Election 2024: Biden’s Verbal Stumbles in Spotlight as He Hosts July 4 Events (2024)

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Election 2024: Biden’s Verbal Stumbles in Spotlight as He Hosts July 4 Events (1)

Nicholas Nehamas,Michael D. Shear and Jennifer Medina

Biden is facing a crisis of confidence.

With his candidacy under intense scrutiny, President Biden spent Independence Day trying to tamp down calls for him to drop his bid for re-election.

That effort was in the spotlight as Mr. Biden welcomed military members to the White House for a barbecue Thursday evening, delivering prepared remarks to a crowd of veterans and their families in what was his fifth brief public appearance since the debate.

But as he praised the military members, calling them the “finest fighting force in the history of the world,” he also stumbled over his words.

As he began a story about former President Donald J. Trump, Mr. Biden called him “one of our colleagues, the former president” and then added, “probably shouldn’t say, at any rate” before abruptly ending the story and moving on.

With his public statements under the microscope, flubs he made during radio interviews that aired earlier on Thursday — garbling a line about serving under the first Black president and with the first Black vice president, and another when discussing anti-Catholic discrimination — were also drawing attention.

Here’s what else to know:

  • Addressing his missteps: Mr. Biden said in an interview with a Wisconsin radio station that he “screwed up” during the debate, his most direct public acknowledgment of his poor performance. “I had a bad night,” he told Earl Ingram, a Milwaukee radio host, in an interview that aired Thursday morning. Separately, Mr. Biden has told key allies that he understands his viability as a candidate is on the line and that he must quickly convince voters — including those within his own party — of his fitness for office.

  • Meeting with governors: Mr. Biden tried to reassure a group of Democratic governors during a meeting on Wednesday that he could still mount an effective campaign and defeat former President Donald J. Trump, saying he needed more sleep and fewer events at night. When Gov. Josh Green of Hawaii, who attended virtually and is a physician, asked Mr. Biden about his health, the president replied, “It’s just my brain,” a remark that some in the room took as a joke but that others found puzzling.

  • More support: Gov. Gavin Newsom of California held a campaign event for Mr. Biden in Michigan, a key battleground state. Mr. Newsom has spent months burnishing his national image and is frequently mentioned as a potential presidential candidate. Since the debate, he has offered some of the most energetic defenses of Mr. Biden. After the meeting between Mr. Biden and Democratic governors on Wednesday, he said in a statement: “I heard three words from the president — he’s all in. And so am I.”

  • Donor anxiety: Many concerned Democratic donors are taking steps to pressure the president to step down from the top of the ticket. Their efforts expose a remarkable and growing rift between Mr. Biden and some of his party’s biggest financial contributors. Abigail Disney, the heir to the Disney fortune, said that Mr. Biden’s campaign and committees supporting it would “not receive another dime from me until they bite the bullet and replace Biden at the top of the ticket.”

Chris Cameron and Tim Balk contributed reporting.

Election 2024: Biden’s Verbal Stumbles in Spotlight as He Hosts July 4 Events (2)

July 5, 2024, 12:58 p.m. ET

July 5, 2024, 12:58 p.m. ET

Chris Cameron,Maggie Astor and Tim Balk

A third House Democrat, Seth Moulton, calls on Biden to drop out of the race.

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The number of House Democrats calling on President Biden to end his re-election campaign grew to four on Friday, even as Mr. Biden ramped up his efforts to reassure Democrats of his fitness to run and vowed to stay in the race.

Representative Mike Quigley, Democrat of Illinois, called the president’s candidacy “a very bleak scenario with, I would say, almost no hope of succeeding” in an interview on MSNBC on Friday just before Mr. Biden’s sit-down with ABC News.

His remarks came a day after Representative Seth Moulton of Massachusetts said in an interview with the Boston radio station WBUR that Mr. Biden should step aside to make way for a new generation of leaders, comments that Mr. Moulton’s spokeswoman confirmed on Friday. Two other House Democrats had called on Mr. Biden to leave the race earlier this week: Representative Raúl M. Grijalva of Arizona on Wednesday and Representative Lloyd Doggett of Texas on Tuesday.

Mr. Quigley said that he “had a hard time processing, getting to that point with him — as I think anybody would who respects him so much.”

He continued: “I would say: Mr. President, your legacy is set. We owe you the greatest debt of gratitude. The only thing that you can do now to cement that for all time and prevent utter catastrophe is to step down and let someone else do this.”

Mr. Moulton was similarly effusive in his praise of the president.

“President Biden has done enormous service to our country, but now is the time for him to follow in one of our founding father, George Washington’s, footsteps and step aside to let new leaders rise up and run against Donald Trump,” Mr. Moulton said.

Mr. Moulton said that he did not know yet who he thought should replace Mr. Biden at the top of the ticket, or how that person should be chosen. Mr. Quigley said that he was confident that the Democratic Party would “come together this time behind one candidate,” adding that he had “the greatest respect” for Vice President Kamala Harris.

Mr. Quigley added that what Mr. Biden decides to do “doesn’t just affect the White House. It affects all of Congress and our future.”

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July 4, 2024, 7:17 p.m. ET

July 4, 2024, 7:17 p.m. ET

Michael D. Shear

Reporting from Washington

Biden stumbles in radio interviews as he tries to steady his re-election campaign.

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President Biden sought to steady his re-election campaign by talking with two Black radio hosts for interviews broadcast on Thursday, but he spoke haltingly at points during one interview and struggled to find the right phrase in the other, saying that he was proud to have been “the first Black woman to serve with a Black president.”

He also stumbled over his words during a four-minute Fourth of July speech to military families at the White House, beginning a story about former President Donald J. Trump, calling him “one of our colleagues, the former president” and then adding, “probably shouldn’t say, at any rate” before abruptly ending the story and moving on.

Mr. Biden made the mistake on WURD radio, based in Philadelphia, as he tried to deliver a line that he has repeated before about having pride in serving as vice president for President Barack Obama. Earlier in the interview, he boasted about appointing the first Black woman to the Supreme Court and picking the first Black woman to be vice president.

