Clinton campaign: Sanders playing 'games' with debate

Story highlights

  • "The Sanders campaign needs to stop with the games," a Clinton spokesman said
  • Clinton's campaign says it offered to debate Sanders on April 4, 14 and 15, all of which were rejected

Teterboro, New Jersey (CNN)Hillary Clinton's presidential campaign on Saturday accused Bernie Sanders' operation of rejecting three New York debates that the Clinton campaign proposed.

Sanders' campaign has been calling for a debate before the state's April 19 primary since last week. While Clinton's campaign declined to commit initially, her aides have been working with the Democratic National Committee behind the scenes to solidify a date.
Brian Fallon, Clinton's national press secretary, said Saturday that Clinton's campaign offered to debate Sanders on April 4, 14 and 15, all of which were rejected.
    "The Sanders campaign needs to stop with the games," Fallon said. "Over the course of the last week, we have offered three specific dates for a debate in New York, all of which the Sanders campaign rejected."
    Fallon said the April 4 date was rejected because it was the day before the Wisconsin primary. Monday is also the date of the NCAA Men's Basketball National Championship game in Houston.
    The press secretary added that the offers for "the night of April 14 and the morning of April 15 still remain."
    Sanders campaign spokesman Michael Briggs responded with a statement early Saturday afternoon.
    "We are very pleased that Secretary Clinton finally has accepted our request for a debate about the needs of New York and America," the statement read. "Unfortunately, the dates and venues she has proposed don't make a whole lot of sense. The idea that they want a debate in New York on a night of the NCAA finals -- with Syracuse in the tournament no less -- is ludicrous. We have proposed other dates which they have rejected."
    Briggs added that the campaign is hopeful an agreement can be reached for a debate.
    Sanders first challenged Clinton to a debate in New York late last month.
    "I would hope very much that as we go into New York State, Secretary Clinton's home state, that we will have a debate -- New York City or upstate, wherever -- on the important issues facing New York and, in fact, the country," Sanders told NBC.
    Jeff Weaver, Sanders' campaign manager, also wrote a letter to Robby Mook, Clinton's campaign manager, that said "your campaign has consistently chosen to deny the people of New York the opportunity to see Senator Sanders and Secretary Clinton debate in the Empire State."

    ABC has extended invitation

    The talks about a possible morning show debate have been taking place between the campaigns, the Democratic National Committee and ABC. The April 15 date could potentially occur on the network's morning show, "Good Morning America."
    After the Clinton campaign spoke out on Saturday, Heather Riley, an ABC News spokeswoman, confirmed "we have extended an invite to both candidates."
    ABC initially proposed the morning show idea to the DNC, asserting that a "GMA" debate would reach a big and distinct audience from the prime-time face-offs earlier this season.
    "GMA" averages about 5 million viewers each morning, and a Clinton-Sanders debate during the broadcast would likely draw additional viewership.
    For ABC, a debate during "GMA" is also an appealing alternative to prime-time, when pre-empting popular shows can have an adverse impact on the bottom line.
    ABC hosted a Democratic debate in prime-time back in December, but it was on a Saturday night, typically a low-rated night of programming.
    New York is a critical state for Sanders, a Brooklyn native. He is significantly behind Clinton in pledged delegates and while it looks likely he will in the Wisconsin primary on Tuesday, Sanders' top aides have been eying New York as a near must-win.
    Clinton said in Wisconsin last week that the campaigns were working on solidifying a debate and Jennifer Palmieri, Clinton's communications director, said Friday that the campaign was willing to debate in New York before the primary.
    "The Sanders campaign needs to stop using the New York primary as a playground for political games and negative attacks against Hillary Clinton," Fallon added in his statement. "The voters of New York deserve better."