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Disappointed Democrats stick with Biden after rough debate performance


The reviews are in on the first presidential debate between President Biden and former President Donald Trump.  

“It wasn’t Biden’s best night,” Illinois Rep. Robin Kelly conceded to CBS News. 

“It pains me to say the president’s performance was bad,” opined Pennsylvania Rep. Madeleine Dean. “He had a bad debate. There’s no two ways about that.” 

“Look, it was a terrible debate,” said Minnesota Rep. Angie Craig, who told reporters she’s still “processing” what happened. 

But for all the handwringing and Friday-morning quarterbacking about President Biden’s raspy delivery, verbal stumbles and incomplete thoughts, many congressional Democrats aren’t ready to give up on him, despite some reported calls within party ranks to consider another nominee. 

“That was strike one,” longtime Biden ally Rep. Jim Clyburn, of South Carolina told CBS News. “If this were a ball game, he’s got two more swings.” 

Clyburn’s message to nervous Democrats: “Stay the course.” 

Clyburn, whose 2020 endorsement of then-candidate Biden propelled him to victory in the presidential primary and nomination, said he planned to speak with the president and is campaigning on his behalf this weekend in Florida and Wisconsin.

“We should focus on the Biden record,” said the veteran Democrat, who chalked up Biden’s performance to “stylistic” difficulties. “Focus on substance. We have a workhorse on behalf of the American people. We’ve got a show horse that’s trying to get him out of office.” 

Speaker Emerita Nancy Pelosi concurred when asked about her impressions of President Biden’s first matchup against former President Trump.   

“Compared to a person who was lying the whole time, we saw integrity on one side and dishonesty on the other. That’s how I saw it,” Pelosi told CBS News. 

Former President Barack Obama also weighed in with a similar message on social media. 

“Bad debate nights happen. Trust me, I know,” Obama posted. “But this election is still a choice between someone who has fought for ordinary folks his entire life and someone who only cares about himself. Between someone who tells the truth; who knows right from wrong and will give it to the American people straight — and someone who lies through his teeth for his own benefit. Last night didn’t change that, and it’s why so much is at stake in November.”

Some Democrats were less forgiving. 

“That’s beyond my pay grade,” said Rep. Tom Suozzi, who recently won a New York swing district, when asked if President Biden should step aside.

A Biden campaign memo penned by campaign chair Jen O’Malley Dillon following the debate and obtained by CBS News Saturday claimed that prior to Thursday’s debate, the presidential race was “incredibly close,” and “by every metric we’ve seen since” the debate, the race “remains just as close.”

Multiple sources also confirmed to CBS News that the Democratic National Committee held a call Saturday afternoon with members, and included DNC Chair Jaime Harrison. One DNC member told CBS News no questions were allowed at the conclusion of the call and that Harrison only made a slight reference to Biden’s debate performance.

According to DNC spokesperson Hannah Muldavin, the call did not focus on Biden’s debate performance, but instead touched on various topics including fundraising numbers and grassroots campaign efforts.

Muldavin also said that the Biden campaign raised $27 million from when the debate concluded through Friday evening. 

Meanwhile, Democratic Sen. Jeanne Shaheen of New Hampshire, in an interview with WBUR declined to directly answer a question about whether Mr. Biden was fit to serve another term. Like other Democratic lawmakers, she said he had a “really bad night,” but unlike them, she expressed some uncertainty about what lies ahead.

“I’ve had a chance to work with him over the last three and a half years,” she told WBUR. “He’s gotten a lot done for the country. That’s made a difference, and I think there will be assessments going forward about what happens next. But I can’t answer that for you today.”

“I think there are going to be a lot of discussions about what happens next. I think we’re going to have to see President Biden again and see what happens,” she also said, adding, “He had a really bad night last night. So the question is is that going to disqualify him for the next 4 years? I think that’s going to be determined.”

Other lawmakers tried to tamp down concerns about the president’s impact at the top of the ticket on down-ballot races.

“I am not part of the drama of this town that immediately demands because somebody had a bad night we’re in crisis,” said Rep. Debbie Dingell, of Michigan, who acknowledged “the purple state” will be competitive. “Let’s see what happens. I’m going home and talking to the people in my district.” 

“Voters aren’t going to make a decision because someone had a sore throat,” said Rep. Robert Garcia, of California, who traveled to Atlanta as a campaign surrogate and insisted Mr. Biden will “100%” be the nominee.”

The White House confirmed the president was suffering from a cold during the debate, describing it as “nothing unusual.” The Biden campaign held an all-staff call Friday. Communications director Michael Tyler told reporters the campaign has no plans to switch its strategy and insisted there have been “no conversations” about Mr. Biden stepping aside.

Speaking to a North Carolina crowd Friday afternoon amid alternating chants of “Joe” and “four more years,” Mr.  Biden admitted his missteps. 

“I know I’m not a young man, to state the obvious,” the 81-year-old said at a campaign rally in Raleigh. “Folks, I don’t walk as easy as I used to. I don’t speak as smoothly as I used to. I don’t debate as well as I used to. But I know what I do know — I know how to tell the truth.”

Aaron Navarro contributed to this report. 



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