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    Sunday, July 21, 2024

    In meeting with governors, Biden says he needs to get more sleep, avoid events after 8 p.m.

    President Joe Biden arrives to speak in the Cross Hall of the White House Monday, July 1, 2024, in Washington. (AP Photo/Jacquelyn Martin)

    President Joe Biden told Democratic governors during a private meeting at the White House on Wednesday evening that he needed to get more sleep and that he had instructed his staff to avoid scheduling events for him after 8 p.m., according to people familiar with his comments, signaling that Biden now believes he must make changes to improve his public appearances.

    The president’s remark during Wednesday’s meeting came after Gov. Josh Green, D-Hawaii, a longtime physician who has worked in emergency rooms, asked about his physical condition. The meeting was an hourlong discussion with the governors in which Biden was seeking to reassure them of his political standing, physical well-being and path to reelection.

    Biden responded that he had received a medical checkup since last week’s presidential debate and remains in good health. “It’s just my brain,” he said, according to people briefed on the meeting, a remark that staffers were quick to describe as a jest.

    “He was clearly making a joke and then said ‘all kidding aside,’” said Jen O’Malley Dillon, Biden’s campaign chair.

    On Thursday, during a drizzly Independence Day evening that delayed his appearance by about an hour, Biden emerged to speak at a barbecue for active-duty military service members and their families and declared himself “proud to be your commander in chief.”

    He read from a teleprompter, but on one occasion during the brief remarks seemed to start a story and then abruptly catch himself. He recounted traveling recently to France, a trip during which he visited a cemetery for American soldiers who died in World War I.

    “The former president, he didn’t want to go and be up there,” Biden said. “I probably shouldn’t say it. At any rate. We gotta just remember who in the hell we are — we’re the United States of America!” Biden was referring to Donald Trump, his predecessor and presumptive 2024 rival, who did not visit the cemetery during his own trip to France five years earlier.

    Afterward he lingered for a bit to shake hands and someone yelled a message of support from the crowd, telling him, “Keep up the fight. We need you.”

    “I’m not going anywhere,” he responded.

    Biden’s campaign in recent days has tried to regain its footing, and the Wednesday night meeting with governors at the White House intended as a step in shoring up support.

    A trio of governors emerged from that meeting to talk to reporters and pledge their support for Biden, while others released statements and social media posts. The meeting was mostly upbeat, according to participants, but there were also signs of the ongoing turbulence in the aftermath of the debate.

    Gov. Michelle Lujan Grisham, D-N.M., and Gov. Janet Mills, D-Maine, for example, told Biden that they were worried that he might lose their states, according to participants in the meeting. In 2020, Biden won in New Mexico by 11 points, and Maine by 9 points. Several of the details about the meeting were first reported by Politico and the New York Times.

    Biden’s comment that he needs more sleep marked one of several explanations he has offered for a debate performance in which he stumbled over words and sometimes struggled to complete sentences. He has attributed the performance to being sick, suffering from jet lag, having a mind crammed with numbers and not listening to his staff.

    Biden’s campaign suggested that avoiding events after 8 p.m. did not mean a significant limitation.

    “President Bush went to bed at 9, and President Obama made dinner at 6:30. Normal presidents strike a balance, and so does Joe Biden,” Kevin Munoz, a campaign spokesman, said in a statement. “Hardly the same rigor as Donald Trump who spends half of his day ranting on Truth Social about plans that would cause a recession and other half golfing.”

    Earlier in the day, Biden spoke with Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu for about 30 minutes, according to senior administration officials, during a roughly 90-minute period when top national security officials were with the president in the Oval Office.

    White House officials believe they have achieved “a pretty significant opening” in negotiations for a cease-fire in Gaza that could involve the release of Israeli hostages, a senior administration official said, with the coming days being important as talks continue in Doha.

    In radio interviews Thursday morning, Biden acknowledged his poor debate performance while trying to focus on his record as president and turn attention back to presumptive Republican nominee Donald Trump, whom he depicts as a threat to America’s basic values.

    “I had a bad night,” he said on “The Earl Ingram Show,” a Wisconsin-based program. “I screwed up, I made a mistake. … That’s 90 minutes onstage. Look at what I’ve done in 3½ years.”

