Biden says he's 'staying in the race' at Madison rally amid 2024 campaign tumult

Facing pressure to bow out of his campaign for reelection, President Joe Biden visited Madison and held a rally where he declared "I'm staying in the race" before giving a network television interview expected to be intensive and probing.

Associated Press

July 5, 2024

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Joe Biden gestures with his right hand while standing and speaking into two microphones mounted to the top of a podium, with an out-of-focus stage light and a campaign sign in the background.

President Joe Biden speaks at a campaign rally on July 5, 2024, at Sherman Middle School in Madison. (Credit: AP Photo / Manuel Balce Ceneta)

By Colleen Long and Seung Min Kim, AP

MADISON, Wis. (AP) — President Joe Biden, fighting to save his endangered reelection effort on July 5, defiantly declared that “I’m staying in the race” during a campaign rally in a critical battleground state as he prepares to sit down for a network television interview where his every answer is sure to be scrutinized for evidence of his competency and fitness to run for office.

In front of roughly 300 supporters at a Wisconsin middle school, Biden again acknowledged his subpar debate in late June, saying he “can’t say it was my best performance” but that amid speculation over what he would do, he had an answer: “I am running, and I’m going to win again.”

“I beat Donald Trump,” a forceful Biden said, as the crowd 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.”

As the crowd laughed, Biden continued, “Talk about me misspeaking.”

The rally preceded an interview that 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 on June 27 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.

The White House itself was raising the stakes for Biden’s interview, with press secretary Karine Jean-Pierre saying that “millions of Americans” are expected to watch.

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 the night of July 5.

But at least three House Democrats have called for Biden to step down as the nominee, with Rep. Seth Moulton, D-Mass., expressing his concerns in a July 4 radio interview and joining Rep. Lloyd Doggett, D-Texas, and Raúl Grijalva, D-Ariz., 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 July 4.

While not going that far, Massachusetts Gov. Maura Healey said in a carefully worded statement on July 5 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. “Whatever President Biden decides, I am committed to doing everything in my power to defeat Donald Trump.”

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

There were also a few signs of discontent at Biden’s campaign rally on July 5, with one supporter on stage waving a sign that read “Pass the torch Joe” as the president walked onto the stage. His motorcade was also greeted at the middle school by a few people urging him to move on.

Many Democratic lawmakers, who are hearing from constituents at home during the holiday week, are split on whether Biden should stay or go. Lawmakers have been deeply frustrated by his campaign’s response to the crisis. Privately, discussions among the House Democrats flared over the 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, and none of the letters from either Democrats in competitive reelection bids or those in easier races that were reportedly being discussed were ever made public.

“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 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 July 7. He was initially scheduled to speak before the National Education Association in Philadelphia on July 7, but the campaign called off the plans following the group’s strike announced July 5. The president will not cross a picket line, the campaign said.

He will also travel to southwestern states, including Nevada, after hosting the NATO summit in Washington, the campaign said July 5. 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 the morning of July 5, the campaign also specifically emphasized that 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 July 4, 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 on the evening of July 3, 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.”

In trying to explain away those comments, 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.”

Still, Newsom said no one in the room was “sugar-coating” the reality of the June 27 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 used 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, spoke. Notably, Sen. Tammy Baldwin, who is running for reelection in one of the more critical races for Senate control this year, was elsewhere.

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

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