Biden Travels to Wisconsin to Save Reelection With Network TV Interview

6 minute read

Washington — President Joe Biden is fighting to save his endangered reelection effort Friday as he holds a rally and sits down for a network television interview in a pivotal battleground state, with his every answer sure to be scrutinized for evidence of his competency and fitness to run for office.

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

The interview with ABC's George Stephanopoulos, being taped after a campaign rally in Madison, Wisconsin, is expected to be intensive and probing, and two people familiar with the president's efforts said he had been preparing aggressively. They spoke on condition of anonymity to discuss internal planning.

There was broad agreement that Biden cannot afford to have another “bad day,” which is how he wrote off his debate flop. It was not clear that even a so-so performance would be enough to satisfy concerns about his fitness to serve.

While private angst among Democratic lawmakers, donors and strategists is running deep after Biden’s damaging debate performance, most in the party have held public fire as they wait to see if the president can restore some confidence with his weekend travel schedule and his handling of the Stephanopoulos interview. It will air in full on ABC on Friday night.

But three Democratic members of Congress have called for Biden to step down as the nominee, with Rep. Seth Moulton, D-Massachusetts, expressing his concerns in a Thursday radio interview and joining Rep. Lloyd Doggett, D-Texas, and Raúl Grijalva, D-Arizona, in seeking an alternative.

“President Biden has done enormous service to our country, but now is the time for him to follow in one of our founding father, George Washington’s footsteps and step aside to let new leaders rise up and run against Donald Trump,” Moulton told the radio station WBUR on Thursday.

Biden appears to have pulled his family and inner circle 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 for the high-stakes moment, 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, while organizers are planning to knock on more than 3 million doors in July and August to do personal outreach to voters in a new $17 million effort.

Biden himself is scheduled to campaign in Pennsylvania on Sunday.

Biden was initially scheduled to speak before the National Education Association in Philadelphia on Sunday, but the campaign called off the plans following the group's strike announced Friday. The president will not cross a picket line, the campaign said. He will still be in Pennsylvania this weekend. Biden will also travel to southwestern states, including Nevada, after hosting the NATO summit in Washington next week, the campaign said Friday. He’ll also continue to focus his travel on the so-called “blue wall” states –- Wisconsin, Pennsylvania and Michigan — that have been critical for him in the past.

In a strategy memo released Friday morning, the campaign also specifically emphasized that the Biden would participate in “frequent off-the-cuff moments” –- once a hallmark of the gregarious, glad-handling politician’s career that have nonetheless 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.

During an interview with WURD radio in Philadelphia that aired Thursday, Biden tripped up and said “I’m proud to be, as I said, the first vice president, the first Black woman to serve with a Black president” – scrambling some of his often-used lines about his pride in serving with the first Black president and choosing the first Black woman to be vice president.

Such verbal glitches are not out of the ordinary for Biden but are getting magnified attention in this environment.

In a hastily organized gathering with more than 20 Democratic governors Wednesday evening, Biden acknowledged that he needs to get more sleep and limit evening events so he can be rested for the job, according to three people granted anonymity to speak about the private meeting. California Gov. Gavin Newsom later told reporters in Holland, Michigan, that Biden’s remark about limiting events after 8 p.m. was said in jest, noting that he said it “with a smile on his face.”

Newsom said no one in the room was “sugar-coating” the reality of last week's debate.

“You watched the physiology. You saw everything about it. It was the breathing, it was the physical, the whole thing,” Newsom said at a subsequent event in Holland.

He said Biden asked all the governors for advice, and he told the president to focus more on discussing the future.

There are signs that key groups are already staking out positions on who should succeed Biden as the Democratic nominee.

Glynda C. Carr, CEO of the Higher Heights for America PAC, which supports Black women candidates, said that Harris should lead the ticket if Biden steps down, saying anyone else would be “yet another example of the ongoing dismissal of Black women’s leadership in the national narrative.”

“To put it plainly, Vice President Harris shouldn’t appear on a list of potential replacements — Kamala Harris is the only successor,” Carr said.

Biden is expected to use his rally in Madison to tick through his favorite talking points as he works to defeat Trump, touching on safeguarding democracy, the economy, and “our rights and freedoms,” according to his campaign.

Wisconsin officials including Democratic Gov. Tony Evers, U.S. Rep. Mark Pocan and the state party chair, Ben Wikler, will speak. Notably, Sen. Tammy Baldwin, who is running for reelection in one of the more critical races for Senate control this year, will be elsewhere.


Associated Press writers Joey Cappelletti in Saugatuck, Michigan, and Aamer Madhani and Josh Boak in Washington contributed to this report.

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