    “We’re going to win this election,” Biden added. “We’re going to just beat Donald Trump like we did in 2020. I’m going to beat him again.”

    The president took the opportunity to cite some of the disparaging ways Trump has talked about Black voters, saying, “I’m sorry to get so worked up, but he has just done terrible things in the community, and he has about as much interest and concern for Black and minority communities as the man on the moon does.”

    Biden also noted that the interview was airing on the Fourth of July, and turned to what he views as an existential threat to democracy. “We cannot, cannot, cannot let this guy win,” he said. “It would just be disaster for America.”

    In a separate interview with Andrea Lawful-Sanders, a Black radio host based in Philadelphia, Biden said the next president could appoint “at least two more justices, maybe more,” to the Supreme Court. Asked about his message to voters who may sit the election out, he said, “If you don’t do something about it, you’re to blame.”

    The Republican National Committee took a different approach to the Independence Day holiday, saying Wednesday that thanks to “Bidenflation,” this will be the most expensive Fourth of July on record. Citing the American Farm Bureau, the RNC said that ground beef costs 11 percent more than last year, buns are up 7 percent and lemonade up 12 percent.

    “Biden’s policies are to blame for inflation and Americans know it,” its statement said.

    The Biden team sought to use the holiday to shift the discussion from the president’s shaky performance in last week’s debate, as Democrats attacked Trump as a would-be king who would trample the country’s founding principles if he regains the White House. “This July Fourth, Donald Trump Wants to Make America a Monarchy Again,” the Biden campaign warned in an email blast.

    The campaign released an ad saying this week’s Supreme Court decision granting presidents immunity for their official actions would enable Trump to rule by fiat.

    “America was founded in defiance of a king,” the ad intones, to ominous music and imagery of the Statue of Liberty shrouded in haze. “He’s already led an insurrection, and threatened to be a dictator ‘on Day One.’”

    Democratic leaders have long tried to frame the presidential race as a showdown between Biden and a would-be tyrant who would destroy the country’s core values of freedom and democracy. They have cited Trump’s vows to target his political opponents, his embrace of the Jan. 6, 2021, assault on the U.S. Capitol, his harsh statements about immigrants and similar rhetoric.

    The presidential debate abruptly shifted the conversation onto terrain far more friendly to Trump. Leading Democrats and Republicans immediately became embroiled in a debate over Biden’s age — he is 81 and Trump is 78 — and his ability to run a campaign and serve as president for four more years.

    Against that backdrop, the White House has faced questions in recent days about whether it would be willing to release additional medical records on Biden.

    White House spokesman Andrew Bates confirmed Thursday that Biden did have a check-in with his doctor several days after the debate, as the president had told the governors. “The president was seen to check on his cold and was recovering well,” Bates said.

    But White House press secretary Karine Jean-Pierre twice told reporters Wednesday that the president had not had any medical exams since his annual physical in February.

    “We were able to talk to his doctor about that. And that is a no,” she said in response to a question. Administration officials said Thursday that she was referring to a full physical exam, and that his recent check-in did not involve a range of tests.

    But asked later in the briefing about seeing a doctor, particularly in the lead-up to the debate if he had a cold, she also said no. “He did not. He did not get checked out by the doctor,” she said. “It’s a cold, guys. It’s a cold. And I know that it affects everybody differently. We’ve all had colds, and so no, he was not checked by the doctor.”

    In recent days, Biden’s top advisers have accepted that they have a short window to reassure a broad swath of the Democratic Party that he is fit for office or face a significant push for him to step aside. Thursday’s commentary about Trump’s authoritarian rhetoric is part of a parallel effort to remind voters of the former president’s own vulnerabilities and frame him as an “unpatriotic” figure.

    Jaime Harrison, chair of the Democratic National Committee, sent out a holiday email warning that “the soul of the nation is at stake.”

    “Will we vote for a president who believes in our democracy and in the principles of justice, liberty, and equality?” Harrison wrote. “Or will we succumb to a wannabe dictator on ‘day one,’ who will put himself above our constitution, our principles, and the democracy that we hold dear?

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