Biden tells allies he knows he has just days to save his candidacy

President Biden has told key allies that he knows the coming days are crucial and that he understands he may not be able to salvage his candidacy if he cannot convince voters he is up to the task after a disastrous debate performance last week.

According to two allies who spoke to him, Biden has stressed that he is still deeply committed to the fight for re-election, but that he realizes his viability as a candidate is at stake.

The president tried to project confidence during a call with campaign staff on Wednesday, while White House officials sought to calm tensions within the Biden administration.

“Nobody is pushing me out,” Biden said in the call. “I’m not leaving.”

Vice President Kamala Harris was also on the line.

“We will not back down. We will follow the example of our president,” she said. “We will fight and we will win.”

Still, Biden’s allies said the president had privately acknowledged that his next few appearances ahead of the July Fourth long weekend needed to go well, notably an interview scheduled for Friday with ABC News’ George Stephanopoulos and campaign visits to Pennsylvania and Wisconsin.

“He knows if he has two more events like that, we’re going to be in a different position” by the end of the weekend, one of the allies said, referring to Mr. Biden’s halting and unfocused performance in the debate. That person, who spoke to the president over the past 24 hours, spoke on condition of anonymity to discuss a sensitive situation.

The reports of his conversations with allies are the first public indication that the president is seriously considering whether he can recover from his devastating performance on the debate stage in Atlanta last Thursday.

A new poll from The New York Times and Siena College found that former President Donald J. Trump now leads Biden 49 percent to 43 percent among likely voters nationwide, a three-point shift in Republicans’ favor from just a week earlier, before the debate. The six-point deficit underscored the growing challenges facing the campaign and could make it harder to sustain, though some insiders worried it could have been worse.

White House spokeswoman Karine Jean-Pierre said the president privately told her he had not spoken to allies about withdrawing from the race.

“That is absolutely false,” she said during the briefing. While quashing speculation about Biden’s resignation, Ms. Jean-Pierre also referred to Ms. Harris, who is seeing a surge in support among Democrats, as “the future of the party.”

One of Biden’s allies, one of his top advisers, who also asked not to be named, said the president is “well aware of the political challenge he faces.”

That person said Mr. Biden was aware that the outcome of his campaign could be different than what he is fighting for. Mr. Biden, the person said, believes he is an effective leader who is mentally sharp and “doesn’t understand how others don’t accept that.”

The Times reported Tuesday that several current and former officials and others who met with the president behind closed doors had noted that he seemed increasingly confused, listless or lost the thread of the conversation in the weeks and months leading up to the debate.

Biden still views his debate performance as a poor one, the source said, rather than a revealing event about his ability to hold the job for another four years.

Major party donors have privately called House members, senators, super PACs, the Biden campaign and the White House to say they believe Mr. Biden should resign, according to Democrats familiar with the discussion. On Wednesday, Reed Hastings, the Netflix co-founder who has become one of the Democratic Party’s biggest donors in recent years, called on Mr. Biden to resign from his spot at the top of the ticket.

“Biden must step aside to allow a strong Democratic leader to defeat Trump and keep us safe and prosperous,” he said in an email to The Times.

One elected Democrat, who spoke on condition of anonymity due to political sensitivities, said the decision ultimately still rests with Mr. Biden. “The only thing that matters is his decision whether or not he lets it go,” the person said.

At the White House, senior officials tried to calm things down during an all-staff conference call. Jeff Zients, the White House chief of staff, told the president’s staff to keep their heads down and “execute, execute, execute.” Mr. Zients also told them to “hold their heads high” and be proud, a contradiction he acknowledged had a humorous element to it.

Later in the day, Mr. Zients appeared on a separate call, a weekly check-in among Mr. Biden’s Cabinet officials, and reiterated many of the points he shared with his staffers, according to a person familiar with the call.

Biden had taken a long time to personally reach out to key Democrats to assuage their concerns, angering those inside the party and frustrating some of his own advisers.

According to Ms. Jean-Pierre, the president has now been “in contact” with Representative Hakeem Jeffries of New York, the Democratic leader in the House of Representatives; Senator Chuck Schumer of New York, the majority leader; Representative Nancy Pelosi of California, the former speaker; Representative James E. Clyburn of South Carolina; and Senator Chris Coons of Delaware.

The president had lunch with Ms. Harris at the White House, and the two Democratic governors later met. So far, Mr. Biden has focused on talks with trusted advisers and family members, who have urged him to stay in the race.

Rep. Debbie Dingell, a Democrat from Michigan, said during an interview on MSNBC that Biden still needs to do more to engage with the public instead of continuing to consult with advisers.

“He has to show the American people that he can do this job,” she said. “He can’t be wrapped in a bubble right now.”

Major donors expressed irritation that he did not participate in a campaign call Monday meant to appease them. And some Democrats have grown increasingly suspicious that the president’s team has not been fully forthcoming about the impact aging has had on him.

Democratic leaders in the House and Senate on Wednesday did not urge their members to rally behind Mr. Biden. Instead, they listened to a flurry of complaints about the president’s handling of the situation from across the party, including the centrist wing and progressives.

Several of Mr. Biden’s allies have stressed that he is still in the fight for his political life and that he sees this moment largely as an opportunity to bounce back from being written off, as he has done so many times in his half-century career. At the same time, they said, he has been clear about how difficult the fight will be to convince voters, donors and the political class that his debate performance was an anomaly and not disqualifying.

Some of the president’s advisers have grown increasingly pessimistic in recent days as unrest within the party has only grown, reflecting dissatisfaction not only with the performance during the debate but also with the way it has been handled since.

Much of Biden’s family, including his son Hunter Biden and Jill Biden, the first lady, continues to support the president as he continues his campaign.

“Because there’s a lot of talk about it,” Dr. Biden told a crowd celebrating the opening of a campaign headquarters on the outskirts of Traverse City, Michigan, “let me reiterate what my man has said clearly and unequivocally: Joe is the Democratic nominee and he’s going to beat Donald Trump, just like he did in 2020.”

Biden’s team tried to create a barrier by convincing elected Democrats and well-known party figures not to publicly call on him to withdraw.

But Rep. Lloyd Doggett of Texas on Tuesday became the first Democratic congressman to say the president should step aside. Two others — Reps. Jared Golden of Maine and Marie Gluesenkamp Perez of Washington — said they believed he would lose in November.

In a statement Wednesday evening, Rep. Seth Moulton, Democrat of Massachusetts, expressed doubts about Biden’s chances of winning in November.

“I have great respect for President Biden and all the great things he has done for America, but I have serious concerns about his ability to defeat Donald Trump,” he said. “To win, the case must be prosecuted in the media, in town halls and at campaign rallies across the country. President Biden must show that he can do that. The unfortunate reality is that the status quo is likely to give us President Trump.”

Others have privately indicated that they will follow suit and speak out.

Peter Bakker, Nicholas Nehamas, Simon J. Levien, Michael D. Scheer Mitch Smit, Theodore Schleifer And Lucas Broadwater contributed to the reporting.

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