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Democrats reel from ‘terrible’ Biden debate performance as he defends candidacy 

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Democrats reel from ‘terrible’ Biden debate performance as he defends candidacy 

Jun 28, 2024 | 3:30 pm ET
By Jennifer Shutt Ariana Figueroa
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Democrats reel from ‘terrible’ Biden debate performance as he defends candidacy 
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President Joe Biden and first lady Jill Biden dropped by a Waffle House in Atlanta to pick up food shortly after midnight following his debate with Donald Trump on Thursday, June 27, 2024. He told reporters “I think we did well” when asked about his debate performance. (Photo by Jill Nolin/Georgia Recorder)

WASHINGTON — President Joe Biden touched on a flood of criticism of his debate performance during a rally on Friday, while Democrats interviewed on Capitol Hill said the party must figure out a way to reassure voters after what they described as a “terrible” showing and a “bad night.”

Biden, speaking from Raleigh, North Carolina, acknowledged some of the blunders that plagued him during the Thursday night debate on CNN, which included a raspy, low voice and answers that often began one way before veering into a completely separate topic.

“I know I’m not a young man, let’s state the obvious,” Biden said. “I don’t walk as easy as I used to. I don’t speak as smoothly as I used to. I don’t debate as well as I used to, but … I know how to tell the truth.”

Biden, 81, told the crowd that despite the mishaps, he’s still up for four more years on the job and said that his rival, the 78-year-old presumptive GOP presidential nominee Donald J. Trump, is a “genuine threat to this nation.”

“When you get knocked down, you get back up,” Biden said. “I would not be running again if I didn’t believe with all my heart and soul I can do this job because, quite frankly, the stakes are too high.”

Outside the Beltway, Democrats continued to try to absorb what they saw on Thursday night. In Colorado, Democratic Gov. Jared Polis would not answer directly when asked about calls from some Democrats for Biden to step aside. In the swing state of Pennsylvania, Democratic Gov. Josh Shapiro as well as other Democrats came to Biden’s defense on social media and on the airwaves.

Hoyer rejects idea of Biden quitting

Back in Washington, D.C., lawmakers had mixed reviews for how Biden performed during the debate, with some saying one bad night shouldn’t lead the party to change its nominee in the weeks ahead, while others said Biden should reassess his decision to run for reelection.

Maryland Democratic Rep. Steny Hoyer said Biden “had a bad night,” but said the president still showed respect for “people, the truth and the Constitution.”

“The other candidate, who respects none of those, showed that last night,” he said of Trump.

Hoyer rejected a question about whether Democrats need a new presidential candidate, saying they already had one and it “is Joe Biden.”

“He’s got an extraordinary record of accomplishments,” Hoyer said.

Minnesota Democratic Rep. Angie Craig said it was a “terrible debate.”

“We all have to acknowledge that and Donald Trump lied every time he opened his mouth,” Craig said, adding that she wasn’t worried about November, but focused on flooding in her home state.

Mood on House floor

New York Democratic Rep. Gregory Meeks said he didn’t expect that all of a sudden members of the party would “jump ship” from the Biden-Harris ticket, but said Biden has a lot of work to do before Election Day.

“I know Joe Biden. I’ve sat across the room from Joe Biden in some very important meetings,” Meeks said. “And I know that he’s all there and he has the ability to do that. He did not do that last night. But I do know that he has that ability.”

The mood on the House floor Friday morning, however, was less than ideal, he said.

“You can’t hide that, people are not pleased. Nobody’s in there jumping for joy, saying that, you know, ‘That was a great night last night,’” Meeks said. “Is there concern? Yeah, because we know how important it is to make sure that we win this election.”

Meeks declined to speculate about whether Biden will back out of the second debate in September, but said “it might be difficult, maybe, to get out of it.”

Biden, he said, needs to get in front of voters much more before the election through town halls and interviews to provide reassurance.

Meeks also sought to draw a difference between Biden and Trump, saying that the lies Trump told during the debate signal he hasn’t evolved.

“Nothing has changed with reference to Trump. He is still that pathological liar that Lindsey Graham called him. He’s still the con man that Marco Rubio called him,” Meeks said, referring to Republican senators from South Carolina and Florida. “And I definitely don’t want a pathological liar and a con man to be President of the United States of America. It would be bad for us and will be bad for our allies.”

