President Joe Biden steps off of Marine One on the...

President Joe Biden steps off of Marine One on the South Lawn of the White House in Washington, Friday, April 26, 2024, as he returns from a trip to New York. Credit: AP/Susan Walsh

NEW YORK — President Joe Biden said Friday that he is willing to debate his presumptive Republican opponent, Donald Trump, later this fall – his most definitive comment yet on the issue.

Trump said he was ready, though he questioned Bidens's willingness.

Biden's comment came during an interview with the Sirius XM radio host Howard Stern, who asked him whether he would participate in debates against Trump.

“I am, somewhere. I don’t know when,” Biden said. “But I’m happy to debate him.”

Until now, Biden’s reelection campaign had declined to commit to participating in the debates, a hallmark of every general election presidential campaign since 1976.

Biden himself had also been vague, saying in March that whether he debated Trump “depends on his behavior.” The two men debated twice during the 2020 general election — a campaign year constrained significantly by COVID-19 restrictions — and Biden was notably irritated by Trump's antics in the chaotic first debate that year.

“Will you shut up?” Biden told Trump at one point during the first debate.

Former President Donald Trump, with his attorney Todd Blanche at...

Former President Donald Trump, with his attorney Todd Blanche at his side, speaks with the media at the end of the day's proceedings in his trial at Manhattan criminal court , Friday, April 26, 2024, in New York. Credit: AP/Dave Sanders

Trump campaign officials have said for some time that the former president is prepared to debate Biden anytime, and Chris LaCivita, Trump campaign senior adviser, quickly responded to Biden’s remarks on the social media site X: “OK let’s set it up!”

Later Friday, Trump reacted to Biden's new public willingness to debate by saying “everyone knows he doesn't really mean it” but suggested either next Monday evening, Tuesday evening or Wednesday evening, when Trump will be campaigning in Michigan. The former president is suggesting evenings because he is otherwise attending proceedings for his hush money criminal trial in New York.

Trump is required to be in court every day but Wednesdays. In a statement on his own social media platform, Trump also challenged Biden to debate at the Manhattan courthouse on Friday night, since both men were in New York at the same time. Biden has since returned to Washington.

Yet Friday is also Melania Trump's birthday, and the former president had already said earlier in the day that he was flying back to Florida to spend the day with his wife once his trial had wrapped for the day.

As Trump left court for the day in New York on Friday afternoon, he repeated his challenge and said: “We’re ready. Just tell me where. I will do it at the White House. That would be very comfortable, actually.”

Trump did not participate in any of the Republican primary debates this cycle.

The Commission on Presidential Debates has already announced the dates and locations for the three general election debates between the presidential candidates: Sept. 16 in San Marcos, Texas; Oct. 1 in Petersburg, Virginia; and Oct. 9 in Salt Lake City. The lone vice presidential debate is slated for Sept. 25 in Easton, Pennsylvania.

A dozen news organizations, including The Associated Press, wrote to the Biden and Trump campaigns earlier this month to urge both candidates to participate in the debates.

Biden engages in relatively fewer press interviews than his predecessors, and his aides tend to choose outlets and media avenues outside the traditional press corps that covers the president in Washington. His interview with Stern on Friday, which ran well over an hour, took on an informal and introspective tone and spanned topics that included Biden’s upbringing, family, and his favorite president (Thomas Jefferson, Biden said).

The interview also occurred the day after The New York Times issued a statement criticizing Biden for shunning formal interviews and conducting fewer news conferences than his predecessors. The newspaper said that its publisher, A.G. Sulzberger, has urged senior Biden officials to agree to presidential interviews not just with the Times but with other news outlets.

Still, the timing of the Stern interview was coincidental; a person familiar with the plans said the White House has been working with the Sirius XM host for weeks to arrange the conversation. The person was granted anonymity to discuss internal planning processes.

Less the “shock jock” of old, Stern still commands a loyal audience. And he’s become known for his conversational interviewing skills. He can turn talks with celebrities into revealing discussions, often by asking things others might be afraid to, but not in confrontational ways.

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