Debate commission pushes back on Trump campaign’s request for an earlier debate

The commission tasked with planning the general election presidential debates pushed back against the Trump campaign’s request for a fourth debate earlier in the cycle on Thursday, noting that they will only back an additional meeting if both the candidates agree to the contest.

The letter from the Commission on Presidential Debates released on Thursday effectively says there will be no fourth debate unless both President Donald Trump and former Vice President Joe Biden agree to an additional contest and the commission decides to sponsor the event.

Trump’s campaign has been calling for a fourth debate in early September for weeks. It formalized that request on Wednesday with a letter to the commission. The letter, written by former New York mayor Rudy Giuliani, who represents the Trump campaign on debate issues, argued that the current debate schedule was an “outdated dinosaur and not reflective of voting realities in 2020.” He noted that millions of Americans will have the ability to vote early before the first general election debate in late September.

The commission rejected that argument on Thursday, noting that “there is a difference between ballots having been issued by a state and those ballots having been cast by voters, who are under no compulsion to return their ballots before the debates.” The commission also noted that in 2016, when the debate schedule was similar, “only .0069% of the electorate had voted at the time of the first debate.”

“The Commission has found that three 90-minute debates work well to fulfill the voter education purposes the debates are intended to serve,” the letter read. “If the candidates were to agree that they wished to add to that schedule, the Commission would consider that request but remains committed to the schedule of debates it has planned as reflected in the attached release.”

Andrew Bates, a Biden spokesman, responded to the Giuliani letter on Wednesday by saying that the Biden campaign has said “all along, including in a letter to the commission in June, that Joe Biden will appear on the dates that the commission selected and in the locations they chose.”

Bates and other Biden spokespeople did not immediately respond to whether they will back a fourth debate.

It is unclear whether Trump’s campaign, as Bates notes, has officially agreed to appear at the commission’s three scheduled debates.

Erin Perrine, a Trump campaign spokeswoman, said, “Yes, we have agreed with the debate commission,” when asked by Fox News on Tuesday whether the campaign has “formally committed” to the commission’s appearances.

But after the appearance, two Trump campaign officials would not confirm that the campaign had formally agreed to the already scheduled debates, something the Biden campaign did in June.

Campaign aides have said the President is “ready to debate,” but that they have yet to formally agree to the commission’s plans, in part, because they are hoping additional contests will be added.

Tim Murtaugh, a Trump campaign spokesman, said on Wednesday following the Giuliani letter, “Voters in 16 states will already be casting their early votes before the first debate takes place on September 29 as the schedule stands now. We don’t think it’s too much to ask that Americans get a look at the two candidates side-by-side before voters start voting.”

In addition to their complaints about the schedule, Trump’s campaign also raised questions about debate moderators and backup plans for debate locations due to complications that could arise due to the ongoing coronavirus pandemic.

The commission’s letter notes that they have hired the noted Cleveland Clinic to advise them on health issues and are “working closely with the Clinic on all aspects of debate planning potentially affected by the pandemic.”

As for moderators, the commission said they would “adhere to our longstanding procedure of selecting the debate moderators… with great care, as always, to ensure that the selected moderators are qualified and fair.”

The Trump campaign’s letter on Wednesday also included a list of possible moderators, including Republican radio hosts Larry Elder and Hugh Hewitt, both of whom will certainly be nonstarters for the Biden campaign.