Struggling Biden faces test with ABC interview, vows to fight on

By Andrea Shalal, Steve Holland and Jeff Mason

MADISON, Wisconsin (Reuters) -U.S. President Joe Biden, scrambling to defuse a political crisis over his shaky debate performance, traveled to the state of Wisconsin on Friday to rally voters and sit for a television interview that will be closely watched.

From the battleground state that will likely be key to Democrats’ hopes of holding on to the White House, Biden will be interviewed by ABC News, part of a flurry of events over the next week aimed at showing Americans he still has the stamina to run against Republican candidate Donald Trump in the Nov. 5 election.

While Biden, who has sat for hundreds of interviews in his decades in public life, insists he is staying in the race and that his health is not faltering, he is under pressure from some Democrats to step aside and open a path for his 59-year-old vice president, Kamala Harris.

A handful of donors and business leaders are making their displeasure known loudly, halting funding or looking at possible Democratic alternatives. Even some of Biden’s closest political allies, including former Speaker Nancy Pelosi, have raised questions about his health.

Massachusetts Governor Maura Healey issued a statement on Friday in which she asked Biden to weigh the decision carefully, the rare Democratic governor not to issue a statement of support in recent days.

“President Biden saved our democracy in 2020 and has done an outstanding job over the last four years,” she said. “The best way forward right now is a decision for the president to make. Over the coming days, I urge him to listen to the American people and carefully evaluate whether he remains our best hope to defeat Donald Trump.”

Some public opinion polls have shown Trump widening a lead over the Democratic president since the debate, while a Reuters/Ipsos poll found one in three Democrats want Biden to quit the race.

A group of business and civic leaders urged Biden to end his reelection bid in a letter to the White House on Friday, a day after its CEO said members would still back him if he continued to run, the Washington Post reported.

The White House has blamed a cold for Biden’s shaky performance and Biden himself cited jet lag from back-to-back trips to Europe.

The ABC interview offers the likelihood of unscripted comments from Biden, who relies heavily on the use of a Teleprompter for his public remarks.

At Fourth of July holiday ceremonies on the White House South Lawn on Thursday night, Biden responded quickly when someone shouted at him to “keep up the fight.”

“You got me, man,” Biden responded. “I’m not going anywhere.”

Biden’s former chief of staff, Ron Klain, who led his preparation process ahead of the debate, pushed back against donors complaints. “We are the Democratic Party!” he wrote on X,. Donors “don’t get to decide to oust a pro-labor pro-people President.”

Before the ABC interview, Biden will speak in Madison where he is expected to talk about threats to U.S. democracy. The campaign said it would be Biden’s fifth trip to Wisconsin this year.

Harris is a strong contender to take Biden’s place if he were to drop out, sources have said, though his allies believe he can still assuage the concerns of voters and donors.

Trump’s campaign and some of his allies have launched a pre-emptive political strike on Harris, moving swiftly to try to discredit her amid talk that she could eventually replace Biden as the Democrats’ nominee.

The Biden campaign has shown no signs of changing course, although the Trump team has overtaken it on fundraising.

The campaign announced it would spend $50 million on a media blitz for the month of July, “including strategic investments around key events that draw in large and politically diverse audiences like the 2024 Olympic Games and the Republican National Convention.”

Trump, 78, who made multiple false statements from the debate stage in Atlanta, falsely claimed in a video that was circulated on social media that he had driven Biden out of the race. He made disparaging comments about Harris in the same video, which the Trump campaign stood by.

(Reporting by Steve Holland, Jeff Mason and Andrea Shalal; Editing by Ross Colvin, Heather Timmons, Alistair Bell and Daniel Wallis)