Biden, in defiant news conference, again vows to remain in the race

President Joe Biden speaks at a news conference following the NATO Summit in Washington, Thursday, July 11, 2024. (AP Photo/Matt Rourke)
President Biden speaks at a news conference following the NATO Summit in Thursday in Washington. (Matt Rourke / Associated Press)

President Biden showed flashes of anger, defensiveness, boastfulness and defiance as he declared Thursday that he will remain in the presidential race against former President Trump.

"I'm the most qualified person to run for president," Biden said in a Washington news conference seen as a potential make-or-break event for his embattled campaign. “I beat him once, and I will beat him again,”

The response came at the rare and heavily scrutinized Thursday evening session with the White House press corps, amid concerns that the 81-year-old is not capable of winning reelection or governing for another four years.

"Look, I'm not in this for my legacy," Biden said near the start of the 58-minute session. "I'm in this to complete the job I started.

"Can you name me somebody who's got more major pieces of legislation passed in 3½ years? I created 2,000 jobs this last week," an apparent mistaken reference to 206,000 jobs being created, according to new federal data. "So if I slow down, I can't get the job done. That's a sign that I shouldn't be doing it. But there's no indication that. None."

Biden generally handled himself with more assurance and fewer long rambles and incomplete sentences than when he debated Trump late last month. His answers were crisper and more on point than in that widely panned showdown, which has thrown his candidacy into turmoil.

Still, the incumbent's attempt to demonstrate his mental acuity hit bumps Thursday; in particular near the start of the questioning and even before the news conference, when Biden spoke after a meeting with NATO leaders.

In response to a question from a Reuters reporter, Biden attempted to show his confidence in Vice President Kamala Harris' ability to defeat Trump and lead the country. "Look, I wouldn't expect Vice President Trump to be vice president if I think [sic] she's not qualified to be president," Biden said. "Let's start there."

Biden did not correct his misstep, as he continued his somewhat disjointed defense of his No. 2 and of his own candidacy.

"There's a long way to go," Biden said. "There is a long way to go in this campaign. And I've just got to keep moving. Keep moving."

The slips of the tongue would normally go mostly unnoticed. But the emphasis on questions about his fitness and the heightened attention to his verbal stumbles illustrated the political difficulty Biden now faces as voters are already concerned with signs of decline.

Though the miscues were small moments in the news conference, they now draw outsized attention. Soon after Biden mistakenly named called Trump his vice president, the former president took to his Truth Social platform and taunted: "Great job, Joe!"

On the policy substance of his remarks, instant analysis mostly said Biden had done a solid job, speaking cogently about America's relationship with Europe and the spiraling challenges from China and Russia.

He also displayed feistiness, as when he compared his recent public appearances in battleground states to his Republican challenger's more leisurely schedule.

"Where has Trump been?" Biden said. "Riding around in his golf cart, filling out his scorecard before he hits a ball?" (The two men had embarked in an awkward feud at their debate about who was the better golfer.)

Asked how he can reassure Americans he won't have more off nights like he did when he debate Trump, Biden's answer could be heard as both reassuring and troubling.

"I'll tell you what, the best way to assure them is the way I assure myself. That is: Am I getting the job done?" Biden then began to cite a litany of his accomplishments. But he began with his list with his misstatement of the number of new jobs recently reported by the government.

Biden signaled in myriad other ways that, while he is open to holding more events to persuade Americans and fellow Democrats of his mental fitness, he expects to remain in the race.

When a reporter asked if he would honor the will of delegates at the Democratic National Convention, if they decided to pick another candidate, Biden said he certainly would.

"Certainly, they're free to do whatever they want," said Biden, before adding that Democrats had given him "overwhelming support." He added: "And so tomorrow if all of a sudden I show up at the convention everybody says 'We want to somebody else,' that's the democratic process."

Then the president leaned forward and said in a stage whisper: "I'll tell ya what, it's not gonna happen."

Asked if he would submit himself to a neurological exam, to prove his mental fitness, Biden said he had taken three such exams, the most recent in February. He insisted that, because of his job, he is "tested every single day on my neurological capacity [by] the decisions I make every day."

But he added he would take another exam if his doctors thought he should. He said none of them had suggested it.

He said that no matter what steps he takes he expects some to continue to raise doubts about his age, then pondered why he didn't get more credit for the advantages of age. "The only thing age does is help you, it creates a little bit of wisdom," Biden said, "if you're paying attention."

