A defiant Biden, in denial of the polls and calls to step aside: 3 takeaways from the ABC interview (2024)

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Denial Defiance Dismissiveness

WASHINGTON — President Joe Biden sat Friday for his first television interview since his poor debate performance, a high-stakes moment of seeking to reassure allies and voters.

The 22-minute prime-time special with ABC News was aired in full — "no cuts, no edits, we have not touched it," interviewer George Stephanopoulos said.

It’s far from clear Biden succeeded at righting the ship. While he displayed more coherence than at the debate, his interview was marked by a mix of denial (of surveys showing that he’s losing the race), defiance (in the face of calls to get out of the race) and dismissiveness (of critics who worry there's a deeper problem). He sought to drive a contrast with Donald Trump, repeatedly calling the former president a liar, while touting his own record and second-term plans.

Here are three takeaways from the interview.

Denial

Biden repeatedly denied that he was down in the polls to Trump, even though nonpartisan national and swing-state surveys broadly place him as the underdog.

"All the pollsters I talk to tell me it's a toss-up. It's a toss-up," he said, adding that he doesn't believe he's trailing in the popular vote: "I don't buy that."

He denied that his job approval rating was about 36%, as a polling average shows.

"Well, I don't believe that's my approval rating," Biden said. "That's not what our polls show."

Asked if he’s being honest with himself about his ability to defeat Trump, Biden widened his eyes and responded, “Yes. Yes, yes, yes.”

Biden also boasted about his achievements and said he's the same man who first took the presidency in January 2021.

"In terms of successes, yes. I also was the guy who put together a peace plan for the Middle East that may be coming to fruition. I was also the guy that expanded NATO. I was also the guy that grew the economy. All the individual things that were done were ideas I had or I fulfilled, I moved on," he said.

Biden unnerved Democrats with his answer to a question about how he'll feel if Trump is elected and the movement against democracy succeeds.

"I'll feel as long as I gave it my all and I did the good as job as I know I can do, that's what this is about," Biden said. (Biden was initially heard to have said “goodest job” but his campaign clarified that he said “good as job.” The official ABC News transcript was also changed to say the same.)

Defiance

Biden insisted he won't drop out of race, even if top Democratic leaders in Congress ask him to. He said three times that only "the Lord Almighty" could persuade him to step aside.

"If the Lord Almighty came down and said, 'Joe, get outta the race,' I'd get outta the race. The Lord Almighty's not comin' down," he said, while insisting that his Democratic allies won't make that ask.

"I don't think anybody's more qualified to be president or win this race than me," Biden said.

Asked if he’d be willing to take an independent medical evaluation and cognitive test, Biden demurred, saying, “Look. I have a cognitive test every single day. Every day I have that test. Everything I do. You know, not only am I campaigning, but I’m running the world.”

A defiant Biden, in denial of the polls and calls to step aside: 3 takeaways from the ABC interview (1)

And he discussed his future plans — which he failed to do coherently during the debate — saying he’ll “straighten out the tax system,” pursue “health care for all people” and seek to expand “child care and elder care.” By contrast, he said, “Trump’s plan would cause a recession” and exacerbate inflation, he added.

“I don’t think we’re a country of losers,” Biden said, seeking to pivot the focus back onto Trump, whom he repeatedly called a "pathological liar" and a congenital liar" during the interview. "The character of the president's going to determine whether or not this Constitution is employed the right way."

Dismissiveness

"I just had a bad night. I don’t know why," Biden said when pressed about his debate performance. He called it “a bad episode” and not “any serious condition — I was exhausted.”

"I was sick. I was feeling terrible," Biden said, while taking responsibility and refusing to blame his staff or advisers.

But he said he remains fit for a campaign and four more years as president.

"Can I run the 100 in 10 flat? No. But I'm still in good shape," Biden said. When asked if he's more frail, Biden replied with a smile, "Come keep my schedule."

Sometimes Biden spoke slowly, sometimes he paused while he searched for his words. Sometimes he trailed off into telling stories — a common Biden trait — but unlike during the debate, he caught himself and brought the conversation back with an “anyway...” He also mixed up dates and didn’t always keep numbers straight — like giving different numbers when discussing how many times Trump lied during the debate.

Still, he said he lives a vigorous life.

"After that debate, I did 10 major events in a row, including until 2:00 in the morning after the debate," he said. "I did events in North Carolina. I did events in Georgia, did events like this today, large crowds, overwhelming response, no slipping."

Sahil Kapur

Sahil Kapur is a senior national political reporter for NBC News.

A defiant Biden, in denial of the polls and calls to step aside: 3 takeaways from the ABC interview (2024)
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