World

Biden ‘completely’ rules out quitting 2024 bid as he sits for TV interview

But rigorous efforts to course correct from his disastrous debate performance last week are not yet quelling internal party frustrations.

President Joe Biden speaks at a campaign rally at Sherman Middle School in Madison, Wisconsin (Manuel Balce Ceneta/AP)
President Joe Biden speaks at a campaign rally at Sherman Middle School in Madison, Wisconsin (Manuel Balce Ceneta/AP) (Manuel Balce Ceneta/AP)

US President Joe Biden, fighting to save his endangered re-election effort, has defiantly said he is “completely” ruling out quitting his 2024 bid.

The comment came after he finished taping a pivotal television interview where his every answer is sure to be scrutinised for evidence of his competency and fitness to run for office.

Yet Mr Biden’s rigorous efforts to course correct from his disastrous debate performance last week were not yet quelling internal party frustrations, with Democrats quietly chatting about where they would go next if the president drops out — or what it would mean if he stays in.

But in Wisconsin, Mr Biden was focused on proving his capacity to remain as president. When asked whether he would halt his campaign, he said he was “completely ruling that out” and said he is “positive” he could serve for another four years.

In an excerpt from the interview with ABC’s George Stephanopoulos, the president said his disastrous debate performance last week was a “bad episode” and there were “no indications of any serious condition”.

“I didn’t listen to my instincts in terms of preparing,” said Mr Biden, who rejected the idea of taking an independent medical evaluation.

“I have a cognitive test every single day. Every day, I have that test. Everything I do. You know, not only am I campaigning, but I’m running the world.

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

Mr Biden suggested that disruptions from Mr Trump — who he described as a “pathological liar: — had flustered him during the debate.

“I realised that, even when I was answering a question and they turned his mic off, he was still shouting and I let it distract me,” he said. “I’m not blaming it on that. But I realised that I just wasn’t in control.”

President Joe Biden arrives to board Air Force One at Andrews Air Force Base (Manuel Balce Ceneta/AP)
President Joe Biden arrives to board Air Force One at Andrews Air Force Base (Manuel Balce Ceneta/AP) (Manuel Balce Ceneta/AP)

Earlier in Madison, Mr Biden again acknowledged in front of hundreds of supporters his subpar debate performance. Still, 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,” a forceful Biden said, as the crowd gathered in a local middle school cheered and waved campaign signs. “I will beat him again.”

Mr Biden, relying on a teleprompter for his remarks, attacked his presumptive Republican challenger almost immediately, laying into Trump by pointing out that the former president once said that “George Washington’s army won the revolution by taking control of the airports from the British”.

As the crowd laughed, Mr Biden continued: “Talk about me misspeaking.”

The rally preceded an interview that could be a watershed moment for Mr 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, which was taped after the campaign rally in Madison, 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 Mr 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 Mr Biden’s interview, with press secretary Karine Jean-Pierre saying that “millions of Americans” are expected to watch.

While private angst among Democratic legislators, donors and strategists is running deep after Mr 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.

At least three House Democrats have called for Mr Biden to step down as the nominee, with Seth Moulton expressing his concerns in a Thursday radio interview and joining Lloyd Doggett and Raul Grijalva in seeking an alternative.

President Joe Biden points as he arrives on Air Force One at Dane County Regional Airport to attend a campaign rally in Madison, Wisconsin (Manuel Balce Ceneta/AP)
President Joe Biden points as he arrives on Air Force One at Dane County Regional Airport to attend a campaign rally in Madison, Wisconsin (Manuel Balce Ceneta/AP) (Manuel Balce Ceneta/AP)

“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,” Mr Moulton told the radio station WBUR on Thursday.

Meanwhile, Mr Biden appears to have pulled his family and inner circle closer while attempting to prove that he’s still the Democrats’ best option for competing in November’s election.

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 gun charges, taking a larger role in advising his father has been unsettling and a questionable choice for the high-stakes moment, they said.

For Mr Biden, every moment now is critical to restoring the lost confidence stemming from his shaky performance in Atlanta last week.

Yet the president continued to make slip-ups that did not help that effort.

During an interview with WURD radio in Philadelphia that aired on Thursday, Mr Biden tripped up and said “I’m proud to be, as I said, the first vice president, the first Black woman to serve with a Black president” – scrambling some of his often-used lines about his pride in serving with the first Black president and choosing the first Black woman to be vice president.

Such verbal glitches are not out of the ordinary for Mr Biden but are getting magnified attention in this environment.

In a hastily organised gathering with more than 20 Democratic governors on Wednesday evening, Mr Biden acknowledged that he needs to get more sleep and limit evening events so he can be rested for the job, according to three people granted anonymity to speak about the private meeting.