Biden press conference: 4 key takeaways from NATO summit

With the eyes of the world watching to assess the future of the North Atlantic Treaty Organization (NATO) as well as Joe Biden’s decision to press on with his reelection campaign amid concerns over his health, the U.S. president held a solo news conference Thursday seen as another high-stakes test of his fitness to hold office.

Over a span of roughly one hour, Biden answered questions from 10 different journalists on a range of topics, the most frequent being the fallout from his highly criticized performance in the first presidential debate. Here’s a recap of the biggest moments:

President Biden stands at a podium emblazoned with the presidential seal.
President Biden in Washington on Thursday. (Yves Herman/Reuters)

Multiple reporters questioned Biden’s resolve to remain in the 2024 race despite calls from some in his party to drop out, polls showing softening support and concerns from NATO allies about what a loss would mean for the alliance if Trump were to be reelected.

“The fact is that the consideration is that I think that I’m the most qualified person to run for president. I beat him once,” Biden said of Trump, “and I will beat him again.”

“There’s a long way to go in this campaign,” Biden added, “and so I am just going to keep moving, keep moving, because, look, I got more work to do.”

The president then touted his economic record, including the jobs that have been created during his administration.

“I’m not in this for my legacy. I’m in this to finish the job I started,” he said later.

A mobile phone mounted on a camera shows President Biden next to two American flags.
A mobile phone mounted on a camera shows a live feed of President Biden's press conference on Thursday. (Elizabeth Frantz/Reuters)

With some Democrats suggesting that Biden should step aside and let his running mate run at the top of the ticket, a reporter asked the president about the attributes he saw in Harris that make him think she is ready to serve as president.

“First of all, the way she’s handled the issue of freedom of women’s bodies, to have control of their bodies,” Biden responded. “Secondly, her ability to handle almost any issue on the board — this was a hell of a prosecutor. She was a first-rate person and in the Senate she was really good.”

“She’s qualified to be president. That’s why I picked her,” Biden added.

Later, Biden was asked whether he would reconsider his decision to stay in the race if his own campaign came back with data showing that Harris was polling better against Trump than he was.

“No, unless they came back and said, ‘There’s no way you can win.’” Biden said before lowering his voice into a whisper. “No one is saying that. No poll says that.”

President Biden onstage at a podium in front of American flags.
Biden's news conference at the 2024 NATO Summit on Thursday in Washington, D.C. (Kevin Dietsch/Getty Images)

While Biden delivered a number of strong answers during the press conference, delving into policy details on subjects like inflation, the NATO alliance and the ongoing war between Israel and Hamas, he also committed a few gaffes, like when he was asked about whether he had concerns about Vice President Kamala Harris’s ability to beat Trump should he decide to drop out of the race and he referred to her as "Vice President Trump" when answering.

“Look,” Biden replied, “I wouldn’t have picked Vice President Trump to be vice president if I didn’t think she was qualified to be president. So let’s start there.”

Trump seized on the moment with a jab on social media, which Biden responded to shortly afterwards.

Biden was also asked about a gaffe he made just hours before the press conference, when he introduced Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelensky as Russian President Vladimir Putin.

“And now I want to hand it over to the president of Ukraine, who has as much courage as he has determination. Ladies and gentlemen, President Putin,” Biden said at the NATO summit, before correcting himself. “President Putin? He’s going to beat President Putin. President Zelensky. I’m so focused on beating Putin, we gotta worry about it. Anyway.”

Asked whether such missteps were damaging to America’s standing in the world, Biden fired back, “Did you see any damage to our standing in my leading this conference? Have you seen a more successful conference?”

“I thought it was the most successful conference I’ve attended in a long time,” he added.

Asked if he felt that he would be up to the job of negotiating with Chinese President Xi Jinping or Russian President Vladimir Putin three years from now, Biden gave a nearly 7-minute answer that, at times, proved difficult to follow.

“The issue is that you have to make sure that Xi understands there is a price to pay for undercutting both the Pacific basin as well as Europe as it relates to Russia and dealing with Ukraine. And so, we, for example, if you want to invest in China, you know, you know this area really well,” Biden told the reporter who had asked the question at one point, “China, you have to have a 51% Chinese owner. You have to make sure you do [it] by their rules, and you don’t have the authority, you have to provide access for all the data and information you have.”

But by the end of his answer, Biden also said "I'm dealing with Xi right now" and "I have no good reason to talk to Putin right now."

"There isn't any world leader I'm not prepared to deal with," he said.

President Biden at podium in front of American flags.
President Biden during NATO's 75th anniversary summit, in Washington on Thursday. (Yves Herman/Reuters)

Asked once again whether he was “fully determined” to stay on as the party’s nominee, Biden gave another long answer that described his upcoming campaign schedule and organization and revisited his record as a Senator.

“I’m going to be going around making the case of the things we have to finish and how we can’t afford to lose what we’ve done, or backslide on civil rights, civil liberties, women’s rights. There’s that little button we have: ‘Control guns, not girls,’” Biden said before raising his voice for emphasis. “More children are killed by the bullet than any other cause of death. The United States of America. What the hell are we doing? What are we doing? We have a candidate promises the NRA, ‘Don’t worry, I’m not going to do anything.’”

“This is ridiculous,” Biden continued. “There’s so much we can do still, and I’m determined to get it done.”

The campaign posted it to X at the conclusion of the press conference.

➕ Read more

  • Biden's closing argument at NATO: See, I'm up to the job. “The tense press conference — in which Biden repeatedly coughed or cleared his throat — captured the precariousness of Biden’s presidency.” [Politico.]

  • More than 15 congressional Democrats have now called on Biden to end his reelection bid. “Biden, meanwhile, has shown no signs of backing down.” [Yahoo News]

  • Vulnerable Democrats grapple with running on a ticket with Biden. “I’m not answering any more questions.” [NBC New]

  • Biden refers to Kamala Harris as 'Vice President Trump' shortly after calling Zelensky 'Putin.' “Biden later reaffirmed his confidence in Harris's ability to serve.” [Insider]

  • Joe Biden meets the press, fails to quiet worries. “Biden doubled-down on his plans to run for reelection Thursday evening.” [Time magazine]

Cover thumbnail photo: Mandel Ngan/AFP via Getty Images