House speaker sees ‘serious problem’

House Speaker Mike Johnson said that Cabinet members should “search their hearts” on what represented the best path forward for the country, about “this alarming situation.”

“I think they know they have a serious problem — but it’s not just political, it’s not just the Democratic Party, it’s the entire country,” Johnson said. “We have a serious problem here because we have a president, who, by all appearances, is not up to the task.”

“This is a very serious moment in American history and it needs to be regarded and handled as such,” Johnson added.

The Louisiana Republican didn’t rule out that the 25th Amendment, which deals with presidential disability and succession, might be appropriate. But he noted that’s up to the Cabinet, not the House.

Trump, during the debate, “showed the temperament, the stamina and the mental acuity that is necessary to do this really important job at this really important time,” Johnson said.

Biden, on the other hand, “showed last night that he was weak, sadly, that he is feeble,” Johnson added.

Democrats are moving forward with plans to nominate Biden as their official presidential candidate before the Democratic National Convention in Chicago in late August.

The all-virtual roll call vote is supposed to take place before Aug. 7, the final date for candidates to get on Ohio’s ballot. The state requires candidates to be officially nominated at least 90 days before the November election.

That means any final decisions about Biden’s candidacy likely need to take place during the month of July.

No need to replace Biden

Massachusetts Democratic Rep. Richard Neal said he was taking the “long view” of the campaign and didn’t believe Democrats needed to replace Biden at the top of the ticket.

“I think that we are kind of caught up in a moment where personalities are a big deal in politics,” Neal said. “At the same time, I think that Joe Biden’s got a really good track record to run on … And I think we want to make sure that people see it in the fullness of his presidency.”

Neal said that Hillary Clinton, the Democratic nominee for president in 2016, won her first debate against Trump, even though Trump went on to win the election.

He also noted that Walter Mondale, the Democratic presidential nominee in 1984, was widely considered to have won his first debate against Republican Ronald Reagan, though Reagan went on to sweep him during the election.

Florida Democratic Rep. Lois Frankel said that “there was only one decent, honest man who reflected my values, and that was Joe Biden.”

Frankel said she wasn’t too concerned about calls for Biden to step down from the top of the ticket, though she said she hasn’t been involved in those talks.

Pennsylvania Democratic Rep. Matt Cartwright said Biden’s performance reminded him of a 2022 debate he had where his own performance was “lousy,”

“He had a tough night,” Cartwright said, adding that he believes Democrats shouldn’t “overreact.”

Cartwright said he didn’t believe Biden’s debate performance would affect how voters in his district, which covers sections of northeastern Pennsylvania, including Scranton, will vote for down-ballot races later this year.

“People split their tickets where I live,” Cartwright said. “They know who I am and they know I’m not the same guy as whoever’s in the White House.”

Republicans react

Arkansas Republican Rep. Steve Womack said Biden’s performance “validated” a lot of the concerns that lawmakers and others had about his “cognitive abilities” heading into the debate.

“But at the end of the day, you have to assume that they’re both still going to be head-to-head in November,” Womack said.

Republicans, he said, need to move “full steam ahead” to hold the House, flip the Senate and win back the White House in November, but that’s only the beginning of the hard work.

“If that happens, we’ve got a couple of years and we need to be able to demonstrate that we’re serious about leading America,” Womack said.

Iowa Republican Rep. Mariannette Miller-Meeks said it’s up to “Democrats to determine whether or not they feel that their candidate is up to the task of running the country for the next four years.”

“From my perspective, what I saw last night emphasizes to me that he’s not and that I will be voting for President Trump,” Miller-Meeks said. “I thought President Trump’s answers and policies were well reasoned, show that he was very sharp, very in tune and very well-informed.”

Miller-Meeks said it will be challenging for the Biden campaign and Democrats to brush aside concerns about Biden’s mental functioning following the debate.

“I think what has been appearing to a lot of people is now very apparent and difficult to hide, given the performance that everyone saw last night,” Miller-Meeks said.

Florida Republican Rep. Byron Donalds, one of the lawmakers on Trump’s short list for vice president, said that Trump “did what he was supposed to do — demonstrated leadership, demonstrated command talking about the issues that are plaguing this country.”

“As far as I’m concerned, whether it’s Joe Biden, Kamala Harris or anybody else, the Democrat agenda has been a failure. Period.”