Biden says he’s ‘staying in the race’ as he scrambles to save candidacy and sits for ABC interview

Biden says he's 'staying in the race' as he scrambles to save candidacy and sits for ABC interview
(AP Photo/Manuel Balce Ceneta)
President Joe Biden speaks at a campaign rally at Sherman Middle School in Madison, Wis., Friday, July 5, 2024. (AP Photo/Manuel Balce Ceneta)President Joe Biden speaks at a campaign rally at Sherman Middle School in Madison, Wis., Friday, July 5, 2024.

MADISON, Wis. (AP) — President Joe Biden, fighting to save his endangered reelection effort Friday, defiantly said he was “completely” ruling out quitting his 2024 bid after finishing a pivotal network television interview where his every answer is sure to be scrutinized for evidence of his competency and fitness to run for office.

Yet Biden’s rigorous efforts to course correct from his disastrous debate performance last week were not yet quelling internal party frustrations, with one influential Democratic senator working on a nascent push that would encourage the president to exit from the race and Democrats quietly chatting about where they would go next if the president drops out — or what it would mean if he stays in.

But in Wisconsin, Biden was focused on proving his capacity to remain as president. When asked whether he would halt his campaign, he said he was “completely ruling that out” and said he is “positive” he could serve for another four years.

Earlier in Madison, Biden again acknowledged in front of hundreds of supporters his subpar debate performance. Still, amid speculation over what he would do, he had an answer: “I am running, and I’m going to win again.”

“I beat Donald Trump,” a forceful Biden said, as the crowd gathered in a local middle school cheered and waved campaign signs. “I will beat him again.”

Biden, relying on a teleprompter for his remarks, attacked his presumptive Republican challenger almost immediately, laying into Trump by pointing out that the former president once said that “George Washington’s army won the revolution by taking control of the airports from the British.”

As the crowd laughed, Biden continued, “Talk about me misspeaking.”

In his speech, Biden tried to flip the questions swirling about his age, asking the crowd rhetorically whether he was “too old” to have passed gun legislation, created jobs and helped ease student loan debt — while suggesting he’d do more in a second presidential term.

The rally preceded an interview that could be a watershed moment for Biden, who is under pressure to bow out of the campaign after his disastrous debate performance against Republican Donald Trump ignited concern that the 81-year-old Democrat is not up for the job for another four years.

The interview with ABC’s George Stephanopoulos, being taped after a campaign rally in Madison, Wisconsin, is expected to be intensive and probing, and two people familiar with the president’s efforts said he had been preparing aggressively. They spoke on condition of anonymity to discuss internal planning.

There was broad agreement that Biden cannot afford to have another “bad day,” which is how he wrote off his debate flop. It was not clear that even a so-so performance would be enough to satisfy concerns about his fitness to serve.

While private angst among Democratic lawmakers, donors and strategists is running deep after Biden’s damaging debate performance, most in the party have held public fire as they wait to see if the president can restore some confidence with his weekend travel schedule and his handling of the Stephanopoulos interview. It will air in full on ABC on Friday night.

To that end, Sen. Mark Warner reached out to fellow senators throughout this week to discuss whether to ask Biden to exit the race, according to three people familiar with the effort who requested anonymity to talk about private conversations. The Virginia Democrat’s moves are notable given his role as chair of the Senate Intelligence Committee and his reputation as a lawmaker who has supported Biden and developed working relationships with colleagues in both parties. Warner’s effort was first reported by The Washington Post.

The strategy remains fluid. One of the people with knowledge of Warner’s effort said there are enough Senate Democrats concerned enough about Biden’s capacity to run for reelection to take some sort of action, although there was yet no consensus on what that plan would be.

Meanwhile, at least three House Democrats have called for Biden to step down as the nominee, with Rep. Seth Moulton, D-Mass., joining Texas Rep. Lloyd Doggett and Arizona Rep. Raúl Grijalva in pushing for an alternative. While not going that far, Massachusetts Gov. Maura Healey said in a carefully worded statement Friday that Biden now has a decision to make on “the best way forward.”

“Over the coming days, I urge him to listen to the American people and carefully evaluate whether he remains our best hope to defeat Donald Trump,” Healey said. “Whatever President Biden decides, I am committed to doing everything in my power to defeat Donald Trump.”

There were also a few signs of discontent at Biden’s campaign rally Friday, with one supporter onstage waving a sign that read “Pass the torch Joe” as the president came out. His motorcade was also greeted at the middle school by a few people urging him to move on.

But others were pleased. Rebecca Green, a 52-year-old environmental scientist from Madison, said she found Biden’s energy reassuring. “We were just waiting for him to come out strong and fighting again, the way we know he is,” she said. “I don’t know what was going on in the debate. It could never overshadow what he’s done. I just feel like there was a lot of positive, strong energy in the room.”