The president also made a mistake earlier in the interview when he asserted that he had been the first president elected statewide in Delaware. He appeared to mean that he was the first Catholic in the state to be elected statewide, going on to speak admiringly of John F. Kennedy, a Catholic.

Mr. Biden and his top aides have said the president’s activities in the coming days are part of a series of campaign efforts designed to prove to voters, donors and activists that the president’s debate debacle was nothing more than what he has called “a bad night.”

Ammar Moussa, a spokesman for Mr. Biden’s campaign, criticized the news media for making note of the president’s stumbles.

“It was clear what President Biden meant when he was talking about his historic record, including a record number of appointments to the federal bench,” he said, referring to the president’s comments about being a Black woman. “This is not news and the media has passed the point of absurdity here.”

All of the president’s appearances have come under intense scrutiny since he appeared listless and distracted in the debate against former President Donald J. Trump last Thursday, a performance that triggered a wave of anxiety among Democrats about whether he is too old to remain as the party’s nominee.

The president is scheduled to sit down on Friday for an interview with ABC’s George Stephanopoulos after a campaign rally in Madison, Wis. On Sunday, he is scheduled to appear at a campaign event in Philadelphia.

On Thursday, the president used the radio interviews to try to dispel concerns about the debate among members of the Black community. The hosts of both shows praised and thanked Mr. Biden after the interviews.

In Mr. Biden’s appearance on the “The Earl Ingram Show,” which is aimed at Black listeners in Wisconsin but is also broadcast around the country, Mr. Ingram opened his show by asking the president to “speak to some accomplishments that we may or may not be familiar with about your record.”

But despite the low-pressure nature of the interview, the president at times spoke haltingly as he delivered his rapid-fire answers. Asked why voting mattered, Mr. Biden gave an answer about the Supreme Court’s ruling this week on immunity for Mr. Trump.

“You need someone, someone who is going to make sure that — the Supreme Court just issued a decision, by the way, that threatens the American principle that we have no kings in America,” he said. “There’s no one above the law.”

“That’s where we always — we gave Donald Trump executive — a power to to use a system — and it’s just never contemplated by our founders because of the people he appointed to the court,” he said, appearing to stutter several times, a condition he has struggled with since he was a child. “It’s just presidential immunity. He can say that I did this in my capacity as an executive, it may have been wrong, but I did it. But that’s going to hold — because I — and this is the same guy who says that he wants to enact revenge.”

The president’s responses to Mr. Ingram’s four questions were lengthy as he largely stuck to listing his accomplishments in office and criticizing Mr. Trump. But in the 17-minute interview, he sometimes stopped himself in the middle of an answer.

In the answer about the importance of voting, he began talking about Mr. Trump’s proposal to increase tariffs on all Chinese goods imported into the United States. He cut himself off in the middle of the answer, apologizing for going on too long.

“He wants a 10 percent tariff on everything imported to the United States,” he said, “which experts point out is going to raise the taxes on average Americans 2,500 bucks, raise the taxes while he gives a $5 trillion tax cut next time out for everybody making — anyway, just, I don’t want to get too wrapped up in it, really.”

Mr. Biden also stopped himself from using an epithet to describe Mr. Trump during an answer in which he talked about his son Beau, who died from brain cancer after serving for a year in Iraq. Mr. Biden has placed the blame for his death on his proximity to so-called burn pits, where waste was disposed of.

“He went a very healthy man, came back with Stage 4 glioblastoma — more brain injuries in that war than any other war — and he died,” Mr. Biden said. “I’ll be damned if I let this S.O. — excuse me — this president, talk about veterans the way he talked.”

At the end of the interview with Mr. Ingram, the president once again acknowledged his poor debate performance.

“The fact of the matter is that, you know, it was — I screwed up,” he said. “I made a mistake.”

July 4, 2024, 7:17 p.m. ET

July 4, 2024, 7:17 p.m. ET

Mitch Smith

Reporting from South Haven, Mich.

Newsom urges Michigan Democrats to stay calm and support Biden.

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Gov. Gavin Newsom of California told angsty Michigan Democrats on Thursday that President Biden had been engaged and all in on his re-election campaign during a White House meeting a day before. And Mr. Newsom suggested, gently, that party activists take a deep breath and rally behind the incumbent.

“What I need to convince you of is not to be fatalistic, not to fall prey to all this negativity,” Mr. Newsom told more than 300 fellow Democrats who had gathered on the Fourth of July holiday in South Haven, Mich.

Democrats have had a brutal week since Mr. Biden’s rocky debate performance last week, and calls for him to exit the race have exposed rifts within the party.

Mr. Newsom came to Michigan, a crucial swing state, as a surrogate campaigning for Mr. Biden. But it was hard to ignore the fact that he was also among the leading names being circulated as a potential replacement candidate — along with the Democratic governor of Michigan, Gretchen Whitmer.

Mr. Newsom on Thursday did not veer from the party line that Mr. Biden remained the nominee and that Democrats were not interested in replacing him. The California governor did not so much as hint that he was interested in the job.

“I believe in this man,” Mr. Newsom said. “I believe in his character. I believe that he has been one of the most transformative presidents in our collective lifetime.”

Mr. Newsom, who was among several Democratic governors who met with the president in person on Wednesday at the White House, came to Michigan with a message of reassurance for party loyalists. Yes, he acknowledged, the debate was not terrific. But the president he saw at the White House on Wednesday, he said, “was the Joe Biden that I remember from two years ago.”

Still, Democrats were on edge after watching last week’s debate. Mike Steil, 76, a lifelong Democrat, said that he had concerns about Mr. Biden’s age and that he would advise the president to have Vice President Kamala Harris replace him atop the 2024 ticket. Mr. Steil, a retired teacher, said he would have given the president a D grade for his debate performance.

“It was embarrassing. It was frightening. It made me angry,” Mr. Steil said of the debate. “I actually couldn’t sit still. I had to get up and leave the room a couple times.”

Nonetheless, Mr. Steil said, Mr. Biden had been a good president — and one he would vote for again, he said, if the ticket remained the same. The stakes of the election, Mr. Steil said, were enormous, with democracy itself on the line.

