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Biden team concerned about 'risk' of letting him debate Trump, Politico columnist argues

President Biden’s team worries that debate with former President Trump would “risk exposing” the chief executive on national TV, Politico politics bureau chief Jonathan Martin said on NBC’s “Meet the Press” Sunday.

During a Friday interview with Howard Stern, Biden said he would be “happy to debate” Trump. The former president answered the challenge, saying he would be willing to debate that very night.

“I’m curious what Jen Psaki’s reaction would have been like, if she was still in the White House, when she heard President Biden blurt out during a live interview that he was gonna debate,” said Martin, who also serves as Politico’s senior political columnist. “Because Biden folks don’t want him to debate. They don’t want to give Trump that platform and risk exposing Biden like that on national TV.”

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Psaki, Biden’s former press secretary who was also on the “Meet the Press” panel, didn’t contradict him, but suggested that rejecting an offer to debate would be hazardous for the president’s image as well.

“I was thinking, if I was in my old job from two years ago, you also don’t want him to say ‘no,’ because ‘no’ is weak, and ‘no’ is fear, so you have to say ‘yes,’” she said. “They both have to say ‘yes.’ Now, whether this happens, we all know there’s lots of things that need to be negotiated.”

Martin said that if Biden does debate Trump, “I think it will be a tell for us this summer that Biden has got ground to make up still.”

“Meet the Press” host Kristen Welker said the war in Gaza would undoubtedly be a key issue in a debate between Biden and Trump.

NBC panel

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“One of the issues that they will undoubtedly both have to deal with if they debate, Geoff Bennett, is what is happening in the Middle East,” she said. “We are seeing how fraught that issue is. It’s playing out on college campuses all across the country with these protesters. As we’ve said, they’re not monolithic in their messaging, but this is something they have to grapple with.”

PBS News Hour co-host Geoff Bennett said that while many prominent young people are concerned about the war in Gaza, it is the state of the economy that will be a greater influence on the youth vote. 

“We’ve seen President Biden trying to calibrate his message, on the one hand condemning antisemitism on college campuses, on the other hand defending students’ rights to protest. I’ve talked with Biden allies who say that yes, these protests are significant. It’s unclear right now what the impact will be, in large part because the students that are actively engaged in these demonstrations as the Biden campaign sees it, they are a subset of a subset of the electorate, and if he has any challenges with younger voters, it likely won’t be on this issue of the humanitarian catastrophe in Gaza,” he argued.

Bennett suggested that instead, “It will likely be on economic issues and the high cost of living and so on and so forth. But it really speaks to the ways in which President Biden has a challenge, really, in trying to keep together this broad disparate coalition of voters.”

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