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Defiant Biden says 'only the Lord Almighty' could convince him to leave the 2024 race

In this handout photo provided by ABC, President Biden speaks with George Stephanopoulos on July 5 in Madison, Wis.
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In this handout photo provided by ABC, President Biden speaks with George Stephanopoulos on July 5 in Madison, Wis.

Updated July 05, 2024 at 21:34 PM ET

President Biden, in a much anticipated interview Friday with ABC News, attributed his terrible debate performance to "a bad episode" and a "bad night" and defiantly said he would not drop out of the presidential race.

He was working to try to reassure his fellow Democrats, fielding tough questions in a 20-minute interview with ABC's George Stephanopoulos, which was aired in its entirety.

Biden defended his record, said he was the candidate best placed to defeat former President Donald Trump in November, and declined to take an independent medical evaluation – including a neurological and cognitive test – to show he’s fit to serve another term.

"I have a cognitive test every single day," Biden said. "Not only am I campaigning, but I’m running the world," he said.

Asked whether he would stand down if he could be convinced that you cannot defeat Trump, Biden was defiant: "Well, it depends if the Lord Almighty comes down and tells me that — I might do that."

Biden was pressed on what went wrong

Biden, 81, said he "was exhausted" during last week's presidential debate against Trump, and added there was "no indication of a serious condition." He had been "feeling terrible" ahead of the debate, but medical tests determined it was just a "really bad cold."

After the debate, Biden said, his doctor looked at him and said: “You're exhausted.”

When asked if he was the same man today as he was when he took office in January 2021, Biden replied: “Yes. I also was guy put together a peace plan for the Middle East. … I was also the guy that expanded NATO.” He said the economy had grown during his administration.

President Biden speaks to supporters Friday during a campaign rally in Madison, Wis.
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President Biden speaks to supporters Friday during a campaign rally in Madison, Wis.

Asked if he had shown signs of decline in the last few months, as reported by several news organizations, Biden replied: “Can I run 110 flat? No. But I'm still in good shape.” He was asked if he was more frail, he simply replied: “No.”

Biden says Democratic leaders are telling him to stay in

On Friday afternoon, Biden told reporters that he had the support of elected Democratic leaders from around the country. Biden said he has talked to at least 20 congressional leaders and all Democratic governors and they have told him to stay in the race.

The Washington Post reported Friday that Sen. Mark Warner, D-Va., was working to try to get a group of Democratic senators to ask for Biden to leave the campaign. Responding to that report, Biden said: “Mark Warner, I understand, is the only one considering that.”

In the ABC interview, he said: “Mark is a good man… I have a different perspective.”

President Biden's motorcade arrives at a campaign rally at Sherman Middle School in Madison, Wis. on July 5.
Saul Loeb/AFP via Getty Images / AFP
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AFP
President Biden's motorcade arrives at a campaign rally at Sherman Middle School in Madison, Wis. on July 5.

But Warner wasn't the only voice. Massachusetts Gov. Maura Healey urged Biden Friday to evaluate whether he was the party’s best hope to beat Trump. “Healey didn’t say anything when I was in the room,” Biden told reporters, referring to a meeting he had with the nation's Democratic governors this week.

And Democratic leaders in the House have decided to convene a virtual meeting on Sunday with the top Democrats on House Committees, according to a source familiar with the planning who requested anonymity to discuss a private call.

While the interview was appointment viewing by Democratic leaders, it's unclear how widely it will resonate among voters. Polls have long shown that voters have concerns about Biden's age, but whether the debate — let alone the interview — will move the needle is still an open question.

Copyright 2024 NPR

Elena Moore
Elena Moore is a political reporter covering the 2024 election for the Washington Desk. She focuses her reporting on new voters and youth politics.
Tamara Keith
Tamara Keith has been a White House correspondent for NPR since 2014 and co-hosts the NPR Politics Podcast, the top political news podcast in America. In that time, she has chronicled the final years of the Obama administration, covered Hillary Clinton's failed bid for president from start to finish and threw herself into documenting the Trump administration, from policy made by tweet to the president's COVID diagnosis and January 6th. In the final year of the Trump administration and the first year of the Biden administration, she focused her reporting on the White House response to the COVID-19 pandemic. Her reporting often highlights small observations that tell a larger story about the president and the changing presidency.