Biden tells supporters to ‘stick together’ amid growing calls for him to leave the presidential race

Biden tells supporters to ‘stick together' amid growing calls for him to leave the presidential race 1

President Joe Biden urged supporters to stay unified behind him at a rousing Black church service Sunday where the pastor referenced biblical teachings in declaring “never count Joseph out,” and blamed jealousy for intensifying pressure from some Democrats to abandon his reelection bid.

Speaking from a stage flanked by sunshine from a pair of stained-glass windows at Mount Airy Church of God in Christ in northwest Philadelphia, the 81-year-old Biden laughed off concerns about his age, joking “I know I look 40” but “I’ve been doing this a long time.”

“I, honest to God, have never been more optimistic about America’s future if we stick together,” Biden said. He didn’t use a teleprompter, which has become more common since his disastrous debate performance last month but spoke from a prepared speech.

His remarks followed Pastor Louis Felton likening Biden to Joseph and the biblical story of his “coat of many colors.” Joseph was sold into slavery in Egypt by his jealous brothers, only to eventually obtain a high place in the kingdom of the pharaoh and have his brothers beg him for assistance without initially recognizing him.

“Never count Joseph out,” Felton implored. Then, referring to Democrats who have called on Biden to step aside, he said, “That’s what’s going on, Mr. President. People are jealous of you. Jealous of your stick-to-itiveness, jealous our your favor. Jealous of God’s hand upon your life.”

Biden planned to rally later with union members and local Democrats in Harrisburg, the capital of battleground Pennsylvania, before returning to Washington, where leaders from NATO countries will gather for a three-day summit beginning Tuesday to mark the military alliance’s 75th anniversary.

The dual appearances followed Biden joining a Saturday call with campaign surrogates, and reiterating that he has no plans to step aside. He listened to concerns and feedback while also pledging to campaign harder going forward and to hit the road more frequently, according to two people who spoke on condition of anonymity to discuss private conversations.

Still, the president’s political situation remains precarious.

Five Democratic lawmakers have already called on him to abandon his reelection bid ahead of November, and more could do so in the coming days, as Congress reconvenes. Meeting in person will give congressional Democrats a chance to discuss concerns about Biden’s ability to withstand the remaining four months of the campaign — not to mention four more years in the White House — and true prospects of beating former Republican former President Donald Trump.

On Sunday, Alan Clendenin, a Democratic Tampa city councilman and member of the Democratic National Committee said on Sunday, “I believe it is in the best interest of our country and the world that President Joe Biden step aside and allow Vice President Kamala Harris to carry forward his agenda as our Democratic nominee.”

And director Rob Reiner, a Hollywood stalwart who has helped fundraise for Biden, posted on X, “It’s time for Joe Biden to step down.”

Biden’s campaign team is quietly bracing for the chorus of those calling for him to leave the presidential race to grow in the coming days — holding the call with surrogates and calling and texting lawmakers to try and head off more potential defections. A weekend boost came for the president, though, from other key Democrats who had raised previous questions but now have moved to support him, led by Speaker Emerita Nancy Pelosi and Rep. James Clyburn of South Carolina.

With the Democratic convention fast approaching, the short term is especially critical. Since the debate, donors, strategists, lawmakers and their constituents have urged Democrats to replace him at the top of the ticket before, they argue, it’s too late.

Biden’s Friday interview with ABC has not convinced some who remain skeptical that he can resurrect his campaign. That’s part of the reason he headed to the friendly crowd at Mount Airy, where he entered to applause and a cry of “Let him know we are with him!” which drew a “Hallelujah!”

“There is no election we can not win,” Felton told those assembled. “We are together because we love our president.”

“He’s a fighter. He’s a champion. He’s a winner. Halleluiah!” the pastor said of Biden, before leading a prayer where he said, “Our president gets discouraged. But today, through your holy spirit, renew his mind, renew his spirt, renew his body. He’s the body we need these in terrible times.”

The visit gave Biden a chance to energize African-American voters, who are Democrats’ largest and most-loyal bloc of support. It could also send a message to members of the Congressional Black Caucus, whose endorsement the president will need as he works to quell potential rebellion on Capitol Hill.

At the Essence Festival of Culture in New Orleans on Saturday, Biden got enthusiastic support from four of the caucus’ members including California Democratic Rep. Maxine Waters, who is 85, drew a standing ovation by declaring, “People say Joe Biden’s too old. Hell, I’m older than Biden!”

“It ain’t gonna be no other Democratic candidate,” Waters said “and we better know it.”

Others aren’t fully convinced.

Democratic Sen. Chris Murphy of Connecticut told CNN that Biden “needs to answer those questions that voters have” but added, “If he does that this week, I think he will be in a very good position and we can get back to what this campaign needs to be.”

During his Friday interview, Biden rejected undergoing independent cognitive testing, arguing that the everyday rigors of the presidency were proof enough of his mental acuity. But California Democratic Rep. Adam Schiff told NBC on Sunday that he’d be “happy if both the president and Donald Trump took a cognitive test.”

Schiff added that the president opting to stay in the race “is going to come down to what Joe Biden thinks is best” and that he could “run hard” to beat Trump or “if his decision is to pass the torch, then the president should do everything in his power to make that other candidate successful.”

Schiff warned that Biden needs to consider how he risks dragging down Democrats down the ticket: “Look, there are concerns with the impact on down ballot races if the president doesn’t do well.”

“You can only run so far ahead of the president,” he said.

As some Democrats have done, Schiff also seized on Biden suggesting during the ABC interview that losing to Trump would be acceptable “as long as I give it my all.”

“This is not just about whether he gave it the best college try,” Schiff said “but rather whether he made the right decision to run or to pass the torch.”

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Weissert reported from Washington. Associated Press writers Zeke Miller in Washington, Michelle Price in New York, Meg Kinnard in Chapin, South Carolina, and Bill Barrow in New Orleans contributed to this report.