Washington Roundup: Biden-Trump debates are on, ‘Fighting Irish’ honored, marijuana downgraded

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Washington roundup
A file photo shows the American flag below the U.S. Capitol dome in Washington. (OSV News photo/Jonathan Ernst, Reuters)

WASHINGTON (OSV News) — President Joe Biden and former President Donald Trump agreed May 15 to hold two general election campaign debates, with one just over a month away.

Also in Washington, an Indiana senator commemorated the 100th anniversary of Catholics at the University of Notre Dame confronting members of the Ku Klux Klan who sought to intimidate them, and the Biden administration announced its intention to ease federal restrictions on marijuana.

Biden and Trump agree to two debates

Biden declined to participate in the usual presidential debates sponsored by the nonpartisan commission that has organized such events since 1988, instead challenging Trump to debate him in events organized directly by hosting media outlets. Trump signaled his acceptance, and soon after their campaigns agreed to two debates: the first on June 27 hosted by CNN and the second on Sept. 10 hosted by ABC.

U.S. President Joe Biden and former U.S. President and Republican presidential candidate Donald Trump are pictured in a combination photo. (OSV News photo/Leah Millis/Amr Alfiky, Reuters)

The timetable is a major shift in the debate schedule for presidential elections in recent history, taking place before each major party’s nominating conventions later this summer.

The candidates bypassing the nonpartisan Commission on Presidential Debates leaves that organization with an uncertain future. A spokesperson for that organization said it hoped the candidates would ultimately participate in its events, saying in a statement, “We will continue to be ready to execute this plan.”

Prior to Biden’s objection, the Republican National Committee had already said it would not work with the commission in 2024.

Notre Dame’s “Fighting Irish” honored in the Senate

Sen. Todd Young, R-Ind., delivered remarks on the Senate floor honoring the University of Notre Dame. He marked the 100th anniversary of a historic confrontation between Notre Dame students and local residents in opposition to the Ku Klux Klan, which had planned a rally seeking to intimidate local Catholics in South Bend, home to the state’s largest population of Catholics.

On May 17, 1924, Notre Dame students and South Bend residents made a three-day show of resistance to confront the Klan, who had targeted the city due to its Catholic population.

In his remarks, Young said, “One hundred years ago, the champions of religious freedom refused to back down in the face of intolerance and hate. One hundred years ago today, the University of Notre Dame earned the moniker ‘the Fighting Irish.'”

Young noted that “we can’t forget that, at the time, Catholics were a major target for the KKK in the Midwest. And Notre Dame’s success on and off the field was an affront to the Klan’s false message of superiority.”

The Klan, which at the time had a headquarters in South Bend, planned a parade and rally to showcase its grip on Indiana politics. But the Notre Dame community had other plans. Students and residents confronted members of the Klan head-on, ripping off their hoods and white robes, and smashing out the lights of a Klan cross they bombarded with potatoes, according to Indianapolis Monthly.

“It was one hundred years ago this week — in an act of defiance against religious intolerance — that the Fighting Irish truly came into being,” Young said. “On this day, we remember their bravery in exercising their most basic of American freedoms as we celebrate the day they put the ‘fight’ in the University of Notre Dame Fighting Irish.”

According to the university, an exhibit dubbed “RESIST!,” presented by Notre Dame, the Herbert Simon Family Foundation and the Efroymson Family Fund with support from the Ruth Lilly Philanthropic Foundation and the Ackerman Foundation, runs from April 13, 2024, through Aug. 2, 2025, at the Eugene and Marilyn Glick Indiana History Center in Indianapolis.

A “sister” exhibit, presented with support from The History Museum, runs from May 17 through Oct. 13, 2024, at the St. Joe County Public Library in South Bend in a room overlooking the intersection where the historic events took place.

Pedro Ribeiro, Notre Dame’s vice president for public affairs and communications, said in a statement, “As we mark the moment 100 years ago when Notre Dame students joined with members of the local community to defend religious freedom and reject hate, we reflect on the bravery of those men and women who stood tall in defense of the principles upon which both Church and country were founded — namely, respect for the dignity and humanity of all people, regardless of background.”

Biden to reclassify marijuana

The Biden administration announced May 16 an interim rule that would reclassify marijuana from the strictest Schedule I to the less strict Schedule III.

The reclassification would move marijuana from the same category that includes heroin, methamphetamines, LSD, and other drugs without accepted medical use and a high potential for abuse into a category that includes substances such as Tylenol with codeine, steroids and testosterone, easing restrictions on the drug to study it for possible medical benefits.

“Too many lives have been upended because of our failed approach to marijuana,” Biden said in a post on X, formerly Twitter.

White House press secretary Karine Jean-Pierre said May 16 at a press briefing that if finalized, the rule would mean “marijuana will no longer hold the higher-level classification it currently holds over fentanyl and meth, drugs driving our nation’s overdose epidemic. And it will remove burdensome, longstanding barriers to critical research.”

“This announcement builds on the work President Biden has already done to pardon a record number of federal offenses for simply possessing marijuana,” she said. “His categorical pardon for federal offenses of simple possession in October 2022 and December 2023 lifted barriers to housing, small business loans and more for thousands of Americans.”

The move comes as a growing number of U.S. states legalize or scale back restrictions on the drug.

Proponents of legalizing marijuana point to what they call harsh criminal penalties for its use, with some arguing it should be regulated like alcohol rather than like harder drugs. However, opponents say the drug is more dangerous or addictive than advocates suggest.

In a November 2023 pastoral letter, “That They Might Have Life,” Archbishop Samuel J. Aquila of Denver wrote that his state’s legalization of marijuana backfired and has led to human suffering.

Archbishop Aquila stated that “there are many legitimate uses of therapeutic drugs,” such as “medicines that assist in restoring the body to health.” But he argued that illicit drugs, which he defined as “any kind of psychoactive substance that is recreationally used to artificially cause significant changes in consciousness,” were detrimental to human persons and their relationship with God, and devastating to society.

Kate Scanlon

Kate Scanlon is a national reporter for OSV News covering Washington.