6 takeaways from President Joe Biden's high-stakes ABC interview


CNN Washington (CNN) — A defiant President Joe Biden downplayed his poor performance at last week's debate in a high-stakes interview on ABC on Friday, as questions linger over the future of his candidacy.

During his interview with anchor George Stephanopoulos, Biden dismissed any notion of dropping off the ticket, while also offering excuses for his poor performance.

The conversation, Biden’s first televised interview since his performance in the debates, marks a crucial moment for his political future, as a growing list of Democrats — lawmakers, donors and voters — are expressing concerns about the viability of his candidacy.

Here are six key takeaways from Biden's interview with ABC News.

Biden says debate was a 'bad night,' not a major problem

The president said in the interview that he was “sick” before the debate and “feeling very bad.” Asked if it was a bad episode or a sign of a more serious condition, Biden dismissed those concerns.

He said, “It was a bad episode. There was no indication of any serious condition. I didn't listen to my conscience in terms of preparation, and I had a bad night.”

In the interview, Biden offered more details about his condition at the time of the debate, saying he was tired from illness and had gotten tested for COVID-19. The White House did not immediately respond to CNN's inquiry about whether the president got tested before or after the debate.

He said, “I was feeling really bad. In fact, I asked the doctors that were with me if they did a COVID test, they were trying to figure out what was wrong. They did a test to see if I had any infection, you know, any virus. I didn't. I just had a really bad cold.”

The comments about his illness marked the latest twist in the White House's description of the president's physical condition during the debate. White House officials told reporters during the debate that the president had a cold, and then on Wednesday press secretary Karine Jean-Pierre dismissed the idea that Biden had been seen by his doctor, repeatedly saying the president had not undergone any medical exams since a February physical.

“It's a cold, guys. It's a cold,” she said at the time. “I know it affects everybody differently. We've all had colds, and so no, he wasn't checked out by a doctor.”

A day later, the White House confirmed that the president had indeed seen a doctor about his illness, and on Friday, Jean-Pierre told reporters aboard Air Force One that Biden had a “verbal checkup” with his doctor after the debate.

He characterized Biden's check-in as a “conversation” with his physician, Kevin O'Connor, after reporters noted the president told a group of Democratic governors that he had seen a doctor.

The President took responsibility for the poor performance, but also offered a new excuse

The president said he had not seen a replay of his performance. When asked if he knew how bad it went, he said it was “nobody's fault but mine.”

In answering this question, Biden made a misleading comment on a New York Times survey.

“I did the preparation that I usually do by sitting down, because I come back as foreign leaders or the National Security Council — going over the explicit details. And I realized, about half the time — you know, all I get quoted is that The New York Times had me down 10 points before the debate, now it's nine, or whatever. The fact of the matter is — what I saw is that he also lied 28 times,” he said.

When asked about his performance he said, “I had a bad night.”

But later in the interview, Biden gave a different explanation. He said he was distracted by Trump speaking, while Trump's microphone was muted.

“I thought I was having a bad night when I realized that even after they turned off his mic while I was answering a question, he was still yelling. And I let it distract me. I'm not blaming him for that, but I realized I was just not in control,” Biden told Stephanopoulos.

Biden and Trump and their teams agreed on the rules ahead of the debate.

Biden will not take a cognitive test and will not release it to voters

Biden said that “nobody told me I had to” undergo cognitive and neurological exams, telling Stephanopoulos that “I undergo a full neurological exam every day” — likely referring to the demands of his job.

“I have medical doctors traveling everywhere I go. As you know, every president does that. The best medical doctors in the world travel with me wherever I go. They're constantly evaluating what I'm doing. If they think there's something else wrong, they don't hesitate to let me know,” he said.

When asked if he had undergone cognitive testing and an examination by a neurologist, Biden said no.

“Nobody asked me to do this. … They said I was good.”

In an analysis published Friday, CNN's chief medical correspondent Dr. Sanjay Gupta — a practicing neurosurgeon — urged Biden to undergo in-depth cognitive and neurological testing and share his results.

Gupta wrote that it was concerning to watch Biden's performance in the debate. He added that detailed testing “could help determine if there is a simple explanation for the symptoms displayed or something more worrisome.”

