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Jen Psaki: Here’s why the debate over Joe Biden’s future is so important

In World
July 10, 2024
Jen Psaki: Here’s why the debate over Joe Biden’s future is so important

This is an adapted excerpt from the July 8 episode of “Inside with Jen Psaki.”

President Joe Biden has come out fighting. It all started with his letter to congressional Democrats on Monday, vowing to stay in the race. Less than an hour later, the president was on the phone with our friends at “Morning Joe” doubling down on that promise. If this is a stare-down, and in many ways it is, Biden isn’t blinking.

As the president keeps a busy schedule, traveling to swing states and meeting with world leaders at the NATO summit, Donald Trump has been virtually out of sight since the debate. We’re seeing a defiant Biden and a virtually silent Trump. Even so, there are daily reminders of the threat the former president poses and the importance of defeating him. The thing is, there’s no universal agreement right now on who is the best person to do that.

The clock is ticking, that’s just a fact. The Democratic National Convention is just a few weeks away and the election is in four months. On Monday, I spoke to two Democratic senators, John Fetterman of Pennsylvania and Chris Murphy of Connecticut, who have slightly different views on the right path forward. Fetterman has been arguably the president’s fiercest defender since the debate, joining Biden on his campaign swing through Pennsylvania. And then there’s Murphy, who’s been open about how Biden needs to do more to reassure the public. Two Democratic senators, both patriots who love their country and love the president, and who just happen to be answering the same question a little bit differently right now. And guess what? That’s OK.

Disagreement is a sign of a healthy democracy. Disagreement is what Trump and the Republican Party want to get rid of in this country. While good faith actors in the Democratic Party openly discuss the best path forward, Republicans are blindly defending everything a man convicted of 34 felonies says and does.

And that blind loyalty means everything is on the line in this election: women’s rights, the Supreme Court, the rule of law and, yes, democracy itself. The prospect of a criminally immune criminal in the most powerful office in the world is on the line. Fetterman knows that, and so does Murphy. Biden’s closest advisers know that, and, yes, the people calling on him to drop out of the race know that, too.

We know winning has never been more important than it is this November. We know losing is not an option. It’s because the stakes are so high that there’s disagreement about how we get there.

No one in the Democratic Party is disputing that Biden is an incredibly decent and empathetic human being. When I met with him for the first time about the White House press secretary job, his biggest focus was on whether I could play a role in returning civility and respect for the media to the briefing room. He didn’t want shouting matches or accusations. He wanted to restore dignity to the office. That’s who he is.

He is a person who asks about your kids and your family. A person who, when I was there two years ago, was so relentless that he would keep meetings going in the Oval Office for hours. He cares deeply about the country. He ran not for fame or fortune, and certainly not to keep himself out of jail but because he is a person who believes in public service and in making the lives of others better. He wants to help the guy from Scranton he talks to after church who feels left behind and forgotten. Representing those people is his calling, and that’s what has always driven him to run for office.

He was the uniter when the country needed it. He was the comforter-in-chief when people were mourning loved ones lost to Covid. It’s not just that he has defied the odds repeatedly in his career, including when he ran for president in 2020, landing in fourth place in Iowa and still coming back to win the nomination and defeat Trump. It’s not just that he forged ahead in pursuing bipartisan legislation at a time when most people said that was malarkey, as he might say; it’s that he did it through hard work, relationship building and compromise — a part of governing that’s largely been lost in Washington.

If you’re sitting there reading all of this and feel angry, I get it. If you feel frustrated, I get that, too. Biden is a good man who has been a great president and pushed forward an impressive agenda. That’s just a fact. But this discussion right now is not about that. It’s not about whether he defied the odds in 2020. He did. Or whether he defied the odds during his first term. He did. It’s not about whether he would stand up for democracy. He would. It’s whether he is the right person to defeat Donald Trump.

We don’t know at this moment exactly where voters stand on that question, and they are ultimately the only ones that matter. There are legitimate questions, and it isn’t only rich donors and coastal elites who are asking them. I worked for him, I respect him and I care about him deeply, but if I told you that every question being asked is unfair, I wouldn’t be respecting you. I’m not going to do that.

Yes, the president and his team came out fighting. He was defiant — a sign of vigor that is important in this moment, but that’s not his most effective message. This election will be won not by someone who simply name-calls Trump but by someone who can articulate clearly to the American public that Trump is not fighting for them. He is fighting for himself. Biden has done that effectively and can do it effectively.

But the man I saw on that debate stage in Atlanta was not the person I worked for more than two years ago: a person who switched between spontaneous calls to members of Congress and to foreign leaders, who grilled policy people for more answers and harangued spokespeople for speaking in acronyms. That was not the person we all saw.

So maybe it was just one bad night, but the president will have to keep answering questions and convincing skeptics he’s up to the job. He has started that process, with interviews and campaign events, and there’s a big test coming up Thursday with a solo press conference after the NATO summit. Everything he does will be scrutinized. So while defiance is a start, defiance alone will not win back every supporter he needs, and neither will denial about the reality right now.

This article was originally published on MSNBC.com

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