'Malley Dillon criticized the President's campaign in the letter for this reversal, calling the stance a 'debate distraction.'

'No one should be fooled: the Trump campaign's new position is a debate distraction,' she wrote.

She continued, 'Our position is straightforward and clear: Joe Biden will accept the Commission's debates, on the Commission's dates, under the Commission's established format and the Commission's independent choice of moderators. Donald Trump and Mike Pence should do the same. That is what every candidate for President and Vice President have done in modern times, Democrat and Republican alike. That is what the Biden campaign is willing to do. Any 'debate proposals' in lieu of that are just an effort to change the subject, avoid debates, or create a distracting 'debate about debates.' '

In response, Trump campaign communications director Tim Murtaugh said in a statement, 'It's pretty obvious that Joe Biden's handlers are afraid to send their candidate out without a script and teleprompter handy,' adding that 'an earlier and longer debate schedule is necessary' for Americans to see the contrast between the two candidates.

O'Malley Dillon also asked the commission to confirm that it 'has made plans for debate arrangements if COVID control measures threaten to impact the conduct of the debates as planned.'

'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,' she wrote.

This story has been updated with comments from the Trump campaign.

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