Joe Biden faces TV grilling as more Democrats join George Clooney in urging he pull out

Joe Biden faces TV grilling as more Democrats join George Clooney in urging he pull out

Joe Biden on Thursday night faces a live TV audition in front of a swelling number of Democratic critics at the end of a Nato summit that has been overshadowed by doubts about the 81-year-old president’s staying power.

Sir Keir Starmer and other leaders from the 32-nation alliance have spent two days trying to thrash out mechanisms to guarantee support for Ukraine, in part to guard against the risk of Donald Trump upending Western stability if he beats Mr Biden in November.

That risk has grown acute enough for Democratic donor George Clooney to add his Hollywood star power to calls from some senior legislators in Congress for the president to bow out of the race.

Peter Welch from Vermont warned “the stakes could not be higher” as he became the first Democratic senator to call explicitly for Mr Biden’s withdrawal.

Influential former House Speaker Nancy Pelosi said “time is running short”, while Senate Majority Leader Chuck Schumer has reportedly been airing his own doubts in private even as he stands by the president in public.

Mr Biden appeared relaxed at a friendly Oval Office meeting with Sir Keir on Wednesday, when the president and new Labour Prime Minister reaffirmed their determination to back Ukraine against Russia.

A different order of test awaits at 1030pm UK time when, at the conclusion of the Nato summit, Mr Biden faces his first news conference since his disastrous debate performance against Mr Trump last month.

The three days of summitry in Washington have already tested the president’s stamina with a crowded schedule of formal meetings, informal encounters and diplomatic dinners.

At his talks with Sir Keir, Mr Biden shrugged off questions from reporters about Mr Clooney’s dramatic intervention, when the actor and director said the president was a shadow of the man he supported in 2020 and even compared to a fundraising dinner he hosted three weeks ago.

The president will find it harder to ignore sustained questioning about his future at Thursday night’s unscripted joust with the White House and foreign press corps.

It will be only the 15th time he has held a solo news conference, and the first time since November 2023. Back then, it lasted just 21 minutes.

Mr Biden has remained defiant since the debate, vowing that only the “Lord Almighty” can force him out of his rematch against the Republican candidate.

But with the Democrats’ nominating convention in Chicago fast approaching in just over a month, the number of party colleagues in Congress wanting him out has now reached double digits.

Senator Welch wrote in a Washington Post opinion piece: “We cannot unsee President Biden’s disastrous debate performance.”

Ms Pelosi, who remains Democratic royalty, was not as direct but brushed aside Mr Biden’s repeated insistence that he will stay in the race.

“I want him to do whatever he decides to do,” she said on MSNBC. “We’re all encouraging him to make that decision, because time is running short.”

But Representative Ilhan Omar (Minnesota) urged the party to stay focused, stressing: “Everything we value as Democrats, as a country, is on the line, and we have to stop being distracted.”