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Biden tries to dismiss age questions in interview, but many Dems still concerned

MADISON, Wis. (AP) — President Joe Biden, fighting to save his endangered reelection effort, used a highly anticipated TV interview to repeatedly reject taking an independent medical evaluation that would show voters he is up for serving another term in office while blaming his disastrous debate performance on a “bad episode” and saying there were “no indications of any serious condition.”

“Look, I have a cognitive test every single day,” Biden told ABC’s George Stephanopoulos, referring to the tasks he faces daily in a rigorous job. “Every day, I have that test. Everything I do. You know, not only am I campaigning, but I’m running the world.”

The 81-year-old Biden made it through the 22-minute interview Friday without any major blunders that would inflict further damage to his imperiled candidacy. But it appeared unlikely to fully tamp down concerns about his age and fitness for another four years and his ability to defeat Donald Trump in November.

On Saturday, another Democratic lawmaker joined close to a half dozen in saying Biden should not run again. Rep. Angie Craig of Minnesota said that given what she saw and heard in the debate, and Biden’s “lack of a forceful response” afterward, he should step aside “and allow for a new generation of leaders to step forward.”

Craig posted one of the Democrats’ key suburban wins in the 2018 midterms and could be a barometer for districts that were vital for Biden in 2020.

The interview left Biden in a standoff against a not-insignificant faction of his party with four months to go until Election Day, and with just weeks until the Democratic National Convention. The drawn-out spectacle could benefit Biden’s efforts to remain in the race by limiting the party’s options to replace him. But it also could be a distraction from vital efforts to frame the 2024 race as a referendum on Trump.

During the interview, Biden insisted he was not more frail than earlier in his presidency. He said he undergoes “ongoing assessment” by his personal doctors and they “don’t hesitate to tell me” if something is wrong.

“Can I run the 100 in 10 flat? No. But I’m still in good shape,” Biden said.

As for the debate, “I didn’t listen to my instincts in terms of preparing,” Biden said.

Biden suggested that Trump’s disruptions — from just a few feet away — had flustered him: “I realized that, even when I was answering a question and they turned his mic off, he was still shouting and I let it distract me. I’m not blaming it on that. But I realized that I just wasn’t in control.”

At times, Biden rambled during the interview, which ABC said aired in full and without edits. At one point, he started to explain his debate performance, then veered to a New York Times poll, then pivoted to the lies Trump told during the debate. Biden also referred to the midterm “red wave” as occurring in 2020, rather than 2022.

Asked how he might turn the race around, Biden argued that one key would be large and energetic rallies like the one he held Friday in Wisconsin. When reminded that Trump routinely draws larger crowds, the president laid into his opponent.

“Trump is a pathological liar,” Biden said, accusing Trump of bungling the federal response to the COVID pandemic and failing to create jobs. “You ever see something that Trump did that benefited someone else and not him?”

The interview, paired with a weekend campaign in battleground Wisconsin and Pennsylvania, was part of Biden’s rigorous effort to course correct from his rocky debate performance. But internal party frustrations continue to fester, with one influential Democratic senator working on a nascent push to encourage the president to exit the race and Democrats quietly chatting about where they would go next if the president drops out — or what it would mean if he stays in.

“It’s President Biden’s decision whether or not he remains in the race. Voters select our nominee and they chose him,” said California Rep. Ro Khanna, a member of the Biden campaign’s national advisory board that works as a gathering of his top surrogates. “Now, he needs to prove to those voters that he is up to the job and that will require more than just this one interview.”

One Democrat who watched said they found Biden to be still shaky under controlled conditions and predicted more will call on him to leave the race.

Still, in Wisconsin, Biden was focused on proving his capacity to serve another term. When asked whether he would halt his campaign, he told reporters he was “completely ruling that out” and said he is “positive” he could serve another four years. At a rally in front of hundreds of supporters he acknowledged his subpar debate performance but insisted, “I am running, and I’m going to win again.”

While private angst among Democratic lawmakers, donors and strategists has been running deep since the debate, most in the party have held public fire as they wait to see if the president can restore confidence with his weekend travel and his handling of the interview. Top Biden campaign officials were texting lawmakers encouraging them to refrain from public comments about the situation and give the president a chance to respond, according to a Democrat granted anonymity to discuss the situation.

To that end, Sen. Mark Warner reached out to fellow senators throughout this week to discuss whether to ask Biden to exit the race, according to three people familiar with the effort who requested anonymity to talk about private conversations. The Virginia Democrat’s moves are notable given his chairmanship of the Senate Intelligence Committee and his reputation as a lawmaker who is supportive of Biden and has working relationships with colleagues in both parties. Warner’s effort was first reported by The Washington Post.

The strategy remains fluid. One of the people with knowledge of Warner’s effort said there are enough Senate Democrats concerned enough about Biden’s capacity to run for reelection to take some sort of action, although there was yet no consensus on what that plan would be. Some of the Democratic senators could meet as soon as Monday on how to move forward.

The top Democrats on House committees are planning to meet virtually Sunday to discuss the situation, according to a person familiar with the gathering granted anonymity to talk about it.

At least five House Democrats have called for Biden to step down as the nominee. 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.”

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

In the interview, Biden was asked how he might be persuaded to leave the race. He laughed and replied, “If the Lord Almighty comes down and tells me that, I might do that.”

There were also a few signs of discontent at Biden’s campaign rally Friday, with one person onstage waving a sign that read “Pass the torch Joe” as the president came out. His motorcade was also greeted at the middle school by a few people urging him to move on.

But Rebecca Green, a 52-year-old environmental scientist from Madison, said she found Biden’s energy reassuring. “We were just waiting for him to come out strong and fighting again, the way we know he is.”

Many Democratic lawmakers, who are hearing from constituents at home during the holiday week, are deeply frustrated and split on whether Biden should stay or go. 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.

Biden appears to have pulled his family closer while attempting to prove that he’s still the Democrats’ best option.

The ubiquitous presence of Hunter Biden in the West Wing since the debate has become an uncomfortable dynamic for many staffers, according to two Democrats close to the White House who requested anonymity to discuss the sensitive matter.

For many staffers, the sight of Hunter Biden, just weeks after his conviction on felony gun charges, taking a larger role in advising his father has been unsettling and a questionable choice, they said.

In a hastily organized gathering with more than 20 Democratic governors Wednesday evening, Biden acknowledged he needs to sleep more and limit evening events so he can be rested for the job. In trying to explain away those comments, White House press secretary Karine Jean-Pierre stressed that Biden “works around the clock” but that he “also recognizes the importance of striking a balance and taking care of himself.”

Kentucky Gov. Andy Beshear, who attended the meeting, said Biden “certainly engaged with us on complicated matters.”

“But then again, this is something that he needs to not just reassure Democratic governors on, but he needs to reassure the American people,” Beshear said.

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