Biden's family gathers at Camp David and urges him to keep fighting

President Biden's family is urging him to stay in the race and keep fighting despite last week's fraught debate, while some members of his family have privately expressed displeasure with how his staff prepared him for the event, people close to the situation said Sunday.

Mr. Biden sat at Camp David with his wife, children and grandchildren and tried to figure out how to ease Democratic anxiety. While his relatives are well aware of how poorly he fared against former President Donald J. Trump, they argued that he could still show the country he was capable of serving for another four years.

Mr. Biden is also seeking suggestions from advisers about future strategy, and his staff is discussing whether he should hold a news conference or give an interview to defend himself in a bid to change the narrative, but nothing has been decided yet.

One of the strongest voices urging Mr. Biden to resist pressure to exit was his son, Hunter Biden, on whom the president has long relied for advice, said one of the people with knowledge of the discussions who, like others, spoke on the condition of anonymity to share internal deliberations. “Hunter Biden wants Americans to see the version of his father they know — playful and in control of the facts — not the fumbling, aging president that Americans saw on Thursday night.”

Other family members were trying to figure out how they could be helpful. At least one of the president's grandsons has expressed interest in becoming more involved in the campaign, possibly by talking to influencers on social media, according to the knowledgeable person.

The anger among Democrats became evident on Sunday when John Morgan, a top Democratic donor, publicly blamed the consultants who managed the presidential debate preparations, naming Ron Klein, Anita Dunn and Bob Bauer.

“Biden has been fooled by the value of Anita Dunn and her husband for too long,” Mr Morgan wrote on social media. “He must leave today. The fraud is colossal. This was political malpractice.”

He elaborated later in an interview. “It would be like you take a prizefighter who's going to compete in a title fight and put him in a sauna for 15 hours and then say, 'Go fight',” he said. “I believe the debate is entirely on Ron Klein, Bob Bauer and Anita Dunn.”

Members of Mr. Biden’s family were also said to be focusing on the president’s staff, including Ms. Dunn, a senior White House adviser, and her husband, Mr. Bauer, the president’s personal lawyer, who played Mr. Trump during debate practices.

They were asking why Mr. Klain, the former White House chief of staff who oversaw the preparations, would allow them to be so burdened with figures in his view, and they were upset that Mr. Biden, who arrived for the debate in Atlanta with a summer tan, was made to look pale and pale, said one of the people who has been in touch with several family members.

But the person said the president himself was not among those who were upset and that he still trusted Mr. Klein, Ms. Dunn, Mr. Bauer and the others. Other Democrats said it was unfair for the president to blame staffers for his own failures, dismissing it as the usual second-guessing and scapegoating aimed at distancing himself from Mr. Biden.

A couple of Democrats pointed out that neither family members nor other critics attended the preparation sessions and so had no idea how they went. One member of Mr Biden's circle said no one was happy with the outcome of the debate and that it is human nature to look for someone to blame.

Mr. Klein, Ms. Dunn and Mr. Bauer would not comment on debate preparations, but Mr. Klein said it was 100 percent certain that the president would stay in the race. “He is the choice of Democratic voters,” Mr. Klein said. “We are seeing record levels of support from grassroots donors. We had a bad debate night. But you win campaigns by fighting — by not giving up — in the face of adversity.”

He recalled a primary debate in 2019 that went badly but did not deter Mr. Biden. “This is a tough, close campaign and he is the person who can win it,” Mr. Klein said. “Big money donors cannot dictate the Democratic Party’s nominee.”

In the days since the debate, Mr. Biden has acknowledged privately and publicly that he did not perform well, and he has been making calls to trusted advisers such as Mr. Klein, his longtime colleague and friend Ted Kaufman, the historian and informal adviser Jon Meacham, as well as major donors and party leaders.

But two people familiar with Mr. Biden’s calls said they were more about seeing what people were saying than about getting advice about re-evaluating his future. One of the people on Mr. Biden’s phone tree said the president wanted to work hard to show a contrast with Mr. Trump, a convicted felon who tried to overturn the last election and made numerous false statements during the debate.

Though Mr. Biden’s campaign has firmly rejected suggestions that he should step down and pick another nominee just weeks before the vote to formalize his nomination, several Democrats, including some who work for the president, said they did not think the door was yet closed on that possibility.

But Mr. Biden is a proud man, and he said he believed the odds of him trying to end it were still 4 or 5 to 1. He said he could envision him changing course only if he could be given a respectable path in which he could take credit for ousting Mr. Trump in 2020, restoring the country and serving as a transition to the next generation.

A new CBS News poll found that there is a strong sense among Democratic voters that 81-year-old Mr Biden should give way to a younger candidate. 45 per cent of Democrats said they want a different candidate to do battle with Mr Trump. Of the total voters, only 27 per cent think Mr Biden has the mental and cognitive health to serve as president, down from 35 per cent before the debate.

Democratic allies took to the Sunday talk shows to defend the president. “They wouldn’t be Democrats if they weren’t engaged in a little bit of arm-wringing,” Sen. Raphael Warnock of Georgia said on “Meet the Press” on NBC. But he added, “Joe Biden has shown a lot of personality and courage over the last four years, not more than 90 minutes.”

Wes Moore, the governor of Maryland, acknowledged that Mr. Biden's age is a concern for voters. “81 is an important number,” he said on “Face the Nation” on CBS. “But it's equally important to see historically low unemployment rates. And I don't think people should ignore that.”

Mr Moore said he would not contest the election if Mr Biden dropped out. “Joe Biden will not take himself out of the race, nor should he,” he said. “He's been a remarkable partner.”

Former Speaker Nancy Pelosi dismissed talk of the president dropping out. “I support the Biden-Harris ticket,” she told Jen Psaki, Biden’s former press secretary, on MSNBC. “I’m not leaving Joe Biden to any speculation right now.”

Two Biden confidants said that if there were any major discussions with the family about the president’s future, they would not take place at Camp David, where many people outside the family could listen in.

The family had already planned to spend the weekend at Camp David before the debate, to participate in a photo shoot with veteran celebrity photographer Annie Leibovitz. It was the first time the entire family gathered in one place since Hunter Biden was convicted on federal gun charges; he still faces sentencing and another trial on tax charges.

A senior administration official who was not authorized to provide details of internal conversations said there was debate about how the president should proceed — not about stepping down, but about how to best make the case that he should not step down.

The version of Mr. Biden that has emerged at rallies and fundraisers since Atlanta is consistent with the man his aides describe — a man who is energetic, forceful and ready to keep fighting until November.

But some aides were not happy to see him rely on a teleprompter to raise funds, a practice that has been encouraged by advisers who have been seeking a more disciplined approach by the president even in informal settings. One aide said Mr. Biden had been “scared” by the more informal approach in recent months.

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