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‘I’m going to be fighting harder,’ Biden tells donors after disastrous debate

President Biden speaks on the phone while walking to board Air Force One after a fundraiser in New Jersey on Saturday.
Mandel Ngan
/
AFP via Getty Images
President Biden speaks on the phone while walking to board Air Force One after a fundraiser in New Jersey on Saturday.

Updated July 01, 2024 at 10:38 AM ET

President Biden had planned to spend the days after his first 2024 debate against former President Donald Trump taking a victory lap with Democratic supporters and donors.

Instead, he spent the weekend doing damage control, attempting to reassure his party that he is still up to the job, after Thursday’s debate where his hoarse voice and verbal stumbles left Democrats collectively wringing their hands. His weak performance led to a chorus of calls for him to end his reelection campaign.

“I understand the concern after the debate. I get it,” Biden told a group of supporters gathered at the home of New Jersey Gov. Phil Murphy on Saturday night. “I didn’t have a great night. But I’m going to be fighting harder and going to need you with me to get it done.”

After the debate, Biden boosted his energy level

President Biden and first lady Jill Biden got an order to go from a Waffle House in Marietta, Ga., after the first presidential debate of the 2024 elections on Thursday.
Mandel Ngan/AFP via Getty Images / AFP
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AFP
President Biden and first lady Jill Biden got an order to go from a Waffle House in Marietta, Ga., after the first presidential debate of the 2024 elections on Thursday.

The Biden campaign had been looking to shake up the race with the debate, which the president spent a week prepping for at Camp David. They had wanted to draw a contrast between him and Trump on issues like abortion, democracy and the economy — and they wanted to put to rest concerns about Biden’s age.

Less than 24 hours after the debate, Biden was back on stage for a rally in Raleigh, N.C., this time with a stronger voice and more energetic presence. His campaign used the performance to cut a new ad that it said would air on networks and programs that are popular with younger and diverse audiences.

“I know how to do this job. I know how to get things done. And I know like millions of Americans know — when you get knocked down, you get back up,” he said to a cheering crowd.

Biden debuted new talking points addressing his weak performance — something he would go on to repeat at several different campaign receptions on Friday and Saturday in New York and New Jersey.

President Biden and British musician Elton John at the Stonewall National Monument Visitor Center grand opening ceremony in New York on Friday.
Mandel Ngan/AFP via Getty Images / AFP
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AFP
President Biden and British musician Elton John at the Stonewall National Monument Visitor Center grand opening ceremony in New York on Friday.

“I don’t walk as easy as I used to. I don’t speak as smoothly as I used to. I don’t debate as well as I used to,” he said. “But I know what I do know: I know how to tell the truth. I know right from wrong.”

The campaign is trying to turn attention back on Trump

Since the debate, Biden and his allies have been trying to convince people who watched or have seen clips online that it was just one bad night and not representative of who he is as a candidate and president.

That started in earnest immediately after the debate, when the president and first lady stopped by an Atlanta watch party. The first lady praised her husband for “answering every question” and saying that Trump “lied.”

First lady Jill Biden waves as she and President Biden walk from Air Force One in Westhampton Beach, N.Y., on Saturday.
Mandel Ngan/AFP via Getty Images / AFP
/
AFP
First lady Jill Biden waves as she and President Biden walk from Air Force One in Westhampton Beach, N.Y., on Saturday.

On Friday, the couple attended a political fundraiser in New York, where they highlighted the false statements Trump made during the debate. On Saturday, they visited the East Hampton home of hedge fund manager Barry Rosenstein and his wife Lizanne Rosenstein.

Greeting the motorcade along the path into the residential neighborhood was a small group holding up signs: “We love you, but it’s time,” “Step down for democracy,” “Please drop out for U.S.,” and “Thank you, next.”

Lizanne Rosenstein told the crowd gathered on her lawn, which included former Trump White House Communications Director Anthony Scaramucci, that “we can waste time comparing debate nights, but you know what? It’s more meaningful to compare presidencies.”

The first lady dismissed the naysayers with one line: “Joe isn’t just the right person for the job — he’s the only person for the job.”

The campaign argues the debate didn’t change the race

Campaign Communications Director Michael Tyler told reporters on board Air Force One on Friday there are no conversations “whatsoever” about Biden stepping aside and that they are committed to a second debate with Trump in September.

Asked how Biden will prepare differently for the second debate, Tyler said: “Listen, we'll talk more about the second debate as we get closer to the second debate. What we're focused on right now [is] … getting back out on the stump, communicating directly with the voters that are going to decide the election in the battleground states.”

The Biden campaign maintains the debate hasn’t dramatically changed the race — and is touting $33 million raised between debate day through Sunday morning.

“In modern campaigns, singular moments do not spell the outcome of any race,” Molly Murphy, a pollster with the Biden campaign, told MSNBC on Sunday. She said that focus groups showed voters didn’t like the substance of Trump’s answers during the debate.

The campaign said it held more than 1,500 events in battleground states on the weekend, ranging from door-knocking to tables at farmers' markets to bocce ball tournaments.

What top Democrats in Congress are saying

Top congressional Democrats took to the Sunday political talk shows to push back on suggestions that Biden should be replaced as the Democratic nominee.

“Absolutely not,” said Sen. Raphael Warnock, D-Ga., on NBC’s "Meet the Press." “Listen, if [Democrats] weren't engaged in a little bit of hand-wringing, they wouldn't be Democrats,” he said, adding “Bad debates happen.”

Sen. Chris Coons, D-Del., the national co-chair of Biden’s campaign, told ABC’s "This Week" he thinks Biden is “the only Democrat who can beat Donald Trump.”

House Minority Leader Hakeem Jeffries, whopreviously told reporters he still think Democrats can win back the House with Biden on the ticket, told MSNBC the performance on Thursday was a “setback” — but one that Biden could come back from.

But Rep. Jamie Raskin, D-Md., had a different message on MSNBC.

“Obviously there was a big problem with Joe Biden’s debate performance. And there’s also just a tremendous reservoir for affection and love for Joe Biden in our party, and so this makes it a difficult situation for everybody,” Raskin told MSNBC’s Ali Velshi. “But there are very honest and serious and rigorous conversations taking place at every level of our party because it is a political party and we have differences of points of view.”

Raskin said “regardless of what President Biden decides,” the Democratic Party needs him at its center.

Copyright 2024 NPR

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Barbara Sprunt is a producer on NPR's Washington desk, where she reports and produces breaking news and feature political content. She formerly produced the NPR Politics Podcast and got her start in radio at as an intern on NPR's Weekend All Things Considered and Tell Me More with Michel Martin. She is an alumnus of the Paul Miller Reporting Fellowship at the National Press Foundation. She is a graduate of American University in Washington, D.C., and a Pennsylvania native.