Biden’s Weekend of Damage Control Fails to Stave Off Calls for Him to Drop Out

President Joe Biden spent the better part of last week and this past weekend attempting to assuage concerns regarding his ability to run a vigorous campaign against former President Donald Trump in the 2024 election.

In the end, those efforts seemed to be for naught, as more lawmakers on Capitol Hill, and voters in general, are questioning Biden’s mental acuity and his ability to win a rematch against the GOP nominee.

Uncertainties over Biden’s cognitive capabilities grew after the president’s disastrous debate performance against Trump in late June. The president, recognizing that he could no longer ignore the matter, made plans to publicly make the case for why he should stay in the race, scheduling campaign rallies and a high-profile interview.

On Friday, Biden arrived in Madison, Wisconsin, where he spoke to a crowd of a few hundred supporters in a middle school gymnasium on the city’s north side. The president said he was “staying in the race,” and proceeded to condemn a number of Trump’s past actions and statements.

“Trump’s biggest lie of all is that he had nothing to do with the insurrection of January 6th,” Biden said, referring to the Trump-inspired attack on the U.S. Capitol following the 2020 election.

“After what Trump did on January 6th, why would anyone ever let him be near the Oval Office again?” Biden added.

President Joe Biden, the presumptive Democratic nominee for president, speaks to a crowd gathered at a middle school gymnasium in Madison, Wisconsin, on July 5, 2024.

Biden made significantly fewer mistakes and gaffes during this speech than he did at the debate. Notably, the rally was a highly orchestrated affair, with attendees appearing to have been invited specifically by the campaign — not atypical for campaigns from either side of the partisan divide.

“Full support,” an audience member named Michael, who also described himself as supportive of Biden before the speech, told Truthout after exiting the gym.

“I was really glad to see him and hear unequivocally that he’s in the race,” said Margaret Arney, another attendee who spoke to Truthout after the speech (and who is also a Democratic candidate for state legislative office). “I thought it was just what I needed to hear from him.”

But one attendee, who spoke to Truthout both before and after the speech, wasn’t sure Biden accomplished what he had intended: to remove doubt that he’s incapable of defeating Trump.

“He did good. He still looked old,” that person said.

Blocks away from the school, protesters supportive of the Democratic Party urged Biden to drop out of the race.

“We think we need the best candidate who can beat Trump,” protester Karen Neff told local news media, indicating that Biden isn’t up to the job.

“I do think that Biden has been a great president, [but] he’s not a great candidate at this point. And his candidacy is what I’m concerned about and focused on,” said Tess Carr, a protester who held up a sign reading “I [Heart] You Joe — Bow Out.”

Other demonstrators, led by Students for Justice in Palestine at the University of Wisconsin-Madison, denounced Biden for his instrumental role in Israel’s genocide of Palestinians in Gaza, in which Israeli forces have killed nearly 40,000 Palestinians so far, a number that experts say is likely a drastic undercount.

“We’re here today to protest Joe Biden’s active support for the genocide. … I’ve been extremely, extremely disappointed, especially as a Jewish person of color who’s had family members murdered in the Holocaust, that our president is actively supporting a genocide against Palestinians,” a protester named Jules told the local NBC station affiliate WMTV.

Despite the campaign rally and an interview with ABC News’s George Stephanopoulos in which Biden emphasized his commitment to staying in the race, a “Pass the Torch” campaign urging Biden to drop out is only gaining steam. Polling data also shows that most voters overall want a candidate other than Biden to be the Democratic nominee, and Trump has widened his lead against Biden in a number of surveys taken since the debate.

Biden’s ABC News interview was a stark reminder that, away from the highly managed campaign rally setting, he appears to have difficulty answering probing questions. In commentary on that interview, many pundits noted that Biden cited selfish reasons for wanting to remain in the race, and that he couldn’t answer Stephanopoulos on whether he watched his own debate performance.

“I don’t think I did, no,” Biden said, indicating a lapse in memory over an event that happened within the past week or so and a glaring disregard for the public’s concerns.

Biden was also interviewed by two separate radio stations: one in Wisconsin and the other in Pennsylvania. Following those interviews, it was revealed that the Biden campaign had given hosts of both programs “approved questions,” with the intention of making Biden appear more prepared than he really was.

Several members of Congress have called on Biden to step down from the presidential campaign to allow a different candidate to step in.

According to ABC News, over the weekend, four senior House Democrats — Reps. Jerry Nadler of New York, Mark Takano of California, Joe Morelle of New York and Adam Smith of Washington — told House Minority Leader Hakeem Jeffries (D-New York) that they believe Biden should step down. Those individuals are chairs or ranking members of the Judiciary, Veterans Affairs, Administration and Armed Services committees, respectively.

These lawmakers join at least five other Democrats in the House who have so far called for Biden to drop out — including Reps. Angie Craig (D-Minnesota), Mike Quigley (D-Illinois), Seth Moulton (D-Massachusetts), Lloyd Doggett (D-Texas) and Raúl Grijalva (D-Arizona).

Rep. Adam Schiff (D-California) has also expressed qualms about Biden staying in the race, though he hasn’t stated outright that he should step away.

“[The race] should not be even close, and there’s only one reason it is close, and that’s the president’s age,” Schiff said on NBC’s “Meet the Press” program on Sunday.

The New York Times also reported on Saturday that at least one senior White House official, a member of the Biden administration, doesn’t believe the president can defeat Trump.