Muted mics, no props: CNN details rules for Biden and Trump debate

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The first US presidential debate between incumbent Joe Biden and Republican rival Donald Trump on 27 June will include two commercial breaks, no props and muted microphones except when recognized to speak, CNN said Saturday.

The rules, agreed outside the Commission on Presidential Debates, are designed to reduce fractious interruptions and cross-talk that have often marred TV encounters in recent presidential election cycles.

CNN, a division of Warner Bros Discovery, said debate moderators Jake Tapper and Dana Bash “will use all tools at their disposal to enforce timing and ensure a civilized discussion” during the 90-minute broadcast from Atlanta.

Another Biden-Trump face-off will be hosted by ABC anchors David Muir and Linsey Davis in September. The traditional October debate will not take place as part of the agreement between the two campaigns and television networks that cut out the commission following years of complaints and perceived slights.

CNN said both candidates will appear at a uniform podium during the 90-minute debate, podium positions will be determined by a coin flip and candidates will be given a pen, a pad of paper and a bottle of water but cannot use props.

“Microphones will be muted throughout the debate except for the candidate whose turn it is to speak,” CNN said.

The network also said that during the two commercial breaks, campaign staff will not be permitted to interact with their candidate, and unlike previous debates there will be no studio audience.

Biden and Trump, the two oldest candidates ever to run for US president, will be seeking the support of an uncommonly large swathe of undecided voters who may only begin to pay close attention to the contest closer to the 5 November election day.

But with polls already narrowing in crucial swing states, the debates come with risks for both candidates with markedly different styles of governance – on a seasoned senator who relies on an extensive staff for policy positions, and a New York developer-turned-reality TV star who shoots from the hip.

According to a Reuters/Ipsos poll earlier this month, Biden is losing support among voters without college degrees, a large group that includes Black people, Hispanic women, young voters and suburban women.

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The essence of the argument – Biden accuses his predecessor of being unhinged and a danger to democracy, while Trump accuses Biden of being senile and corrupt – has so far left many voters cool to the prospect of a 2024 rematch between two political candidates who, at 81 and 78, are twice the US median age.

According to a campaign memo viewed by Reuters, Biden has three preferred debate topics: abortion rights, the state of democracy and the economy. Trump’s team has indicated that immigration, public safety and inflation are his key issues.

The hosting networks will be keen to ensure that the twin debates will run more smoothly than in 2020, when the discussion focused on Trump’s pandemic response and moderator Chris Wallace had to step in to remind the candidates he was asking the questions.

The second scheduled debate set for October did not take place due to Trump’s Covid-19 diagnosis and his refusal to appear remotely rather than in person. In this election cycle, both candidates have refused to refused to debate rivals for their party’s nomination.

CNN said that candidates eligible to participate must appear on a sufficient number of state ballots to reach the 270 electoral vote threshold needed to win and receive at least 15% in four separate national polls.

It said it was “not impossible” that independent candidate Robert F. Kennedy Jr, could still qualify, saying he has received at least 15% in three qualifying polls to date and has qualified for the ballot in six states, making him eligible for 89 electoral college votes.

The Kennedy campaign said Saturday that its polling showed he was now in second place alongside Biden in Utah, but behind Trump, and that he outpaces Biden and Trump among independents nationally.

Reuters contributed to this story

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