Clinton, Sanders Continue to Debate About Debates

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Bernie Sanders and Hillary Clinton say they’re both “confident” that their campaigns will find a workable date for a debate ahead of the New York primary.

But the two sides are not in agreement yet. While the Clinton campaign is aiming for the evening of April 14, the Sanders campaign is resisting that date.

“I’m not quite sure how that works on our schedule. We may have a major rally being scheduled,” Sanders told CNN’s Jake Tapper on “State of the Union.”

Clinton brought up the April 14 proposal on NBC’s “Meet the Press” and asked, “Is he in?”

“I’m confident that there will be” a debate before the April 19 New York primary, Clinton said, but added, “I’m not the one negotiating it. That’s going on between our campaigns. And I do know my campaign has really been trying to get a time that Sen. Sanders’ campaign would agree with.”

Later in the day on Sunday, Clinton upped the pressure, causing the Sanders campaign to push back in a statement.

“The Clinton campaign should stop playing games,” spokesman Michael Briggs said Sunday afternoon. “Sen. Sanders has proposed debates on four days before the New York primary election. He is available on April 10, 11, 12 or 13. He looks forward to a debate on any of those days. Does she really have fundraisers on each of those nights?”

Briggs dismissed Clinton’s promotion of the April 14 date as a stunt. “The Clinton campaign disingenuously announced that it had agreed to a debate on a day when it knew very well that Sen. Sanders already had locked in park permits for a major rally in New York City,” he said.

CNN, NBC and ABC are among the networks seeking to host a debate between the two Democratic candidates.

Debate talks usually take place behind the scenes, but the two campaigns have engaged in a public debate-about-debates. The Sanders campaign originally called for a Democratic debate in New York months ago.

On Sunday night the Democratic National Committee sought to diffuse the tension, suggesting in a statement by spokesman Luis Miranda that a debate date could be worked out.

“In early February our two remaining Democratic candidates asked the DNC to sanction and manage four debates in addition to the six we originally agreed to in the Fall. The additional debates included one in New Hampshire and one in Michigan that have already aired, and the agreement between the two campaigns directed that debates should be held on weekdays, not on weekends or holidays. We have since continued to work closely with both campaigns to finalize the details on the two remaining debates, in accordance with this agreement.”

Miranda added: “We hope to conclude negotiations soon enough to allow our network partners 5 to 7 days, enough time to build out a venue and an audience worthy of our candidates.”

The two candidates have not sparred on-stage since the Univision-Washington Post debate on March 9.

“There’s a lot to talk about,” Clinton said on “Meet the Press.” “You know, since the last debate, we’ve had terrorist attacks, in Brussels and Pakistan and elsewhere.”

The debate back-and-forth began on Saturday, when Clinton aides accused the Sanders operation of rejecting three specific date proposals.

“The Sanders campaign needs to stop with the games,” Clinton national press secretary Brian Fallon said.

In response, the Sanders campaign said the first of the three dates, April 4, was illogical because it conflicted with a huge TV event, the NCAA Men’s Basketball National Championship game. The Wisconsin primary is also one day later.

Errol Louis, a NY1 host and CNN political commentator, said on “Reliable Sources” that “there’s a lot of political gamesmanship” going on.

“The reality is, these folks have fundraisers. They have rallies. They have fairly important business, some of which is not happening in New York, that was scheduled a while ago,” Louis said. “So it’s not so easy to pick a date if you only have 14 to choose between.”

Political analyst Matthew Dowd agreed both sides would find an agreeable time and place because “each of them wants a debate for different reasons.”

“Bernie Sanders wants a debate to keep any momentum going in the aftermath of what he expects to be a Wisconsin victory,” Dowd said. “I think Hillary Clinton wants a debate in order to stem the tide of all the victories that he’s had.”

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