Panel rejects Donald Trump's request to add a fourth debate with Joe Biden

WASHINGTON – The Commission on Presidential Debates on Thursday rejected a Trump campaign request to add a fourth debate to the calendar or move up an existing one to the first week of September in order to address an expected surge in early voting. 

In a letter to the president's personal attorney Rudy Giuliani, who made the request on behalf of the campaign, the nonpartisan commission said it was committed to the schedule and while some states begin early voting before the first debate, voters are under no obligation to cast their ballot before hearing from Trump or his challenger Joe Biden, the presumptive Democratic presidential nominee. 

“There is a difference between ballots having been issued by a state and those ballots having been cast by voters, who are under no compulsion to return their ballots before the debates,” the commission wrote in a letter obtained by USA TODAY.

The commission pointed out in its letter that during the 2016 election, which had a similar debate schedule, "only .0069% of the electorate had voted at the time of the first debate." 

“While more people will likely vote by mail in 2020, the debate schedule has been and will be highly publicized,” the commission said. “Any voter who wishes to watch one or more debates before voting will be well aware of that opportunity." 

Giuliani, the former New York mayor, swiftly responded Thursday, saying the Trump campaign was disappointed by the decision.

“We continue to believe that the American people deserve to see their candidates for president compare their records and visions for the United States before actual voting begins,“ he wrote.

The 2020 presidential debates are scheduled for Sep. 29 in Cleveland, Oct. 15 in Miami, and Oct. 22 in Nashville. A vice presidential debate is slated for Oct. 7 in Salt Lake City. 

The Trump campaign contends the debates, scheduled between Sept. 29 and Oct. 22, leave voters in several states without a chance to see a Trump and Biden match-up before casting the first ballots. Early voting begins in North Carolina on Sept. 4, followed by Georgia on Sept. 15 and the key battleground state of Florida on Sept. 24. 

Giuliani proposed moving the last debate scheduled for Oct. 22 to the first week in September if the commission denied the campaign request for an additional debate. 

The commission, which has hosted three presidential debates and one vice presidential debate in every election since 1988, noted that it would consider adding a fourth debate if both Trump and Biden agreed to it. 

“If the candidates were to agree that they wished to add to that schedule, the Commission would consider that request but remains committed to the schedule of debates it has planned as reflected in the attached release," the commission said. 

The Trump campaign also included in its request a list of suggested moderators for the debates. The commission said it would stick to its longstanding process of selecting moderators. 

"It will do so with great care, as always, to ensure that the selected moderators are qualified and fair," the letter said. 

Contributing: Savannah Behrmann