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The Democratic National Committee says it is unlikely to sanction additional debates before the New Hampshire primary, a decision that could strike a blow to MSNBC and the New Hampshire Union Leader as they seek to host an event next week.
"We have no plans to sanction any further debates before the upcoming First in the Nation caucuses and primary, but will reconvene with our campaigns after those two contests to review our schedule," DNC Chairwoman Debbie Wasserman SchultzDeborah (Debbie) Wasserman SchultzFlorida Democrats call on DeSantis to accept federal help to expand COVID-19 testing Democrats quietly explore barring Trump from office over Jan. 6 Omar allies dig in on calls for Boebert punishment MORE said in a statement.
"We have consistently worked with our campaigns to ensure a schedule that is robust and that allows them to engage with voters in a variety of ways, whether through debates, forums, town halls, but also leaving them the flexibility to attend county fairs and living room conversations in states like Iowa and New Hampshire where direct voter contact matters so much."
DNC rules stipulate that any candidate who participates in an unsanctioned debate forfeits the opportunity to attend contests sanctioned by the party. A DNC aide told The Hill that the party is not considering lifting that policy.
The Union Leader announced its intent Tuesday afternoon. Participation by either Bernie SandersBernie SandersShame on Biden for his Atlanta remarks — but are we surprised? Overnight Health Care — Biden faces pressure from Democrats on COVID-19 Sanders calls out Manchin, Sinema ahead of filibuster showdown MORE or Hillary ClintonHillary Diane Rodham ClintonThe Hill's Morning Report - Presented by Facebook - Democrats see victory in a voting rights defeat Left laughs off floated changes to 2024 ticket A year into his presidency, Biden is polling at an all-time low MORE could put party leaders in a bind, forcing them to either block a leading candidate from future debates or go back on the earlier policy.
Martin O'Malley is the only candidate who has accepted the invitation so far to the event, scheduled to take place on Feb. 4, five days before the New Hampshire primary.
Jennifer Palmieri, Clinton's communications director, signaled that Clinton is open to participating if other candidates agree and the DNC sanctions the debate. She didn't address whether the former secretary of State would still appear if the DNC opts not to sanction the event.
"Hillary Clinton would be happy to participate in a debate in New Hampshire if the other candidates agree, which would allow the DNC to sanction the debate," Palmieri said in a statement.
Sanders’s campaign manager reportedly said late Tuesday that he would not participate in any unsanctioned debate, because he does not want to risk being uninvited to future official debates.
Sanders has tangled with the DNC already this cycle. His campaign accused the committee of actively aiding Clinton last year when it briefly restricted its access to party voter data after a security breach; the lawsuit it filed against the party claiming damages is still active.
Wasserman Schultz (D-Fla.) has faced significant criticism for a debate schedule that includes fewer contests than the Republicans, as well as multiple weekend debates that draw smaller audiences than weeknight debates. She pushed back against that criticism in her statement, noting that this cycle's debates have either broken or challenged record viewership for the party's primary debates. She added that Clinton, Sanders and O'Malley will also "appear on the same stage next week for the New Hampshire Democratic Party dinner."
But, as per DNC rules, the candidates will not be able to engage in the back-and-forth seen on the debate stage.
The next sanctioned debate will take place on Feb. 11 in Milwaukee, Wis., after the New Hampshire primaries.
The Union Leader cast the debate as a response to concerns from voters who wanted an additional debate before the New Hampshire primary. January's debate, held on the Sunday before the Martin Luther King Jr. holiday, was the last debate before voting in both Iowa and New Hampshire.
"People are saying to me, 'We need another debate.' We feel like it's our job as a statewide newspaper to give the information that people need," Trent Spiner, the Union Leader's executive editor, told The Hill Tuesday.
"This isn't a fight about the schedule or anything like that. It's about giving the candidates a very good option — we have a lot of respect of Chuck Todd and Rachel Maddow — to travel to New Hampshire and be heard by millions of voters."
—Updated at 9:21 p.m.