Biden facing intense scrutiny as campaign ramps up unscripted events


President Joe Biden’s team has telegraphed a strategy to put the president forth for more casual, unscripted events and an accelerated public schedule as he seeks to shift the narrative away from his poor debate performance. But Biden is now under intense scrutiny at this critical moment for his political future — with heightened attention on every verbal slip, diversion, and moment of confusion, and questions about whether that strategy will have its intended outcome.

As a growing number of elected officials, Democratic donors and supporters express deep concerns about Biden’s age and capacity to serve a second term as president, aides have acknowledged that the stakes for Biden’s one-on-one interview Friday with ABC News’ George Stephanopoulos could not be higher. Biden is also expected to hold a press conference next week during the NATO summit.

But before that, and even before last Thursday’s presidential debate, Biden’s delivery has been halting at times, and close observers of the president have noted that his speech and delivery have lost some pacing, crispness and focus in the years since he took office.

In a radio interview taped Wednesday that aired Thursday, Biden made some verbal missteps.

“I’m proud to be, as I said, the first vice president — first Black woman — to serve with a Black president, proud to have been involved with the first Black woman on the Supreme Court,” he said during an appearance with Andrea Lawful-Sanders of “The Source” in Philadelphia.

Reached for comment Thursday night, a Biden campaign spokesperson slammed the “absurdity” of criticism of the president’s missteps.

“It was clear what President Biden meant when he was talking about his historic record including a record number of appointments to the federal bench. This is not news and the media has passed the point of absurdity here,” Biden campaign spokesman Ammar Moussa said.

Biden laid out a similar argument in another radio interview taped Wednesday with a Wisconsin outlet but did not bungle that answer.

Biden gave lengthy answers during both radio interviews to questions such as what he has done to improve the lives of Black Pennsylvanians and why it is an important election — ticking off his accomplishments and filibustering the way any skilled politician might filibuster an interviewer.

The president sometimes gets talking and will stop himself before — or after — veering into tangents.

Biden’s opponent, former President Donald Trump, has also repeatedly made verbal missteps and can divert into lengthy asides.

As he addressed military families celebrating Independence Day on the White House’s South Lawn Thursday, Biden read from a teleprompter, but spoke off-the-cuff briefly — stopping himself after he referred to former President Donald Trump as “one of our colleagues.”

“I was in that World War I cemetery in France, and — the one that one of our colleagues, the former president, didn’t want to go and be up there — I probably shouldn’t say. At any rate, we got to just remember who the hell we are — we’re the United States of America,” he said.

Biden also made a confusing reference to presidential road closures: “I used to think when I was a senator, there were always congestion on the highways. There’s no congestion anymore. None. We got on the highway, there’s no congestion. And so — the way they get me to stop talking, they’ll say, ‘We just shut down all the roads. Mr. President, you’re gonna lose all the votes if you don’t get in,’ but anyway.”

Biden has been largely insulated from potential signs of aging by his team, with strategies including short, tightly scripted events on teleprompter; the use of shorter steps on Air Force One; and significantly pared-back engagement with reporters compared with his most recent predecessors.

But some Democrats are increasingly convinced that those efforts were less aimed at preventing spoken gaffes or freewheeling diversions, and more focused on eliminating more alarming incidents showing a weakened, aging president in recent months.

Close observers of the president notice that, with age, Biden does not enunciate with the same sharpness and clarity that he did even during the last campaign and can lose his train of thought more frequently than he once did.

“I know I’m not a young man. I don’t walk as easily as I used to. I don’t talk as smoothly as I used to. I don’t debate as well as I used to,” Biden said last Friday at a Raleigh, North Carolina, campaign rally.

CNN’s Phil Mattingly, Samantha Waldenberg, and Arlette Saenz contributed to this report.

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