Biden has held fewer news conferences on an annual average than any predecessor since President Reagan. Thursday's engagement with reporters came exactly two weeks since a fumbling debate with former President Trump created mass concern both inside and outside the Democratic Party.

A new Washington Post-ABC News poll released Thursday provided some good news to Biden — a 46%-46% tie with Trump, who has been building a lead in many other surveys at both the national level and in key battleground states. But the same poll found two-thirds of Americans — including 56% of Democrats — want him out of the race.

A new survey from Pew found that a quarter of voters view Biden as mentally sharp, compared with more than half who see Trump that way. More voters view Biden as honest compared with Trump (48% to 36%), however, and they were twice as likely to call Trump "mean-spirited" (64%) than Biden (31%). Large majorities of voters (63%) found both men "embarrassing."

Read more: Amid confusion among Democrats, Pelosi sends a loud message: 'Time is running short'

Peter Welch of Vermont became the first Democratic senator to publicly call for Biden to leave the race Wednesday night, joining a relatively small group of House colleagues and the actor George Clooney, who made his call Wednesday just weeks after co-hosting a high-dollar Hollywood fundraiser for him.

"The stakes could not be higher," Welch wrote in a Washington Post opinion piece. "We cannot unsee President Biden’s disastrous debate performance. We cannot ignore or dismiss the valid questions raised since that night."

Biden's top advisors met with Senate Democrats over lunch Thursday in an effort to stem additional losses. The campaign also laid out a path to victory in a new internal memo that argues Biden can win Wisconsin, Pennsylvania and Michigan — and the election — and would fare better than any alternative.

The memo, obtained by The Times, also argues that Sunbelt states "are not out of reach" for Biden.

Though lawmakers largely held off from calling for a withdrawal Thursday, there were more defections and continued skepticism from many politicians who have not asked Biden to pull out. Rep. Scott Peters of San Diego was one of at least three Democratic House members to call on Biden to withdraw in the minutes after the news conference, pushing the tally of House and Senate members to 20, according to a Washington Post tally.

"If things stay as they are, it's likely that Donald Trump will win the election and that we'll lose the Senate and we'll lose the House," Sen. Michael Bennet, a Colorado Democrat, told reporters.

After the Putin slip, U.S. Rep. Lloyd Doggett (D-Texas) went on CNN to reiterate his call for Biden to step aside for another candidate. He called Biden’s chances of victory “more improbable” every time he makes a misstatement.

Doggett said the focus on the president’s “stumbles and fumbles” had become the preeminent topic of the presidential race rather than on “Donald Trump’s lies.” If that continues, the Texas lawmaker said, “then we will lose.”

Vice President Kamala Harris, meanwhile, traveled to Greensboro, N.C., hoping to refocus attention on Trump's prior comments that he would be a dictator in his first day in office and that Russia could "do whatever the hell they want" to NATO countries that do not pay enough in defense spending.

"Someone who suggest we should 'terminate our Constitution' should never again have the chance to stand behind a microphone and never again have the chance to stand behind the seal of the president of the United States of America," she said.

She said "the last few days has been a reminder that running for president is never easy — nor should it be" while calling Biden "a fighter.”

Biden has been trying to buy time since the debate performance, holding off more widespread calls from high-profile Democrats, including many lawmakers who have said privately that they hoped he would withdraw on his own. He has not satisfied many supporters who have called for a blitz of unscripted events and has largely stuck to public speeches with teleprompters, including events with foreign leaders in Washington this week as part of a North Atlantic Treaty Organization summit.

Read more: Kamala Harris faces political pressure — and opportunity — as Biden struggles

His unscripted interview with ABC's George Stephanopoulos last week garnered mixed reviews, but the anchor was later caught on camera stating that he did not believe Biden could serve another four years. Biden's defiant phone call to MSNBC's "Morning Joe" on Monday — his favorite cable news show — appeared to hold off a wave of congressional defections but did not assuage concerns. He has another network interview planned for Monday with NBC's Lester Holt.

Biden is hoping to keep detractors at bay for as long as possible, making it harder for the party to replace him. But even if he does not commit errors, he is unlikely to persuade party insiders and regular voters who believe the damage has already been done, especially if he makes another public stumble before November's election.

Former House Speaker Nancy Pelosi (D-San Francisco) suggested as much Wednesday in her own appearance on "Morning Joe," ignoring Biden's insistence that he had already decided to stay in the race.

“It’s up to the president to decide if he is going to run,” she said. “We’re all encouraging him to make that decision because time is running short.”

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This story originally appeared in Los Angeles Times.