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Democratic support for Biden's nomination is weakening. Biden is doubling down anyway

MARY LOUISE KELLY, HOST:

To politics here in the U.S. and a promise to fight on - quote, "it is time to come together, move forward as a unified party and defeat Donald Trump." Well, those are the words of President Biden in a letter he sent today to congressional Democrats. Over the weekend, more Democratic lawmakers privately called on Biden to step aside, let someone else be the party's presidential nominee. Biden's response? Nope. I am staying in this race. Well, here to talk with us about the Biden campaign at a crossroads is Evan Osnos. He's a staff writer for The New Yorker and the author of a biography of Joe Biden. Hey, Evan.

EVAN OSNOS: Thanks, Mary Louise - glad to join you.

KELLY: Start there with that growing friction we're seeing between President Biden and fellow Democrats in Congress. I will note that on Sunday, four more House Democrats, all leaders on key committees, told colleagues that Biden should step down. Here is how Biden answered that call. This was him today on MSNBC's "Morning Joe."

(SOUNDBITE OF TV SHOW, "MORNING JOE")

PRESIDENT JOE BIDEN: I am not going anywhere. I wouldn't be running if I didn't absolutely believe that I am the best candidate to beat Donald Trump in 2024.

KELLY: Evan Osnos, what should we make of this moment in which we find ourselves?

OSNOS: You know, this is a day in which he's come out punching, actually, after about a week or 10 days of being very much on the back foot, when it felt as if there was this strong chorus of voices both in the press and then also increasingly from some members of his party calling for him to step aside. He came back pretty definitively, both in that appearance on "Morning Joe" and also in a letter to Congress in which he didn't equivocate much at all. He said, I am in this. And I think, importantly, what he said is that the voters in the primary put me here, and I am going to fulfill that commitment.

KELLY: That's interesting. I was noting some of the words he was using in that "Morning Joe" interview today. He said, elites are trying to get me out. And I was curious about that choice of language.

OSNOS: Yeah, it's a pretty resonant concept for him. This is something I think you're going to hear more of from him, which is, you know, he's positioning himself as the person that the voters installed. And when he talks about elites, what he's saying is that the pundits, the reporters, the people, as he would put it, who think that they know better, which is the phrase that he used today, are trying to push him out. And this is a theme that is very much a part of his history. You know, he has never been, in his own mind, a real insider in politics.

KELLY: No. He's Scranton Joe.

OSNOS: Exactly. And that's a big piece of how he sees it.

KELLY: Like a lot of Americans, we - I'm sure - both watched the interview with George Stephanopoulos on ABC. President Biden was pushed on his debate performance. He wrote it off as a bad night. I want to put to you, Evan, a question that you pose in your latest piece on the president. At what point does political conviction curdle into something closer to denial? Do you have an answer to that?

OSNOS: Well, running a campaign and being a candidate really requires a level of projection of self-narrative. You have to be able to tell yourself that you can and should and will be president. And yet at the same time, there comes a point at which the data, the cold, hard science of the election, may tell you something else.

KELLY: Are you talking about polls? I mean, what is the cold, hard science of this?

OSNOS: Well, to give you one data point right now, there has never been a president in recent memory with approval ratings as low as his who has gone on to win reelection. That's a fact that is very hard to explain away. His personal view and the view of the advisers very close to him is that that approval rating doesn't reflect the full reality. They are genuinely doubtful about the quality of polling now, and people can argue with that, but I'm just trying to tell you their view.

And then they also believe that as the campaign goes on, people will become more supportive of him as they realize what they don't like and remember what they don't like about Donald Trump. The problem is, is that that theory, which was the one they expressed to me back in January, remains their theory of the case, and in some ways, has not accommodated, as far as we can see, to the surge of concern around his performance in the debate, which was, in its own way, indelible.

KELLY: I'm curious, Evan Osnos, just what you are seeing as someone who has sat down one-on-one with Biden. I was going back and looking at what you wrote after you interviewed him in January. And of that interview, you said, his mind seemed unchanged. He never bungled a name or a date. From what you can glimpse, is the Biden you sat down with six months ago, six, seven months ago, a different Biden from the one we just saw on that debate stage?

OSNOS: The one we saw on the debate stage was completely different than the Biden I saw in January. You know, the person I saw in January was much more like that Biden we saw at the State of the Union...

KELLY: Yeah.

OSNOS: ...Who was, no question, 81 years old, but fiery and pretty much able to accomplish the political task of the moment. And that's not what we saw on the debate stage.

And so the question really becomes - I think Nancy Pelosi put it best - was this an episode that we saw on that debate stage or is it a condition? And I think what we know at the moment is that there are moments when he rises and falls. And the person that we are now going to need to see as an electorate and as a student of these questions is, does Biden have the capacity to come back and demonstrate a consistent ability to meet the expectations, the challenges, the pressures of the moment?

KELLY: What kind of window does Biden have as he navigates this huge decision? I will point out there's a NATO summit happening in D.C. this week. Does that alter the calculation in any way?

OSNOS: It does factor in because I think that some members of Congress are going to be inclined to say let's take a deep breath for a second. Let's not necessarily have our big family feud right in front of all the allies because our allies are seeking reassurance of the stability of American leadership. So that may add one more beat to the process.

I think there's also a genuine effort here to try to get a clearer sense of where Congress is on this. There are some members of Congress who have come out in support of him, and some, of course, who have come out opposed to him. And short of an actual vote, the real challenge is to try to fashion some sense of consensus, and that is a hard thing to measure. And it could hardly be more important than trying to get it on this question.

KELLY: Evan Osnos, staff writer for The New Yorker and author of a biography of Joe Biden. Evan Osnos, what a moment. Thank you.

OSNOS: My pleasure. Thanks for having me. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.

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Kathryn Fink
Kathryn Fink is a producer with NPR's All Things Considered.
Courtney Dorning
Courtney Dorning has been a Senior Editor for NPR's All Things Considered since November 2018. In that role, she's the lead editor for the daily show. Dorning is responsible for newsmaker interviews, lead news segments and the small, quirky features that are a hallmark of the network's flagship afternoon magazine program.
Mary Louise Kelly
Mary Louise Kelly is a co-host of All Things Considered, NPR's award-winning afternoon newsmagazine.