Biden's campaign will not commit yet to participating in general election debates in 2024

President Joe Biden delivers remarks at the White House Tribal Nations Summit at the Department of the Interior, Wednesday, Dec. 6, 2023, in Washington. (AP Photo/Evan Vucci)
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TUSCALOOSA, Ala. (AP) — President Joe Biden’s campaign is not yet committing to general election debates next year, the latest sign that a staple of modern White House campaigns may not be in play in 2024.

Quentin Fulks, Biden’s top deputy campaign manager, told reporters Wednesday that the president’s reelection campaign would “look at the schedule” that the nonpartisan Commission on Presidential Debates released last month but the focus for now is on assembling a national campaign footprint.

“We will have those conversations,” Fulks said at a Democratic news conference at Wednesday’s Republican presidential primary debate site in Alabama. “But right now,” Fulks said, “our focus is on making sure we continue to build out a campaign and infrastructure that’s going to be able to be competitive in 2024.”

Pressed again, Fulks shifted the focus to Trump and the GOP’s “divisive primary, where their front-runner is not attending debates,” adding that Biden’s team “is focusing on what we need to do to win an election next year."

Trump has skipped all GOP primary debates, including Wednesday’s gathering at the University of Alabama, citing his wide lead over his Republican rivals as justification. Yet he has said a general election campaign would be different.

“We have to debate,” he told Fox News host Bret Baier in a June interview. “He and I have to definitely debate. That’s what I love. The two of us have to debate.”

The Republican primary candidates set to be on stage Wednesday were required to sign a pledge vowing to participate in only those debates sanctioned by the Republican National Committee. The committee has not — and likely will not — sanction any general election debates organized by the Commission on Presidential Debates, having voted unanimously in April 2022 to withdraw from such debates after alleging the commission is biased.

The RNC could decide to release candidates from the pledge, although the GOP’s disdain for the commission remains. Trump never signed the pledge.

The commission’s schedule calls for three presidential debates and one vice presidential debate next fall. The two major party nominees would be invited to meet Sept. 16 at Texas State University in San Marcos, south of Austin. A vice presidential debate is scheduled nine days later at Lafayette College in Easton, Pennsylvania.

Presidential debates planned for Virginia State University in Petersburg on Oct. 1 and the University of Utah in Salt Lake City on Oct. 9 round out the schedule, less than a month before Election Day on Nov. 5.

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Associated Press writer Steve Peoples in New York contributed to this report.