‘I’m still processing what happened’: Democrats were still reeling from Biden’s debate performance on Friday

‘I’m still processing what happened’: Democrats were still reeling from Biden’s debate performance on Friday

The shockwaves from President Joe Biden’s palid, painful and piecemeal debate performance in Atlanta on Thursday could still be felt on Capitol Hill on Friday morning.

While members of Congress are usually anxious to dart out the door on a Friday to make their flights home, Democrats seemed especially unwilling to speak about Biden’s stumbles in the face of former president Donald Trump’s repeated lies.

A snap poll showed that voters overwhelmingly thought Trump won the debate despite his rambling, spewing anti-immigrant vitriol and refusal to answer questions modeators asked. Biden’s performance was so weak that Democratic strategists began floating the idea of replacing him almost immediately afterwards.

It was a sharp contrast from the Thursday before the debate, when everyone in the Democratic Party, including Biden’s sharpest critics on policy, got behind him. Come Friday morning, the atmosphere was markedly different.

Having time to sleep on the debate — even if nobody could actually rest afterward — did not lead to Democrats calming down. If anything, it made them nervy. Some normally chatty Democrats like the progressive Maxwell Frost of Florida rushed onto the floor for votes rather than answer questions; likewise, the moderate Josh Gottheimer seemed willing to chat about the economy for a few seconds but then darted to the floor to vote once asked about Biden.

Biden spoke in Raleigh on Friday after the debate and tellingly, some of the endangered House Democrats from the Tar Heel state stayed in Washington rather than turn up to support him. When The Independent asked Representative Jeff Jackson, who is running for attorney general, what he would say to voters worried about Biden, he said, “I hope they get a chance to meet him.”

Even Biden’s defenders admitted he had had a bad night.

Representative Jasmine Crockett, the outspoken freshman Democrat from Texas, offered the most clear-cut defense of her boss.

“I think that the president was honest, like he always is, and I wish the press would freaking report on how senile Donald Trump is,” she told The Independent. Specifically, she cited Trump’s lie that he helped lower the cost of insulin when in fact it was legislation Biden signed — championed by Senator Raphael Warnock, a surrogate of Biden’s last night — that capped the price of insulin at $35.

“To stand up there and say that he had s*** to do with insulin and no one checked him for that is wild as hell to me,” Crockett, who went to Atlanta for the Debate and has also become a surrogate for Biden, told The Independent.

But for the most part, Democrats knew they had experienced a loss. For months, they had hoped that Biden’s poor poll numbers would turn around once voters got to see a contrast between him and Trump; that the age factor would go away once people saw just how unhinged Trump was onstage. But instead, they were left having to accept Biden flopped and say that Trump’s incoherent rambling and blatant lies were worse. Although the president was coherent, self-effacing and comparatively eloquent during his Friday afternoon Raleigh appearance, it wasn’t enough to claw things back — especially as Republicans started talking about invoking the 25th Amendment, which can be used to remove presidents considered unfit for the job.

Representative Robert Garcia of California admitted Biden had a bad day but said focus groups showed he still did better with swing voters.

“Overall, voters are not going to judge and make a decision on the president based off of one debate or because a candidate had a sore throat,” he said.

Representative James Clyburn told The Independent that people needed to relax at the moment. The former House Majority whip is perhaps more responsible than anyone for Biden becoming president; he endorsed Biden ahead of the 2020 South Carolina primary and that contest largely propelled him in the contest, which led to him winning the nomination and then the presidency.

“I differentiate between worry and concern,” Clyburn said. “Am I concerned? Yes. But I’m not worried.”

When asked why he was not worried, he said there was no reason to be.

“I mean, who classifies the end result by one segment, one performance?” he said. “Who does that?”

But more endangered Democrats in swing districts did not mince words.

“I'll take the honest old guy over the dishonest old guy any day of the week,” Seth Magaziner, a freshman from Rhode Island, told The Independent.

Representative Angie Craig, who represents a swing district in Minnesota, put it straight in a different way.

“I'm still processing what happened last night, and, you know, again, it was a terrible debate,” she told The Independent.

So far, no Democratic elected officials have openly said Biden must step aside. But now they know they cannot obfuscate. Biden’s age and his performance will be on display over the next six months and they will have to answer for it.