Mr. Newsom’s visit underscored the importance of Michigan to both campaigns. Mr. Trump carried the state in 2016, Mr. Biden won it in 2020 and Democrats believe that winning it again this year will be key to holding the White House. Recent polls in Michigan have shown a tight race, with Mr. Trump generally holding a slight lead.

Jan Petersen, 67, a farmer who raises grass-fed beef in southwest Michigan, said she appreciated Mr. Newsom’s reassuring message for Democrats. She was disappointed with post-debate news coverage of Mr. Biden, and said she hoped he would stay in the race.

“I don’t want to complain, but it feels like they’re highlighting the wrong things,” Ms. Petersen said.

Mr. Newsom spoke in Van Buren County, a lakefront area of 75,000 people in southwest Michigan that leans Republican and was buzzing on Thursday with red-white-and-blue-clad families enjoying the holiday in South Haven’s walkable downtown. Mr. Trump carried Van Buren County by 12 percentage points in 2020, but Ms. Whitmer came much closer in her re-election win two years ago, losing the county by 2 percentage points.

The event in South Haven came a day after Jill Biden, the first lady, rallied Democrats at the opening of a campaign office in Traverse City, Mich., a 200-mile drive north. In Traverse City, some Democrats said they wished Mr. Biden would step aside, but the first lady indicated that he would stay in the race.

Mary Andersson, 74, who wore an “I like Joe!” button at Mr. Newsom’s speech, said she was excited to vote for a second term for the president, and that she “absolutely” wanted him to remain in the race. She said she believed that he would win Michigan again.

“He represents and supports all my values,” said Ms. Andersson, a retired teacher who is active with the Democratic Party in a neighboring county. “I know a lot of 80-year-olds who are sharp.”

If Mr. Biden were to step down, it is far from certain how Democrats would choose a nominee; their first decision would be whether to have Ms. Harris become the party’s candidate, or to open the race to others like Mr. Newsom.

A reporter asked Mr. Newsom after his speech on Thursday whether he would support Ms. Harris as the presidential nominee if Mr. Biden were to drop out. The governor rejected the premise of the question.

“I don’t even like playing in the hypotheticals, because last night was about sort of locking down any doubt or ambiguity,” Mr. Newsom said, alluding to the White House meeting.

“Joe Biden is our president,” the governor added. “He said he’s all in.”

July 4, 2024, 6:43 p.m. ET

July 4, 2024, 6:43 p.m. ET

Nicholas Nehamas

President Biden made two verbal flubs in an interview with a Philadelphia radio host that aired on Thursday, at a time when his public statements are under a microscope. “By the way, I’m proud to be, as I said, the first Vice President, first Black woman, to serve with a Black president,” Mr. Biden said, apparently garbling a line he often uses about both serving as vice president under Barack Obama, the first Black president, and choosing Kamala Harris as his running mate, making her the first Black woman to become vice president.

July 4, 2024, 6:43 p.m. ET

July 4, 2024, 6:43 p.m. ET

Nicholas Nehamas

In the Philadelphia radio station interview, Mr. Biden also made a confusing statement when discussing anti-Catholic discrimination. “I remember as a Catholic kid growing up in an area where we didn’t like — Catholic didn’t get a lot — I’m the first president got elected statewide in the state of Delaware,” he said, appearing to use the word president when he meant Catholic.

Election 2024: Biden’s Verbal Stumbles in Spotlight as He Hosts July 4 Events (7)

July 4, 2024, 6:28 p.m. ET

July 4, 2024, 6:28 p.m. ET

Tim Balk

President Biden spoke for about four minutes at an afternoon barbecue event with military members and their families. “You are the finest fighting force in the history of the world,” Biden told attendees, expressing pride in being the commander in chief.

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Election 2024: Biden’s Verbal Stumbles in Spotlight as He Hosts July 4 Events (8)

July 4, 2024, 6:16 p.m. ET

July 4, 2024, 6:16 p.m. ET

Tim Balk

A barbecue event featuring President Biden, who is expected to deliver remarks, has started at the White House. The event was briefly delayed as rain fell in Washington. The White House is hosting members of the military at the barbecue.

July 4, 2024, 3:10 p.m. ET

July 4, 2024, 3:10 p.m. ET

Mitch Smith

Gov. Gavin Newsom of California is trying to reassure Democratic voters in South Haven, Mich., this afternoon, a day after he took part in meeting President Biden held with Democratic governors. “I mean this with absolute conviction,” he said. “That was the Joe Biden I remember from two weeks ago. That was the Joe Biden that I remember from two years ago.”

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July 4, 2024, 3:10 p.m. ET

July 4, 2024, 3:10 p.m. ET

Mitch Smith

Newsom acknowledged that the debate didn’t go well, but defended Biden and told Michigan Democrats not to despair. “I believe in this man,” he said. “I believe in his character.”

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July 4, 2024, 3:06 p.m. ET

July 4, 2024, 3:06 p.m. ET

Jennifer Medina

Donald J. Trump posted a holiday message on his social media site on Thursday, using sarcasm to insult both President Biden, who he called “highly incapable,” and Vice President Kamala Harris, along with Jack Smith, the special counsel pursuing federal criminal cases against him.

July 4, 2024, 1:25 p.m. ET

July 4, 2024, 1:25 p.m. ET

Reid J. Epstein and Maggie Haberman

Biden tells governors he needs more sleep and less work at night.

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President Biden told a gathering of Democratic governors that he needs to get more sleep and work fewer hours, including curtailing events after 8 p.m., according to two people who participated in the meeting and several others briefed on his comments.

The remarks on Wednesday were a stark acknowledgment of fatigue from the 81-year-old president during a meeting intended to reassure more than two dozen of his most important supporters that he is still in command of his job and capable of mounting a robust campaign against former President Donald J. Trump.

Mr. Biden’s comments about needing more rest came shortly after The New York Times reported that current and former officials have noticed that the president’s lapses over the past few months have become more frequent and more pronounced.

But Mr. Biden told the governors, some of whom were at the White House while others participated virtually, that he was staying in the race.

