The Latest | Biden and Trump prepare to debate for the first time in 2024 election season

ATLANTA — U.S. President Joe Biden and his Republican rival, Donald Trump, will meet Thursday for the first general election debate of the 2024 season — a chance for both candidates to try to reshape the political narrative and persuade undecided voters.

Biden, the Democratic incumbent, has the opportunity to reassure voters that, at 81, he’s capable of guiding the U.S. through a range of challenges. Meanwhile, the 78-year-old Trump could use the moment to try to move past his felony conviction in New York and convince an audience of tens of millions that he’s temperamentally suited to return to the Oval Office.

Thursday’s debate in Atlanta will mark at least a couple of firsts — never before have two White House contenders faced off at such advanced ages, and never before has CNN hosted a general election presidential debate.


— How the Biden-Trump debate could change the trajectory of the 2024 campaign

— How to watch the presidential debate, which begins at 9 p.m. EDT

— Here’s what’s at stake for Biden and Trump in this week’s presidential debate

— A look at the false claims candidates may present mid-debate

— Most Americans plan to watch the Biden-Trump debate, and many see high stakes, an AP-NORC poll finds

Here’s the latest:

Donald Trump’s campaign has accepted an invitation from Fox News for his yet-to-be-chosen running mate to debate Vice President Kamala Harris, and he urged her to accept as well. In fact, Harris has already said she’ll debate — but on a rival network.

Fox News said in a statement it offered to host a VP debate on July 23, August 13 or a day after both party conventions. Harris’ team previously told CBS she would debate in-studio on the July or August dates Fox mentioned.

President Joe Biden’s campaign signaled it would reject Trump’s offer, an official pointing to the acceptable debate parameters it detailed earlier this week. Under those conditions, a Fox News-hosted debate would not qualify.

Trump’s post on his social media network came after Harris accepted a different invitation from CBS News.

CNN has responded to calls from the White House Correspondents’ Association to allow an independent print reporter into the studio during tonight’s presidential debate to send out behind-the-scenes reports. The network says the event is “closed to press” — meaning that outside journalists are not allowed access to it.

“As proud members of the White House Correspondents Association, we respect the role the organization plays and their support for press freedom and access,” CNN said in a statement. The debate was “being held without an audience in a CNN studio and is closed to press.”

Independent presidential candidate Robert F. Kennedy Jr. won’t be with his better-known rivals, U.S. President Joe Biden and former President Donald Trump, tonight in Atlanta.

CNN invited candidates who showed strength in four reliable polls and ballot access in enough states to win the presidency. Kennedy fell short on both requirements.

Aside from a livestreamed response to the debate, Kennedy has nothing on his public schedule for the coming weeks. Nor does his running mate, philanthropist Nicole Shanahan.

First Lady Jill Biden has arrived for the debate at Dobbins Air Reserve Base in Marietta, Georgia, a suburb of Atlanta.

Her plane taxied past Air Force One where her husband had deplaned about 90 minutes earlier.

Like the president, Jill Biden was greeted by Democratic officials from metro Atlanta.

She then made a brief stop at a Biden-Harris fundraising retreat at the Ritz-Carlton in downtown Atlanta, where she said of her husband: “I know Joe’s ready to go. He’s prepared; he’s confident. You’ve all seen him today. You know what a great debater he is. And good is on his side.”

Atlanta is providing quite the backdrop for the first presidential debate of the 2024 general election.

In 2020, Georgia went into Joe Biden’s win column by 11,779 votes out of about 5 million cast. The city of Atlanta quickly became the epicenter of Donald Trump’s efforts to overturn Biden’s victory. Trump would later be indicted by a Fulton County grand jury after he was caught on tape pressuring GOP officials “to find 11,780 votes.”

He awaits trial at the downtown Atlanta courthouse, a few miles from CNN’s debate studio. Trump already had a complicated relationship with the city: In a 2017 feud with civil rights icon John Lewis, he cast Atlanta as “crime infested.”

Biden and Vice President Kamala Harris, meanwhile, have campaigned often in and around Atlanta.

