'I was feeling terrible' in debate, Biden says in TV interview

US President Joe Biden walks to speak with the press before boarding Air Force One prior to departure from Dane County Regional Airport in Madison (SAUL LOEB)
US President Joe Biden walks to speak with the press before boarding Air Force One prior to departure from Dane County Regional Airport in Madison (SAUL LOEB)

Joe Biden vowed Friday to stay in the White House race and blamed his dismal debate performance on "feeling terrible" due to a cold, as he sought to save his reelection campaign with a make-or-break TV interview.

As rebellion brews among some nervous Democratic voters, lawmakers and donors, the one-to-one with the ABC network was hyped as the most consequential of the 81-year-old's long career.

"I was sick, I was feeling terrible... We were trying to figure out what's wrong," the president said in an excerpt of his first TV interview since the debate with Donald Trump.

"They did a test to see whether or not I had some infection, you know, a virus. I didn't. I just had a really bad cold."

Biden sounded raspy and gave meandering answers in the clip, which appeared unlikely to reassure Democrats.

The Trump campaign offered a lightning-quick mocking reaction, posting on X that "Biden sounds great!"

The sit-down -- which was due to be aired in full later Friday, came after Biden's debate in Atlanta triggered panic within his party and calls for him to pull out of the race.

The Biden campaign has pushed back hard on any suggestion he may withdraw and, just hours before the ABC interview, released an aggressive campaign travel schedule for the rest of July.

Appearing at a campaign rally in Madison, Wisconsin, the president delivered an energetic stump speech, unequivocally declaring, "I'm staying in the race. I'll beat Donald Trump."

As supporters cheered, he went on the attack against his rival.

- Polls tip toward Trump -

"Let's focus on what really matters," Biden said, reading from teleprompters. "We're running against the biggest liar and the biggest threat... to our democracy in American history -- that's not hyperbole."

Post-debate polls have shown a widening deficit in Trump's favor, and at least three Democrats in Congress have called on Biden to step aside, as have several major newspapers and a raft of Democratic-supporting political commentators.

Wealthy Disney heiress and Democratic supporter Abigail Disney, told CNBC she plans to withhold donations to the party until Biden drops out, saying bluntly that "if Biden does not step down the Democrats will lose" in November.

"This is realism, not disrespect," she said.

Senate Intelligence Committee chariman Mark Warner has approached fellow Democrats to organize talks on Monday on Biden's path forward, multiple US media outlets reported.

House Minority Leader Hakeem Jeffries was convening his own meeting -- a video call with senior Democrats -- on Sunday, according to NBC News.

Former US House speaker Nancy Pelosi, one of the most influential Democratic voices, has deemed it "essential" he do more major interviews to prove himself.

The White House has announced he will hold a press conference during the NATO summit in Washington next Thursday, but has not revealed any details on its format or length.

Biden's travel plans include Pennsylvania this weekend, then the NATO meeting, and back on the campaign trail with a swing through the American Southwest.

The president will "engage in frequent off-the-cuff moments over the course of the month, as he has consistently throughout this campaign," his team said, seeking to emphasize his folksy charm.

Trump has meanwhile dared Biden to another debate, or an "all-on discussion," saying he was ready "anytime, anywhere, any place."

With speculation swirling over a potential switch in the Democratic ticket, Kamala Harris, the nation's first female vice president, has suddenly been in the spotlight.

The 59-year-old former prosecutor has offered unwavering support for Biden in public but is standing by as a leading alternative if he steps aside.