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    Sunday, July 21, 2024

    Biden plans public events blitz as White House pushes back on pressure to leave the race

    White House press secretary Karine Jean-Pierre speaks during the daily briefing at the White House in Washington, Tuesday, June 18, 2024. (AP Photo/Susan Walsh)

    Washington — The White House announced Tuesday that President Joe Biden will meet with congressional leaders and Democratic governors, sit for a network TV interview and hold a press conference in the coming days, a blitz designed to push back against growing pressure for the 81-year-old president to step aside in the 2024 race after his disastrous performance in last week’s debate with Republican Donald Trump.

    “We really want to turn the page on this,” White House press secretary Karine Jean-Pierre said of the intensifying calls for Biden to bow out of the race. She added that the president had no intention of stepping aside, characterizing his debate failings as simply evidence of “a bad night” when he had a cold.

    During a campaign event later Tuesday, Biden blamed it on jet lag after two back-to-back European trips. “I wasn’t very smart. I decided to travel around the world a couple of times," he said. The president added that he “didn’t listen to my staff” about travel and joked that he “fell asleep on stage” during the debate.

    But Democratic leaders were increasingly signaling that they were not buying White House attempts to brush off Biden's performance in the face-off as a momentary lapse, after he gave halting and nonsensical answers and trailed off at times.

    There's growing anxiety among donors and on Capitol Hill about the president's ability to win come November, according to people who spoke to The Associated Press on condition of anonymity to discuss internal conversations. And it's not helping that Biden has yet to reach out to legislators, who are growing increasingly frustrated that the White House has not satisfactorily explained how such a seasoned politician could have performed so badly.

    Questions swirled about whether this was an isolated incident or part of a pattern. Two people who spend time with Biden behind closed doors described him similarly: He was often very sharp and focused. But he also had moments, particularly later in the evening, when his thoughts seemed jumbled and he'd trail off mid-sentence or seem confused. Those people spoke to The Associated Press on condition of anonymity to discuss the president's interactions behind closed doors.

    Former House Speaker Nancy Pelosi told MSNBC that she believes “it is a legitimate question” whether Biden’s performance was just “an episode or is this a condition.”

    “When people ask that question, it’s legitimate — of both candidates,” Pelosi said.

    But she did not go so far as to ask him to step aside. Pelosi said she had not spoken with Biden since the debate, but she emphasized that the president is on “top of his game, in terms of knowing the issues and what is at stake.” And a spokesperson later said Pelosi had full confidence in Biden and "looks forward to attending his inauguration on January 20, 2025.”

    Rep. Lloyd Doggett of Texas became the first Democratic member of Congress to publicly call for Biden to step down. Doggett, who is 77 and has been a fixture on Capitol Hill since the mid-1990s, said Biden should “make the painful and difficult decision” to withdraw, citing the president's inability to “effectively defend his many accomplishments” in the debate.

    Rep. Jared Golden, a moderate Democrat from Maine, said in a local newspaper column Tuesday that the debate “didn’t rattle me as it has others, because the outcome of this election has been clear to me for months: While I don’t plan to vote for him, Donald Trump is going to win. And I’m OK with that.”

    Biden has acknowledged that he had performed poorly, telling supporters he was not as young as he once was, but that he knew how to deliver doing the job. But allies worry that the next inevitable misstep by Biden — even if it’s not at the magnitude of his debate disaster — will resurrect voter concerns about the president’s fitness for office.

    The president has been encouraged by his family to stay in the race. The two people who carry the most weight — first lady Jill Biden and his son Hunter — have said he should keep fighting. Hunter Biden is in Washington to celebrate the July 4th holiday and stopped by at least one meeting with his father briefly, according to two people with direct knowledge of the events who spoke to the AP on condition of anonymity to discuss a private meeting.

    Jean-Pierre said Biden, who has not taken questions from reporters since Thursday night’s debate, would meet with top congressional leaders, and on Wednesday would host a meeting with Democratic governors. White House Chief of Staff Jeff Zeints was set to speak again with Senate Majority Leader Chuck Schumer Tuesday afternoon, one of the people said.

    Biden also agreed to sit for an interview Friday with ABC’s George Stephanopoulos that will air at least in part later that day. He has planned trips to Wisconsin on Friday and Philadelphia on Sunday. And he will hold a press conference during the NATO summit in Washington next week.

    The White House was also holding an all-staff meeting on Wednesday, billed as a morale-booster following the debate and a chance for the senior team to keep the staff focused around governing, according to three people familiar with the details who spoke to The Associated Press on condition of anonymity to discuss a private meeting.

    The president's stepped-up schedule comes after a private discussion within Biden’s campaign about what can be done to counteract the damaging impression left by last week’s debate. On Monday, Biden met with emergency management workers in Washington, jauntily walking the room and smiling and joking as he thanked the teams for their work.

    “We’re going to get out there, across the country. Americans are going to see him for themselves," Jean-Pierre said at a White House briefing, rejecting any suggestion that the president undergo cognitive testing or provide additional information on his medical condition.

    When asked whether the president had a degenerative illness or dementia, Jean-Pierre said: “No. And I hope you’re asking the other guy the same question,” she said, referring to Trump, who is 78 and once challenged Biden to a cognitive test, only to confuse who administered the test to him in the next sentence.

    Biden is trying to keep the focus on Trump, as he has throughout the campaign. In remarks Monday, he drew a sharp contrast with the presumptive Republican nominee on obeying the rule of law. He said the Supreme Court ruling that granted Trump and other presidents broad immunity would make an unchecked Trump “more emboldened to do whatever he wants” if he regains the White House.

    Part of the anxiety for Democrats right now, some of the people said, is that with the focus so squarely on Biden, there has been less attention paid to Trump, whose debate performance was riddled with falsehoods about the Jan. 6, 2021 Capitol riot, Democrats’ views on abortion rights and a 2017 neo-Nazi rally in which he said: “You had some very bad people in that group, but you also had people that were very fine people, on both sides.”

    Associated Press writers Josh Boak, Stephen Groves, Mary Clare Jalonick, Michael Balsamo, Will Weissert and Zeke Miller contributed to this report.

    President Joe Biden speaks during a visit to the D.C. Emergency Operations Center, Tuesday, July 2, 2024, in Washington. (AP Photo/Evan Vucci)

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