5 takeaways from President Biden’s big interview with George Stephanopoulos

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President Biden gave the most important TV interview of his career on Friday.

Biden spoke to George Stephanopoulos of ABC News for 22 minutes during a campaign trip to Wisconsin.

The conversation came with his presidency in real peril.

There has been profound agitation among Democrats over Biden’s disastrous performance at his June 27 debate with former President Trump in Atlanta.

Biden’s meandering answers and overall demeanor in that clash magnified voters’ concerns about the mental acuity of the 81-year-old president. Some in his party have called on him to quit the race, and there are credible media reports that a more concerted push may come soon.

Here are the biggest takeaways from Biden’s interview with Stephanopoulos.

For Biden, no fatal gaffe but no salvation

There were two dramatic possibilities for the interview. One was a seismic gaffe from Biden that would end his political career; the other, a performance so strong it would hush his detractors and stabilize his position.

Neither happened. There was nothing disastrous in Biden’s responses — and nothing so stellar as to quell the spreading discontent.

Biden did have some strong moments, prosecuting the case that Trump is a “congenital liar” more effectively than he did when standing mere feet from the former president in Atlanta last week.

He got off the defensive at other times too, as when he outlined some priorities for a second term, such as expanded healthcare and childcare.

But Biden struggled on two points that were the most salient to the crisis he faces.

First, his explanations for his debate misfire were unconvincing, cycling through arguments that he was exhausted, sick, got boggged down in details and was distracted by Trump. 

When Stephanopoulos responded to the final claim by noting that Biden seemed off-form from the first question, Biden said: “Well, I just had a bad night.”

Second — and just as damaging — Biden was evasive when Stephanopoulos asked him whether he would commit to an “independent medical evaluation” of his neurological and cognitive abilities.

“Look, I have a cognitive test every single day…everything I do,” Biden responded.

Stephanopoulos pressed the point twice more, only to be met with a broadly similar answer from Biden.

The fact of the matter is that the president’s answer to the idea of such a test was, in effect, “No.”

That won’t do much to ease Democratic nerves or voter anxiety.

The president digs in — for good or bad

The political world is watching for any inclination that Biden is even beginning to contemplate stepping down.

There was no such evidence on Friday, beyond a characteristically folksy reference to the possibility of the “Lord Almighty” intervening.

This was a defiant Biden, pushing back at any suggestion that he would stand aside or that his vulnerabilities make the Democratic climb to defeat Trump steeper.

“I don’t think anybody’s more qualified to be president or win this race than me,” he said at one point.

Pressed by Stephanopoulos on how he would respond if senior congressional Democrats approached him to tell him the end had come, the president said with a laugh, “They’re not going to do that.”

“You sure?” Stephanopoulos asked.

“Yeah, I’m sure,” Biden replied.

In some ways, it’s tough to see what else Biden could say. 

But by striking such a resolute tone, he sparked criticism that he was in denial about the scale of his political troubles.

“The president is rightly proud of his record,” David Axelrod, previously a key aide to former President Obama, wrote on social media soon after the interview was broadcast. “But he is dangerously out of touch with the concerns people have about his capacitiies [sic] moving forward and his standing in this race.”

The interview landed amid more bad news for Biden

Biden is in such danger partly because the crisis keeps deepening.

On Friday, right before the interview was to air, Rep. Mike Quigley (D-Ill.) became the fourth Democratic lawmaker to call for Biden to step aside.

Speaking to Chris Hayes on MSNBC, Quigley said Biden’s “legacy is set” and that Democrats owed him their gratitude. 

But he added, “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.”

Also on Friday, Massachusetts Gov. Maura .Healey (D) released a statement urging the president to “carefully evaluate whether he remains our best hope to defeat Donald Trump.”

Meanwhile, the Washington Post reported that Sen. Mark Warner (D-Va.) has begun trying to pull together a group of Democratic senators to ask Biden to withdraw.

So far, the president has been adamant that he will do no such thing.

Speaking with reporters at a Wisconsin airport, also on Friday, Biden was asked about stepping aside and replied he was “completely ruling that out.”

Biden says he has not watched the debate

ABC initially screened a short excerpt from the interview on “World News Tonight,” approximately 90 minutes before the full version aired in primetime.

The advance clip showed Biden pausing after Stephanopoulos asked him whether he had watched the debate afterward.

“I don’t think I did, no,” the president replied.

Stephanopoulos said that his underlying point was whether Biden knew how badly the debate was going as it was taking place.

The president gave a somewhat indirect answer, leaving it unclear if he knew as he stood at his lectern that things had gone badly awry.

Stephanopoulos had a better night for Biden

Axes were sharpened on all sides for Stephanopoulos before the interview aired.

Conservatives were wary that the ABC anchor, who first came to national prominence more than 30 years ago as an aide to former President Clinton, would be too soft on Biden.

Biden loyalists wondered if Stephanopoulos would be overly sensationalistic or would stretch to contrive a “gotcha” moment.

In fact, the anchor steered a solid middle course, asking tough and sometimes personal questions — including whether Biden was being “honest” with himself about his own acuity — while remaining civil.

Right at the top of the primetime broadcast of the interview, Stephanopoulos also sought to put to rest any suggestion of selective editing.

The interview lasted 22 minutes, he noted, and “there are no cuts, no edits. We have not touched it.”

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