WhatsApp Logo Subscribe
For News Alert

News

Biden, Trump agree to two presidential debates

US intel chief warns of increasing threats to 2024 election

By AFP

May 16, 2024 11:07 AM


File photos

Twitter Share Facebook Share WhatsApp Share

US President Joe Biden and Donald Trump agreed Wednesday to hold election debates in June and September, with the rivals trading barbs about their first on-stage meetings in nearly four years.

The sudden agreement, ending months of uncertainty over whether the debates would happen at all, came after Biden, 81, challenged his scandal-tinged Republican rival to "make my day."

Trump, 77, quickly responded that he was "ready to rumble" -- and within hours CNN announced it would host the first debate in Atlanta on June 27 and ABC said it would stage the second on September 10.

With former president Trump leading polls in battleground states, Biden appeared to be trying to seize the initiative by proposing both the dates and an audience-free format for the debates.

It represents a calculated political risk against a supreme political showman, with Biden hoping to use the debates to overcome concerns about his age and remind voters of Trump's chaotic time in the White House.

When asked by an AFP reporter if he was looking forward to the debates, Biden replied: "I am."

Earlier, he said in a video on X: "Donald Trump lost two debates to me in 2020. Since then, he hasn't shown up for a debate. Now he's acting like he wants to debate me again. Well, make my day, pal."

Biden also trolled Trump over his criminal hush-money trial in New York, which features a mid-week break, adding: "I hear you're free on Wednesdays."

Trump's swift acceptance reflected the fact that Trump -- who avoided any debates with his Republican rivals -- has been itching to get his message out after weeks stuck in court.

"Let's get ready to Rumble!!!" he wrote on his Truth Social app, describing Biden as the "WORST debater I have ever faced."

"I would strongly recommend more than two debates and, for excitement purposes, a very large venue, although Biden is supposedly afraid of crowds."

CNN confirmed there would be no audience for its June debate.

- 'Shut up, man' -

Both candidates shunned the traditional bipartisan commission that has run debates since 1988, and which had proposed three debates in September to October.

The first debate will be unusually early in the year, before the Republican convention in July where Trump is set to be formally anointed as the party's candidate.

Trump later said he'd accepted a third invitation from right-wing Fox News, and his campaign called for adding debates in July and August.

Biden's campaign poured cold water on that, with campaign chair Jen O'Malley Dillon saying the president had "made his terms clear for two one-on-one debates."

The last debates between the two men in 2020 were tension-filled affairs, with Biden at one point snapping "will you shut up, man?" as Trump repeatedly talked over him.

It was later revealed that Trump had also tested positive for Covid shortly before that debate, without informing organizers.

This time, Biden's campaign said it would bypass the debate commission because of its "failure" to meet the needs of voters.

The Biden campaign rejected the commission's proposals for debate with a "raucous or disruptive" audience and wanted candidates' microphones to be kept off when it was not their turn to speak, O'Malley Dillon said in a letter obtained by AFP.

Earlier debates would also favor early voters -- who often lean Democratic.

Neither debate was set to involve independent challenger Robert F. Kennedy Jr.

Kennedy accused Trump and Biden of "colluding to lock America into a head-to-head match-up that 70 percent say they do not want," in a statement on X.

Biden and Trump both believed they could highlight each others' weaknesses to voters, said Ken Miller, an associate professor of political science at the University of Nevada, Las Vegas.

"My guess is that Biden wants to remind people of Trump's abrasive personality," he told AFP, adding that an "early debate offers Trump a rare chance to get out in front of voters."

But the effect on voters could be negligible given that both men are known quantities.

"Presidential debates rarely have had any long-lasting effects on voters' opinions," he added.

US intel chief warns of increasing threats to 2024 election

The 2024 US election is under threat from a growing number of foreign actors using ever more sophisticated methods to conduct interference, the country's top intelligence official warned Wednesday.

Director of National Intelligence Avril Haines singled out Russia, China and Iran as the worst offenders -- but added the federal government had never been better prepared to protect American democracy from foreign influence.

"(There) are an increasing number of foreign actors, including non-state entities, who are looking to engage in election influence activities," she told US senators at a hearing on threats to the 2024 US election.

State actors are increasingly using private companies to conduct election influence operations, she said, making it harder to track down the instigators of such efforts.

She warned that innovations in artificial intelligence (AI) had enabled foreign actors to produce seemingly authentic political messages more efficiently, at greater scale, and with content adapted for different languages and cultures.

"And, of course, the most significant foreign actors who engage in foreign influence activity directed at the United States in relation to our elections are Russia, the People's Republic of China, or PRC, and Iran," Haines said.

"Specifically, Russia remains the most active foreign threat to our elections."

Haines's warning came during the first in a series of hearings planned by the Senate Intelligence Committee ahead of November's election, which will almost certainly be a rematch of the 2020 showdown between President Joe Biden and ex-president Donald Trump.

Washington has sanctioned and prosecuted numerous Russians for spreading disinformation to disrupt US democracy in recent years, including over efforts to influence the 2016 presidential election that brought Trump to the White House.

Committee chairman Mark Warner told the hearing that adversaries, including Russia's President Vladimir Putin, were "more incentivized than ever" to interfere.

"Putin clearly understands that influencing public opinion and shaping elections in the United States is a cheap way to erode American and Western support for Ukraine," Warner said.

He echoed Haines's concern that AI-powered audio and video manipulation -- such as a fake robocall in which Biden apparently gave voters the wrong date for January's New Hampshire primary -- were boosting the scale and sophistication of attacks.

"I fear that Congress's inability to pass any new guardrails in the last eight years for AI-enabled mischief really could pose a huge problem," Warner said. "The truth is, these tools are out there and growing in their danger."

Jen Easterly, director of the Cybersecurity and Infrastructure Security Agency, offered a reason for optimism, arguing US election infrastructure had never been more secure.

Giving the lie to claims of widespread fraud in the 2020 election by Trump and his allies, she said there was no evidence that malicious actors "changed, deleted or altered votes or had any material impact on the outcome" of elections in 2018, 2020 or 2022.


AFP


Most Read

  1. Saudi plane catches fire while landing at Peshawar Airport Saudi plane catches fire while landing at Peshawar Airport
  2. PTM leader, poet Gilaman Wazir succumbs to injuries in Islamabad PTM leader, poet Gilaman Wazir succumbs to injuries in Islamabad
  3. Shocking! Savera Nadeem’s extreme weight loss stuns fans Shocking! Savera Nadeem’s extreme weight loss stuns fans
  4. EU top court rules against Austria wolf hunting EU top court rules against Austria wolf hunting
  5. FlyDubai plane makes emergency landing at Karachi Airport FlyDubai plane makes emergency landing at Karachi Airport
  6. TV anchor Ayesha Jehanzeb opens up about painful marriage and father’s behaviour TV anchor Ayesha Jehanzeb opens up about painful marriage and father’s behaviour