Sun. Jul 21st, 2024

Biden’s press conference is crucial to saving his candidacy

By meerna Jul11,2024
Biden’s press conference is crucial to saving his candidacy

President Biden, who has in the past deflected questions about his advanced age by telling skeptics to “watch me,” will have one of the most important audiences of his political career when he takes the podium in Washington on Thursday and faces a horde of reporters. Members of Congress, Democratic donors, party strategists, voters, foreign leaders and officials in his own White House are all planning to weigh in on what is expected to be a real-time test of Biden’s ability to think on the fly and act under pressure.

The landmark event comes as Biden tries to salvage his candidacy and convince Democrats that his flagging debate performance last month was simply a “bad night” rather than a sign of a broader decline in his cognitive abilities. The high profile of the news conference also underscores how Biden’s attempts over the past two weeks to downplay his debate stumbles and move forward with his presidential campaign have so far failed to convince many in his party.

Even as the president has made a firm statement about staying in the race and has bolstered his support this week by winning votes in key constituencies, the number of top Democrats who have remained silent or expressed only lukewarm support suggests that a weak showing at the news conference could trigger a new wave of defections. Concerned Democrats fear that Biden’s weak poll numbers and halt in public appearances could pave the way for Donald Trump’s return to the White House, which some have described as an existential threat to the country’s democracy.

Senator Richard Blumenthal (D-Conn.) said Wednesday he remains “deeply concerned” about Biden’s prospects against Trump, joining a chorus of Democrats who say Biden must do more in the coming days to reassure voters and lawmakers.

“I think he needs to continue to effectively and aggressively convince the American people and win their support, as well as the support of many of my colleagues,” he said.

Biden aides suggested that the president’s activity over the past two weeks — including multiple rallies, several interviews, several well-received speeches, impromptu talks with supporters and hosting a NATO summit in Washington — helped him stave off calls to drop out of the race. Campaign officials pointed to the president’s defiant letter on Monday saying he would stay in the race and highlighted statements of support he has received from some Democratic officials in recent days.

Still, several party leaders remain skeptical, with some warning that Biden’s inability to quickly return to the debate with public displays of vigor is particularly troubling. Democratic lawmakers have said for days that they would like to see Biden in more unscripted situations, speaking without notes or a prompter, to show that the debate, in which he often struggled to finish sentences, was just a one-time event.

The fact that the news conference is taking place two weeks after the debate was seen as a significant sign by some in the party, with several Democratic Party aides and lawmakers predicting that the president will fare poorly in front of a press corps primed to ask tough questions about his age and acumen.

Several congressional aides and some lawmakers, speaking on condition of anonymity to discuss private deliberations, said they saw the news conference as the first real test of the 81-year-old’s cognitive abilities since the June 27 debate, noting that he will not have a script and will have to navigate a wide range of questions. The event caps the 75th anniversary NATO summit, which Biden hosted this week, although questions about his political standing and health are likely to dominate.

Biden will face reporters at a time when many in his party are demoralized by his weak showing in the presidential race, after several polls showed him trailing Trump in key swing states. While Trump, at 78, is only slightly younger than Biden, voters have expressed much greater concern about Biden’s ability to serve another four years as president. In a New York Times-Siena College poll released after the debate, 74 percent of voters said Biden is too old to effectively serve as president; 42 percent said the same of Trump.

On Tuesday, Sen. Michael Bennett (D-Colorado) told CNN he fears Biden is on track to lose to Trump in a “landmark” defeat and that the White House needs to do more to “show they have a plan to win this election.”

Biden faced another wave of skepticism on Wednesday as more lawmakers either called on him to step down or said they wanted him to show more political vitality before they could fully support him. Sen. Peter Welch (D-Vermont) became the first senator to publicly call on Biden to step down, writing an opinion piece for The Washington Post. Speaking on MSNBC’s “Morning Joe,” former House Speaker Nancy Pelosi (D-Calif.) repeatedly urged Biden to make a decision on whether to stay in the presidential race, despite the president’s claims that he had already decided to stay at the top of the Democratic ticket.

