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Thursday, April 11, 2024 | Back issues
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RNC votes to leave presidential debate commission

The commission has hosted debates between the two major parties since 1988.

WASHINGTON (CN) — The Republican National Committee voted unanimously Thursday to withdraw from the Commission on Presidential Debates, effectively barring future Republican presidential candidates from participating in the organization's annual debates.

The move comes after years of GOP criticism that the nonprofit panel favors Democratic candidates, accusations spurred on by former President Donald Trump. The commission was founded by both parties in 1987 and has run every presidential debate since 1988.

In a statement, RNC chair Ronna McDaniel accused the commission of bias in its selection of moderators and the time chosen for debates, but made clear that the vote does not mean Republican candidates will stop participating in public debates entirely.

"We are going to find newer, better debate platforms to ensure that future nominees are not forced to go through the biased CPD in order to make their case to the American people," McDaniel said.

This past January, McDaniel signaled the RNC's willingness to leave the debates for good when she sent a letter to the commission demanding the panel make reforms including setting term limits for its board and barring members from commenting publicly about presidential candidates. In the letter, McDaniel threatened to bar future candidates for the White House from official debates if the commission did not make changes to its organization.

Conflict between Republicans and the commission took center stage in 2020 when Steve Scully, a former Biden staffer and then-C-SPAN contributor, was slated to moderate the second presidential debate.

Trump publicly criticized the commission’s selection of Scully, who was eventually placed on leave from C-SPAN after he tweeted at Anthony Scaramucci requesting advice for responding to Trump and then claimed his Twitter was hacked.

In her January letter, McDaniel condemned the commission’s selection of Scully, noting his decades-old work for Biden was a “glaring conflict of interest.”

That 2020 debate was ultimately canceled after Trump rejected the commission's recommendation for a virtual debate. Trump had been diagnosed with Covid-19 the week before, leading the panel to request pandemic precautions.

As a result of the dispute, Biden and Trump held competing town halls on differing TV networks in lieu of a commission-sponsored debate.

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