Biden dismisses concerns over debate performance and declines to undergo independent cognitive test in interview

One week after a debate performance that was so disastrous it prompted calls for his exit from the presidential race, President Joe Biden attributed his lack of coherence and disturbing appearance to exhaustion and illness.

But Biden called it a limited episode that shouldn’t disqualify him from running for a second term and denied the need for any sort of medical evaluation to determine his continued fitness to run.

Speaking to ABC News anchor George Stephanopoulos in his first television interview since the debate debacle, Biden called his poor showing against former president Donald Trump “a bad episode”.

“No indication of any serious condition. I was exhausted. I didn’t listen to my instincts in terms of preparing and -- and a bad night,” he said.

But Biden also told Stephanopolous he hadn’t re-watched the 90-minute broadcast.

Asked if he had, he replied: “I don’t think I did, no.”

Biden admits he was ‘exhausted’ during debate but denies having ‘any serious condition (ABC News)
Biden admits he was ‘exhausted’ during debate but denies having ‘any serious condition (ABC News)

The 81-year-old president spent most of the broadcast defending his ability to serve out a second term should he win re-election, after which he would leave office at 86 — the most advanced age of any American chief executive.

When pressed directly on whether he was fit to do so, he told the ABC anchor: “Yes, I am.”

But Biden, the oldest man ever to serve as president, also flat-out rejected the idea of him taking any sort of cognitive test when Stephanopolous asked if he was willing to do so, instead repeating an old talking point about the rigors of the presidency serving as a cognitive exam “every day.”

“No one said I had to,” he said.

The 22-minute interview, which aired in its’ entirety in prime time on Friday without any editing, came just hours after he told reporters that he won’t consider standing down from his campaign for a second term in the White House despite growing pressure from him to do so from Democratic members of Congress and donors to his party.

Biden was adamant that he won’t even consider withdrawing his name from contention in this year’s election. He told the ABC anchor, a former White House communications director during the Clinton administration: “I don’t think there’s anybody more qualified to be President or win this race than me.”

He also said only “the Lord Almighty” could potentially convince him to exit the race, despite calls for him to stand down from numerous Democratic figures.

“The Lord Almighty is not coming down. These are hypotheticals,” Biden added.

Joe Biden speaks with the press before boarding Air Force One prior to departure from Dane County Regional Airport in Madison, Wisconsin, July 5, 2024 (AFP via Getty Images)
Joe Biden speaks with the press before boarding Air Force One prior to departure from Dane County Regional Airport in Madison, Wisconsin, July 5, 2024 (AFP via Getty Images)

When asked about mental lapses that have become more and more frequent according to many observers, Biden pivoted to describing his physical condition and refused to consider any sort of independent examination by a physician.

“Can I run the 100 in 10 flat? No, but I’m still in good shape,” he said.

And after Stephanopoulos asked if Biden was “more frail,” the president flatly responded: “No.”

Biden was also asked how he would feel if, after refusing calls for him to step down, Donald Trump was elected in November.

“I feel as long as I gave it my all and I did as good a job I know I can do, that’s what this is about,” Biden replied.

Earlier in the week at a fundraiser in Virginia, Biden had suggested his poor performance was the result of jet lag, citing his two foreign trips in rapid succession last month, to the D-Day anniversary commemoration in France, then the Group of Seven summit in Italy.

But the president actually had more than a week of rest and preparation before the debate, much of which was spent huddled with advisers at Camp David, the Navy-run presidential retreat in Thurmont, Maryland.

Asked why the time he took to prepare was insufficient by the ABC anchor, Biden replied: “Because I was sick. I was feeling terrible.”

“Matter of fact the docs with me. I asked if they did a COVID test because they’re trying to figure out what was wrong. They did a test to see whether or not I had some infection, you know, a virus. I didn’t. I just had a really bad cold,” he said.

He also told Stephanopolous that he, alone, was to blame for his debate performance rather than the staff and advisers who prepared him during his time at Camp David, and claimed to have prepared in the same way he would for meetings with foreign leaders, by taking in briefings with “explicit detail.”

But Biden then attempted to pivot to critiquing Trump’s performance, noting that the ex-president “lied 28 times” and complained that he wasn’t able to fact-check Trump in real time on account of “the way the debate ran.”

“The fact of the matter is what I looked at is that he also lied 28 times, I couldn’t -- I mean the way the debate ran -- not my fault, no one else’s fault -- no one else’s fault,” Biden said.

He also said he realized he was having a bad night when Trump continued shouting even after his microphone was muted under the rules of the debate, and admitted that he’d let the ex-president distract him.

“I’m not blaming it on that, but I realized that I just wasn’t in control,” he said.

Earlier in the day, Biden told reporters traveling with him in Wisconsin on Friday he was “completely ruling that out” during a brief exchange with the press after he finished taping the interview.

Pressed on why he still thinks he is the best candidate to defeat Donald Trump despite his dismal showing against his predecessor in last week’s CNN presidential debate, Biden replied: “I did it before,” referring to his 2020 election victory over the twice-impeached, felonious former chief executive.

When it was pointed out that four years had passed since he defeated Trump — during which he has aged four years and has reportedly had numerous memory lapses and other moments that have caused observers to question his fitness for office — Biden struck a defiant tone, telling the reporters: “You’ve been wrong about everything so far. You were wrong about 2020. You were wrong about 2022.”