“Georgia is the reason I’m president right now,” Biden said at a May fundraiser.

After months of casting U.S. President Joe Biden as a senile shell of a man incapable of putting two sentences together, Donald Trump has changed his tune.

The former president and presumptive GOP nominee and his campaign are trying to adjust expectations amid concerns that Biden’s bar has been set so low that he is sure to exceed it. The effort to recalibrate expectations underscores the stakes for both men in a race that has appeared largely static for months.

Trump — who has never admitted he lost fairly to Biden in 2020 and continues to spread false and unproven theories about election fraud — may also be setting up a series of excuses in case he is outperformed by Biden during Thursday’s debate.

“Maybe I’m better off losing the debate,” Trump quipped in an interview with Real America’s Voice earlier in June. “I’ll make sure he stays. I’ll lose the debate on purpose, maybe I’ll do something like that.”

Donald Trump’s niece Mary Trump will be among U.S. President Joe Biden’s supporters in the post-debate spin room at Georgia Tech, the president’s campaign confirmed.

Mary Trump has been among her uncle’s most personal critics, publishing a book about him and the dynamics of her extended family.

U.S. President Joe Biden and former President Donald Trump have taken starkly different approaches in preparing for their debate Thursday evening.

Biden had an intense period of private preparations at Camp David. The 81-year-old Democrat’s team is aware he cannot afford an underwhelming performance when he faces Trump.

The president’s aides have been reluctant to share details about his preparations, but they’ve signaled he’s preparing to be aggressive and wouldn’t shy away from using the term “convicted felon” to describe his opponent.

They expect aggressive attacks on Biden’s physical and mental strength, his record on the economy and immigration, and even his family.

Quentin Fulks, Biden’s deputy campaign manager, said that while the president will speak broadly to all Americans, he plans to “talk to Republican voters” specifically “because of who Donald Trump is and his extremism.”

Meanwhile, Trump, 78, largely remained on the campaign trail before heading to his Florida estate for two days of private meetings as part of an informal prep process.

Trump’s allies are pushing him to stay focused on his governing plans but expect him to be tested by pointed questions about his unrelenting focus on election fraud, his role in the erosion of abortion rights and his unprecedented legal baggage. The debate is being held just two weeks before Trump is scheduled to be sentenced on 34 felony counts in his New York hush money trial.

Although Trump’s advisors have refused to share any of his strategy, hours before the debate, Trump posted an image of what appeared to be debate talking points provided to him by Andrew Wheeler, former Environmental Protection Agency head, suggesting ways he should go after Biden on climate questions.

“Mr. President, I am sure that a climate question will come up during your debate this week and I suggest the following talking points,” Wheeler wrote.

The former president posted the talking points without comment.

Donald Trump’s private plane has landed in Atlanta ahead of Thursday’s first general election presidential debate.

A group of his supporters gathered on the tarmac to witness the landing and cheered as he touched down.

There is no live audience in the CNN studios where Donald Trump and U.S. President Joe Biden will debate on Thursday evening.

That means there is no red carpet stream of elected officials, campaign donors and leaders in Midtown Atlanta, and it makes for an unusual atmosphere around the debate site.

Former U.S. Sen. Kelly Loeffler, R-Ga., is hosting a watch party and fundraiser elsewhere in metro Atlanta.

There’s a $10,000 get-in price, according to an invitation to the event, and several of Trump’s prospective running mates will be there. Trump may speak to attendees after the debate.

Georgia’s Republican and Democratic state parties are hosting their own watch parties too. Biden and first lady Jill Biden are scheduled to stop by the Democratic event late Thursday night.

CNN’s Dana Bash and Jake Tapper will moderate the presidential debate between U.S. President Joe Biden and Donald Trump, and there’s a lot on the line for their network as it fights for relevance in a changing media environment.

CNN has hosted dozens of town halls and political forums through the years, but never a general election presidential debate, let alone one so early in a campaign. No network has.

