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US President Joe Biden. Picture: REUTERS/BENOIT TESSIER
US President Joe Biden. Picture: REUTERS/BENOIT TESSIER

Washington — Every word he utters, every step he takes, President Joe Biden now has the eyes of a worried world on him, watching for another faltering performance like his June debate that sparks fresh calls for him to leave the 2024 presidential race.

His next big test comes on Thursday, when Biden holds a solo media conference at the Nato summit, his first time facing the media alone since November. He has held media conferences with leaders from Ukraine, Kenya and Japan in 2024.

Eighty-one year old Biden will take an unspecified number of questions from reporters, in an event expected to last about as long as November’s, which ran for 21 minutes.

Ahead of that event scheduled for 9.30pm GMT, the White House was busily helping prepare the president for it by trying to game out the questions reporters would ask, a knowledgeable source said.

In the two weeks since the June 27 debate, Biden had another disappointing performance in an ABC News interview, reinforcing some Democrats’ concerns about his ability to beat Republican rival Donald Trump in the November

5 election or serve another four years.

But Biden has also participated in a wide array of public events without a slip-up, including campaign stops in North Carolina, New York, New Jersey, Pennsylvania, Wisconsin and Virginia.

A well-orchestrated, forceful Nato summit speech on Tuesday closed with Biden carefully placing the Presidential Medal of Freedom around Secretary-General Jens Stoltenberg’s neck, to the relief of fellow Democrats and White House staff.

Every Biden appearance will be scrutinised, in perpetuity, analysts said.

Larry Sabato, head of the University of Virginia’s Center for Politics, said Biden is in “highly unusual” territory for a US president.

“If it’s a little mistake, slurring a word or something, I think people would just let it pass. But if there is anything approaching what we saw at the debate, the Democratic Party would be thrown into turmoil,” Sabato said.

Even if Biden never repeats his debate behaviour, he faces a risk that momentum to push him aside could still grow.

More interviews and media conferences

Some Democrats have suggested that putting Biden into the public eye more often would help ease concerns.

Over the course of his three-and-a-half years in office, Biden has held fewer media conferences and interviews combined than presidents dating to Ronald Reagan in the 1980s at the same point in their presidency, data by presidential scholar Martha Joynt Kumar showed.

He has held an average of 10.5 media conferences per year, compared to 22 per year for Trump and 35.5 for George HW Bush, according to an analysis by the University of California at Santa Barbara. Reagan had fewer with 5.8 per year.

Biden answered more questions than either Bill Clinton or Barack Obama, but fewer than both George HW Bush and George W Bush, and far fewer than Trump.

After Thursday’s news conference, Biden’s next big interview will be with NBC anchor Lester Holt on Monday.

"There will be a lot of eyes on every move Biden makes," said a Democratic strategist with close ties to the White House. "There'll be closer scrutiny - everything he says and does."

Biden's top aides are thinking about performance hurdles and his day-to-day appearances in three phases: get through a big speech on civil rights in Austin, Texas on Monday; then the Democratic convention in Chicago where Biden is to be formally nominated in mid-August; and from there the final push to Election Day on November 5, a source with direct knowledge said.

His Texas speech at the presidential library of 1960s President Lyndon Johnson may draw parallels with Johnson, who withdrew from the Democratic race in 1968 over his handling of the Vietnam War.

Biden, a career politician, had a history of saying the wrong thing as a much younger man.

As president, he has taken fire for saying the US would defend Taiwan militarily if the Asian country was invaded by China, a policy that had been ambiguous, and for calling Chinese leader Xi Jinping a “dictator”.

Recently, the White House and Biden have limited informal interactions with reporters that yield impromptu answers to shouted questions as he is travelling or leaving an event. In 2021, Biden had 158 “exchanges with reporters”, the UC Santa Barbara project found. He has had just 38 in 2024 to June 9.

There's a still long way to go for the incumbent president before the election. Looming is another debate against Trump scheduled for September 10. 


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