ϲʿֱ

Texas State was set to host first presidential debate. How Biden, Trump upended that plan.

Lily Kepner
Austin American-Statesman

Texas State University was set to be the first university in the state to host a presidential debate this fall, committing $5 million for the endeavor.

But President Joe Biden and former President Donald Trump — the likely nominees — have different plans. The candidates are skipping the stop in San Marcos, about 30 miles south of Austin, as well as the two other planned debates by the Commission on Presidential Debates. Instead, they'll have two debates — one hosted by CNN in Atlanta on June 27 and another produced by ABC on Sept. 10. The Texas State debate was set for Sept. 16.

"We are aware of the latest developments surrounding the presidential debates. We are working closely with the Commission on Presidential Debates as we assess the situation," the university told the American-Statesman in a statement.

The nonpartisan, nonprofit Commission on Presidential Debates has produced and sponsored all presidential debates since 1988. The Republican National Committee in 2022, however from the commission, accusing it of bias, a claim Trump had also put forth. The Biden campaign has also expressed frustration with the commission, saying it didn't enforce its own rules in 2020, allowing Trump, then the incumbent, to constantly interrupt Biden during the televised events.

Biden-Trump debate:Who will moderate the 2024 presidential debates?

Both campaigns have also critiqued the commission for starting its debates after early voting has already begun in some states.

A letter from Jen O'Malley Dillon, the Biden campaign's chair, to the commission Wednesday said "the President will not be participating" in the debates and will instead participate in two debates hosted by CNN and ABC. Neither event is to have a live audience present.

"The Commission's failure, yet again, to schedule debates that will be meaningful to all voters — not just those who cast their ballots late in the fall or on Election Day — underscores the serious limitations of its outdated approach," the letter said.

Trump agreed to the two debates with Biden in a post on social media, though he said he'd prefer more debates, suggesting a third hosted by Fox ϲʿֱ. The Biden team's parameters for debating Trump only involve two one-on-one forums.

Former President Donald Trump and President Joe Biden have agreed to participate in two presidential debates ahead of the November election, but those don't include the debate that had been planned at Texas State University in September.

The candidates are not obligated to participate in debates, and, in the event of a cancellation, the Commission on Presidential Debates will "refund those funds or contributions that have not been spent, expended or committed prior to the cancellation," according to documents previously obtained by the Statesman.

In a May 1 news release in response to criticism by that the debates were being planned to be held too late, the commission said its planned Sept. 16 event was the "earliest televised general election debate ever held" and that it chose the date to make it accessible.

"It was claimed that the CPD’s schedule does not begin until after 'millions of Americans will have already cast their ballots.' The CPD purposefully chose September 16 after a comprehensive study of early voting rules in every state," the commission's statement earlier this month said.

Eric Algoe, Texas State's chief financial officer and executive president for operations, previously told the Statesman that the university had been in nearly weekly meetings with the city of San Marcos and the Texas State University System to prepare for the debate.

Algoe also told the Statesman in December that the university has been preparing to host the presidential debate since 2020, when it was asked by the commission to be "on standby" in case it was selected as an event site.

Texas State was expected to pay a $2.7 million site fee to the commission and committed to "the full cost of all the goods and services," as outlined in the agreement obtained by the Statesman. It is not known how much of the $5 million, which included the site fee and was also expected to fund permanent and temporary improvements, is refundable.

Algoe also previously told the Statesman that renovations to the campus in advance of the Sept. 16 debate were expected to take place over the summer. It is not clear if those improvements will still be made.

Texas State and the Commission on Presidential Debates did not respond to Statesman questions Wednesday.

"We want to make sure that the American people get the most out of this conversation," Adrienne Elrod, a Biden campaign spokesperson, told MSCNBC, "and having the kind of spectacle we saw in 2020 doesn't always work out best for the American people."