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Standoff? Commission defends debate schedule amid Trump complaints

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NEW YORK — Donald Trump’s campaign will begin a push this week to reschedule the presidential debates set for this fall, but the Commission on Presidential Debates, the nonpartisan group responsible for scheduling, is standing firm for now.

“Our position on the debates is we want as many people, as many voters, to be participants in and to see the debates as possible,” Jason Miller, senior communications adviser with the Trump campaign, said on CNN’s “Reliable Sources” Sunday.

“The first debate’s coming up head-to-head against Monday Night Football. It’s a Falcons home game, Georgia, an important state. The second debate is coming up for a Packers home game. That’s on Sunday Night Football, which usually has about 20 million viewers, so big audiences. Wisconsin’s a very important state.”

Trump himself started a debate over the debates on Friday, when, in a tweet, he accused Democratic presidential nominee Hillary Clinton and her party of “trying to rig the debates.”

Two of the debates “are up against major NFL games,” Trump tweeted. “Same as last time w/ Bernie. Unacceptable!”

Miller was asked directly by “Reliable Sources” host Brian Stelter whether Trump would seek to change the schedule in negotiations about the debates with the Hillary Clinton campaign and the Commission on Presidential Debates.

“We would like the debates to not be head-to-head against major NFL games. That’s something we’ll be discussing as we go into negotiations,” Miller said. “We think it’s only right that as many people are able to watch the debates as possible.”

But in a statement provided to CNNMoney, the Commission on Presidential Debates (CPD) defended itself and the choices it made, and suggested that it is not interested in rescheduling.

“The [CPD] started working more than 18 months ago to identify religious and federal holidays, baseball league playoff games, NFL games, and other events in order to select the best nights for the 2016 debates,” the statement said. “It is impossible to avoid all sporting events, and there have been nights on which debates and games occurred in most election cycles. A debate has never been rescheduled as a result. …

“The CPD selects the debate dates a year in advance in order for the television networks to have maximum lead time and predictability in scheduling these extremely important civic education forums. The CPD believes the dates for the 2016 debates will serve the American public well.”

In an interview with ABC News, Trump had said of the debate scheduling, “I got a letter from the NFL saying, ‘This is ridiculous.'”

But on Saturday an NFL spokesman told CNNMoney, “While we’d obviously wish the debate commission could find another night, we did not send a letter to Trump.”

On “Reliable Sources,” Miller said Trump had been notified of the overlap by a “source” close to the league. He dismissed any question over whether he had actually gotten a letter from the NFL as “semantics.”

This is not the first time debates have been up against NFL games; in fact, it happened in 2012 as well.

And Clinton and the Democrats are not behind the scheduling — the group actually responsible for that is the nonpartisan Commission on Presidential Debates, which is made up of both Republicans and Democrats. The CPD determined the schedule for the debates a year ago.