In New Interview, Biden Defiantly Downplays Mounting Political Crisis


MADISON, Wis. ― President Joe Biden said Friday that he didn’t think his candidacy was faltering as badly as perceived after his first 2024 presidential debate against presumptive Republican nominee Donald Trump.

In his first sit-down interview since the June 27 debate, Biden told ABC News’ George Stephanopoulos that he didn’t believe the polling on his standing in the campaign tells the whole story, and he denied that his allies in the Democratic Party would definitively call for him to step down.

“Do you really believe you’re not behind right now?” Stephanopoulos asked Biden.

Biden suggested that polls, which show Trump with a substantial post-debate lead, aren’t fully accurate. “All the pollsters I talk to tell me it’s a toss-up,” Biden said.

Similarly, he denied that allies would view his campaign as a liability for the Democratic Party. “If you are told reliably from your allies, from your friends and supporters in the Democratic Party, in the House, in the Senate that they’re concerned you’re going to lose the House and in the Senate if you stay in, what will you do?” Stephanopoulos asked.

“I’m not going to answer that question,” Biden replied. “It’s not going to happen.”

The president’s interview with ABC came at an incredibly high-stakes moment for his reelection campaign. The reason Biden did it at all is because he’s on clean-up duty after a disastrous debate last week with Trump, which prompted a Democratic crisis of faith and concerns about Biden as a viable candidate. While a few Democrats have already moved to call for Biden to withdraw his candidacy, the majority of the party establishment seems to be reserving formal judgment as Biden does damage control. 

But he has weeks, if not days, to prove to shaky Democratic Party operatives and supporters that he can do better ― that he is better ― than he was during Friday’s debate.

Biden stumbled through the 90-minute debate but particularly struggledin the beginning, when he appeared to lose his train of thought in response to a relatively easy question about the national debt. He mixed up trillions, billions and millions, rambled about health care and making people eligible for something he’s done for “the COVID,” and then, as the microphone was about to be cut off, confusingly declared, “We finally beat Medicare.”

It got worse. The president was handed a question on what should have been a slam-dunk issue for him, abortion, and for some reason he pivoted to talking about a woman “murdered by an immigrant,” handing Trump an easy line of attack against the president’s border policies.

Biden’s appearance was troubling as well. His voice was raspy and weak, which made him hard to understand. He mouth often hung slightly open, his gaze fixed on something.

The president’s performance gave a boost to Trump, who delivered more forceful responses and could more or less articulate complete sentences. But per usual, Trump lied constantly about big and little things, without being checked by the moderators. And he came to the debate as a deeply flawed, if not scary, contender for the presidency: a twice-impeached convicted felon known for his ugly attacks and authoritarian plans for a second term.

It's a make-or-break moment for President Joe Biden's reelection bid.It's a make-or-break moment for President Joe Biden's reelection bid.

It’s a make-or-break moment for President Joe Biden’s reelection bid. Samuel Corum via Getty Images

Biden’s campaign has been scrambling to manage the fallout. Staffers said he had a cold heading into the debate, which is why he sounded so rough. The president himself said he was traveling too much ahead of the debate and struggled to stay awake during the debate, with a promise to recalibrate and do better going forward.

But some top Democratic donors, political operatives and elected officials have begun urging Biden to step aside after his performance. Plenty of others are standing by him, at least for now. But even some of his allies are suggesting that while they’re not ready to defect yet, they’re looking for Bidento prove in the coming days that he is up to the task of campaigning and can win in November. 

Friday’s ABC interview was essentially Biden’s pitch to those Democrats that they should stick with him.

During the 22-minute interview, Biden pushed back on the perception that he was frailer and less sharp than he had been in 2020. “What I’m asking you is about your personal situation,” Stephanopoulos asked. “Do you dispute that there have been more lapses, especially in the last several months?”

“Can I run the 110? No. But I’m still in good shape,” Biden replied. He blamed his debate performance on exhaustion, citing his schedule.

When Stephanopoulos asked him if he would be willing to take a cognitive test to reassure the American people, Biden also pointed to that schedule, as well as the duties of the presidency, as evidence that he is cognitively astute.

“I have a cognitive test every single day. Every day I have that test everything I do. You know, not only am I campaigning, but I’m on the move,” Biden said. “It sounds like hyperbole, but we’re the central nation in the world,” referencing recent calls with the prime ministers of Israel and the United Kingdom.

Though Biden’s demeanor during the interview was noticeably sharper than in last Thursday’s debate, he was quiet and occasionally slow to answer.

Still, Biden asserted he remains the best bet to beat Trump in November, despite the doubts.

“Have you convinced yourself that only you can defeat him?” Stephanopoulos asked Biden of Trump.

“I’ve convinced myself of two things,” Biden replied, “that I am the most qualified person to beat him, and I know how to get things done.”

“If you can be convinced that you cannot defeat Donald Trump, will you stand down?” Stephanopoulos continued.

“Well, it depends,” Biden said. “If the Lord Almighty comes down and tells me not to run, I might do that.”

A Biden-Harris campaign official told HuffPost on Friday ahead of the ABC interviewthat the president, the campaign and the White House have been engaged in an “active effort” to address concerns raised bythe debate. Beyond the Fridayinterview, this official noted, Biden has recently done two radio interviews, announced new travel to Wisconsin and Pennsylvania and is set to holda press conference next week during a NATO summit.

The president also met with Democratic governors at the White House this week, all of whomemerged with strong statements of support for Biden. He has talked withHouse and Senate Democratic leaders, too, who are standing by him.

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