Atlanta presidential debate: Biden, Trump ramp up preparations, new details released

With less than a week away before President Joe Biden and former President Donald Trump's face-off in Atlanta, both candidates are taking different tactics to prepare for what may be the most consequential presidential debate in decades.

The candidates agreed to meet at a CNN studio in Atlanta on June 27 with no audience. Each candidate’s microphone will be muted, except when it’s his turn to speak. No props or prewritten notes will be allowed onstage. The candidates will be given only a pen, a pad of paper and a bottle of water.

CNN announced that Biden's campaign had picked to be at the right podium during the debate, leaving Trump to stand at the viewer's left.

MORE: Atlanta presidential debate: CNN announces rules for first debate

Thursday’s debate on CNN will be full of firsts, with the potential to reshape the presidential race. Never before in the modern era have two presumptive nominees met on the debate stage so early in the general election season. Never before have two White House contenders faced off at such advanced ages, with widespread questions about their readiness.

The next debate won’t be until September. Any stumbles on Thursday will be hard to erase or replace quickly.

Biden, Trump's plans before the Atlanta debate  

(Photos by Kevin Dietsch and Luke Hales/Getty Images

Biden arrived at Camp David on Thursday night and is expected to hunker down with senior campaign aides until next Thursday’s debate. While traveling to the mountainside retreat, he gave a thumbs up to reporters when asked how debate prep was going.

The president’s aides have been reluctant to share details about his specific preparations, run by former chief of staff Ron Klain. But they have signaled that he is preparing to be aggressive and would not shy away from using the term "convicted felon" to describe his opponent onstage.

One adviser not authorized to speak publicly about debate strategy noted that Biden has been increasingly punchier in recent remarks about Trump and plans to carry that theme through to the debate. That’s still while trying to project himself as "the wise and steady leader" in contrast to Trump, the adviser said.

PREVIOUS STORY: Biden, Trump to debate in Atlanta on June 27

Trump’s team sees Thursday’s faceoff as an opportunity to demonstrate a clear contrast with Biden’s leadership ability and governing record.

And while they’re downplaying his preparations, Trump aides have a pattern of insisting that he doesn’t prepare for debates when, in fact, he does — in his own way. Instead of mock debates with lecterns and stand-ins or hours spent poring over policy books, the former president is expected to rely on a series of conversations about policy and strategy with aides and political allies.

Trump will also make a series of public appearances over the coming days.

On Saturday, he’s set to host a rally in Philadelphia and deliver a keynote address to a conference of Christian conservatives in Washington. He also has a fundraiser in New Orleans on Monday before going to his Florida estate for meetings.

"Biden needs rehearsals with handlers to find some way to explain this mess he’s made of our nation," Trump spokesman Brian Hughes said. "President Trump is always prepared to present to Americans his record of success and Biden’s weakness and failures."

Kennedy fails to qualify for Atlanta debate

Independent presidential candidate Robert F. Kennedy Jr. has failed to qualify for the debate, according to host network CNN, falling shy of benchmarks both for state ballot qualification and necessary polling.

According to the criteria set out by CNN, candidates would be invited to participate in the debate if they had secured a place on the ballot in states totaling at least 270 votes in the Electoral College, the minimum needed to win the presidency.

Kennedy’s campaign says he has satisfied the requirements to appear on the ballot in 22 states, with a combined 310 electoral votes, though not all have affirmed his name will be listed. California, the largest prize on the electoral map with 54 votes, will not certify any candidates until Aug. 29.

Candidates were also required to reach a polling threshold of 15% in four reliable national polls by June 20, another metric CNN said Kennedy failed to meet. According to the network, Kennedy has received at least 15% in three qualifying polls so far and is currently on the ballot in six states, making him currently eligible for 89 Electoral College votes.

Last month, Kennedy filed an election complaint alleging CNN is colluding with Biden and Trump to exclude him from the June 27 debate, alleging that the participation requirements were designed to ensure only Biden and Trump would qualify and claiming that he is being held to a higher standard.

CNN has said the complaint is without merit. Kennedy’s campaign did not immediately respond to a message Thursday seeking comment on CNN’s announcement and asking if he planned to take any further action about his exclusion.

The Assoicated Press contributed to this report.