He described his extensive foreign travel in the weeks before the debate, something that the White House and his allies have in recent days cited as the reason for his halting performance during the debate. Initially, Mr. Biden’s campaign blamed a cold, putting out word about midway through the debate amid a series of social media posts questioning why Mr. Biden was struggling.

Mr. Biden said that he told his staff he needed to get more sleep, multiple people familiar with what took place in the meeting said. He repeatedly referenced pushing too hard and not listening to his team about his schedule, and said he needed to work fewer hours and avoid events scheduled after 8 p.m., according to one of the people familiar with what took place at the meeting.

After Gov. Josh Green of Hawaii, a physician, asked Mr. Biden questions about the status of his health, Mr. Biden replied that his health was fine. “It’s just my brain,” he added, according to three people familiar with what took place — a remark that some in the room took as a joke, including Gov. Kathy Hochul of New York, according to a person close to her. But at least one governor did not, and was puzzled by it.

Jen O’Malley Dillon, Mr. Biden’s campaign chair, who attended the meeting, said in a statement that he had said, “All kidding aside,” a recollection confirmed by another person briefed on the meeting. Ms. O’Malley Dillon added: “He was clearly making a joke.”

Kevin Munoz, a spokesman for the Biden campaign, said of the president’s comments about more sleep and less late work: “President Bush went to bed at 9, and President Obama made dinner at 6:30. Normal presidents strike a balance, and so does Joe Biden. Hardly the same rigor as Donald Trump who spends half of his day ranting on Truth Social about plans that would cause a recession and other half golfing.”

Mr. Biden took two foreign trips in the weeks before the debate, but then spent a week in debate preparation at Camp David with a group of advisers. One person close to Mr. Biden said that his comment about sleep and work hours reflected the fact that during the practice sessions, which came immediately after the foreign trips, he was engaged in a lot of official work on top of the campaign activity.

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Multiple governors who participated in the meeting expressed dismay afterward that there had been little debate about whether Mr. Biden should continue his 2024 presidential campaign — a topic they discussed at length during a call the governors held among themselves on Monday.

Despite some of their private trepidations about Mr. Biden continuing his campaign, none of the governors — some of whom are mentioned as possible Biden successors — directly said that he should drop out of the race, according to multiple people briefed on the meeting.

Gov. J.B. Pritzker of Illinois, a staunch Biden supporter, asked early in the meeting about the president’s plan going forward in the campaign, according to two people briefed on the meeting.

Others who were part of the meeting were pointed in their comments. Speaking toward its end, Gov. Jared Polis of Colorado, who attended virtually, told the president that he had heard a groundswell of wishes from various people that Mr. Biden would end his campaign, according to two people who were briefed on the call.

Two other governors, Janet Mills of Maine and Michelle Lujan Grisham of New Mexico, also voiced concerns. Ms. Mills said that people didn’t think Mr. Biden was up to running, and Ms. Lujan Grisham said she was worried that the president could lose her state, according to two of the people briefed.

Speaking for themselves, some governors have been more vocal. Gov. Maura Healey of Massachusetts, though she did not speak during the Wednesday meeting with Mr. Biden, said during a Monday call with fellow governors about the situation that she had told Jeff Zients, the White House chief of staff, that the president’s political position was “irretrievable” after his disastrous debate performance, according to two people who were on that call.

Mr. Biden has acknowledged to two allies that he knows he may not be able to save his candidacy for a second term if he can’t demonstrate his abilities to voters following the debate. He sought to reassure concerned campaign aides in a call on Wednesday before the meeting with the governors, saying he was in the race to stay.

But the fact that Mr. Biden began the conversation with the governors by declaring that he was continuing on left some participants feeling that any further discussion about the state of play was chilled.

Mr. Biden told a Milwaukee radio station in an interview made public Wednesday that he had “a bad night.” In the prerecorded interview with the radio host Earl Ingram, Mr. Biden added, “The fact of the matter is that I screwed up. I made a mistake.”

Mr. Biden also told the governors that he had been examined by his physician at some point in the days after the debate because of the cold he was suffering from and that he was fine, multiple people familiar with what took place said. Politico reported earlier on Mr. Biden’s checkup, which the White House said took place on Monday, was brief and wasn’t a full physical examination.

A White House spokesman, Andrew Bates, confirmed that Mr. Biden had seen the White House physician to check on the cold. But on Friday, the White House press secretary, Karine Jean-Pierre, said the opposite, telling reporters that Mr. Biden had not had any kind of medical checkup since February.

July 4, 2024, 12:02 p.m. ET

July 4, 2024, 12:02 p.m. ET

Michael C. Bender

How Biden’s struggles are factoring into Trump’s running mate selection.

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Uncertainty over whether President Biden will continue seeking re-election, despite his pledges to stay in the race, has sharpened the focus on Donald J. Trump’s political calculations for choosing his Republican running mate.

Some people close to the former president said privately they now want him to give more consideration to a young contender or to a person of color, a move that could counter the possibility that someone like Kamala Harris, the first woman and first woman of color to serve as vice president, could replace Mr. Biden at the top of the Democratic ticket.

Such a scenario could help at least a couple of Mr. Trump’s top contenders: Senator J.D. Vance of Ohio, who is the second-youngest member of the Senate, and Senator Marco Rubio of Florida, whose Cuban American heritage is central to his political biography.

But among those in Mr. Trump’s circle who believe that Mr. Biden’s disastrous debate performance makes a Republican victory more likely in November, there’s another train of thought: that Gov. Doug Burgum of North Dakota is now a stronger option. Mr. Burgum, also one of Mr. Trump’s top contenders, has executive experience from two terms in that office and a long career as a business executive.

Either way, the countdown to Mr. Trump’s announcement has begun. His campaign has already parked an airplane dedicated to the Republican vice-presidential nominee in an undisclosed hangar, awaiting Mr. Trump’s decision, according to one person familiar with the planning.

There is also increasing anticipation for Mr. Trump’s next two rallies.

One is planned on Tuesday at Mr. Trump’s property in Doral, Fla., in Mr. Rubio’s home county, Miami-Dade. Mr. Trump has been urging his team for nearly two years to hold a rally at the Doral property, where, as president, he pushed to host the Group of 7 summit until criticism from fellow Republicans convinced him to hold it elsewhere. Another rally is scheduled next Saturday, July 13, in Butler, Pa., not far from the border with Mr. Vance’s home state of Ohio.