Many Democratic lawmakers, who are hearing from constituents at home during the holiday week, are split on whether Biden should stay or go. Lawmakers have been deeply frustrated by his campaign’s response to the crisis. Privately, discussions among the House Democrats flared this week as word spread that some of them were drafting public letters suggesting the president should quit the race.

Yet pushback from other House Democrats was fierce, and none of the letters from either Democrats in competitive reelection bids or those in easier races that were reportedly being discussed were ever made public.

“Any ‘leader’ signing a letter calling for President Biden to drop out needs to get their priorities straight and stop undermining this incredible actual leader who has delivered real results for our country,” said Rep. Frederica Wilson, D-Fla., an influential member of the Congressional Black Caucus.

Biden appears to have pulled his family and inner circle closer while attempting to prove that he’s still the Democrats’ best option for competing in November’s election.

The ubiquitous presence of Hunter Biden in the West Wing since the debate has become an uncomfortable dynamic for many staffers, according to two Democrats close to the White House who requested anonymity to discuss the sensitive matter.

For many staffers, the sight of Hunter Biden, just weeks after his conviction on felony gun charges, taking a larger role in advising his father has been unsettling and a questionable choice for the high-stakes moment, they said.

Biden’s reelection campaign is pushing ahead with aggressive plans despite the uncertainty. It plans to pair his in-person events with a fresh $50 million ad campaign this month meant to capitalize on high viewership moments like the Summer Olympics that begin in Paris on July 26.

Biden, Vice President Kamala Harris, first lady Jill Biden and second gentleman Doug Emhoff are scheduled to travel to every battleground state this month, while organizers are planning to knock on more than 3 million doors in July and August to do personal outreach to voters in a new $17 million effort.

Biden himself is scheduled to campaign in Pennsylvania on Sunday. He was initially scheduled to speak before the National Education Association in Philadelphia on Sunday, but the campaign called off the plans following the group’s strike announced Friday. The president will not cross a picket line, the campaign said.

He will also travel to southwestern states, including Nevada, after hosting the NATO summit in Washington next week, the campaign said Friday. He’ll also continue to focus his travel on the so-called “blue wall” states –- Wisconsin, Pennsylvania and Michigan — that have been critical for him in the past.

In a strategy memo released Friday morning, the campaign also specifically emphasized that Biden would participate in “frequent off-the-cuff moments” –- once a hallmark of the gregarious, glad-handling politician’s career that have nonetheless dwindled throughout his presidency.

For Biden, every moment now is critical to restoring the lost confidence stemming from his shaky performance in Atlanta last week. Yet the president continued to make slipups that did not help that effort.

During an interview with WURD radio in Philadelphia that aired Thursday, Biden tripped up and said “I’m proud to be, as I said, the first vice president, the first Black woman to serve with a Black president” – scrambling some of his often-used lines about his pride in serving with the first Black president and choosing the first Black woman to be vice president.

Such verbal glitches are not out of the ordinary for Biden but are getting magnified attention in this environment.

In a hastily organized gathering with more than 20 Democratic governors Wednesday evening, Biden acknowledged that he needs to get more sleep and limit evening events so he can be rested for the job, according to three people granted anonymity to speak about the private meeting. California Gov. Gavin Newsom later told reporters in Holland, Michigan, that Biden’s remark about limiting events after 8 p.m. was said in jest, noting that he said it “with a smile on his face.”

In trying to explain away those comments, Jean-Pierre stressed that Biden “works around the clock” but that he “also recognizes the importance of striking a balance and taking care of himself.”

Kentucky Gov. Andy Beshear, who attended the meeting, said Biden “certainly engaged with us on complicated matters.”

“But then again, this is something that he needs to not just reassure Democratic governors on, but he needs to reassure the American people,”

Newsom said no one in the room was “sugar-coating” the reality of last week’s debate.

“You watched the physiology. You saw everything about it. It was the breathing, it was the physical, the whole thing,” Newsom said at a subsequent event in Holland.

He said Biden asked all the governors for advice, and he told the president to focus more on discussing the future.

There are signs that key groups are already staking out positions on who should succeed Biden as the Democratic nominee.

Glynda C. Carr, CEO of the Higher Heights for America PAC, which supports Black women candidates, said that Harris should lead the ticket if Biden steps down, saying anyone else would be “yet another example of the ongoing dismissal of Black women’s leadership in the national narrative.”

“To put it plainly, Vice President Harris shouldn’t appear on a list of potential replacements — Kamala Harris is the only successor,” Carr said.

The Associated PressThe Associated Press

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