'I don't debate as well as I used to': Biden tries to move on from his tough debate at an energized rally (2024)

RALEIGH, N.C. — President Joe Biden tried to turn his disappointing debate performance into a rallying cry for his supporters at an event on Friday, painting himself as down but not out as some in his party whisper about replacing him atop the ticket.

"I know I'm not a young man. I don't walk as easy as I used to. I don’t speak as smoothly as I used to. I don’t debate as well as I used to, but I know what I do know — I know how to tell the truth!" an energetic Biden said, nodding at the criticism he received following Thursday night's debate while contrasting it with assessments about the accuracy of several statements by former President Donald Trump.

'I don't debate as well as I used to': Biden tries to move on from his tough debate at an energized rally (1)

"When you get knocked down, you get back up," Biden yelled, to a cheering crowd.

"I intend to win this state in November," Biden said about North Carolina. "We win here, we win the election."

The campaign event, in a state that hasn’t voted Democrat for a presidential candidate since Barack Obama in 2008, comes after what many political observers and some Democrats have said was a poor debate performance by Biden Thursday night against former President Donald Trump.

The president’s weak energy level and hoarse, raspy during Thursday’s debate voice sent some Democrats into a tailspin, worried that a week of prep at Camp David had produced a lackluster performance.

There were moments when Biden, 81, froze during the debate, appearing to lose his train of thought and times when he tripped over his words, though he has struggled with a stutter his entire life.

About last night, Biden said on Friday, "I spent 90 minutes on the stage and debated the guy who has the morals of an alley cat."

Though he coughed at times during Friday's remarks, Biden's demeanor was more lively, delivering attack lines and riling up the crowd.

Biden said that when he thought about Trump's 34 felony convictions, his sexual assault on E. Jean Carroll, and being fined millions of dollars for business fraud, "I thought to myself, Donald Trump isn't just a convicted felon — Donald Trump is a one-man crime wave."

A senior Biden adviser said the campaign team worked closely with the president Friday morning to draft his closing remarks in Raleigh about the debate. It was not, the adviser said, a response to negative coverage or the calls growing in the party for him to consider stepping aside. Biden, the adviser said, knows full well he didn’t deliver the performance he needed to last night and knew he needed to directly address it Friday.

First lady Jill Biden, donning a black dress that said "vote" all over it in white letters, delivered remarks before her husband and touted the president's strength and ability to lead.

"Even though he has faced unimaginable tragedies, his optimism is undaunted, his strength is unshakable, his hope is undeterred," she said. "And over the last few years. Joe has helped heal our country, helping us all recover from the chaos of the last administration."

"We don’t choose our chapter in history, but we can choose who leads us through it," she continued. "What you saw last night on the debate stage was Joe Biden — a president with integrity and character who told the truth and Donald Trump told lie after lie after lie."

North Carolina Gov. Roy Cooper, a Democrat, said on stage that there are 130 days before "the biggest election of our lifetime."

"I know that tensions are high right now, but this election is not just about what kind of president we want to have. This election is about what kind of country we want to be," said Cooper, who asked the crowd if they wanted to be in "Donald Trump's America." Eventually, the audience began chanting "lock him up!"

At the event, several Biden supporters acknowledged his lackluster performance but defended him.

"It wasn’t his best night, but he’s a better president," said John Burns. "He’s a better man, and he’s going to get my vote and my work for the next five months."

"When you look at the totality of what he’s done for our country and what he means for us, then I think that you walk away looking at not just one moment in time, but his contributions to our nation and to our society," Tara Winters said.

Another supporter, David Tillem, said that advisers should "pace" the campaign better. "Who else is there? That’s the question. He’s the one who’s been out front. Can he do it? Yeah," he said about Biden. "Is he going to be running his ass into the ground campaigning? Probably should pace it better."

While Biden embarks on post-debate campaign travel, his supporters are quietly fretting in Washington.

Some Democrats, who spoke to NBC News anonymously, began calling after the debate for Biden to withdraw from the 2024 presidential race so that the Democratic Party could nominate a new candidate.

Other Democrats who spoke publicly reiterated their support for Biden. California Gov. Gavin Newsom, a potential future presidential candidate, told MSNBC immediately following the debate that Democrats shouldn’t be panicking.

“I think it’s unhelpful and I think it’s unnecessary. We’ve got to go in, we got to keep our heads high, and as I say, we’ve got to have the back of this president,” he said. “You don’t turn your back because of one performance. What kind of party does that?”

He added, “Democrats delivered. This president has delivered. We need to deliver for him at this moment.”

Pennsylvania Gov. Josh Shapiro, another possible future Democratic presidential candidate, admitted in an interview Friday morning on MSNBC’s “Morning Joe” that Biden didn’t do well last night, but stressed that Democrats should “stop worrying.”

“I’ve had the opportunity to work closely with both the former president and President Biden, and you know what I can tell you, Joe Biden is up to the job,” he said.

Gabe Gutierrez and Mike Memoli reported from Raleigh, N.C., and Rebecca Shabad, Jonathan Allen and Kelly O'Donnell reported from Washington.

'I don't debate as well as I used to': Biden tries to move on from his tough debate at an energized rally (2)

Gabe Gutierrez

Gabe Gutierrez is a senior White House correspondent for NBC News.

Rebecca Shabad

Rebecca Shabad is a politics reporter for NBC News based in Washington.

Mike Memoli

Mike Memoli is an NBC News correspondent.

Jonathan Allen


Kelly O'Donnell



'I don't debate as well as I used to': Biden tries to move on from his tough debate at an energized rally (2024)


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