Mr. Trump’s reluctance to name a running mate has, in recent days, been partly to avoid shifting the focus away from the president during a stretch when Mr. Biden is facing calls from within the liberal establishment and Democratic Party to step aside.

Scott Reed, a Republican strategist who played a central role in the running mate selection process for former Senator Bob Dole, the 1996 Republican presidential nominee, noted that Mr. Trump will have to choose soon, regardless of what Mr. Biden does. Mr. Trump’s pick will be formally nominated during the Republican National Convention, which starts July 15.

With that uncertainty, Mr. Reed said he would urge the former president to base the decision on who could best help him win Michigan, Wisconsin and Pennsylvania. This trio of battleground states is known as the “blue wall” because of the crucial role each plays in the electoral map for Democrats.

“At this point, Trump should double down and do everything he can to climb the blue wall,” Mr. Reed said. “Burgum and Vance can help him in the Midwest, and that’s probably the new prism he’s looking through for this decision. It’s exactly what I would do.”

For months, Mr. Trump has insisted that he has not heavily weighed the political upsides of his running mate contenders and vowed that whomever he chooses will be ready to take over in the White House from him if needed.

For Mr. Trump, more significant priorities have been candidates who can help raise money, demonstrate discipline on the campaign trail, are unlikely to steal his precious spotlight and would fare well in a vice-presidential debate.

Mr. Trump believes the election this year will be decided by the names at the top of the tickets, a theory — rooted more in pragmatism than ego — that Mr. Biden and Mr. Trump are so well-known among voters that a running mate is unlikely to change those perceptions.

While that view is inherently tied to Mr. Biden remaining in the race, a different opponent may not have much of an effect on Mr. Trump’s vice-presidential calculations. Polls have signaled that preventing the former president from winning a second term is a bigger priority for many Democratic voters than making sure Mr. Biden is re-elected.

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July 4, 2024, 11:47 a.m. ET

July 4, 2024, 11:47 a.m. ET

Maggie Astor

President Biden’s campaign put out a holiday statement titled “This July Fourth, Donald Trump Wants to Make America a Monarchy Again,” highlighting the Supreme Court’s ruling that presidents have substantial immunity from prosecution. “When Donald Trump fantasizes about getting revenge on his political opponents, openly campaigns on being a dictator on day one, and encourages and excuses the political violence on January 6, we must believe him,” it says. “Especially when the Supreme Court’s latest ruling removes one of the last remaining checks on him doing exactly that.”

July 4, 2024, 10:24 a.m. ET

July 4, 2024, 10:24 a.m. ET

Nicholas Nehamas

Reporting from Washington

Biden responds to debate debacle in Wisconsin interview: ‘I screwed up.’

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President Biden said in an interview with a Wisconsin radio station that he “screwed up” during the presidential debate last week, his most direct public acknowledgment of his poor performance as he sought to salvage his candidacy while some Democrats questioned whether he should drop out of the race.

“I had a bad night,” Mr. Biden told Earl Ingram, a Milwaukee radio host, in an interview that aired Thursday morning. “And the fact of the matter is that I screwed up. I made a mistake. But I learned from my father when you get knocked down, just get back up. Get back up. We’re going to win this election.”

Mr. Biden did not specify what his mistake was. But during the debate against former President Donald J. Trump, he frequently misspoke and seemed to lose his train of thought, exacerbating longstanding questions about his age and mental acuity.

Two House Democrats have called for him to drop out and even top allies have acknowledged that Mr. Biden’s condition is a source of legitimate debate. The New York Times reported on Wednesday that the president had said in private that he knew he had only days left to ensure his place at the top of the ticket.

He and his top aides have insisted that he will stay in the race.

Coming up for Mr. Biden, who has relied on teleprompters when speaking in public since the debate, are several crucial tests. On Friday, he will sit for an interview with ABC News, a rare opportunity for a mainstream journalist to question him one-on-one. He will also deliver campaign speeches in two key battleground states: Wisconsin on Friday and Pennsylvania on Sunday. All his appearances will be closely watched for indications that he is capable of handling a grueling four-month campaign and another term as president.

In the days after the debate, many Democrats pressed Mr. Biden to make more public appearances to demonstrate his fitness to voters. Instead, Mr. Biden has delivered short and scripted addresses.

His comments to Mr. Ingram, a popular Black talk radio host, largely matched the messaging from his White House and campaign that one debate performance should not erase his accomplishments as president and that he remains more than fit for the job.

“That’s 90 minutes onstage,” Mr. Biden said. “Look at what I’ve done in 3.5 years.”

Election 2024: Biden’s Verbal Stumbles in Spotlight as He Hosts July 4 Events (17)

July 4, 2024, 9:02 a.m. ET

July 4, 2024, 9:02 a.m. ET

Simon Levien

In a change of plans, ABC News moved up the air date for the network’s full interview with Biden to Friday night at 8 p.m. Eastern. It will be the president’s first sit-down interview with a journalist since the presidential debate last week. The network originally planned to air preview clips throughout the weekend before a Sunday morning showing.

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July 4, 2024, 9:01 a.m. ET

July 4, 2024, 9:01 a.m. ET

Nicholas Nehamas

In a fund-raising message on Wednesday, President Biden reiterated to supporters that he was staying in the race. “I know the past few days have been tough,” Biden wrote. “I’m sure you’re getting a lot of questions. I’m sure many of you have questions as well. So, let me say this as clearly and simply as I can: I’m running. I’m the Democratic Party’s nominee. No one is pushing me out.”

July 4, 2024, 8:57 a.m. ET

July 4, 2024, 8:57 a.m. ET

Zolan Kanno-Youngs

In a statement on Wednesday, Representative Seth Moulton, Democrat of Massachusetts, cast doubt on President Biden’s chances of winning in November. “I deeply respect President Biden and all the great things he has done for America, but I have grave concerns about his ability to defeat Donald Trump,” he said. “Winning will require prosecuting the case in the media, in town halls, and at campaign stops all over the country. President Biden needs to demonstrate that he can do that.”

