WASHINGTON -- After pressure and criticism from candidates, the Democratic National Committee has agreed to sanction more debates for the party's three presidential hopefuls.
DNC chair Debbie Wasserman Schultz announced Sunday that the party has approved Thursday's previously unsanctioned debate in New Hampshire, hosted by MSNBC, pending a final agreement from the candidates.
The Florida congresswoman also affirmed that the DNC is open to holding more officially sanctioned debates, but said it will negotiate the details after this week's Iowa caucuses.
“Our Democratic candidates have agreed in principle to having the DNC sanction and manage additional debates in our primary schedule, inclusive of New Hampshire this week,” she said in a statement.
“We will give our campaigns the space to focus on the important work of engaging caucus goers in Iowa. We will reconvene negotiations and finalize the schedule with the agreement of our campaigns on Tuesday morning."
MSNBC confirmed on Sunday that this week's New Hampshire debate will go forward and that all three candidates -- former Secretary of State Hillary Clinton, Sen. Bernie Sanders (I-Vt.) and former Maryland Gov. Martin O'Malley -- have agreed to participate.
Wasserman Schultz has faced criticism for the Democrats' debate schedule, which featured a total of six debates, compared to 12 debates for the Republican presidential candidates. In addition, several of the Democratic debates were held on the weekends, attracting lower viewership numbers. Critics, including Sanders and O'Malley, accused party leaders of attempting to tip the scales in Clinton's favor.
Over the weekend, the Clinton and Sanders campaigns reportedly planned three additional debates in addition to Thursday's event in New Hampshire, but wrangled over the debates' timing and locations. Without the DNC's approval, all four debates would have violated DNC rules and participating candidates would risk disqualification from future debates and forums.
Wasserman Schultz defended the debate schedule on Sunday and said the DNC would actively work with the campaigns to plan future debates.
“We have consistently worked with our campaigns to ensure a schedule that is both robust and allows our candidates to engage with voters in a variety of ways, whether through debates, forums, or town halls, while also leaving them the flexibility to attend county fairs and living room conversations for the direct voter contact that matters so much in the early states," she said. "Those principles will continue to guide these negotiations."
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