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Biden challenges Trump to debate: ' I hear you’re free on Wednesdays'

Joe Biden
Win McNamee/Getty Images via CNN Newsource

Joe Biden

“Donald Trump lost two debates to me in 2020. Since then he hasn’t shown up for a debate. Now he’s acting like he wants to debate me again,” Biden said.

By Betsy Klein and Michael Williams, CNN

Washington (CNN) — President Joe Biden said Wednesday that he’s accepted an invitation from CNN to debate former President Donald Trump on June 27 – challenging the former president to a showdown months earlier than the traditional fall face-offs.

“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,” Biden said in a post on X.

The challenge is the latest development in a quickly escalating tit-for-tat over debates between the two political rivals. Biden’s campaign earlier called on Trump to join him for two presidential debates hosted by news organizations and formally informed the Commission on Presidential Debates that the president will not participate in its previously scheduled fall debates. The former president quickly said he was on board with earlier debates and told radio host Hugh Hewitt that he would accept any moderator.

Biden only recently said that he was happy to debate Trump, though he was non-committal on the format of such a debate, telling radio host Howard Stern, “I’m happy to debate him.” In a social media video and a subsequent letter to the Commission on Presidential Debates, Biden’s campaign laid out its proposed terms, including possible debate dates in June and September.

The video of Biden speaking directly to a camera released Wednesday morning was a more direct challenge.

“Donald Trump lost two debates to me in 2020. Since then he hasn’t shown up for a debate. Now he’s acting like he wants to debate me again,” Biden said in a direct-to-camera video released Wednesday.

“Well, make my day, pal, I’ll even do it twice. So let’s pick the dates, Donald – I hear you’re free on Wednesdays,” Biden continued, alluding to Trump’s court schedule. In the letter, Biden’s campaign acknowledged that the first debate would likely take place after Trump’s criminal hush-money trial has concluded.

In a post to Truth Social on Wednesday, Trump accepted the revised schedule: “I am Ready and Willing to Debate Crooked Joe at the two proposed times in June and September,” adding that he would “strongly recommend” more than the two debates proposed. A senior Trump adviser told CNN they are “ready to debate” Biden, and reviewing the terms but are eager for an onstage match-up.

Informal conversations between the Biden and Trump campaigns about debates have taken place in recent weeks and were largely focused on a mutual disdain for the Commission on Presidential Debates and potential scenarios to work around the commission, three sources familiar with the discussions told CNN. The Washington Post was first to report on those conversations.

The Commission on Presidential Debates announced dates for three presidential debates last November. The first debate was scheduled for September 16 in Texas, the second on October 1 in Virginia and a third on October 9 in Utah.

In the letter on Wednesday, Biden campaign chair Jen O’Malley Dillon said the campaign is proposing an altered schedule because the original dates are “out of step with changes with changes in the structure of our elections and the interests of voters,” pointing to the timeline of early voting, the way the commission has built debates as an “entertainment spectacle” and the commission being “unable or unwilling” to enforce rules in 2020 debates.

The campaign also proposed that a vice presidential debate take place in late July after the Republican Party nominates its candidate for that position.

The Biden campaign’s decision to withdraw from the debates hosted by the commission is in line with a move made by the Republican National Committee about two years ago. The RNC voted unanimously to withdraw from its participation in the nonpartisan Commission on Presidential Debates, the organization governing general-election presidential debates, alleging bias. That withdrawal followed months of then-chairwoman Ronna McDaniel pressing the commission to change various practices on behalf of Trump.

The request for an earlier debate schedule could be seen as indicative of the campaign’s desire to get voters involved in the political process as soon as possible. The campaign has repeatedly waved away negative polling by saying most Americans aren’t tuned into the electoral process until much closer to the election.

Calling for earlier debates might also help weed out third-party candidates that could cause problems for both Trump and Biden. Candidates need to meet certain criteria concerning ballot access, polling, and constitutional eligibility to qualify. Trump and Biden are all but certain to qualify but it’s unclear if third-party candidates like Cornel West or Robert F. Kennedy Jr. will meet the requirements. The Commission on Presidential Debates won’t determine who is eligible to participate in the debates until after Labor Day.

For millions of Americans, the debates will represent the most extensive scrutiny they’ll be able to give either candidate since the debates leading up to the 2020 election four years ago.

The chance to see how both candidates preform will be critical for voters who are concerned about Biden and Trump’s ages; Trump turns 78 on June 14, around the time when the campaign is proposing the first debate, while Biden turns 82 in November after the election.

The campaign is also proposing a critical change they say would make the debates more substantive and less of a spectacle – having the candidates debate without a studio audience.

“As was the case with the original televised debates in 1960, a television studio with just the candidates and moderators is a better, more cost-efficient way to proceed: focused solely on the interests of voters,” the letter said.

Trump pushed back on that idea in his Truth Social post, saying he would prefer, “for excitement purposes, a very large venue, although Biden is supposedly afraid of crowds.”

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

Republicans have for months been piling the pressure on Biden to debate Trump after the president offered non-committal answers on whether the face-offs would take place. Biden had previously conditioned debates with his predecessor, telling reporters, “It depends on his behavior,” but declining to elaborate further.

Trump’s team is eager to get the former president on the debate stage as early as possible for a number of reasons, a source familiar with the discussions told CNN last month. The Trump campaign in April asked the Commission on Presidential Debates for this year’s general election debates to take place “much earlier.” The source cited that debates were scheduled to occur after early voting started in some areas, and they want Trump to be able to reach voters before they make a decision.

This story has been updated with additional reporting.

CNN’s Alayna Treene, Daniel Strauss, Kristen Holmes and MJ Lee contributed to this report.

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