Biden set to record make-or-break TV interview as he defies calls to exit the race

US president says he’s ‘not going anywhere’ in bid for re-election despite poor debate performance; some Democratic backers freeze donations amid concern over viability

President Joe Biden speaks to active-duty military service members and their families during a Fourth of July celebration and barbecue on the South Lawn of the White House in Washington, Thursday, July 4, 2024. (AP/Susan Walsh)
President Joe Biden speaks to active-duty military service members and their families during a Fourth of July celebration and barbecue on the South Lawn of the White House in Washington, Thursday, July 4, 2024. (AP/Susan Walsh)

US President Joe Biden on Thursday opened a critical stretch in his effort to salvage his imperiled reelection campaign, facing a growing sense that he may have just days to make a persuasive case that he is fit for office before Democratic support for him completely evaporates.

“I’m not going anywhere,” Biden told a crowd gathered for a July 4th barbecue on the White House South Lawn.

Biden’s performance last Thursday in his first debate of the cycle against his opponent, former president Donald Trump, left Democrats reeling, as Biden, 81, stumbled over his words and repeatedly appeared to lose his train of thought.

Several prominent donors announced that they would withhold donations as long as Biden remains the nominee.

Gideon Stein, the president of the left-wing Moriah Fund, said his family was pausing some $3 million in planned donations to groups aligned with the race. Abigail Disney, heiress to the Walt Disney Company fortune, said Thursday she would not give money to the party so long as Biden remained on the ticket.

In a Wednesday night meeting with Democratic governors, Biden said that he needs to get more sleep and limit evening events so he can turn in earlier to be rested for the job, according to three people familiar with the meeting, who also spoke on condition of anonymity.

President Joe Biden speaks during a barbecue with active-duty military service members and their families on the South Lawn of the White House, Thursday, July 4, 2024, in Washington. (AP/Evan Vucci)

California Gov. Gavin Newsom, who was in the meeting, was asked Thursday about the idea that Biden wants to limit events after 8 p.m. and responded: “He did that with a smile on his face. It was more of a rhetorical framework of just being fit and rested.”

Biden argued that much more than his own political future was in jeopardy. In an interview with a Wisconsin radio station that aired Thursday he said: “The stakes are really high. I know you know this. For democracy, for freedom… our economy, they’re all on the line.”

The interview on the Earl Ingram Show on the Civic Media Radio Network, taped Wednesday, was part of a media and public events blitz that the Democratic president and his staff have acknowledged as a make-or-break moment.

In another local radio interview, also taped Wednesday and aired Thursday, Biden said, “I had a bad debate, but 90 minutes onstage does not erase what I’ve done for three and a half years.”

The two interviews, both on stations geared toward an African-American audience, were the president’s first media appearances since the debate, though he had appeared publicly at campaign events, fundraisers, and government ceremonies.

Biden also delivered televised remarks on Tuesday after the Supreme Court ruled that presidents are immune from prosecution for certain official acts performed while in office.

On Friday, the president is scheduled to tape an interview with ABC’s George Stephanopoulos during a brief campaign trip to Wisconsin. The White House denied reports that the interview could be as short as 15 minutes but did not clarify how long it would last.

With soaring anticipation for the interview, ABC has switched up its original plan of airing excerpts through the weekend, and will instead broadcast it in full Friday at 8:00 pm Eastern time.

He plans to be in Philadelphia on Sunday and to hold a full news conference during the NATO summit in Washington next week.

President Joe Biden and first lady Jill Biden arrive on stage to speak to active-duty military service members and their families during a Fourth of July celebration and barbecue on the South Lawn of the White House in Washington, Thursday, July 4, 2024. (AP/Susan Walsh)

It is not a given that his campaign will survive even that long if he does not deliver a strong showing on ABC. Discussions that were once a whisper around who should step into his place should he bow out are growing louder.

For now, Biden is not ready to walk away and has communicated that in conversations with Democratic governors, close allies and staffers from his campaign.

But time is short for a possible change. The Democratic National Committee announced weeks ago that it would hold a virtual roll call for a formal nomination before the party’s national convention, which begins Aug. 19.

In his private conversations, Biden has focused on how to reverse the trajectory from his rocky debate and has emphasized the critical nature of this year’s presidential election.

During one call, when asked what would happen if his efforts to course correct do not work, Biden stressed that he understood how important the race is and that he would put the country first, according to a person who spoke directly with the president. The person was granted anonymity to discuss private conversations.

Biden’s meeting Wednesday with the Democratic governors lasted for more than hour and drew more than 20 of them, some in person and some participating virtually.

Afterward, they described the conversation as “candid” and said they were standing behind Biden despite being concerned about a Trump victory in November. Details about Biden’s comments on getting more sleep were first reported by The New York Times.

During that meeting, Biden told leaders he had been checked out by his doctor following his debate performance, according to two people familiar with the talks who spoke on condition of anonymity because they were not authorized to discuss the private conversation.

A few hours earlier, White House press secretary Karine Jean-Pierre had said Biden had not been examined by the doctor.

First Lady Jill Biden and Second Gentleman Douglass Emhoff watch as President Joe Biden raises the hand of Vice President Kamala Harris while they view the Independence Day firework display over the National Mall from the balcony of the White House, Thursday, July 4, 2024, in Washington. (AP/Evan Vucci)

The White House has blamed Biden’s debate performance, where he appeared pale and his raspy voice trailed off at times, on a cold. Biden also said he had jet lag following back-to-back foreign trips that ended 12 days earlier.

Biden’s staff has resisted repeated calls to release more robust medical records for the 81-year-old president. After his last full physical in February, his doctor declared him fit for duty.

Two Democratic lawmakers have publicly called for Biden to drop out of the race. Most Democratic lawmakers, though, are taking a wait-and-see approach, holding out for a better idea of how the situation plays out through new polling and the TV interview.

That’s according to Democratic lawmakers who requested anonymity to speak bluntly about the president.

Some have suggested Harris is emerging as the favorite to replace Biden if he were to withdraw. Those involved in private discussions acknowledge that California’s Newsom and Gov. Gretchen Whitmer of Michigan remain viable alternatives. But for some insiders, Harris is viewed as the best prospect to quickly unify the party and avoid a messy and divisive convention fight.

Newsom was asked directly whether, if Biden dropped out, he would he support Harris. He said, “I don’t even like playing in the hypotheticals.”

Trump was seen on video declaring that Harris would be his new rival, saying, “she’s so pathetic.” It was unclear when he made the comments, which were posted on his social media account.

Later Thursday, Trump called for a second debate, “but this time, no holds barred… with just the two of us on stage.”

Even as other Democratic allies have remained quiet since the debate, there is growing private frustration about the Biden campaign’s response at a crucial moment in the campaign — particularly in Biden waiting several days to do direct damage control with senior members of his party.

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