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Biden says he is fit to continue running for president in post-debate interview

SCOTT SIMON, HOST:

President Biden sat for an interview yesterday with ABC's George Stephanopoulos, and it was widely taken as his chance to regain some confidence from supporters after a faltering debate performance last week against Donald Trump. The president said he isn't dropping out of the race, and that he will defeat Trump in November, as he did four years ago. NPR senior White House correspondent Tamara Keith joins us. Tam, thanks for being with us.

TAMARA KEITH, BYLINE: Glad to be with you.

SIMON: What's your assessment? How did the interview go?

KEITH: President Biden was repeatedly pressed on his insistence on staying in the race and whether he might be fooling himself about his ability to win and serve another four years. But he was defiant. He insisted that polls showing him trailing are wrong. And he often pivoted to talk about what he has accomplished and the danger he says former President Trump poses.

But at times, his answers were also garbled, with multiple ideas tumbling out at the same time in a way that made it difficult to fully understand his point, like when Stephanopoulos asked him whether he realized, while the debate was happening, how badly it was going.

(SOUNDBITE OF ARCHIVED RECORDING)

PRESIDENT JOE BIDEN: I prepared what I usually would do - sitting down as I did come back with foreign leaders or National Security Council for explicit detail. And I realized about partway through that, you know, all - I can quote it. The New York Times had me down 10 points before the debate - 9 now, or whatever the hell it is.

KEITH: That answer went on a bit longer from there. But then there were other moments that were crystal clear, like when Stephanopoulos asked Biden about his fitness for office.

(SOUNDBITE OF ARCHIVED RECORDING)

BIDEN: Can I run the 100 in 10 flat? No. But I'm still in good shape.

GEORGE STEPHANOPOULOS: Are you more frail?

BIDEN: No.

KEITH: At another point, he indicated, the Lord almighty may be the only one who could convince him he needs to leave the race.

SIMON: How sharply did he answer what were some very sharp and real questions about not just debate performance, but fitness to serve?

KEITH: Well, with regards to the debate, he said he was exhausted from foreign travel and then had a bad cold and that it was just an off night. Stephanopoulos asked him whether he had taken a cognitive exam, and Biden said he hadn't, that no one told him he needed to. And he insisted that he gets a cognitive test every day just doing the job, which has been the White House talking point for some time now.

As a reminder, Trump, who is 78 years old, claims to have taken a cognitive test more than once and insists he has aced them, though a detailed report or, really, any details have never been released, and these tests are not scored like the SAT.

SIMON: Coming into this interview, there's been growing consternation among many Democrats and increasingly open conversations from people who feel that the president needs to step aside. Does this interview change anything?

KEITH: There have been a few supportive tweets, but watching what Democrats say on the Sunday political talk shows will give more clues. Biden's performance in this interview was pretty standard Biden, circa 2024. He stumbled, but he also smiled his big toothy smile and had the look of someone ready to prove all the doubters wrong. Before the interview, I spoke with Democratic Congresswoman Nikema Williams, who's also the chair of the Georgia Democratic Party, and she couched it this way.

NIKEMA WILLIAMS: Members of Congress want to make sure that we are putting the best person forward. Right now, at the top of our ticket is President Biden. And I think once we're able to get out of this being the main story, then members of Congress are going to reflect where their voters are. And that is, who is going to deliver for the American people because that's what we want?

KEITH: Right now was doing a lot of work there in that quote. But she believes voters are less concerned with a TV interview or even a debate than they are about the issues and the very clear differences between Biden and Trump.

SIMON: And what happens next, Tam? I was up all night refining that question.

KEITH: (Laughter) Yesterday certainly brought some time for - bought some time for Biden to keep campaigning. Sunday, he heads to Pennsylvania. I'll be tagging along for that one. Biden is set to hold a solo press conference during the NATO summit in Washington, D.C., next week. That will be another test of his ability to think on his feet. Members of Congress, who've been out on recess, return on Monday, and we'll see how loud the cries get.

SIMON: NPR's Tamara Keith, thanks so much.

KEITH: You're welcome. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.

NPR transcripts are created on a rush deadline by an NPR contractor. This text may not be in its final form and may be updated or revised in the future. Accuracy and availability may vary. The authoritative record of NPR’s programming is the audio record.

Tamara Keith has been a White House correspondent for NPR since 2014 and co-hosts the NPR Politics Podcast, the top political news podcast in America. Keith has chronicled the Trump administration from day one, putting this unorthodox presidency in context for NPR listeners, from early morning tweets to executive orders and investigations. She covered the final two years of the Obama presidency, and during the 2016 presidential campaign she was assigned to cover Hillary Clinton. In 2018, Keith was elected to serve on the board of the White House Correspondents' Association.
Scott Simon is one of America's most admired writers and broadcasters. He is the host of Weekend Edition Saturday and is one of the hosts of NPR's morning news podcast Up First. He has reported from all fifty states, five continents, and ten wars, from El Salvador to Sarajevo to Afghanistan and Iraq. His books have chronicled character and characters, in war and peace, sports and art, tragedy and comedy.
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