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Biden's vow to not drop out leaves critics unimpressed

July 6, 2024

In a prime-time TV interview designed to dispel concerns about his mental fitness, US President Joe Biden said only "the Lord Almighty" could make him drop his candidacy. His critics were not impressed.

Two men, ABC News anchor George Stephanopoulos (left) and US President Joe Biden (right), sit across from one another with legs crossed, bookshelves can be seen in the background
Doubts about President Joe Biden's campaign persist even after his Friday interviewImage: ABC via Getty Images

If a TV broadcaster lands an exclusive prime-time interview with a sitting president it has to do with more than luck. The White House only schedules such segments to get out a particular message.

And that was the case on Friday evening, when US President Joe Biden sat down with ABC News' George Stephanopoulos at 8 p.m., to quash the memory of his recent presidential debate with Donald Trump. Biden appeared weak and confused during the June 27 debate with Trump and was nearly impossible to understand at times. But Friday's interview did little to quiet critics who say the 81-year-old is simply too old for the job of president.

"President Biden certainly came across as more coherent in this interview but I doubt it will enable his campaign to turn the page on his recent debate performance," as political scientist Filippo Trevisan from the American University in Washington, D.C., told DW.

Other experts got the same impression. "The interview is unlikely to stop the bleeding from last month's debate," said Brandon Conradis, campaign editor at political news site The Hill and a former news writer with DW. "If anything, it could be the thing that puts Biden's campaign on life support."

A man and a woman, US President Joe Biden (left) and Vice President Kamala Harris (right), smile as they raise their joined hands in the air
Everything OK? Powerful Democrats like Vice President Kamala Harris have publicly declared their support for Biden Image: Tierney L. Cross/newscon/picture alliance

Is Biden ignoring reality?

One main point of criticism leveled against the president is that he isn't taking the situation seriously enough. When asked what he would tell Democrats worried they may lose the House and Senate if he stays in the race, Biden quipped: "I'm not going to answer that question."

Biden brushed aside his low poll numbers and called criticism from within his party normal for a campaign; adding that he had only heard concerns over such issues in the media, claiming that no Democrats had voiced them to him personally.

"At best, those kinds of arguments risk making Biden look like he is surrounded by advisors who don't want to give him bad news; at worst, they make him look as if he doesn't want to accept reality," said political scientist Trevisan.

Biden: only 'the Lord Almighty' can end his campaign

Biden spoke slowly during the roughly 30-minute interview and sounded, well, like an 81-year-old sounds. Still, there was no comparison to the debate, in which Biden delivered sentences that made no sense at all. After the debate, Biden's excuses for his poor performance ranged from saying he had a bad cold to being exhausted due to a grueling schedule that included transatlantic flights and several days of cross-country campaigning. During his interview with ABC, he made it very clear that he had no intention of dropping out of the race.

"If the Lord Almighty came down and said 'Joe, get out of the race,' I'd get out of the race," said Biden, "but the Lord Almighty's not coming down." He then repeated his claim that he is the candidate best suited to defeat Republican Donald Trump on November 5, saying that he intended to remain president.

But when Stephanopoulos asked if he would be willing to take cognitive and neurological tests like Republicans and now even some Democrats have been demanding, he brushed that question aside, too: "Look. I have a cognitive test every single day. Every day I have that test," he countered, adding, "not only am I campaigning, but I'm running the world."

A dour looking man, Donald Trump (center), stares ahead while seated in a New York courtroom, as onlookers, lawyers, police and journalists can be seen around him
A New York jury found Donald Trump guilty on 34 criminal countsImage: Steven Hirsch/Pool/REUTERS

US 'grappling with itself'

The fact that a US president sat down for an exclusive interview and wasn't asked a single question about the economy, abortion, or Middle East policy was highly unusual — something DW Washington Bureau chief Ines Pohl pointed out. 

"The fact that it was solely about his fitness and not one question was asked about his policies speaks for itself," said Pohl. "The US is grappling with itself. And that will probably go on for a while after this interview."

The more oxygen the discussion over Biden's mental fitness takes up, the less focus there is on Trump's debate lies and his ongoing legal battles, and that is "good news for Trump," said Pohl.

In the end, the interview, which was supposed to allay voters' fears, could ultimately have further ensured that the campaign continues to focus on major internal problems within the Democratic party.

"The issue of Biden's age and concerns over his mental acuity are not going anywhere," said Filippo Trevisan. "They are taking up huge amounts of media coverage and Donald Trump is freely benefiting from this."

Biden rejects calls to leave US presidential race

This article was originally written in German.

Carla Bleiker
Carla Bleiker Editor, channel manager and reporter focusing on US politics and science@cbleiker