Biden campaign commits to 3 debates with Trump, claims president is shifting his stance on debate participation as ‘distraction’

The campaign slammed Trump's push for more debates as a "distraction."

June 22, 2020, 4:40 PM

Former vice president Joe Biden’s campaign has agreed to three scheduled debates with President Donald Trump this fall, and in a letter sent to the Commission on Presidential Debates (CPD) Monday by campaign manager Jen O’Malley Dillon, criticized what she said was Trump’s shifting stance on how many debates in which he's willing to participate.

In the letter, O’Malley Dillon writes that Biden, once formally invited by the commissioner after he officially becomes the Democratic nominee later this summer, will participate in three CPD-commissioned debates slated for Sept. 29, Oct. 15 and Oct. 22.

PHOTO: Hillary Clinton looks on as Donald Trump speaks during the final presidential debate at the Thomas & Mack Center on the campus of the University of Las Vegas in Las Vegas, Oct.19, 2016.
Hillary Clinton looks on as Donald Trump speaks during the final presidential debate at the Thomas & Mack Center on the campus of the University of Las Vegas in Las Vegas, Oct.19, 2016.
Mark Ralston/AFP via Getty Images, FILE

Biden’s campaign manager cautioned that the campaign was accepting the invitation on the parameters previously laid out by the commission, and would not tolerate any efforts by the Trump campaign to majorly change the events.

“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,” O’Malley Dillon wrote.

“Any ‘debate proposals’ in lieu of that are just an effort to change the subject, avoid debates, or create a distracting ‘debate about debates.’” she continued.

The campaign also committed to Biden’s running mate, who has yet to be selected, participating in the scheduled vice presidential debate on Oct. 7.

Conversations about the upcoming presidential debates reignited following a push from President Trump's reelection campaign to increase the number of presidential debates this fall, tapping Rudy Giuliani to lead the effort with the goal of also moving up the debates and having a hand in picking the moderators, multiple sources confirmed to ABC News last week.

Giuliani and Trump campaign manager Brad Parscale pushed co-chairman of the CPD Frank Fahrenkopf on a conference call last Thursday for the debates to begin before early voting as well as holding a fourth debate, a campaign official told ABC News.

In her Monday letter, O’Malley Dillon needled Trump as a candidate that is “trailing badly in the polls” and “desperate to change the subject from his failed leadership of the country.”

“No one should be fooled: the Trump campaign’s new position is a debate distraction,” O’Malley Dillon wrote.

The Biden campaign also requested more information on the committee's plans to ensure the debates will go forward in the midst of the coronavirus pandemic, suggesting that there should be no reason for Biden and Trump not to debate if proper precautions are undertaken.

“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,” O’Malley Dillon stressed in the letter.

Aside from the COVID-19 related concerns, the Biden campaign also requested that the second presidential debate be held in a town hall format, as it has since the 1992 presidential election between Democratic challenger Bill Clinton, businessman Ross Perot and then-President George H.W. Bush, and stressed Biden’s desire to interact with uncommitted voters ahead of the November election.

“During his primary campaign, Vice President Biden welcomed direct questions from uncommitted voters on a frequent basis, and we think it is time that President Trump faced such questioning himself. We know that voters have many, many questions for the President,” O’Malley Dillon wrote.

The Monday letter is the second debate-related volley the Biden campaign has issued in the last week since reports of the Trump campaign push for more debates surfaced.

“We are not going to ride the roller coaster of the ever-changing Trump campaign position on debates, nor are we going to be distracted by his demands,” Biden campaign Deputy Campaign Manager and Communications Director Kate Bedingfield wrote in a statement released last week.

“We will make this simple: like every other Democratic and Republican candidate since 1992, we will show up for the debates set by the Commission on Presidential Debates, at the places they have selected, on the dates they have selected, with the formats and moderators they designate -- so long as Donald Trump does the same, and does not intimidate the Commission into changes from past practices,” Bedingfield added.

A spokesman for the Trump campaign on Monday argued that starting debates earlier and holding more of them would give the American people more opportunities to contrast the two candidates' readiness for office.

“It’s pretty obvious that Joe Biden’s handlers are afraid to send their candidate out without a script and teleprompter handy. An earlier and longer debate schedule is necessary so Americans can see the clear difference between President Trump’s vibrant leadership and Biden’s confused meandering," Trump campaign communications director Tim Murtaugh wrote in a statement provided to ABC News.

ABC News’ Will Steakin, Katherine Faulders and John Santucci contributed to this report.

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