Biden vows he’s ‘staying in the race’ as he scrambles to save candidacy

Defiant remarks at Wisconsin campaign rally come ahead of heavily touted interview where US president aims to show he is not too old for the job

US President Joe Biden speaks at a campaign rally at Sherman Middle School in Madison, Wis., Friday, July 5, 2024. (AP Photo/Manuel Balce Ceneta)
US President Joe Biden speaks at a campaign rally at Sherman Middle School in Madison, Wis., Friday, July 5, 2024. (AP Photo/Manuel Balce Ceneta)

MADISON, Wisconsin (AP) — US President Joe Biden, fighting to save his endangered reelection effort Friday, defiantly declared that “I’m staying in the race” during a campaign rally in a critical battleground state as he prepares to sit down for a network television interview where his every answer is sure to be scrutinized for evidence of his competency and fitness to run for office.

In front of roughly 300 supporters at a Wisconsin middle school, Biden again acknowledged his subpar debate last week, saying he “can’t say it was my best performance” but that 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,” Biden said. “I will beat him again.”

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.

The White House itself was raising the stakes for Biden’s interview, with press secretary Karine Jean-Pierre saying that “millions of Americans” are expected to watch.

US President Joe Biden, right, greets supporters at a campaign rally at Sherman Middle School in Madison, Wis., Friday, July 5, 2024. (AP Photo/Manuel Balce Ceneta)

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.

But at least three House Democrats have called for Biden to step down as the nominee, with Rep. Seth Moulton, D-Mass., expressing his concerns in a Thursday radio interview and joining Rep. Lloyd Doggett, D-Texas, and Raúl Grijalva, D-Ariz., in seeking an alternative.

“President Biden has done enormous service to our country, but now is the time for him to follow in one of our founding father, George Washington’s footsteps and step aside to let new leaders rise up and run against Donald Trump,” Moulton told the radio station WBUR on Thursday.

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.”

Former US president Donald Trump speaks during a campaign rally at the Historic Greenbrier Farms in Chesapeake, Virginia, on June 28, 2024. (Jim Watson/AFP)

“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.”

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.

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