Biden’s Defiant Interview Is Unlikely to Calm Nerves

(Bloomberg) -- President Joe Biden dismissed calls to end his reelection bid and denied that his debate performance wrought significant damage to his campaign, a defiant posture that risked further alarming Democrats who fear he has not honestly grappled with his biggest political crisis.

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Biden on Friday in an ABC News interview refused to commit to an independent medical exam to reassure the public of his mental fitness, even as he insisted he has the stamina to serve another four years.

He did not accept that he trails Donald Trump in the polls, said he had not directly heard discussions among senior Democrats about asking him to step aside, and declared only the “Lord Almighty” would prompt him to even consider ending his bid.

And while the president, 81, avoided a significant gaffe like the ones that bedeviled his disjointed debate performance, the 22-minute prime-time interview with anchor George Stephanopoulos was unlikely to assuage concerns among the voters, donors, and Democratic officials who have spent the past week in a panic that he not only would fail to defeat his Republican opponent, but would not be able to serve another four years even if he managed reelection.

“I’ll feel as long as I gave it my all and I did the good as job as I know I can do, that’s what this is about,” Mr. Biden said, according to the official transcript that was distributed and subsequently revised by ABC.

Biden said when asked how he will feel in January if Trump wins the election, a nightmare scenario for Democrats.

Biden’s posture is perhaps the only strategy available for a candidate who is determined to continue his bid to win a second term. After Biden unveiled a revamped stump speech earlier Friday that acknowledged his age and more forcefully attacked Trump, his campaign indicated he plans to soldier on with more events Sunday in battleground Pennsylvania and beyond.

Multiple polls released following the debate showed Biden losing ground to Trump, with several showing him trailing by 6 percentage points. The share of voters in a New York Times/Siena College poll who believe he is too old to be president grew to 74%.

Dismisses Polls

When asked if he believes he is not behind, however, Biden said “all the pollsters I talk to tell me it’s a tossup.”

One Democratic donor, who requested anonymity to speak candidly, said they are angry at those in Biden’s orbit for not encouraging him to step down, calling the continued campaign delusional and selfish.

“He is dangerously out-of-touch with the concerns people have” David Axelrod, a former Obama White House adviser who has been critical of Biden, posted on X after the interview.

Before Biden’s ABC appearance, Illinois Representative Mike Quigley joined a group of more than half a dozen House Democrats who have either explicitly called on the president to drop out, or said they believe he would lose to Trump in November.

Biden acknowledged Senator Mark Warner, a prominent Democrat from Virginia, was looking to rally other lawmakers to pressure him to drop out. The president said he had heard from others that he should remain in the race.

“Mark and I have a different perspective,” Biden told Stephanopoulos.

New: Biden Narrows Gap With Trump in Swing States Despite Debate Loss

“If the Lord Almighty came down and said, ‘Joe, get out of the race,’ I’d get out of the race. The Lord Almighty’s not coming down,” the president continued.

‘Wasn’t In Control’

Biden chalked up his poor debate performance to a “bad episode” brought on by a severe cold and that there was “no indication of any serious condition.” Asked when he realized that he was having a bad night, Biden suggested that at one point he had been distracted by Trump shouting.

“I realized that I just wasn’t in control,” he said of that moment.

Asked if he had watched his debate performance, which alarmed Democratic allies, Biden said “I don’t think I did, no.”

The interview came during a trip to Wisconsin in which Biden flatly declared he was not considering dropping out of the race. He said those looking to pressure him were disrespecting the will of Democratic primary voters, and that he still believed he represented the best chance for Democrats of defeating Trump.

The issue will be put to the test over the coming week in the face of growing concern from Democratic lawmakers and donors.

After his trip to Pennsylvania, Biden hosts NATO leaders starting Tuesday at a summit in Washington. The president’s ramped-up schedule is a response to panicked Democrats who have demanded he do more to prove to voters he is capable of serving another four years in the White House.

So far, some Democrats remain wary.

Biden met Wednesday behind closed doors with more than 20 Democratic governors in a bid to stem the crisis engulfing his presidency, telling them he is “in it to win it.” He received public votes of confidence from several of them, including California’s Gavin Newsom and Michigan’s Gretchen Whitmer.

But privately, the governors had tough questions for the president and he acknowledged that he needs to get more sleep going forward, according to a person familiar with the discussion.

One of the participants, Massachusetts Governor Maura Healey, issued a statement Friday that stopped short of calling on Biden to drop out but appeared to push him to at least consider the possibility.

“I urge him to listen to the American people and carefully evaluate whether he remains our best hope to defeat Donald Trump,” she said.

--With assistance from Stephanie Lai and Amanda Gordon.

(Corrects Biden comment in fifth paragraph of story published July 5 after ABC revised its transcript.)

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