Biden’s Democratic allies admit he had a poor debate but say they’re still standing behind him

Thursday’s debate appears set to reinforce the public’s deep-seated concerns about both men before perhaps the largest audience they'll garner before ballots are cast.

President Joe Biden, speaks during a presidential debate hosted by CNN with Republican presidential candidate former President Donald Trump, Thursday, June 27, 2024, in Atlanta.

President Joe Biden, speaks during a presidential debate hosted by CNN with Republican presidential candidate former President Donald Trump, Thursday, June 27, 2024, in Atlanta. (AP Photo/Gerald Herbert)

President Joe Biden strained to quell Democratic anxieties over his unsteady showing in his debate with former President Donald Trump, as elected members of his party closed ranks around him in an effort to shut down talk of replacing him atop the ticket.

Biden’s halting delivery and meandering comments, particularly early in the debate, fueled concerns from even members of his own party that at age 81 he’s not up for the task of leading the country for another four years.

Even before the debate, Biden’s age had been a liability with voters, and Thursday night’s faceoff appeared to reinforce the public’s deep-seated concerns before perhaps the largest audience he will garner before ballots are cast.

Democratic lawmakers on Friday acknowledged Biden’s poor showing, but tried to stop talk of replacing him as their standard-bearer, and instead tried to shift the focus onto Trump’s attacks and falsehoods that they hoped would remind voters of the daily turbulence of his presidency.

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“Well, the president didn’t have a good night, but neither did Donald Trump with lie after lie and his dark vision for America,” North Carolina Gov. Roy Cooper told The Associated Press on Friday, hours before he was set to share a stage with the president in Raleigh. “We cannot send Donald Trump back to the White House. He’s an existential threat to our nation.”

House Democratic leader Hakeem Jeffries answered with a flat “no” when asked Friday if Biden should step aside. But the New York lawmaker added that he’s eager to see how Biden would address his performance at his Friday rally.

“I’m looking forward to hearing from President Biden,” he said. “And until he articulates a way forward in terms of his vision for America at this moment, I’m going to reserve comment about anything relative to where we are at this moment, other than to say I stand behind the ticket.”

Rep. Ritchie Torres, Democrat of New York, said, “Since performance last night, I had to take a few more antidepressants than usual.”

“People have asked me, ‘Do I feel comfortable with the debate?’ You know, a Donald Trump presidency would cause me far greater discomfort than a Joe Biden debate performance.”


iden was greeted early Friday in Raleigh by throngs of supporters invited by his campaign to watch Air Force One carry him from the debate in Atlanta, where he brushed aside Democratic concerns with his showing that he should consider stepping aside, saying, “No, it’s hard to debate a liar.”

The Democrat was scheduled to hold what his campaign is billing as the largest-yet rally of his reelection bid in the state Trump carried by the narrowest margin in 2020. He’ll then travel to New York for a weekend of big-dollar fundraisers that his campaign now needs more than ever, as it looks to stave off Trump.

Biden’s campaign announced that it raised $14 million on debate day and the morning after, while Trump’s campaign said it raised more than $8 million from the start of the debate through the end of the night.

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Vice President Kamala Harris, whom the Biden campaign sent out to defend his performance, was set to travel to Las Vegas, Nevada. She told CNN hours after the debate, “There was a slow start, but it was a strong finish.”

Rep. Emanuel Cleaver, D-Mo., said he could hardly sleep because of the number of telephone calls he got after Biden performed “horribly” in the debate.

“People were just concerned. And I told everybody being concerned is healthy, overreacting is dangerous,” Cleaver said. “And I think I wouldn’t advise anybody to make rash decisions right now.”

Rep. James Clyburn, a South Carolina Democrat who was formerly a longtime fixture in House Democratic leadership, said he would likely speak to Biden later Friday and his message would be simple: “Stay the course.”

Biden and his allies were looking to brush aside concerns about his delivery to keep the focus on the choice for voters this November. They seized on Trump’s equivocations on whether he would accept the will of voters this time around, his refusal to condemn the rioters who stormed the Capitol on Jan. 6, 2021, trying to overturn his 2020 loss to Biden, and his embrace of the conservative-leaning Supreme Court’s overturning of Roe v. Wade that had legalized abortion nationwide.

Trump’s comments, Biden’s team insisted, are out of step with the majority of voters and will serve as fodder for the barrage of ads that they will see through Election Day.

But Democrats faulted Biden for fumbling his chance to press those Trump on those issues.


ep. Bennie Thompson of Mississippi, who was the chairman of the House Jan. 6 committee, said that while everything Trump said about the attack that day was wrong, Biden flubbed the moment. “The president missed a golden opportunity, to correct the record, in the debate. That was a missed opportunity.”

Biden also fumbled on abortion rights, one of the most important issues for Democrats in this year’s election. He was unable to explain Roe v. Wade, the landmark Supreme Court ruling that legalized abortion nationwide. A conservative Supreme Court with three justices nominated by Trump overturned Roe two years ago.

As elected Democrats united behind Biden publicly, donors and party operatives shared panicked text messages and phone calls Thursday night and into Friday expressing their concern that Biden’s performance was so bad that he may be unelectable this fall.

But there were no immediate signs of organized efforts among donors, his campaign leadership or the Democratic National Committee to convince the president to step aside, according to interviews with several people who spoke on the condition of anonymity to share sensitive conversations.

Still, morale was poor among some Biden campaign staffers across the country, who had been encouraged by top campaign officials in Delaware to organize hundreds of debate watch parties to get as many eyes as possible on the Biden-Trump showdown. The morning after, some embarrassed lower-level campaign staffers privately expressed their desire for Biden to quit the race.

It was the same among some top Democratic donors, who talked up the need to embrace a Biden replacement during a series of text chains. There were informal conversations between donors and those close to potential Biden alternatives to gauge their willingness to step into the race. But there was no sense that a sitting governor or member of Congress would be willing to risk the political fallout that might come with a public break from the Democratic president.

Others donors skittish about Biden’s performance faced determined outreach from his campaign warning that without their resources they risked handing the election to Trump.

Michigan Gov. Gretchen Whitmer, a Democrat frequently mentioned as a 2028 contender and speculated about as a potential replacement for Biden on the ticket should he step aside, released a statement backing him on Friday.

“The difference between Joe Biden’s vision for making sure everyone in America has a fair shot and Donald Trump’s dangerous, self-serving plans will only get sharper as we head toward November,” she said.

California Gov. Gavin Newsom also dismissed questions on whether he would consider stepping in for Biden, telling reporters after the debate, “I will never turn my back on him.”

Under current Democratic Party rules, it would be difficult, if not impossible, to replace Biden as the party’s nominee without his cooperation or without party officials being willing to rewrite the rules at the August national convention.

Trump, meanwhile, flew to his golf club in Virginia, a onetime battleground that has shifted toward Democrats in recent years but that his aides believe can flip toward the Republican in November. He was set to hold at rally in Chesapeake Friday afternoon.


Superville reported from Raleigh, North Carolina; Price reported from Norfolk, Virginia; Peoples reported from Atlanta; AP reporters Stephen Groves and Farnoush Amiri in Washington, Gary D. Robertson in Raleigh, Joey Cappelletti in Lansing, Michigan and Bill Barrow in Atlanta contributed.

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