July 4, 2024, 5:05 a.m. ET

July 4, 2024, 5:05 a.m. ET

Michael Gold

Trump lets Democrats dominate the public debate over Biden’s future.

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Amid the flurry of Democrats’ questioning whether President Biden should or will remain his party’s presidential nominee, former President Donald J. Trump has stayed unusually quiet on the issue publicly.

Mr. Trump, rarely one to shy away from sharing his opinion, has not been fully silent since last week’s debate, giving a handful of radio interviews and keeping up a steady stream of posts and videos on his social media platform, Truth Social. But Mr. Trump has largely sat back and allowed the Democratic Party to dominate the debate over Mr. Biden’s political future, in a signal of his preferred opponent.

After months of relentlessly attacking Mr. Biden as too physically and mentally weak to lead the country, the former president has been content to let the news coverage of Democrats’ doubting their party’s leader take hold, according to two advisers, who spoke on the condition of anonymity to discuss strategy.

His relative lack of public comments on the issue also to some extent reflects his desire for Mr. Biden to stay in the race and his confidence that he can easily beat the president in November, one of the advisers said.

A New York Times/Siena College poll conducted after the debate and released on Wednesday suggested that some Republican voters agreed: 28 percent of them said they thought Mr. Biden should remain the Democratic nominee, an uptick from 21 percent in a poll conducted before the debate.

On Monday, Mr. Trump publicly dismissed the idea that the president would be replaced on the Democratic ticket.

“If you listen to the professionals that do this stuff, they say it’s very hard for anybody else to come into the race,” Mr. Trump said in an interview with John Reid, a Virginia-based talk radio host.

And in an echo of a talking point that Mr. Biden’s Democratic allies have long wielded to argue that he is best positioned to beat the former president, Mr. Trump has also argued that polling showed that “Biden does better than the people they’re talking about using to replace him.”

The day after the debate, he argued at a rally in Virginia that Mr. Biden polled better in head-to-head matchups against him than did either Vice President Kamala Harris, whom he said he would “be very happy” to run against, or Michelle Obama, the former first lady.

Two polls released on Tuesday somewhat deflated that claim: A CNN poll found that Ms. Harris polled two percentage points ahead of Mr. Biden in a hypothetical contest against Mr. Trump, though he still defeated her. And an Ipsos/Reuters poll found that Mrs. Obama — a long-shot potential option for Democrats given that she has repeatedly said she has no interest in running — beat Mr. Trump, 50 percent to 39 percent, in a hypothetical matchup.

Mr. Trump did appear to delight in mocking his rival in a raw video first reported by The Daily Beast on Wednesday and later shared by Mr. Trump. It was not clear who originally shot the clip or what day it was filmed. As he golfed on his property in New Jersey, Mr. Trump referred to Mr. Biden as “that old broken down pile of crap” and suggested he would quit the race, according to the video of his comments.

If Mr. Biden stepped aside, Mr. Trump would lose two lines of attack that have been central to his campaign. He has spent years attacking Mr. Biden as “sleepy,” posting videos of Mr. Biden’s stumbles, mocking his speech and performing cartoonish imitations of him, attacks that he could not easily deploy against another opponent.

And for the last several months, Mr. Trump has tried to appeal to undecided voters by directly comparing his time in office with Mr. Biden’s, often in misleading terms. That message would be hamstrung if another candidate replaced Mr. Biden on the ticket.

A new opponent could open up new political challenges. Mr. Trump could face a younger opponent who could appeal to voters worried about both candidates’ ages and looking for fresh alternatives to two men who each have had a shot at a White House term.

I don’t think anybody in the Trump campaign has ever said they want Biden off the ticket,” said Corey Lewandowski, a longtime Trump adviser who is now an adviser for the Republican Party’s nominating convention. He added that the matchup of “two candidates who America both knows very well and has a record to compare is one that favors us very, very much.”

The Heritage Foundation, a major conservative group, has also been exploring possible legal challenges it could mount that would make it difficult to replace Mr. Biden on the ballot in some states if he withdrew.

Mike Howell, the executive director of Heritage’s Oversight Project, said the group was eyeing key battleground states like Georgia, Nevada and Wisconsin where laws might make it difficult to put a different Democrat on the ballot.

In a statement on Wednesday, Mr. Trump’s two campaign managers, Susie Wiles and Chris LaCivita, expressed their confidence that Mr. Trump could “beat any Democrat” in November. They accused Democrats now turning on Mr. Biden of being hypocrites, saying that “every one of them has lied about Joe Biden’s cognitive state and supported his disastrous policies over the past four years.”

There have been signs that some people in Mr. Trump’s orbit are preparing more seriously for the possibility, however distant, of a matchup against another Democratic candidate this fall. The Trump campaign and Republican allies have ramped up attacks on Ms. Harris, who has long been a target of the right.

In their statement on Wednesday, Mr. Trump’s campaign managers called her “Cackling Copilot Kamala Harris,” both mocking her mannerisms and directly linking her to Mr. Biden’s policies. During the debate, the campaign ran an ad suggesting that Mr. Biden was incapable of leading the country through a second term and warning that Ms. Harris was waiting in the wings to take over.

On Tuesday morning, Make America Great Again Inc., the leading super PAC supporting Mr. Trump’s presidential campaign, sent out a list of attacks on Ms. Harris that essentially argued that she would be no better than Mr. Biden, particularly on immigration, an issue Mr. Trump has made central to his campaign.

On Wednesday, the campaign committee for House Republicans announced a new digital ad that linked Ms. Harris to Mr. Biden’s border policies. “Vote Republican. Stop Kamala,” a title card at the end of the ad reads.

“Every good campaign looks at every possible contingency,” Mr. Lewandowski said. “The campaign’s strategy isn’t shifting, but it would be a dereliction of duty to not be prepared should Joe Biden drop out of the race.”

In the video clip at his golf club, Mr. Trump nonetheless was already looking past Mr. Biden to Ms. Harris as his likely opponent.