Also Wednesday, George Clooney, the Hollywood actor and Biden’s top reelection fundraiser, called for the president to be replaced as the Democratic nominee. In an editorial in the New York Times, Clooney, who hosted Biden at a fundraiser last month, suggested the president was losing his race against time.

“This is devastating, but the Joe Biden I was at a fundraiser with three weeks ago was not the ‘big deal’ Joe Biden of 2010,” Clooney wrote. “He wasn’t even the Joe Biden of 2020. He was the same man we all saw at the debate.”

The wave of doubts surrounding the president is raising the stakes at his news conference, according to several Democratic officials who indicated they will be watching closely for any stumbles or signs of weakness. Biden’s aides, meanwhile, are hoping a solid performance Thursday will help him finally put the drama over the debate in the rearview mirror.

Both supporters and opponents have noted that time may be on Biden’s side. If he can get through the news conference without sparking a new wave of intraparty panic, attention will begin to shift toward Trump and the Republicans, who hold their nominating convention next week. Trump is expected to announce his vice presidential candidate in the coming days, and Congress is expected to end its session next week.

Biden has not always fared well at large, solo news conferences, which have been rare during his presidency.

In January 2022, Biden stood before reporters for nearly two hours, answering questions on a wide range of issues and occasionally becoming angry at reporters who asked him specific questions.

After the event, First Lady Jill Biden sharply criticized the president’s aides for allowing the event to last so long, according to the book “American Woman: The Transformation of the Modern First Lady, from Hillary Clinton to Jill Biden.”

Since then, the president has engaged in significantly less significant interactions with the media than his predecessors.

Biden participated in He held 36 news conferences during his presidency, the fewest of any president during the same period since Ronald Reagan, according to data compiled by Martha Joynt Kumar, a retired professor of political science at Towson University and director of the White House Transition Project.

Biden has largely favored so-called “two-on-two” press conferences, in which he addresses the media while standing next to a foreign leader and questions only two reporters from each country’s delegation. He often gives brief answers, rarely engaging in the long, professorial responses that former President Barack Obama adopted or the long Trump riffs.

In recent press appearances, Biden has sometimes read his answers from notes rather than speaking impromptu. His voice has sometimes been low and gravelly. He has sometimes mixed up names or stopped in mid-sentence rather than completing a thought, and Republicans have seized on every mistake.

White House aides, who often decide which reporters to invite, have occasionally tried to extract the content of questions asked by reporters before events, a practice that predates Biden’s presidency but is now facing additional scrutiny because of the emphasis on the president’s acumen.

Two radio presenters said on Saturday that Before separate interviews with Biden last week, she asked questions of his aides, a practice initially defended by the campaign but later said she would refrain from continuing.

Republicans have responded by suggesting that Biden is not mentally prepared to answer unscripted questions. Republican National Committee officials — who have become adept at taking and circulating clips of Biden’s stumbles during public appearances — have frequently criticized the president during news conferences and suggested, without evidence, that the events were staged.

Beyond the content of the responses and the way they are delivered, the president’s demeanor will also come into focus as party officials scrutinize whether he is energetic enough to carry the Democrats’ anti-Trump message in the coming months.

Biden has at times become enraged when reporters try to ask him multiple questions, or has attacked reporters who asked him about issues he considered unrelated.

The conference will be the culmination of a NATO summit during which the president announced that new F-16 fighter jets would be sent to Ukraine, praised member states for increasing defense spending and awarded the Presidential Medal of Freedom to NATO Secretary General Jens Stoltenberg.

Although several journalists will likely ask Biden questions on Thursday With the 2024 race and the issues that have dominated its course — his age, health and political standing — world leaders will also be watching the news conference to see if the president demonstrates his acumen and deftness on a range of global issues.

Biden, for his part, has suggested he will use his future public appearances to more directly challenge Trump. On Monday, he told donors he would take a different approach in a future debate with the presumptive Republican nominee.

“Attack, attack, attack, attack,” he said.

Jacqueline Alemany, Leigh Ann Caldwell, Marianna Sotomayor, Mariana Alfaro and Liz Goodwin contributed to the preparation of this report.

By meerna

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