6 takeaways from Biden’s high-stakes interview with ABC News’ George Stephanopoulos

Joe Biden
Joe Biden at a rally in Madison, Wis. on Friday. (Kyle Mazza/Anadolu via Getty Images)

In a Friday interview with ABC News that was intended to steady his reelection campaign following his much lamented debate performance against former President Donald Trump, President Biden acknowledged his lapse, blaming it on a cold, and reiterated that he has no plans to drop out of the race.

The interview with George Stephanopoulos was taped hours before ABC News aired it in its entirety and had taken on a make-or-break aura. Former House Speaker Nancy Pelosi declared earlier in the week that it was “essential” for Biden to sit for “interviews with serious journalists” in order to reassure Americans that he was up for the challenges of a second term.

Earlier in the day, Biden held a campaign event in Madison, Wis., where he again vowed to remain in the race and to defeat former President Donald Trump. Despite those assurances, media outlets reported on efforts by Sen. Mark Warner of Virginia to persuade senators to pressure Biden to withdraw from the campaign. House Minority Leader Hakeem Jeffries has reportedly scheduled a meeting with top Democrats in the chamber to discuss Biden’s continued viability as a candidate.

Here are the key takeaways from Biden’s Friday night’s interview:

During Biden’s interview on Friday with ABC News, Stephanopoulos, a former Clinton aide turned journalist, asked the president whether the halting performance the nation witnessed during last week’s debate was “a bad episode or a sign of a more serious condition?”

“It was a bad episode,” Biden said. “No indication of a more serious condition. I didn't listen to my instincts in terms of preparation. It was a bad night.”

“You came home from Europe about 11 or 12 days before the debate,” Stephanopoulos continued. “You spent six days in Camp David. Why wasn’t that enough rest time, enough recovery time?”

“Because I was sick. I was feeling terrible,” Biden responded. “Matter of fact, the docs with me, I asked if they did a COVID test because they were trying to figure out what’s wrong. They did a test to see whether or not I had some infection, you know, a virus. I didn't. I just had a really bad cold."

Despite a growing number of Democratic donors and elected officials going public with their concerns about his candidacy, Biden was resolute that he would not be forced to exit the race.

"But if you are told reliably from your allies, and your friends and supporters in the Democratic Party, in the House, in the Senate, that they’re concerned you’re going to lose the House and the Senate if you stay in, what will you do?” Stephanopoulos asked.

"It's not going to happen," Biden replied.

Earlier this week, the New York Times cited White House sources who said Biden has suffered an increase in mental lapses in recent months. Stephanopoulos questioned the president on his perception of whether he had experienced any noticeable declines.

“Are you the same man today that you were when you took office three and a half years ago?” Stephanopoulos asked.

“In terms of successes, yes,” Biden responded. “I also was the guy who put together a plan for the Middle East that may be coming to fruition. I was also the guy who expanded NATO. I was also the guy who grew the economy. All the individual ideas that were done were things that I had or I fulfilled, I moved on.”

“Do you dispute that there have been more lapses, especially in the past several months?” the host asked.

“Can I run the 110 flat?” Biden quipped in an apparent reference to the 110-meter hurdle race in track and field. “No, but I’m still in good shape.”

“Are you more frail?” Stephanopoulos continued.

“No,” Biden replied, adding, “Come keep my schedule.”

Asked if he had undergone “a full neurological and cognitive evaluation,” Biden joked, “I get a full neurological test every day. And I’ve had a full physical. I had — you know, I’ve been in Walter Reed for my physicals. I mean, yes, in answer to your —”

Stephanopoulos followed up: “I know your doctor said he consulted with a neurologist. I guess what I’m asking is a slightly different question. Have you had the specific cognitive tests and have you had a neurologist, a specialist, do an examination?”

“No, no one said I had to,” Biden answered.

Stephanopoulos pressed further, asking if he would be willing to undergo such tests and to release the results publicly.

“Look,” Biden said, “I have a cognitive test every single day. Every day I have that test, everything I do.”

Asked if he had re-watched the debate, Biden offered an oddly phrased answer.

“I don’t think I did, no,” he replied.

When Stephanopoulos pressed Biden on whether he realized the debate was going badly as the event unfolded, the president gave a lengthy answer.

“The whole way I prepared, nobody’s fault, mine, nobody’s fault but mine, I, uh, I prepared what I usually would do, sitting down as I did come back with foreign leaders or the National Security Council for explicit detail and I realized part-way through that, you know, all the — I get quoted — the New York Times had me down 10 points before the debate, nine now or whatever the hell it is,” Biden said. “The fact of the matter is that what I looked at is that he also lied 28 times. I couldn’t, I mean the way that the debate ran, not — my fault, no one else’s fault…”

Stephanopoulos then interrupted Biden. “But it seemed like you were having trouble from the first question in, even before he spoke,” he said.

“Well, I just had a bad night,” Biden replied.

Stephanopoulos, who maintained an even tone throughout the interview, asked Biden multiple questions about whether his health would negatively affect his ability to run a successful campaign and to serve a second term.

“Are you sure you're being honest with yourself when you say you have the mental and physical capacity to serve another four years?” he asked.

“Yes I am,” Biden replied.

Stephanopoulos then asked: “Are you being honest with yourself as well about your ability to defeat Donald Trump?”

“Yes. Yes, yes, yes,” Biden said.