The Rules for the Biden-Trump Presidential Debate on CNN

The first debate of the 2024 general election is almost here: President Biden and former President Donald J. Trump will take the stage Thursday night in Atlanta.

While some of the rules and formatting elements are standard — for instance, the candidates will be allowed to take notes during the debate, but not to bring prepared notes — others will be less typical.

Here is an overview of the rules that the two campaigns have agreed to with CNN, the evening’s host.

Ninety minutes, starting at 9 p.m. Eastern time, with two commercial breaks. That is a normal length for a presidential debate, but the commercial breaks are noteworthy: General-election debates in past cycles, sponsored by the Commission on Presidential Debates rather than an individual news organization, did not have them.

The candidates will not be allowed to talk to their aides during the commercial breaks, but they will have time to take a breather and collect themselves in a way they would not have in past years.

No. The candidates will debate in a CNN studio with no live audience.

This was a demand from the Biden campaign, most likely based on a recognition that Mr. Trump tends to play to and feed off supportive crowds.

It is a change from most past election cycles, in which debates had large in-person audiences. But it will be similar to the setup in the last presidential election, albeit for different reasons: In 2020, because of the pandemic, only small groups of people were allowed into the debate venues.

They will stand at lecterns. Mr. Biden won a coin toss to choose his spot, and he will be on the right side of viewers’ TV screens.

Opening statements, no; closing statements, yes.

The order of the closing statements was determined by a coin toss. Mr. Biden will make his first, and Mr. Trump will have the last word of the debate.

CNN will allow two minutes for each answer and one minute for rebuttals. The moderators, CNN hosts Jake Tapper and Dana Bash, will be able to grant extra time at their discretion.

The candidates’ microphones will be muted when it isn’t their turn to speak. That was another Biden request, intended to guard against Mr. Trump’s penchant for interrupting and speaking over debate opponents.

It is not unusual for moderators to have the ability, at their discretion, to cut off a candidate’s microphone if the candidate is refusing to abide by their allotted time. But automatic muting is less common. In the last debate in 2020, opponents’ mics were muted during each candidate’s initial statement in each 15-minute segment, but not at other times.

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