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Politics chat: Some Democrats are calling for Biden to step down

AYESHA RASCOE, HOST:

President Biden gave an exclusive interview to ABC News' George Stephanopoulos on Friday. The president defended his record and said he was fit to hold office again. He didn't seem to accept that he was lagging behind former President Donald Trump in many polls.

(SOUNDBITE OF ARCHIVED RECORDING)

GEORGE STEPHANOPOULOS: Do you really believe you're not behind right now?

PRESIDENT JOE BIDEN: I think it's a - all pollsters I talked to tell me it's a toss-up. It's a toss-up.

RASCOE: We're joined now by NPR senior national political correspondent Mara Liasson. Good morning, Mara.

MARA LIASSON, BYLINE: Good morning, Ayesha.

RASCOE: So this interview was intended to reassure not only American voters but his fellow Democrats in Congress and other key members of the party. Did it work?

LIASSON: I haven't seen any signs that it has. Democrats are still just as worried about Biden's ability to beat Trump. And I think the premise was always faulty that one interview with a tough but empathetic host or a couple of rallies where he was vigorous but still reading from a teleprompter was going to wipe away the damage from that dismal debate performance.

And plus, as you just heard, he was on the defensive. He denied that he was down in the polls. He insisted he wouldn't leave the race. It was almost as if he was retreating to the origin story of his entire political career, which is that he's always counted out, and he always proves his critics wrong.

RASCOE: So this was never going to be a one-and-done situation. But that means that Biden is going to have to keep hammering those points on the campaign trail, right?

LIASSON: That's right. And he was at a rally in Wisconsin on Friday, and here's a little bit of what he said.

(SOUNDBITE OF ARCHIVED RECORDING)

BIDEN: By the way, if you wonder whether Trump has it all together - did you ever hear how he explained the Fourth of July when he was president? No, I'm serious. This is true. His explanation how America won the Revolutionary War - I'm not making this up. He said in his Fourth of July speech five years ago - he said, George Washington's army won the Revolution by taking control of the airports from the British.

(LAUGHTER)

BIDEN: They talk about me misspeaking.

(CHEERING)

BIDEN: Airports and the British in 1776.

LIASSON: So there is a lot of evidence that Trump is slipping, too. He's 78. He mixes up names. He rambles. But voters don't see his age and mental fitness as the kind of problem that they do for Biden. Character is more of an issue for Trump. And it's very hard for voters to unsee that debate because it's going to be everywhere on social media and in every Republican attack ad between now and November.

RASCOE: A few names are being floated out there to replace President Biden, and we should be very clear that he's giving no indication that he'll be stepping down. But where do things stand?

LIASSON: Where things stand now is that the handful of elected Democrats who are willing to say publicly that Biden should step aside is growing slowly. Donors are backing off. Senator Mark Warner is organizing a group of senators to go talk to Biden about stepping aside. Plus, polling shows that Trump has increased his lead in the battleground states.

And Democrats that I talk to are still horrified and heartbroken and angry, and they're trying to game out plan B. What would plan B look like if Biden agrees to step aside? Most people tell me that they don't think there's time for a mini-primary - a kind of debate a week - until the convention in Chicago with five or seven candidates. And even if that did happen, how would a candidate stand up a $1 billion campaign in just a couple of weeks?

The easiest plan B scenario to imagine for Democrats is that Kamala Harris becomes the candidate. She can inherit the money and infrastructure. After all, it's called the Biden-Harris campaign. She's been vetted. She's the Vice President, hard to deny the first African American, Asian American woman.

But there's no guarantee that Harris would do better than Biden. She's less popular than he is. She ran a pretty unimpressive campaign in 2020. And also, Democrats are worried about the $1 billion of Republican attack ads against her that are probably on the shelf right now ready to go.

RASCOE: So what are you expecting to hear from the Trump and Biden campaigns this week?

LIASSON: Well, both of them are holding rallies. Biden has two rallies in Pennsylvania today. He's gonna do a solo press conference during that NATO meeting at the White House this week. That will be a real test. There won't be a teleprompter there.

But Trump has been keeping a relatively low profile. He just is happy to let Biden struggle. But he has a big decision coming up. He has to decide who his vice president will be before the end of the Republican Convention on July 15, and he's waiting to see what Biden does first 'cause that will inform his choice.

RASCOE: That's NPR senior national political correspondent Mara Liasson. Thank you, Mara.

LIASSON: Thank you, Ayesha. 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.

Mara Liasson is a national political correspondent for NPR. Her reports can be heard regularly on NPR's award-winning newsmagazine programs Morning Edition and All Things Considered. Liasson provides extensive coverage of politics and policy from Washington, DC — focusing on the White House and Congress — and also reports on political trends beyond the Beltway.
Ayesha Rascoe is a White House correspondent for NPR. She is currently covering her third presidential administration. Rascoe's White House coverage has included a number of high profile foreign trips, including President Trump's 2019 summit with North Korean leader Kim Jong Un in Hanoi, Vietnam, and President Obama's final NATO summit in Warsaw, Poland in 2016. As a part of the White House team, she's also a regular on the NPR Politics Podcast.