President Biden Insists There’s “No Indication of Any Serious Condition” in First Post-Debate Interview

In what is arguably the most important media interview of his reelection bid, President Joe Biden on Friday maintained that his shaky performance at the first 2024 presidential debate was “a bad night” and that he was “sick” but the incumbent candidate seemed unaware of how fast his chances to win appear to be slipping away as voters get an impression that he is in mental decline.

The interview with ABC News did Biden no favors but won’t bring the same panic heard after his rough debate performance.

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The embattled president, now facing what looks to be a tough reelection bid, sat down with ABC NewsGeorge Stephanopoulos for a 22-minute, unedited interview which aired in full on Friday. The strategic move from Biden’s campaign was to reassure voters about his health and fitness for reelection, and the president did convey that while he was certainly in solid mental condition, he certainly did not appear to be at his sharpest.

“It was a bad episode,” he said at the top of the interview in response to a question about the Atlanta debate. “I was exhausted. I didn’t listen to my instincts in terms of preparing and … had a bad night.”

Biden also told Stephanopoulos that he was sick at the time. The president had spent six days at Camp David before debate night, following a trip to Europe, and the anchor asked if this was not enough time to rest ahead of the major moment of his campaign.

“Because I was sick. I was feeling terrible,” Biden revealed. “As a matter of fact… I asked if they did a COVID test. We were trying to figure out what was wrong. They did a test to see whether or not I had some infection, a virus. They said I just had a really bad cold.”

When asked next if he had watched his debate performance, Biden seemed unsure, saying, “I don’t think I did.”

Biden’s interview comes as some — such as CNN’s Dr. Sanjay Gupta — are saying the president should undergo neurological testing (specifically, for Parkinson’s) with a specialist trained to make such a diagnosis. The White House has previously maintained that Biden’s personal doctor has said he’s fit for office. He is facing calls to step down in the wake of his faltering live 90-minute debate performance last Thursday against Donald Trump. The debate raised questions about his mental capacity and provoked a swarm of media reports detailing behind-the-scenes White House staffers’ efforts to limit access to the president while making his job less physically demanding, all while maintaining the commander-in-chief was as “sharp as a tack.”

Biden said that he knew he felt that early in the debate he had lost control when there were technical issues and someone had turned off his microphone. He did take a jab at Trump, saying that he lies 28 times from the stage in Atlanta, and went on to tout his record over the last 3-and-a-half years and list some of his accomplishments as president.

“I was also the guy that expanded NATO. I’m also the guy who grew the economy. All the individual things that were done were ideas I had or I fulfilled. I moved on,” he said, adding that he today announced 200,000 new jobs. “We’re moving in a direction that no one’s ever taken on.”

Calls for Biden to step aside to allow other potential candidates to secure the nomination have continued. On Tuesday, veteran Texas Rep. Lloyd Doggett became the first sitting Democratic member of Congress to call on Biden to quit the race. Post-debate polling is still relatively sparse, but some early indications suggest Trump has widened his lead to about six points ahead of Biden nationally.

Stephanopoulos repeatedly hammered Biden with questions on his mental state and whether he is fit for what is ultimately one of the most demanding jobs in the world. After years at it, could it have taken a toll on him?

Biden replied, “I think it cost me a bad night.” The president then listed elements of his plans for the country if he were to be reelected, but not before saying, “I don’t believe we’re a country of losers. I don’t think America is in tough shape.”

“This next term, I’m going to make sure we straighten out the tax system, make sure we’re in a situation where we have health care for all people, or in a position where we have child care and elder care,” he said. “Free up and all these things.”

Towards the end of the interview, in which Biden stumbled a number of times and like on the night of the debate, seemed to confuse his worlds and jump around in his answers, he was asked how he’d feel if after he put up the fight of his life for reelection and lost, leaving the country with the man he’s warned against so harshly.

“If Trump wins in November, I’ll feel as long as I gave it my all and did the job I know I could do, that’s what it’s all about,” he said.

The interview going to Stephanopoulos resulted in some conservative criticism that suggested the White House picked an interviewer who has — fairly or unfairly — been considered more friendly to the administration than some. Former GOP presidential candidate Nikki Haley jabbed at Stephanopoulos on Tuesday by re-posting a clip from last year where the ABC News anchor dismissed her prediction that Biden would eventually have to step down for health reasons. Stephanopoulos has worked for ABC News for more than 20 years, but previously served as former President Bill Clinton’s senior adviser for policy and strategy during his first term after being part of the Clinton campaign team during the 1992 election.

ABC News is hosting the second debate between Biden and Trump, which is currently slated for Sept. 10. Stephanopoulos previously told Stephen Colbert on CBS’ Late Show that he won’t be a moderator in the debate since Trump is currently suing him for defamation.

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