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Biden rejects independent medical evaluation in ABC interview as he fights to stay in race

President Joe Biden speaks at a campaign rally at Sherman Middle School in Madison, Wis., Friday, July 5, 2024.
Morry Gash
President Joe Biden speaks at a campaign rally at Sherman Middle School in Madison, Wis., Friday, July 5, 2024.

President Joe Biden, fighting to save his endangered reelection effort Friday, repeatedly rejected taking an independent medical evaluation that would show voters he is up for serving another term in office while blaming his disastrous debate performance on a “bad episode” and saying there were “no indications of any serious condition."

“Look, I have a cognitive test every single day," Biden told ABC's George Stephanopoulos, referring to the tasks he faces daily in a rigorous job. “Every day, I’ve had tests. Everything I do.”

He insisted that he was not more frail and that he is “still in good shape." He said he has an “ongoing assessment” by his personal doctors and they “don't hesitate to tell me” if something is wrong.

As for the debate, “I didn’t listen to my instincts in terms of preparing," Biden said.

He also insisted he was the “most qualified” to lead Democrats against presumptive Republican presidential nominee Donald Trump.

That 22-minute interview, paired with a weekend campaign in battleground Wisconsin and Pennsylvania, was part of Biden's rigorous efforts to course correct from his debate performance last week. But the president's push was not yet quelling internal party frustrations, with one influential Democratic senator working on a nascent push that would encourage the president to exit the race and Democrats quietly chatting about where they would go next if the president drops out — or what it would mean if he stays in.

Still, in Wisconsin, Biden was focused on proving his capacity to remain as president. When asked whether he would halt his campaign, he told reporters he was “completely ruling that out” and said he is “positive” he could serve for another four years. At a rally in front of hundreds of supporters he acknowledged his subpar debate performance but insisted, “I am running, and I'm going to win again.”

“I beat Donald Trump,” a forceful Biden said, as the crowd gathered in a local middle school cheered and waved campaign signs. “I will beat him again.”

Biden, relying on a teleprompter for his remarks, attacked his presumptive Republican challenger almost immediately, laying into Trump by pointing out that the former president once said that “George Washington’s army won the revolution by taking control of the airports from the British.”

Amid laughter, Biden continued, “Talk about me misspeaking.”

In his speech, Biden tried to flip the questions swirling about his age, asking the crowd whether he was “too old” to have passed gun legislation, created jobs and helped ease student loan debt — while suggesting he'd do more in a second presidential term.

WUWM’s Chuck Quirmbach interviewed several audience members after Biden’s remarks.

Milwaukee resident Myron Jewell said, “He had a lot more energy than I thought. You know what I mean? He was very energetic, man. You felt it. It felt real. It felt genuine. Biden did exactly what I thought he was going to say, and do. He’s for the people."

Eau Claire resident Catherine Emmanuelle said Biden, “reclaimed the narrative that he was too old, and too this and that. I thought he did an excellent job.” But Emmanuelle said she will watch to make sure Biden can maintain that energy level, if he continues to campaign, as Biden maintains he will. “Absolutely, and the thing is, Biden has a strong Cabinet around him, who will help him, and the administration, accountable to deliver on the results that will be best for the people of America,” she said

WUWM asked Wisconsin Democratic Party Chair Ben Wikler what he will now tell the potential donors he asks to give money to Biden’s campaign:

“I’m going to tell donors — pay attention to the voters. They want President Biden to have four more years to finish the job. To defend Roe vs. Wade, to defend democracy, and to deliver for working people,” Wikler said.

But White House pool reporter, Sophie Hills, of the Christian Science Monitor reported there were a few people carrying signs outside the Biden event, urging him to end his reelection bid. Hills reported some pro-Palestinian protestors were also outside, continuing their criticism of Biden’s support of military aid to Israel, and the lack of a ceasefire in Gaza.

The Trump campaign said Biden had a few verbal slip-ups during the Madison event. But Biden seemed to catch his errors and correct himself.

The interview with ABC could be a watershed moment for Biden, who is under pressure to bow out of the campaign after his rocky debate performance against Trump ignited concern that the 81-year-old Democrat is not up for the job for another four years.

While private angst among Democratic lawmakers, donors and strategists is running deep, most in the party have held public fire as they wait to see if the president can restore confidence with his weekend travel and his handling of the interview, airing in full Friday night.

