TV Networks to Urge Biden and Trump to Debate, Wading Into a Fraught Topic

In an unusual move, the five major broadcast and cable news networks have prepared a joint open letter that urges President Biden and former President Donald J. Trump to participate in televised debates ahead of Election Day, according to two people with direct knowledge of their plans.

The letter — endorsed by ABC, CBS, CNN, NBC and Fox News — thrusts into public view a question that has swirled within media and political circles: whether the presidential debates, one of the nation’s last remaining mass civic rituals in a polarized age, will occur this year at all.

“We, the undersigned national news organizations, urge the presumptive presidential nominees to publicly commit to participating in general election debates before November’s election,” the letter reads, according to a draft version obtained by The New York Times.

The letter has not yet been finalized, and the networks are also seeking endorsements from other leading national news organizations, including newspapers.

Mr. Biden has repeatedly declined to commit to participating in the three debates scheduled for September and October. His aides say they are concerned that the Commission on Presidential Debates, the nonpartisan group that has organized the telecasts since 1988, will be unable to enforce the rules when Mr. Trump takes the stage.

Mr. Trump has vowed to debate, and has taken to taunting Mr. Biden for not following suit. But Mr. Trump’s track record is mixed: In 2020, he pulled out of a debate against Mr. Biden at the last minute, prompting its cancellation, and in the recent Republican primary he refused to appear onstage, even once, with his opponents.

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