“That means we have Kamala,” Mr. Trump said. “I think she’s going to be better. She’s so bad. She’s so pathetic.

Senator Lindsey Graham, Republican of South Carolina and a close Trump ally, issued a warning of sorts on social media about how the 2024 race might shift if Ms. Harris became the nominee.

“I believe the Trump Campaign realizes the 2024 race could very soon dramatically shift away from Biden’s capabilities to a fight for the heart and soul of the country,” Mr. Graham wrote on X on Wednesday afternoon.

And if the scenario played out, Mr. Graham added, Republicans would need to “build on President Trump’s ability to expand the demographic reach of our party in 2024.”

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Election 2024: Biden’s Verbal Stumbles in Spotlight as He Hosts July 4 Events (21)

July 3, 2024, 10:01 p.m. ET

July 3, 2024, 10:01 p.m. ET

Maggie Haberman,Shawn Hubler and Reid J. Epstein

Biden tells Democratic governors that he is staying in the race.

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President Biden told a group of Democratic governors on Wednesday that he was staying in the 2024 campaign, as the group peppered the president with questions about the path forward after Mr. Biden’s disastrous debate performance last week.

After the meeting, a handful of governors spoke with reporters outside the White House, with one, Gov. Kathy Hochul of New York, declaring, “President Joe Biden is in it to win it, and all of us said we pledged our support to him.”

Gov. Tim Walz of Minnesota, the chair of the Democratic Governors Association, said: “He has had our backs through Covid, through all of the recovery, all of the things that have happened. The governors have his back, and we’re working together just to make very, very clear on that.”

But he added, “A path to victory in November is the No. 1 priority, and that’s the No. 1 priority of the president.”

Gov. Wes Moore of Maryland echoed the sentiment.

In a statement, Gov. Gavin Newsom of California said, “I heard three words from the president — he’s all in. And so am I.”

And Gov. Gretchen Whitmer of Michigan posted her support on the social media site X.

The meeting closed with Vice President Kamala Harris describing the threats to democracy that a victory by former President Donald J. Trump could pose, tossing at least one expletive into her remarks, according to a person briefed on what took place.

But Ms. Hochul’s statement that the governors “pledged our support” to Mr. Biden unsettled some people who had attended the meeting, according to the person briefed on what took place and another person who was also briefed. Both of those people said there was no around-the-room ask for support and that more than a half-dozen governors expressed concerns in the wake of Mr. Biden’s halting, whispered debate performance against Mr. Trump in Atlanta.

Gov. Janet Mills of Maine bluntly told Mr. Biden that his age was fine but that people did not think he was up to running, according to one of the people briefed on what had happened. Gov. Michelle Lujan Grisham of New Mexico jumped in and said Mr. Biden was at risk of losing her state, according to another person briefed on what had taken place. Gov. Ned Lamont of Connecticut said he had to make the case to voters. Another asked Mr. Biden what the path forward was. (Aides to Ms. Mills and Ms. Lujan Grisham did not immediately respond to requests for comment.)

The meeting came together quickly, organized by Mr. Walz, after the governors met among themselves on Monday. Many at that meeting expressed exasperation that they had not had direct contact with Mr. Biden and still had no clear sense of what was happening after the debate.

The governors are among Mr. Biden’s staunchest defenders — Mr. Newsom will headline campaign events for the president in Michigan, Pennsylvania and New Hampshire this weekend — and they are among those who are most concerned about a second Trump administration. Governors were those dealing most closely with the coronavirus pandemic in 2020, at a time when Mr. Trump doled out aid to states based on which governors he felt had been personally obsequious to him, or at least uncritical of him.

But they also have been looking for answers.

Gov. Josh Green of Hawaii, who attended the meeting virtually and who is a physician who led his state’s response to the pandemic, said: “The president shared he is staying in the race. He shared candidly he was exhausted the day of the debate, and was very direct about that.”

Dr. Green added that Mr. Biden was “clear and focused in our meeting, and I found him to be solid.” He said that Ms. Harris “was amazingly supportive,” and described a Biden presidency as vastly preferable to another four years of Mr. Trump in office.

But he also added, “I suspect people will need to see the president in person and on TV to be convinced he is up to it.”

Chris Cameron contributed reporting.

July 3, 2024, 6:25 p.m. ET

July 3, 2024, 6:25 p.m. ET

Kellen Browning and Simon J. Levien

Buzz for Kamala Harris from the ‘KHive’ grows after Biden’s debate stumble.

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Imagine a presidency that could be, unburdened by what has been.

That is the future being dreamed about by supporters of Vice President Kamala Harris, drawn from a meme referring to one of Ms. Harris’s favorite expressions: “what can be, unburdened by what has been.”

Ms. Harris has been criticized throughout her three-plus years in office, with articles examining her management of the border crisis and her struggle to define her tenure in the often-thankless role of vice president. She has proved unpopular enough among voters that she has often not been immediately thought of as President Biden’s obvious successor, with Democratic stalwarts often naming governors like Gretchen Whitmer of Michigan and Gavin Newsom of California as more appealing choices.

But now, with Mr. Biden besieged with questions about his age and mental acuity after his alarming debate performance against former President Donald J. Trump last week, Ms. Harris is seeing a surge of support. It is coming from prominent Democratic politicians signaling they are prepared to close ranks around her, and from a crowd of supporters on social media labeling themselves the “KHive,” as they share posts calling attention to her occasionally zany quotations and to videos of her dance moves.

“No Coconut Trees. Just Context. Kamala for President,” posted Ian Sandler-Brown, a 22-year-old Detroit resident who works on political campaigns, in a nod to a semi-viral line of Ms. Harris’s from last year.

(“I don’t know what’s wrong with you young people,” Ms. Harris had said at a White House event, quoting her mother. “You think you just fell out of a coconut tree? You exist in the context of all in which you live and what came before you.”)

Suddenly, coconut tree emojis on X have come to signal support, some of it tongue-in-cheek, for Ms. Harris’s succeeding Mr. Biden as the Democratic presidential nominee. If her jocularity — she has an outsize laugh and is known to do impressions — was once mocked, many Democrats now see that quality as a sign of vitality, in contrast to Mr. Biden’s often halting public performances.

