Biden, Trump agree to June debate in Atlanta

It will be the first general election presidential debate in Georgia history

President Joe Biden said he has accepted an invitation from CNN for a June 27 debate in Atlanta against former President Donald Trump, setting the stage for a potential summer showdown in a pivotal battleground state.

“Over to you, Donald,” Biden said in a statement confirming the debate, which will be held at the cable network’s Atlanta studios with no audience. Trump soon said it was his “great honor” to accept the invite, the first on-screen clash between the two since 2020.

The agreement, hashed out over a series of social media posts, appears to end a long-running feud over the timing and format of showdowns between the two as they compete in a rematch many voters have said they dread.

Biden on Wednesday jettisoned the bipartisan commission that has organized White House debates for decades and proposed a new schedule with a pair of debates in June and September. The two also agreed to a Sept. 10 debate hosted by ABC News.

The accord paves the way for what could be the earliest presidential debate in decades, but also one devoid of the raucous audiences that Trump feeds off. Biden’s campaign prefers it take place inside a TV studio with strict speaking time limits — and no involvement from Robert F. Kennedy Jr. or other third-party candidates.

The June showdown — to be moderated by CNN’s Jake Tapper and Dana Bash — would bring more attention to Georgia, one of a handful of competitive states that both campaigns are fighting to win in November. It will be the state’s first general election presidential debate, though a Democratic primary debate was held in Atlanta in 2019 and a vice presidential showdown was held here in 1992.

Biden became the first Democratic presidential contender to capture the state in nearly three decades when he narrowly defeated Trump in 2020. Jon Ossoff and Raphael Warnock followed with upset U.S. Senate victories in 2021 and 2022.

Republicans see Georgia as a linchpin in Trump’s reelection campaign and promise to devote resources to flipping back the state despite deep, and lingering, fissures among local Republicans over his comeback bid.

Polls show a tight race in Georgia. Both campaigns worry about reforging the coalitions that powered their previous victories in a state once so solidly conservative that presidential contenders hardly bothered to visit.

Trump scored a solid 5-point victory over Hillary Rodham Clinton in Georgia in 2016, but Democrats flipped suburban Cobb, Gwinnett and Henry counties for the first time in decades. Those victories heralded a trend that would play out over the next three election cycles, as more independent and moderate voters in the suburbs fueled Democratic gains.

Four years later, Biden became the first Democrat to capture Georgia since Bill Clinton’s 1992 victory. But Democrats are now fretting that the tenuous alliance of Black voters, swing suburbanites and liberals is fraying amid frustration with Biden’s agenda.

Trump’s top Georgia allies welcomed the Republican’s upcoming appearance. Lt. Gov. Burt Jones said the Atlanta faceoff signals that the “road to the White House runs right through Georgia.”

“I’m excited for Georgians to get a firsthand look at the stark contrast between President Trump and Joe Biden’s failed presidency,” said Jones, who won Georgia’s No. 2 job in 2022 with Trump’s blessing.

Democrats were quick to note that one of Trump’s most recent visits to Georgia took place in August, when he was booked into the Fulton County Jail on charges of conspiring to overturn his 2020 election defeat. He has pleaded not guilty, and the trial is likely to be postponed until next year as an appeals court reviews the case. Trump returned to the state in March for a rally in Rome and then attended a fundraiser in April in Atlanta.

“President Biden made his terms clear for two one-on-one debates, and Donald Trump accepted those terms,” Biden adviser Jen O’Malley Dillon said. “No more games. No more chaos, no more debate about debates. We’ll see Donald Trump on June 27 in Atlanta — if he shows up.”