To that end, Sen. Mark Warner reached out to fellow senators throughout this week to discuss whether to ask Biden to exit the race, according to three people familiar with the effort who requested anonymity to talk about private conversations. The Virginia Democrat’s moves are notable given his chairmanship of the Senate Intelligence Committee and his reputation as a lawmaker supportive of Biden who has working relationships with colleagues in both parties. Warner’s effort was first reported by The Washington Post.

The strategy remains fluid. One of the people with knowledge of Warner's effort said there are enough Senate Democrats concerned enough about Biden's capacity to run for reelection to take some sort of action, although there was yet no consensus on what that plan would be. Some of the Democratic senators could meet as soon as Monday on how to move forward.

The top Democrats on House committees are planning to meet virtually Sunday to discuss the situation, according to a person familiar with the gathering granted anonymity to talk about it.

Meanwhile, at least four House Democrats have called for Biden to step down as the nominee, with Rep. Mike Quigley of Illinois joining Massachusetts Rep. Seth Moulton, Texas Rep. Lloyd Doggett and Arizona Rep. Raúl Grijalva in pushing for an alternative. While not going that far, Massachusetts Gov. Maura Healey said in a carefully worded statement Friday that Biden now has a decision to make on “the best way forward.”

“Over the coming days, I urge him to listen to the American people and carefully evaluate whether he remains our best hope to defeat Donald Trump,” Healey said.

There were also a few signs of discontent at Biden's campaign rally Friday, with one supporter onstage waving a sign that read “Pass the torch Joe” as the president came out. His motorcade was also greeted at the middle school by a few people urging him to move on.

But others were pleased. Rebecca Green, a 52-year-old environmental scientist from Madison, said she found Biden’s energy reassuring. “We were just waiting for him to come out strong and fighting again, the way we know he is,” she said.

Many Democratic lawmakers, who are hearing from constituents at home during the holiday week, are deeply frustrated yet split on whether Biden should stay or go. Privately, discussions among the House Democrats flared this week as word spread that some of them were drafting public letters suggesting the president should quit the race.

Yet pushback from other House Democrats was fierce.

“Any ‘leader’ signing a letter calling for President Biden to drop out needs to get their priorities straight and stop undermining this incredible actual leader who has delivered real results for our country,” said Rep. Frederica Wilson, D-Fla., an influential member of the Congressional Black Caucus.

Biden appears to have pulled his family closer while attempting to prove that he's still the Democrats' best option for competing in November's election.

The ubiquitous presence of Hunter Biden in the West Wing since the debate has become an uncomfortable dynamic for many staffers, according to two Democrats close to the White House who requested anonymity to discuss the sensitive matter.

For many staffers, the sight of Hunter Biden, just weeks after his conviction on felony gun charges, taking a larger role in advising his father has been unsettling and a questionable choice, they said.

Biden's reelection campaign is pushing ahead with aggressive plans despite the uncertainty. It plans to pair his in-person events with a fresh $50 million ad campaign this month meant to capitalize on high viewership moments like the Summer Olympics that begin in Paris on July 26.

Biden, Vice President Kamala Harris, first lady Jill Biden and second gentleman Doug Emhoff are scheduled to travel to every battleground state this month, with Biden in Pennsylvania on Sunday. In a memo released Friday, the campaign also emphasized that Biden would participate in “frequent off-the-cuff moments” –- once a hallmark of the gregarious, glad-handling politician’s career that have dwindled throughout his presidency.

For Biden, every moment now is critical to restoring the lost confidence stemming from his shaky performance in Atlanta last week. Yet the president continued to make slipups that did not help that effort.

In a hastily organized gathering with more than 20 Democratic governors Wednesday evening, Biden acknowledged he needs to sleep more and limit evening events so he can be rested for the job, according to three people granted anonymity to speak about the private meeting.

In trying to explain away those comments, White House press secretary Karine Jean-Pierre stressed that Biden “works around the clock” but that he “also recognizes the importance of striking a balance and taking care of himself.”

Kentucky Gov. Andy Beshear, who attended the meeting, said Biden “certainly engaged with us on complicated matters.”

“But then again, this is something that he needs to not just reassure Democratic governors on, but he needs to reassure the American people," Beshear said.


Kim reported from Washington. Associated Press writers Todd Richmond in Madison, Dylan Lovan in Louisville, Kentucky, and Will Weissert, Zeke Miller, Mary Clare Jalonick, Aamer Madhani, Lisa Mascaro and Josh Boak in Washington contributed to this report.