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Biden says he’s happy to debate Trump ahead of November’s election

President Joe Biden says he’s happy to debate former President Donald Trump ahead of November’s election.
Reuters/Getty Images via CNN Newsource
President Joe Biden says he’s happy to debate former President Donald Trump ahead of November’s election.

By Kevin Liptak and Betsy Klein, CNN

Washington (CNN) — President Joe Biden said he will debate former President Donald Trump ahead of this year’s election, the clearest declaration yet of his willingness to face-off with his Republican rival before voters cast ballots in November.

Still, Biden said he didn’t know yet what format the debates might take, leaving open the possibility the three traditional on-stage events could look different this year.

“I am, somewhere. I don’t know when,” Biden said when asked by interviewer Howard Stern whether he planned to debate his predecessor. “I’m happy to debate him.”

It’s the first time Biden has said explicitly he would debate Trump in this election cycle. Previously, he has equivocated, saying it would depend on the former president’s behavior. Some of Biden’s aides have questioned whether Trump would abide by established rules in any potential debate, and before Friday his campaign hadn’t set out any specific debate plan.

Earlier this month, a dozen of the nation’s biggest news organizations posted an open letter urging Biden and Trump to participate in televised debates ahead of the 2024 election.

The letter was signed by a consortium of broadcast, cable and print outlets, including ABC News, The Associated Press, CBS News, CNN, C-SPAN, Fox News, NBC News, NewsNation, Univision, NPR, PBS NewsHour and USA Today. In the letter, the news organizations urged the candidates “to publicly commit to participating in general election debates before November’s election.”

The Commission on Presidential Debates has scheduled three presidential debates for September and October in Texas, Virginia and Utah.

Trump, who refused to participate in the Republican primary debates, has posted on social media that he will debate Biden “anytime, anywhere anyplace” despite the Republican National Committee voting unanimously in 2022 to withdraw from the Commission on Presidential Debates.

Biden had responded to Trump’s calls for earlier debates in February, telling reporters: “If I were him, I’d want him to debate me, too. He’s got nothing else to do.”

After Biden made his comment on Stern’s program on Friday, Trump’s campaign manager Chris LaCivita responded on social media.

“Ok,” he wrote on X, “let’s set it up!”

Biden gets personal in Howard Stern interview

Biden also delved into personal topics Friday in the surprise, wide-ranging 74-minute appearance on “The Howard Stern Show,” a notably unusual venue for the president as his campaign leans into a strategy utilizing alternative media outlets to reach voters.

An animated Biden was prodded by Stern on topics including loss, his childhood, his relationship with his parents, his early career as a public defender, dealing with his stutter and why he didn’t take law school seriously enough, highlighting a more intimate side of the president.

White House officials amplified the interview, reposting it on Instagram and with the @POTUS account, as well as chief of staff Jeff Zients, press secretary Karine Jean-Pierre and communications director Ben LaBolt, among others.

Stern pontificated on why high-profile Republicans haven’t said they’ll vote for Biden, citing Jeb and George W. Bush, to which Biden responded, “I don’t think the election’s over yet on that score.”

And he again offered thoughts on segregationist former Republicans, saying, “They were totally wrong on civil rights, but the fact is that they understood there’s a need for a consensus to run this country.” Biden took heat in 2019 while running for the presidency for saying he could work with segregationist senators during his time in the chamber.

True to Stern form, the interview was intimate at times as Biden described meeting his first wife, Neilia Hunter, on a vacation in Nassau.

“Walking her back – never kissed her, never went to her room, never went to bed with her,” Biden said, describing as he tripped over a fence while they walked back from their first dinner. “She says, ‘Oh that’s OK.’ I get up and I – stupid thing to say, I said, ‘You know, I think I’m gonna marry you.’ ”

Stern pressed Biden multiple times on the death of his first wife and daughter and how he moved forward – his answer: “Family.”

He also asked him about contemplating suicide in the wake of the tragic car accident, to which the president said: “You don’t have to be crazy to commit suicide – if you’ve been at the top of a mountain, you think it’s never going to be there again. And just a brief moment, I thought maybe I’d just go to the Delaware Memorial Bridge and jump. But I had two kids.”

Asked if he considered speaking to a therapist after that loss, he said he didn’t.

“I strongly, strongly, strongly encourage people to go to therapy,” he said, citing the strong support system of his family. “I never considered it, but I wish I had.”

Biden got emotional when asked about son Beau’s military service and his illness.

And he poked fun at his age, talking about visiting with old friends in Scranton: “Now I’m getting so damn old a lot of them are passed away,” he said.

He also said he was admittedly “a jerk in law school.”

“I didn’t take it seriously enough. For example, I didn’t buy my textbooks until the middle of the first semester,” he said.

At one point, Biden misspoke, saying “Trump” instead of “Nixon” but immediately corrected himself adding: “Excuse me – Freudian slip.”

He also described the family meeting he held after then-Sen. Barack Obama asked him to be his running mate.

Jill Biden said, “‘You got to do it,’ and I said, ‘What?’ She said, ‘Otherwise you’ll be asked to be secretary of state and you’ll be away all the time.’”

He then detailed how his mother chastised him for giving up the potential opportunity to be vice president to the first Black man in history – a story he’s told on the campaign trail.

Biden also talked about recent actions by his administration to crack down on junk fees, including a move announced earlier this week that will require airlines to provide cash refunds to travelers who experience significant delays – not vouchers or travel credits.

“When you’re raised and come up in a middle-class family all this stuff matters to you. It matters,” Biden said, adding, “There’s a lot of junk fees too.”

This story has been updated with additional reporting.

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