Biden denies poll shows he is losing to Trump

Asked by Stephanopoulos if he was being honest with himself about his ability to beat Trump, Biden said, “Yes. Yes, yes, yes.”

He cited past polls as evidence that he could not win in 2020 and subsequent polls, and denied widespread surveys that showed he was trailing.

Pressed about his low approval ratings and whether it would be harder to win after four years, Biden said, “Not when you're running against a deranged liar. Not when he hasn't been challenged the way he's supposed to be challenged.”

The president said all of his pollsters are calling the race “one-sided,” as he pointed to some specific surveys before concluding his speech.

Biden defies panicked Democrats: Only 'God Almighty' can take him out of the race

When asked during the interview if he would step down if he believed he could not defeat Trump, Biden said he would do so only “if the Almighty God comes down” and tells him to do so.

“If the Almighty God came down and said, ‘Joe, get out of the race,’ I would get out of the race,” Biden said.

Biden, who is a devout Catholic, said, “The Almighty God is not coming down.”

Stephanopoulos responded: “I agree that God Almighty is not going to step down. But if you were credibly told by your colleagues, and your friends and supporters in the Democratic Party, the House, the Senate, that they were concerned that you would lose both the House and the Senate if you stayed in the House, what would you do?”

Biden declined to answer the question. He said, “That's not going to happen.”

The president later questioned whether any other Democratic leader would have his foreign policy acumen.

“Who would be able to hold NATO together like I would? Who would be in a position where I could put the Pacific Basin in a position where we could at least fend off China? Who's going to do that — who's going to do that? Who has the reach to do that?” Biden asked.

Four Democratic members of Congress have called on Biden to step down. Massachusetts Governor Maura Haley released a statement Friday calling on Biden to “carefully evaluate” whether he is the party's best choice to defeat Donald Trump. And Virginia Senator Mark Warner is trying to get Senate Democrats on the same page about the future of Biden's re-election bid, sources told CNN, adding further pressure to the White House.

Warner, who is taking a leadership role in the effort, is getting to the point where he thinks it's time for Biden to suspend his reelection campaign, a source familiar with his efforts told CNN.

When asked about Warner's efforts, Biden responded: “Mark's a good man. … He tried to get the nomination, too.” Warner was considered a contender for the vice presidential nomination in 2008, a position Biden ultimately won, but he withdrew from consideration.

“Mark is not like that — Mark and I have different perspectives,” Biden told Stephanopoulos.

Asked if he would reconsider his stance if more high-ranking Democrats, including Senate Majority Leader Chuck Schumer, former House Speaker Nancy Pelosi or House Minority Leader Hakeem Jeffries, pressure him to drop out, Biden replied: “They're not going to do that.”

Biden shows off his energy and enthusiasm at Wisconsin rally

Biden faced concerns from voters just before the ABC interview while he was on stage at a campaign rally in Wisconsin. A rally attendee unfurled a sign that read, “Pass the torch, Joe.” The sign remained visible for a few moments before someone else tried to cover up a portion of it with a Biden-Harris sign.

Biden's speech during that rally was lively and energetic — though he sensed that his every word would be analyzed and carefully scrutinized during this politically crucial period. He vowed to “defeat Trump again in 2020” before realizing his mistake and correcting himself: “By the way, we're going to do it again in 2024.” Criticizing Trump's economic policy, Biden said his opponent wants “another 5 billion — trillion, trillion, not billion — $5 trillion tax cut.”

He directly addressed criticisms about his age: “I wasn't too old to create over 50 million new jobs, get 21 million Americans insured under the Affordable Care Act, beat back Big Pharma. … Was I too old to reduce the student debt of nearly 5 million Americans? Too old to put the first black woman on the United States Supreme Court? Too old to sign the Respect for Marriage Act?”

Biden said unknown forces were “trying to take him out of the race.”

He said, “Well, I want to say this as quickly as possible. I'm going to stay in the race.”

This point was underscored by the song that played at the conclusion of Biden’s speech: Tom Petty’s “I Won’t Back Down.”

This story and headline were updated with additional developments Friday.

CNN-Wire™ & © 2024 Cable News Network, Inc., a Warner Bros. Discovery Company. All rights reserved.

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