“Ironic khive posting is unironically the most energized the twitter Dem electorate has been in about a year and I think there’s probably something optimistic in that,” Kelly Weill, an author and a journalist, wrote on X.

Some social media posts have drawn comparisons between Ms. Harris and “Veep,” the political satire show starring Julia Louis-Dreyfus as a fictional vice president who becomes president almost by accident.

“I think the explosion of memes right now is almost a pressure release from a left that has been not having a very good time online,” Ms. Weill, a 30-year-old New Yorker, added in an interview. “The fact that there is something to joke about, that there is something to rally around, feels like optimistic energy in a place where there really hadn’t been anything before.”

The social media users posting pro-Harris memes seem to be a diverse group, including progressives like Chi Ossé, the 26-year-old New York City councilman who was heavily involved in the Black Lives Matter movement. It is less clear who would constitute her base of support on the campaign trail.

In 2020, Ms. Harris struggled to define herself as she campaigned for president as a moderate while also courting progressives. More recently, she has made inroads among Black voters, with polls consistently showing that group giving her higher marks for job performance and in hypothetical matchups against Mr. Trump than white voters do. Some of her recent campaign events have been aimed at Black and Hispanic voters, including a handful of stops in Las Vegas this spring, where she spoke with local union members and held an event about abortion rights alongside several prominent Black women.

Amid all the jokes, Ms. Harris is receiving at least some establishment support. Julián Castro, a former Obama administration official and a 2020 presidential candidate, said on MSNBC on Tuesday that Mr. Biden should drop out of the race and allow Ms. Harris to run against Mr. Trump.

“We have a stable of folks that I think could do a better job, including Vice President Harris,” he said.

Representative Jim Clyburn of South Carolina, a close and longtime Biden ally, also said on Tuesday, “I will support her if he were to step aside.”

At a White House press briefing on Wednesday, Karine Jean-Pierre, the press secretary, said that Mr. Biden picked Ms. Harris as his running mate because “she is, indeed, the future of the party.” In a CNN poll released on Tuesday, Ms. Harris ran two percentage points behind Mr. Trump in a hypothetical matchup, while Mr. Biden trailed the former president by six points.

Ms. Harris has remained loyal to the president. When asked about the prospect of leading the country on Tuesday, she told CBS News that she was “proud to be Joe Biden’s running mate.”

Dan Morain, a longtime California journalist who wrote a biography of Ms. Harris, said both the jokes surrounding the vice president, as well as the previous dismissals of her, belied her political acumen.

“It’s just a reality with Kamala Harris that she has been underestimated for her entire career,” Mr. Morain said. “Is she a lightweight? I don’t think you run three times in California statewide and win if you’ve got no political talent.”

In a pre-emptive bet that Ms. Harris might replace Mr. Biden at the top of the ticket, Republicans have ratcheted up their attacks on her, focusing primarily on her record on immigration.

MAGA Inc., a Trump-allied super PAC, openly flirted with the idea of Ms. Harris taking the reins. “Is Invasion Czar Kamala Harris the Best They Got?” read the headline of a news release on Wednesday.

The House Republicans’ campaign arm, the National Republican Congressional Committee, released an ad on Wednesday saying that Ms. Harris was the “enabler in chief” of the Biden administration. “Vote Republican. Stop Kamala,” the ad concluded.

In a post on X, the committee wrote that its members “are sharpening our knives if extreme House Democrats dump Joe Biden.”

Though KHivers have found endearment in Ms. Harris’s “unburdened” phrase, an official account of Mr. Trump’s campaign, @TrumpWarRoom, posted a four-minute mash-up of her repeating the line, jabbing at her for being rehearsed.

Mr. Morain suggested that those attacks indicated that Ms. Harris could be a formidable opponent to Mr. Trump.

“She’s a talented politician. She’s not Bill Clinton. She’s not Barack Obama. But she’s a good politician, and so she gets attacked,” he said. “If you’re worried about Kamala Harris as your opponent, then this is the sort of thing you would do.”

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July 3, 2024, 5:25 p.m. ET

July 3, 2024, 5:25 p.m. ET

Theodore Schleifer

Reed Hastings, a Netflix Co-founder, becomes one of the biggest Democratic donors to call for Biden to step aside.

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Reed Hastings, the Netflix co-founder who in recent years has become one of the biggest donors to the Democratic Party, called on Wednesday for President Biden to relinquish his place atop of the Democratic presidential ticket.

Mr. Hastings became one of the first to say publicly what many Democratic megadonors are saying privately. “Biden needs to step aside to allow a vigorous Democratic leader to beat Trump and keep us safe and prosperous,” he said in an email with The Times.

Mr. Biden and White House officials have said he has no plans to step aside. But Mr. Hastings’s public statements represent another crack in the armor in the president’s foundation of support.

Mr. Hastings and his wife, Patty Quillin, during the Trump era joined the Democratic Party’s most generous donor couples. Together they have given more than $20 million to support the party over the last few years, including as much as $1.5 million to back Mr. Biden during the 2020 presidential race, and $100,000 last summer to support Mr. Biden in 2024. Most of their donations have gone to super PACs meant to help House and Senate Democrats.

Some leaders in Hollywood, which just toasted Mr. Biden at a splashy fund-raiser last month, are beginning to go public about their misgivings. On Tuesday, the power agent Ari Emanuel expressed his own frustrations.

The political issue that Mr. Hastings has long been closely associated with is education reform, while Ms. Quillin has placed a particular emphasis on racial justice. Mr. Hastings had a close relationship as of late with Gov. Gavin Newsom of California — who is one of the people being discussed as a potential replacement for Mr. Biden — donating $3 million in 2021 to help Mr. Newsom defeat the recall election he faced.

Mr. Hastings helped found Netflix almost three decades ago, and is now its executive chair. In January 2023, he relinquished the chief executive role in part so he could spend more time on his philanthropy, politics and on his true passion, skiing.

Rebecca Davis O’Brien contributed reporting.

Election 2024: Biden’s Verbal Stumbles in Spotlight as He Hosts July 4 Events (2024)

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