Biden has privately acknowledged next stretch of days are critical for whether he can save his reelection bid

President Joe Biden has privately acknowledged that the next stretch of days are critical to whether he can save his reelection bid for president, making clear to an ally Tuesday that he understands what would prompt him to accept: “It’s just not working.”

“He sees the moment. He’s clear-eyed,” this person told CNN.

There is no ambiguity for the president about what potential series of events in the coming weeks would ultimately prompt him to acknowledge that his attempt to make amends for last week’s disastrous debate on CNN aren’t working, according to this ally.

It would be a scenario in which “the polls are plummeting, the fundraising is drying up, and the interviews are going badly,” they said. “He’s not oblivious.”

In response to a request for comment, White House spokesman Andrew Bates said that “it is false to suggest there is any openness to ending the campaign.”

In the days since Biden’s stunningly halting debate showing, Democrats across the country have expressed grave concern. Some elected officials have even begun to publicly call on Biden to drop out for the good of the party.

The New York Times reported separately on Wednesday that Biden acknowledged that he may not be able to save his campaign if he does not perform well in public events over the next several days. The White House and Biden’s campaign have denied that reporting.

In Tuesday’s private conversation, Biden was also “chastened” as he “blamed himself” – not his staff – for the debate performance.

“He said: ‘I have done way too much foreign policy,’” this person said. “He said to me: ‘I have over done it. I did too much travel. I did too much back and forth. I did too much time change. I had a cold. That was a mistake.’”

Biden was referring to his back-to-back trips to France and Italy right before the debate, even though he had nearly two weeks between his return on June 15 from Italy for the G7 meeting and the debate on June 27, according to a CNN review of his schedule.

But as much as Biden suggested that the jet lag and exhaustion from his travels had been detrimental, he also signaled that he wanted to put the debate in the rearview mirror in his conversation with the ally.

And at one point in their conversation, Biden asked this person for advice – and then there was silence, the person told CNN, as the president waited for input.

But even in the highest levels of Biden’s own administration, serious doubt is starting to set in about whether the president will be able to ride this one out.

A senior Biden administration official speaking on the condition of anonymity told CNN that they personally view the current trend of the gradual erosion of support for Biden among Democrats as “waves crashing into the shore.”

“First it’s the donors. And then it’s elected officials. Now it’s going to be polling. It just breaks down the resistance,” they said. “There’s a group that started small and is getting bigger and bigger.”

The senior official said Biden would likely need some time to “reconcile” the “pull and the push” as he navigates and digests the coming days and hears from those who believe he should dig in, as well as others who will tell him to step aside for the good of the party. Two sitting House Democrats have so far called on the president to abandon his reelection bid.

Where Biden’s family will end up is an important unknowable at the moment, the official added: “I can’t tell you how defiant the family is going to be, which is a big factor.”

The president said at a fundraiser in Virginia Tuesday night that going on two significant foreign trips right before the debate had been a bad idea.

During that fundraiser, Biden joked that he “almost fell asleep onstage” during the debate last week and blamed his poor performance on his grueling travel schedule, according to pool reports.

“I decided to travel around the world a couple of times … shortly before the debate … I didn’t listen to my staff … and then I almost fell asleep onstage,” Biden said during the fundraiser. The remark was met with brief laughter from those in attendance, according to a recording of the president’s remarks.

Multiple reporters who were in the room said that they believed the “fell asleep” line appeared intended to be a joke and that Biden was trying to make light of the situation in a self-deprecating way, but it did not land, in their view.

Since the debate, Biden has faced one of the toughest stretches of his presidency and his reelection campaign is reeling. Campaign officials are scrambling to calm donors who were shocked by Biden’s performance. The White House announced that Biden is expected to meet with Democratic governors and congressional leaders Wednesday after some demanded a meeting with the president. Some officials have been turned off by the Biden campaign’s dismissiveness over their concerns about the president’s health. On Tuesday, a Democratic member of Congress became the first to publicly ask Biden to drop out of the race.

Biden and Vice President Kamala Harris called into the Biden campaign’s all-staff call on Wednesday, a source familiar with the call said.

The source described it as a “pep talk” in which Biden and Harris detailed the stakes of the election.

Biden reiterated that when one gets knocked down, they need to get back up, a familiar refrain from the past week, and said, “Let’s go win this,” the source said.

Biden “acknowledged the tough past few days and said unequivocally to his team he is running for reelection and he is going to beat Donald Trump,” another source familiar with the call told CNN.

“I’m in this race to the end and we’re going to win because when Democrats unite, we will always win. Just as we beat Donald Trump in 2020, we’re going to beat him again in 2024,” Biden told his team, according to that source.

Harris, who is dismissing calls to replace Biden, told the team that she will follow Biden’s lead.

“We will not back down. We will follow our president’s lead. We will fight, and we will win,” Harris said, according to the source.

Biden concluded, according to the source: “There is no one I’d rather be in this battle with than all of you. So, let’s link arms. Let’s get this done. You, me, the vice president. Together.”

White House chief of staff Jeff Zients held a less than 10-minute all-staff call to encourage his team to tune out the chatter and press ahead with their work even as questions about Biden’s candidacy swirl, one source who participated in the call said.

Keep your “heads down, get things done, execution, execution, execution. Second, heads up – there’s so much to be proud of and there’s so much more we will do together under this president’s leadership,” Zients said, according to the source. “This team can do anything and don’t forget to have each other’s backs.”

Zients, who did not take questions on the call, told staff that the “strong campaign team” will focus on the reelection efforts while staff at the White House should focus on executing the work of the administration, the source said.

Zients decided to convene a call with White House staff in part to acknowledge the challenges of the post-debate period, a White House official said. In a previous meeting with senior staff on Friday, Zients and senior adviser Anita Dunn spoke about the president’s debate performance and the expected difficult period ahead, the official said.

On Wednesday’s call, Zients echoed the president, declaring, “When you get knocked down, you get back up.”

“That’s what he is doing and that’s what we all need to do,” he said.

This story has been updated with additional reporting.

CNN’s Betsy Klein, Arlette Saenz and Michael Williams contributed to this report.

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