WASHINGTON – President Donald Trump's campaign is requesting a fourth debate with his presumptive Democratic rival, citing an expected surge in mail and absentee voting this fall because of the coronavirus.
Trump campaign manager Brad Parscale and former New York City Mayor Rudy Giuliani made the request Thursday in a call with Frank Fahrenkopf, the co-chair of the nonpartisan Commission on Presidential Debates. The request was described by a person familiar with the conversation who was not authorized to discuss it publicly.
“We want fair debates,” Parscale said. “We want them sooner and we want a bigger schedule. We also don’t want them up against football games competing for viewers. As many Americans as possible need to see the stark differences between the accomplishments and leadership of President Trump and the failed record and sleepiness of Joe Biden.”
It marked a dramatic reversal from the Trump campaign’s position in December, when Trump and Parscale were threatening that the president could participate in fewer or even no debates put on by the commission, against his Democratic opponent.
Presumptive Democratic nominee Joe Biden's campaign said it wasn't looking for another debate and instead plans to participate in those scheduled by the commission.
“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 deputy campaign manager Kate Bedingfield said in a statement.
“We will make this simple," Bedingfield continued. "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.”
The first of three presidential debates is scheduled for Sept. 29 at the University of Notre Dame, and is expected to feature Trump and Biden. Trump's team requested that the commission hold an earlier contest, noting absentee and mail voting is being expanded because of the COVID-19 pandemic and expressed concern that some ballots — especially those by elderly voters most at risk to the virus — could be cast before the first debate.
The seeming acceptance that a vast number of this year's votes will be cast by mail marks a change for the campaign. Both Giuliani and Trump have criticized widespread mail voting and claimed without evidence that mail ballots are ripe for fraud.
The shift comes as Trump's campaign contends that Biden is his own worst enemy in public appearances and has unloaded on the former vice president for campaigning “from his basement” during the pandemic.
The Trump team also suggested that each campaign have a role in selecting the debate moderators, and potentially vetoing some journalists identified to serve in that role.
Fahrenkopf indicated that the debates commission would take the Trump campaign's suggestions under advisement, the person said.
Giuliani, the president's personal attorney who played a key role in the Ukraine saga at the center of Trump's impeachment, was tapped by Trump to lead negotiations with the debates commission. He played a similar role in 2016 after Paul Manafort was ousted as Trump campaign chairman.
The commission has organized every general election presidential debate since 1988.
Associated Press writer Alexandra Jaffe in Washington contributed to this report.