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‘Roll the dice’: Three things to watch as Biden’s candidacy hangs in balance

‘Interact with people — it’s always been his superpower,’ former DNC official says

President Joe Biden departs after delivering remarks on the Supreme Court's immunity ruling in the Cross Hall of the White House on Monday night.
President Joe Biden departs after delivering remarks on the Supreme Court's immunity ruling in the Cross Hall of the White House on Monday night. (Mandel Ngan/AFP/Getty Images)

ANALYSIS — President Joe Biden plans a blitz of private phone calls with top Democrats and public appearances, including a TV interview and a news conference, to try to salvage his embattled reelection after a disastrous debate performance inflamed concerns about the 81-year-old president’s ability to defeat Donald Trump and do the job until January 2029.

But putting last week’s incoherent answers and far-away stares behind him will only add new degrees of difficulty to his rematch with front-runner Trump, the expected Republican nominee, despite the former president’s legal struggles and penchant to lie.

Biden returned to the White House on Monday evening for remarks slamming the Supreme Court’s conservative justices over their blockbuster ruling that Trump and other presidents have immunity from prosecution for official actions taken in office. Unlike during last week’s debate, his tone was clear and forceful as he made a plea to voters.

In a major change to his public schedule as he feels the heat from his fellow Democrats, the White House on Tuesday announced plans to put Biden back in front of voters and television cameras into the weekend. 

He will speak to Democratic congressional leaders and governors later this week and travel to Wisconsin on Friday and Philadelphia on Sunday, said Karine Jean-Pierre, the White House press secretary. He also will sit down with ABC News for a one-on-one interview and hold a news conference during next week’s NATO summit in Washington, she said. He previously was scheduled to spend the weekend at his Wilmington, Del., residence.

Speaking at Tuesday’s White House briefing shortly after Texas Rep. Lloyd Doggett issued the first public call from a congressional Democrat for Biden to end his campaign, Jean-Pierre repeatedly said Biden had a “bad night” and a cold at the debate and that Biden himself acknowledges he doesn’t walk, talk or debate like he did when he was a younger man. Asked whether White House aides were hiding any physical and mental deficiencies in the boss, however, Jean-Pierre shot back, “Absolutely not.”

Here are three things to watch.

‘D.C. elites’

The Monday speech and a Tuesday appearance at a Washington, D.C., emergency operations facility to discuss extreme weather both were quintessential Biden, allowing him to rail against Trump then vow support for those who will be impacted. That is precisely what one former Democratic official said voters need to see and hear.

“I’m in the ‘Let Joe be Joe’ camp. Joe Biden needs to get out and interact with people — it’s always been his superpower,” Ivan Zapien, a former DNC official and aide to Sen. Bob Menendez, D-N.J., said in an email. “Let people see him and interact with him. Let his actions speak to the narrative in the press and with D.C. elites.”

While it might seem like a stretch to separate Biden — a senator for 36 years, then vice president for eight before becoming president in 2021 — from the so-called D.C. elites, his top campaign aides also have attempted to do just that since Thursday night’s one-on-one with Trump. (That’s a total of 47 years.)

“It’s a familiar story: Following Thursday night’s debate, the Beltway class is counting Joe Biden out,” Jen O’Malley Dillon, Biden’s campaign chair, wrote in a Saturday memo. “The data in the battleground states, though, tells a different story.

“On every metric that matters, data shows it did nothing to change the American people’s perception, our supporters are more fired up than ever, and Donald Trump only reminded voters of why they fired him four years ago and failed to expand his appeal beyond his MAGA base,” she said.

It will be worth tracking Biden’s closest congressional allies, including Delaware Democratic Sen. Chris Coons. Asked Monday in a television interview whether the president had decided to stay in the race, Coons replied, “Yes.”

Coons said Biden’s more energetic rally Friday in Raleigh, N.C., was the “beginning of that process of showing him forceful, engaged, energetic [and] going through the arguments that I, frankly, wish he had made as forcefully on the debate stage Thursday night.”

Elected Democrats

Biden aides had been quick to note that no elected Democratic lawmakers or officials had publicly called for him to step aside. That changed, however, on Tuesday.

Former Speaker Nancy Pelosi, D-Calif., told MSNBC that she has heard this from fellow Democrats: “Some are like, ‘Well, how can we subject the [nomination] process to what might be possible? Others are, ‘Joe is our guy. We love him. We trust him. He has vision, knowledge, judgment, integrity,” she said, adding, “I trust his judgment.”

Doggett issued a statement moments later saying Biden should end his bid for a second term.

“Recognizing that, unlike Trump, President Biden’s first commitment has always been to our country, not himself, I am hopeful that he will make the painful and difficult decision to withdraw. I respectfully call on him to do so,” Doggett said in a statement. 

Biden’s top campaign aides gave no indication on Tuesday that Doggett’s call had changed those plans. Their vows to go on have not stopped some influential Democratic lawmakers from describing party bigwigs and Biden’s inner circle as still deciding whether, at his age and after much personal trauma, the president has lost too many mental and physical steps to both defeat Trump again and serve another four-year term.

“There was a big problem with Joe Biden’s debate performance. … There are very honest and serious and rigorous conversations taking place at every level of our party,” Rep. Jamie Raskin, D-Md., told MSNBC.

“We’re having a serious conversation about what to do. One thing I can tell you is that regardless of what President Biden decides, our party is going to be unified,” he added.

And Kentucky’s Democratic governor, Andy Beshear, mentioned as a possible top-of-the-ticket replacement, did little Monday to dispel the notion he would be interested should Biden step aside.

“Only he can make decisions about his future candidacy. So as long as he continues to be in the race, I support him,” Beshear told a group of local reporters, according to clips posted on social media site X.

‘Go on offense’

Democratic power brokers and lawmakers surely watched Biden’s Monday prime-time speech closely, as well as his Tuesday remarks on severe weather. Some Democratic strategists have said publicly since the debate that the White House and campaign should quickly get the president into an unscripted environment.

Jim Manley, a Democratic strategist and former senior Senate aide, said the Biden campaign needs to realize that “real damage was done that will be difficult to overcome — but it’s possible to get back the momentum that was lost.”

To do so, Manley said in an email, “they are going to have to roll the dice and go on offense. [Biden] is simply going to have to sit down with the media and take questions. The [speech] Monday night was a start, but they are going to have to do more to show Democrats — and wavering independents and [GOP] never-Trumpers — that he still has what it takes to be president.”

Jean-Pierre vowed a publicly active president who “gets it” about his debate night. “We want to turn the page,” she said Tuesday.