“This is a huge moment for CNN,” said former CNN Washington bureau chief Frank Sesno, now a media and public affairs professor at George Washington University. “CNN has to reassert itself. It has to show that it led a revolution in news before and can do it again.”

The candidates have agreed to meet at a CNN studio in Atlanta, where each candidate’s microphone will be muted, except when it’s his turn to speak.

Additionally, no props or prewritten notes will be allowed onstage. The candidates will be given only a pen, a pad of paper and a bottle of water.

There will be no opening statements. A coin flip determined Biden would stand at the podium to the viewer’s right, while Trump would deliver the final closing statement.

Going without a live audience was important to the Biden campaign, but also to CNN. The network’s town hall with Trump in 2023 was panned in large part because of the presence of Trump partisans.

The security around the debate site and nearby press filing center is tightening up as tonight’s showdown draws nigh.

Unscalable fencing has gone up around the CNN studios where President Joe Biden and former President Donald Trump will meet, as well as the Georgia Tech arena where hundreds of journalists are gathered to cover the debate.

There have been at least a few protesters near the site, including a man clad in a black-and-white prison-style outfit and a sign reading “Lock Biden Up.”

Various groups have indicated their intent to gather near the debate site, but a downpour of mid-afternoon rain may be dampening — literally — some of those plans.

White House correspondents are upset with CNN for not allowing one of its members inside the Atlanta studio during the debate to file pool reports on what happens there that isn’t captured by cameras.

CNN offered to give access to one print reporter during a commercial break, but White House Correspondents’ Association President Kelly O’Donnell of NBC News said that’s not enough.

“The White House pool has a duty to document, report and witness the president’s events and his movements on behalf of the American people,” O’Donnell said in a letter to CNN. “The pool is there for the ‘what ifs?’ in a world where the unexpected does happen.”

O’Donnell says the White House Correspondents Association has been pressing its case for weeks with CNN, which is running the debate, as well as with the Biden and Trump campaigns.

CNN has no immediate response to O’Donnell, but has maintained there is no room for a pool reporter — even though there will be photographers present.

The network noted that the debate is being held in one of its studios without an audience and is considered a private event — even though tens of millions of people are expected to watch on television or streaming.

About 6 in 10 U.S. adults say they are “extremely” or “very” likely to watch the debate live or in clips, or read about or listen to commentary about the performance of the candidates in the news or social media, according to a new poll from The Associated Press-NORC Center for Public Affairs Research.

Former President Donald Trump’s handpicked party leader wants the former president to talk about the future rather than the past in tonight’s debate.

Republican National Committee Chairman Michael Whatley told The Associated Press that Trump should “talk about the opportunity we have as a country to pick change” and “to lay out his vision for where we need to go” after the “failure under Joe Biden’s four years.”

Whatley notably did not mention the 2020 election and Trump’s lies that his defeat was fraudulent. He also did not mention Trump’s felony conviction and other pending indictments. Asked specifically whether he thinks Trump should avoid those issues, Whatley said the debate is “an opportunity in front tens of millions of Americans to talk to them about this election cycle. We need to take advantage.”

A lively crowd of supporters greeted President Joe Biden as he arrived at his Atlanta hotel ahead of tonight’s debate.

The crowd of about 50 chanted “Four more years.” Many wore campaign T-shirts. Some held placards with Biden’s trademark aviator sunglasses on them. Others had signs with the face of Biden’s alter ego “Dark Brandon.”

The president pumped his fist and embraced one man, a possible sign of how he’s getting energized for the evening’s showdown with former President Donald Trump.

Choosing public service over pure profit, CNN offered to let other networks carry the debate feed; ABC, CBS, NBC, Fox News Channel, MSNBC, PBS and C-SPAN will all do so. The other networks also have the right to sell their own ad time during the two commercial breaks.

The networks had to agree to CNN’s rules — they must keep CNN’s insignia onscreen and can’t interrupt with their own commentators while the debate airs. Internationally, only CNN is carrying it.

The debate begins at 9 p.m. EDT and will last for 90 minutes.

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