White House seeks to stop the bleeding amid new calls for Biden dropout

bleeding parnes gangitano AP

The White House and Biden campaign sought to stop the bleeding Wednesday, forcefully saying the president will not be dropping out of the race after a disastrous debate underscored concerns about his age and ability to serve. 

Allies and staff spent the day Wednesday in cleanup mode, making it known that Biden will be the Democratic nominee despite the panic within the Democratic Party and new polls showing him losing ground to former President Trump. 

The triage from Biden and his top aides came a day after Democrats began to call for the president to drop out of the race, a wave of news reports came out highlighting the president’s mental acuity and accounts of the president needing naps in the middle of debate prep.

Biden also dug himself into a deeper hole by blaming the bad debate on jet lag, even though he’d returned to the United States from Europe 12 days before the debate.

“They had a f‑‑‑ing miserable Tuesday so they needed to get in there and do damage control stat,” said one Democratic strategist close to the Biden campaign. “Everyone was writing the obituary yesterday. 

“The thing is, it hasn’t gotten better today,” the strategist said. “No one is in a good place.”

A second House Democrat, Rep. Raúl Grijalva (Ariz.), on Wednesday said Biden should step down.

“If he’s the candidate, I’m going to support him, but I think that this is an opportunity to look elsewhere,” Grijalva told The New York Times in an interview. “What he needs to do is shoulder the responsibility for keeping that seat — and part of that responsibility is to get out of this race.”

Grijalva followed Texas Democratic Rep. Lloyd Doggett, who a day earlier had called for Biden to drop out of the race. The Boston Globe’s editorial board also said Biden should step down.

Behind the scenes, Democrats acknowledged that they were having trouble seeing a path forward for the president. Chatter has increased about the possibility of the party rallying around Vice President Harris.  

“People are starting to talk about his candidacy in the past tense,” a second strategist acknowledged. “The conversation is moving toward Kamala.”  

As part of the cleanup effort, Biden is participating in a high-stakes interview with ABC’s George Stephanopoulos on Friday, a moment Democrats say could be the nail in the coffin on his presidential bid if it goes poorly. Even if it doesn’t, Biden will have to survive a press conference next week when he takes part in the NATO Summit in Washington. 

Democrats close to the campaign and the White House said the president’s team were putting a lot of stock in the interview and the summit, which they say will portray an energetic president who can handle unscripted and off-the-cuff moments.

But one Democratic operative who has spoken to top aides at the White House said, “They’re really leaving this up to chance.”

There are have been complaints that the White House has not more often put Biden out in front of cameras and in situations where he could push back at the idea that he is too infirm to be president. The 81-year-old Biden did take on criticisms of his age lightly a day after the debate at a campaign rally, but he was also using a teleprompter at the time.

“The president doesn’t need home runs right now,” the Democratic operative said. “He needs to hit a lot of consecutive singles and they let almost a week go by without doing that.”

Others said Biden could have taken a question or two when he issued a White House statement Monday night in response to the Supreme Court’s decision that presidents enjoy immunity from criminal prosecution for official acts, a decision seen as a big win for Trump.

“That was a missed opportunity,” a second strategist said. “And if he’s forced to drops out, they’re going to look back at the moment and regret that decision.” 

Biden, along with Harris, joined a call with campaign staff on Wednesday and “unequivocally” told the team that he is running for reelection.

“I’m in this race to the end and we’re going to win because when Democrats unite, we will always win. Just as we beat Donald Trump in 2020, we’re going to beat him again in 2024,” Biden said on the call, a source familiar told The Hill.

White House press secretary Karine Jean-Pierre later on Wednesday reiterated to reporters that the president isn’t dropping out. 

“The president is moving forward, he’s moving forward as being president, he’s moving forward with his campaign — as his campaign has been very, very clear about that,” she said.

Still, while Biden and his senior aides tried their best to salvage their weakened campaign, Democratic strategists, donors and other operatives said they wondered if they could resuscitate it.

“Things are not looking up,” said one major Democratic donor. “I don’t know how you recover from this. No one is feeling good about this. No one thinks the president can win. The question now is ‘how can we win?’” 

White House chief of staff Jeff Zients held a meeting with administration aides to encourage them to keep their heads high, during which “he talked about the importance of coming together as a team and also having each other’s backs,” Jean-Pierre said.

And Biden spoke Wednesday with Senate Majority Leader Chuck Schumer (D-N.Y.) and House Democratic Leader Hakeem Jeffries (N.Y.) along with top Democrats Rep. James Clyburn (S.C.), and Rep. Nancy Pelosi (Calif.), Jean-Pierre told reporters. He is set to speak with more than 20 Democratic governors later in the day.

The White House was also quick to push back on reporting that suggested the president could drop his bid as part of its damage control.

It refuted reporting from The New York Times citing key Biden ally, who said the president “knows he may not be able to salvage his candidacy if he cannot convince the public in the coming days that he is up for the job.” 

“We asked the president,” said Jean-Pierre, who added that Biden responded directly that the story was “absolutely false.”

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