Frustrated Top Senate Dem Says Voters Need ‘Unscripted’ Biden

Bill Clark/CQ-Roll Call, Inc via Getty Images
Bill Clark/CQ-Roll Call, Inc via Getty Images

As he exited Senate Democrats’ weekly lunch, at which members intensely debated President Biden’s prospects, Sen. Ron Wyden of Oregon had a simple message for the embattled commander-in-chief: Get out there, Joe.

“I think it’s clear right now, that the kinds of discussions that I suggested a long time ago—unscripted town halls, people looking him in the eye—that’s what I think the country’s hungry for,” Wyden said as he left the lunch, making his way through an unusually large throng of reporters.

Like other Democrats, he was pressed for his views on whether Biden should stay in the race against Donald Trump. And in what has become a standard line, he provided no clear answer.

But Wyden was visibly annoyed that his suggestion had been disregarded by Biden and his advisers, pointing out that he had offered the advice “some time ago.” People wanted to see the president “unscripted,” he said, not reverting to “answers written by somebody else”—an apparent reference to the recent revelation that the Biden campaign had fed questions to a Philadelphia reporter who interviewed the president following last month’s disastrous debate performance.

What happens if Biden flops again? “I’ve sure stumbled plenty in these kinds of things,” Wyden offered. “It’s no fun, but that’s how people walk away and say, ‘Real person.’”

Weepy Democrats Won’t Push Out Biden Today–Or Maybe Ever

But at least one member of Congress on Tuesday wasn’t willing to tolerate the prospect of any more presidential stumbles. Rep. Mikie Sherrill (D-NJ) called on Biden to end his campaign, saying in a statement, “I am asking that he declare that he won’t run for reelection and will help lead us through a process toward a new nominee.”

The Biden campaign rejected the notion that there was a dichotomy between scripted events like rallies and unscripted ones, like the town halls Wyden had in mind. “Why does one have to come at cost of other?” spokesman Kevin Munoz wondered in an email. Time is limited, however, and Democrats are desperate for reassurance.

The White House pointed to statements by Karine Jean-Pierre, the White House press secretary. In recent days, she has been bluntly asked by reporters why, if the president is as mentally astute as those around him claim, he has so rarely engaged with reporters or supporters without the help of a teleprompter or note cards.

“In those two and a half days or so after the debate, he went to four states and engaged with supporters, engaged with American people, everyday people, heard directly from them,” Jean-Pierre said on July 2, at the first post-debate White House briefing. While it is true that the president did continue to campaign after the debacle in Atlanta, those have not been the kinds of impromptu interactions that could dispel—or deepen—concerns about whether the president is fit to campaign (a 22-minute interview with George Stephanopoulos of ABC News was the sole exception).

“Look, it is not unusual for a president to use a teleprompter,” Jean-Pierre said the following day. “It isn’t. It is not unusual. That is something that presidents have done in the past.” Once again, the answer failed to account for growing concerns that even many steadfast Democrats worry the White House has been too quick to dismiss.

Biden has kept a notably low profile during his presidency. According to the American Presidency Project, Biden has only held an average of 10.5 press conferences per year, about half the number of press conferences conducted by his immediate predecessors, Donald Trump and Barack Obama.

Biden is scheduled to hold a press conference on Thursday, following NATO meetings in Washington. While the event will be a major test, only a stellar performance will quell rising doubts about his mental fitness.

Known in an earlier age for the gift of gab, Biden seems to chafe at the constraints White House advisers have placed around him. According to Politico, he recently told Democratic governors that he wanted to do precisely the kind of events Wyden has been urging.

So far, though, the president remains largely out of sight.

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