Angry Biden: 'Go ahead. Challenge me at the convention'

President Joe Biden speaks to supporters as first lady Jill Biden, left, looks on at a campaign rally in Harrisburg, Pa., on Sunday, July 7, 2024. (AP Photo/Manuel Balce Ceneta)
President Biden speaks to supporters as First Lady Jill Biden looks on at a campaign rally in Harrisburg, Pa., on Sunday. (Manuel Balce Ceneta / Associated Press)

As angry Democrats pile criticism on President Biden, he has a message: He's angry too.

"I'm getting so frustrated by the elites ... the elites in the party who — they know so much more," Biden said sarcastically, calling in Monday to MSNBC's "Morning Joe," his favorite cable news show. "Any of these guys don't think I should, run against me: Go ahead. Challenge me at the convention."

Pressure has been mounting on Biden to drop out of the race since last month's poor debate performance. The televised call was part of a larger effort to push back against the internal pressure by rallying his party's base and channeling national anger with elites that cuts across both parties.

Hours after he railed against the party's insiders, Biden received an important boost from one of its heaviest hitters, Senate Majority Leader Charles E. Schumer of New York, who told reporters "I'm for Joe" as he returned to the Capitol on Monday afternoon.

House Minority Leader Hakeem Jeffries of New York also reaffirmed his support, telling a CNN reporter his position has not changed.

Other Democratic lawmakers were more circumspect, including Virginia Sen. Mark Warner, who called for "conversations about the strongest path forward" and for Biden "to more aggressively make his case to the American people."

Biden's tone in the brief call to "Morning Joe" was intended to convey a fighting spirit, to reassure Democrats who worry he is not up to prosecuting the case against former President Trump.

It's unclear whether it will work as Biden begins one of the toughest political weeks of his tenure in office. Congress is returning with growing clamor in his party to replace him amid polls showing he is falling further behind in the national vote and key swing states.

Biden is also hosting a gathering of international allies at a North Atlantic Treaty Organization summit in Washington, where he will be under pressure to perform for a foreign audience, with worries about the ongoing war in Ukraine and the stability of America's leading role in the world, and a domestic audience eager to see if Biden, 81, continues to show signs of decline. Biden has scheduled a rare news conference for Thursday.

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He has cast the movement to persuade him to step aside as top-down and anti-democratic, though 60% of voters in a New York Times poll said he should be replaced on the ballot, nearly twice the number who said he should remain the party's nominee.

Biden had little opposition in the Democratic primaries, meaning only he can decide whether to bow out.

"The voters of the Democratic Party have voted. They have chosen me to be the nominee of the party," he wrote in a letter to congressional Democrats on Monday, laying out his case for staying in the race. "Do we now just say this process didn't matter? That the voters don't have a say?"

Biden calling in to morning cable news to rail at his party's establishment was reminiscent of Trump's favorite method of communication. For years, even before he ran for election, Trump has been calling in to "Fox & Friends" to speak his mind to friendly hosts.

Early indications suggested Biden was at least buying time to make his case to stay in the race, and, if he can avoid missteps in the coming weeks, hoping that the attention to his frailty will die down. But for Democrats, it will still be a risky bet given Trump's polling lead and the likelihood that concerns many Americans have over the president's age will not dissipate with time.

Trump has held only one public event in the 11 days since the debate, allowing Democrats to publicly discuss Biden's future and keep the focus on Biden's frailty, rather than Trump's criminal convictions, policy proposals or numerous lies told at the debate.

“It drives me nuts people are talking about this,” Biden said, adding, "Where the hell has Trump been?"

But he would not answer whether he has been tested for Parkinson's or other age-related illnesses.

"I had a bad night," he said with a purposeful chuckle. "That's why I've been out. I've been testing myself."

His press secretary, Karine Jean-Pierre, was equally evasive, refusing to answer why a Parkinson's expert, Dr. Kevin Cannard, visited the White House multiple times, citing security and privacy reasons in a testy exchange with reporters.

She said Biden has seen a neurologist three times since becoming president, during his physicals, but would not say whether it was Cannard or why he had come at least eight times over the last year and whether those visits were related to Biden.

Monday evening, the White House released a letter from Biden’s physician, Dr. Kevin O’Connor, confirming that Cannard had been the neurologist who saw Biden in his annual physicals. O'Connor also wrote that Cannard regularly visits the White House Medical Unit to work with military personnel and has done so for a dozen years.

Riverside Rep. Mark Takano was among four lawmakers on a conference call of leading House Democrats Sunday to call for a change at the top of the ticket, according to a Democratic aide who was privy to the conversation. Other Democrats on the call also expressed deep concern without explicitly calling for change.

Rep. Adam B. Schiff, a Burbank Democrat and Senate candidate, stated his concerns in public.

“The performance on the debate stage, I think, rightfully raised questions among the American people about whether the president has the vigor to defeat Donald Trump. And this is an existential race,” Schiff said on “Meet the Press.” “It should not be even close. And there's only one reason it is close, and that's the president's age.”

Some Democrats have said the matter is urgent, politically. But the party would have until at least the start of the Aug. 19 Democratic convention and likely beyond that to replace Biden, though the process would get increasingly messy.

Read more: Newsom on his swing-state tour to help Biden: 'I pick up the fight'

Ohio initially required candidates to be finalized by Aug. 7, prompting Democrats to plan on voting virtually before the deadline. But the Legislature passed a bill in late May, signed June 2, that moves the deadline to Sept. 1.

Even if Democrats keep their plan to nominate Biden before the convention through a virtual process, they can always change their mind later if he withdraws, said Elaine Kamarck, author of “Primary Politics: Everything You Need to Know about How America Nominates Its Presidential Candidates."

“Too much is being made about that. Once the convention meets, it can do whatever it wants to do,” said Kamarck, who also serves as a delegate.

The party could set up a process for nominating a replacement and pass rules through a roll-call vote. If Biden withdrew after a convention vote, the party could still find a replacement through a party committee vote, Kamarck said. Voters are technically electing a set of electors, meaning the ballot would not need to change, she said. Republicans have signaled they would probably sue in that event.

Times staff writer Seema Mehta contributed to this report.

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This story originally appeared in Los Angeles Times.