Defiant Biden says no intention to exit presidential race in TV interview

US president says his recent debacle in a televised debate with Donald Trump was due to ‘exhaustion’ and a ‘bad cold’.

President Joe Biden greets supporters at a campaign rally at Sherman Middle School in Madison, Wis., Friday, July 5, 2024. (AP Photo/Manuel Balce Ceneta)
US President Joe Biden greets supporters at a campaign rally at Sherman Middle School in Madison, Wisconsin, on July 5 [Manuel Balce Ceneta/AP Photo]

United States President Joe Biden has used a much-anticipated interview with ABC News to reiterate that he is the candidate to beat Donald Trump in November’s presidential election, again describing his recent disastrous debate as “a bad episode”.

Biden, 81, told ABC News anchor George Stephanopoulos in a taped interview that aired on Friday evening that he has “a cognitive test every single day”, referring to the tasks he faces daily as president.

“Every day, I’ve had tests. Everything I do,” he said. “I just had a bad night. I don’t know why.”

Stephanopoulos asked whether the debate debacle “was a bad episode or a sign of a more serious condition”.

He also questioned whether Biden was being realistic in his belief that he could beat Trump, 78, given the gap opening in opinion polls between the two candidates and growing concern among Democrats that Biden should step aside.

A recent Reuters/Ipsos poll found that one in three Democrats want Biden to quit the race.

“I don’t think anyone is more qualified,” Biden said in the interview, blaming his June 27 debate performance on exhaustion and a “really bad cold”.

The polls, Biden said, were inaccurate.

Asked whether he was more frail, Biden said, “No”.

Asked also whether he would drop out if fellow Democrats in Congress said he was hurting their re-election chances in November, Biden said: “If the Lord Almighty comes out and tells me that, I might do that.”

The 22-minute interview, which ABC said was not cut or edited, was being closely watched by Democrats concerned about the president’s ability to serve another four years, or beat Trump, a Republican, in the election.

Yet even before it aired in full, the interview seemed to do little to assuage Americans’ worries about Biden’s age and fitness to stand for election.

Reporting from Washington, DC, on Saturday, Al Jazeera’s Mike Hanna said the general takeaway from the ABC News interview is that Biden “didn’t make any mistakes, but equally, that he didn’t necessarily convince those who were doubting his ability to govern in the future”.

“There is support for Biden among many Democrats,” Hanna said. “There are some who reportedly are concerned and are … trying to move him out.”

A handful of Democratic Party donors and business leaders are making their displeasure with Biden’s candidacy known loudly, halting funding or looking at possible alternative candidates.

Some of Biden’s closest political allies, including top Democrat and former House of Representatives Speaker Nancy Pelosi, have raised questions about his health.

“It hard to imagine this good man beating Trump and serving four more years in the most demanding job on earth,” Ron Fournier, a former White House correspondent, said on social media alongside a clip of the ABC interview.

Massachusetts Governor Maura Healey, the rare Democratic governor not to come out in support of the president in recent days, in a statement on Friday asked Biden to weigh his decision to run carefully.

“President Biden saved our democracy in 2020 and has done an outstanding job over the last four years,” she said.

“The best way forward right now is a decision for the president to make. 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.”

On Saturday morning, Democratic Congresswoman Angie Craig also directly called on Biden to nix his re-election campaign.

“I do not believe that the President can effectively campaign and win against Donald Trump,” Craig said in a statement, adding that “there is too much at stake to risk a second Donald Trump presidency”.

“That’s why I respectfully call on President Biden to step aside as the Democratic nominee for a second term as President and allow for a new generation of leaders to step forward.”

Source: Al Jazeera and news agencies