President Joe Biden told ally that he is weighing up whether to continue in the race

Katie Rogers
The New York Times
Biden could step down in days after admitting to a key ally that an upcoming interview was crucial.
Biden could step down in days after admitting to a key ally that an upcoming interview was crucial. Credit: HAIYUN JIANG/NYT

WASHINGTON — President Joe Biden has told a key ally that he 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 after a disastrous debate performance last week.

The president, whom this ally emphasized is still deeply in the re-election fight, understands that his next few appearances heading into the holiday weekend must go well, particularly an interview scheduled for Friday with George Stephanopoulos of ABC News and campaign stops in Pennsylvania and Wisconsin.

“He knows if he has two more events like that, we’re in a different place” by the end of the weekend, said the ally, referring to Biden’s halting and unfocused performance in the debate.

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The person, who talked to the president in the past 24 hours, spoke on the condition of anonymity to discuss a sensitive situation.

Andrew Bates, a White House spokesperson, said the report was “absolutely false” and that the White House had not been given enough time to respond.

The conversation is the first indication to become public that the president is seriously considering whether he can recover after a devastating performance on the debate stage in Atlanta on Thursday.

Concerns are mounting about his viability as a candidate and whether he could serve as president for another four years.

Several of his allies stressed on Wednesday that Biden still wanted to fight to keep control of his candidacy even as headwinds in his party grew stronger.

A top adviser to Biden, who also spoke on the condition of anonymity to discuss the situation, said the president was “well aware of the political challenge he faces.”

That person added on Wednesday that Biden was aware that the outcome of his campaign could be a different ending than the one he is fighting for, but that the president believes he is an effective leader who is mentally sharp and “doesn’t get how others don’t accept that.” Biden still adamantly views his debate showing as a bad performance and not a revelatory event.

Campaign officials were nervously awaiting the results of a new poll on Wednesday, recognizing that bad numbers could fuel the crisis.

A CBS News poll released Wednesday morning showed former President Donald Trump edging ahead of Biden since the debate with 50 per cent to 48 per cent nationally and 51 per cent to 48 per cent in battleground states.

Biden has been slow to personally reach out to key Democrats, which has fuelled anger in the party and frustrated some of his own advisers.

A Marine stands at the entrance to the West Wing at the White House in Washington, on Wednesday, July 3, 2024. President Joe Biden has told a key ally that he 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 after a disastrous debate performance last week. (Eric Lee/The New York Times)
A Marine stands at the entrance to the West Wing at the White House in Washington, on Wednesday, July 3, 2024. President Joe Biden has told a key ally that he 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 after a disastrous debate performance last week. (Eric Lee/The New York Times) Credit: ERIC LEE/NYT

He called only Rep. Hakeem Jeffries of New York, the House Democratic leader, on Tuesday night, five days after the debate, and spoke with Sen. Chuck Schumer of New York, the Senate Democratic leader, for the first time on Wednesday morning.

He had not spoken with former House Speaker Nancy Pelosi of California as of Tuesday, and key donors expressed exasperation that he did not join a campaign call on Monday meant to assuage them.

Democratic leaders in the House and Senate were not urging their members to rally around Biden on Wednesday. Instead, they were listening to a myriad of complaints from across the party, including its centrist wing and its progressives.

The message from leadership was that members should feel free to take a position about Biden’s candidacy that was best for their districts. Members of Biden’s team — including Steve Ricchetti and Shuwanza Goff —- were working the phones, trying to tamp down the growing discontent.

The dilemma for Democrats was illustrated by the actions of Sen. Joe Manchin of West Virginia, a longtime Democrat who recently abandoned the party. The senator was so disillusioned by Biden’s debate performance that he asked his staff to book him on several Sunday shows to rail against the state of the campaign.

Manchin was also angered that he made phone calls to top Democrats that went unreturned. Eventually, Sen. Chris Coons, D-Del., Schumer and other Democrats intervened, and Manchin cancelled his television appearances. Other lawmakers who have expressed openness to replacing Biden have received calls from the campaign asking for more time to right the ship.

The president was scheduled to have lunch on Wednesday with Vice President Kamala Harris and meet with Democratic governors at the White House in the evening.

Until now, he has focused more on speaking with trusted advisers and family members, who have urged him to stay in the race.

But he has told at least one person that he is open to the possibility that his plans to move on from his debate performance — and flip the focus back to Trump — may not work.

Several allies of Biden have underscored that he is still in the fight of his political life and largely sees this moment as a chance to come back from being counted out, as he has done many times throughout his half-century career.

At the same time, they said, he is clear-eyed about his uphill battle to convince voters, donors and the political class that his debate performance was an anomaly.

Some of the president’s advisers have grown increasingly pessimistic in the past day or so as unrest in the party has continued to grow, a reflection of unhappiness not just over the debate performance but the handling of it since then.

President Joe Biden and first lady Jill Biden arrive at Fort Lesley J. McNair in Washington on Monday, July 1, 2024. Biden is cleareyed about his uphill battle to convince voters, donors and the political class that his debate performance was an anomaly, allies said. (Doug Mills/The New York Times)
President Joe Biden and first lady Jill Biden arrive at Fort Lesley J. McNair in Washington on Monday, July 1, 2024. Biden is cleareyed about his uphill battle to convince voters, donors and the political class that his debate performance was an anomaly, allies said. (Doug Mills/The New York Times) Credit: BIDEN CAMPAIGN/NYT

Democrats have been mystified that Biden has been relying on advice from his son, Hunter Biden, who was convicted last month on gun charges stemming from when he was taking crack cocaine, rather than from the party’s top leaders.

They have bristled at attacks on fellow Democrats derided by the campaign as the “bed-wetting brigade” for expressing concern about Joe Biden’s ability to beat Trump. And some Democrats have grown increasingly suspicious that the president’s team has not been fully forthcoming about the impact of aging on him.

Biden’s team had sought to build a firewall by persuading elected Democrats and well-known party figures not to publicly call on him to drop out. But Rep. Lloyd Doggett of Texas became the first Democratic member of Congress to say on Tuesday that the president should step aside, and others have indicated privately that they may follow suit.

Key party donors have been privately calling House members, senators, super political action committees, the Biden campaign and the White House to say that they think Biden should step down, according to Democrats familiar with the discussion.

This article originally appeared in The New York Times.

© 2024 The New York Times Company

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