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Biden campaigns in Pa. as some Democrats plead with him to consider dropping out

President Biden attends Mount Airy Church of God in Christ in Philadelphia on July 7 as he campaigns to salvage his reelection bid. Senior Democrats are meeting to talk about the race.
Saul Loeb/AFP via Getty Images
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AFP
President Biden attends Mount Airy Church of God in Christ in Philadelphia on July 7 as he campaigns to salvage his reelection bid. Senior Democrats are meeting to talk about the race.

Updated July 07, 2024 at 17:58 PM ET

PHILADELPHIA — President Biden campaigned in the critical swing state of Pennsylvania on Sunday as he pushes to demonstrate he has what it takes to run a forceful reelection bid, even as some Democrats took to television to say he should strongly consider dropping out of the race, and others met privately to express their concerns.

Biden, 81, has said that only "the Lord Almighty" could convince him to step back from his campaign for a second term after he badly faltered in a debate with former President Donald Trump — a performance that alarmed Democrats worried about his ability to run, win and govern.

He has been trying to show that his debate flub was just one bad night and not a sign of something more serious. He started his series of retail campaign stops at Sunday services at Mount Airy Church of God in Christ, where a praise band belted out the worship song, "I need you to survive," and Bishop J. Louis Felton led a call-and-response for Biden, and urged unity.

President Biden lifts his arms in praise during a service at Mount Airy Church of God in Christ in Philadelphia on July 7, 2024.
Saul Loeb/AFP via Getty Images / AFP
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AFP
President Biden lifts his arms in praise during a service at Mount Airy Church of God in Christ in Philadelphia on July 7, 2024.

"Forgive us for allowing the enemy to drive wedges between us," Felton prayed. "Because if we ever lock arms and come together, there's no election that we cannot win."

Later, Biden stopped at a campaign field office where he gave some high-energy unscripted remarks about economic issues important to voters, like grocery and insulin prices.

"Dark Brandon’s coming back," Biden said to the group of about 150 cheering volunteers — referring a superhero-like meme his campaign uses to mock his opponents. "And guess what: in the next 120-some days or so, they are going to get a real good look at who Donald Trump is," he said.

Then he flew to Harrisburg, where he spoke at a campaign event in the baking hot courtyard of a union hall, again speaking without notes.

"We are on the cusp of getting so much done," he said. Afterward, he shook dozens of hands and took selfies, Gloria Gaynor anthem "I will survive" pumping in the background.

Biden was flanked by Sen. John Fetterman and Rep. Madeleine Dean at the stops. "There is only one person in the country that's ever kicked Trump’s ass in an election —and that is your president," Fetterman said. "He’s going to do it twice."

President Biden speaks to supporters and volunteers in the courtyard of a union hall in Harrisburg, Pa., on July 7 — one of a few stops he made in the states as he worked to demonstrate that he still has what it takes to campaign.
Saul Loeb/AFP via Getty Images / AFP
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AFP
President Biden speaks to supporters and volunteers in the courtyard of a union hall in Harrisburg, Pa., on July 7 — one of a few stops he made in the states as he worked to demonstrate that he still has what it takes to campaign.

On his way out of town, Biden stopped at a coffee shop to catch up with Gov. Josh Shapiro, who has beenlauded as a potential future Democratic presidential candidate.

Top House Democrats met on Sunday. Some said Biden should go

Democratic leaders in the House convened a virtual meeting on Sunday. Multiple senior House Democrats said Biden should step aside, according to several sources familiar with the discussion to spoke on condition of anonymity to discuss the details of the private conversation.

Some Democrats went on Sunday morning political talk shows. Rep. Adam Schiff, D-Calif., said he wants Biden to "seek out people with some distance and objectivity" as he weighs his decision. He noted that an interview Biden did with ABC on Friday "didn't put concerns to rest" about his candidacy — particularly Biden's assertion that — even if he loses to Trump in November — what matters most is that he gives it his all.

"This is not just about whether he gave it the best college try, but rather whether he made the right decision to run or to pass the torch," Schiff told NBC's Meet the Press. He also said he thinks Vice President Harris could beat Trump if Biden decides to step back.

But Rep. Debbie Dingell, D-Mich., said she heard from voters during the Independence Day break that Biden should stay in. "I had people in parades shout at me, 'Tell him to stay — we have his back,'" she told CNN's State of the Union. "I really do think that as much as you're hearing a lot of different opinions from other people, that's what's happening," she said.

Some Democratic voters think Biden should stay. Others want him to go

Biden faces a critical week in Washington, as his party's lawmakers return to Congress — and world leaders come to the city for a NATO summit, where Biden is set to give a rare solo press conference, where he will be faced with answering more questions about his age and abilities.

 Tom Brush, 90, is a long-time Democratic voter in Ann Arbor, Mich., who thinks President Biden should step aside for the good of the party.
Rick Pluta/MNPR /
Tom Brush, 90, is a long-time Democratic voter in Ann Arbor, Mich., who thinks President Biden should step aside for the good of the party.

On Friday, Biden heads to Michigan to campaign, hitting the third "Blue Wall" state in a week, after Pennsylvania on Sunday and Wisconsin on Friday. These three states are seen as critical to a Democratic victory in November.

In Ann Arbor, Mich., Tom Brush called the current state of the Democratic race "a sad moment," explaining he doubts whether Biden can make it through the election and had hoped the president would voluntarily step aside for the good of the party — perhaps for Michigan Gov. Gretchen Whitmer.

"My experience is that people can reach a stage in their life when they're not as vital as they once were," said Brush, 90, a long-time Democratic voter, in an interview at his home.

In Suffolk, Va., museum curator Terry Miller said she supports Biden, but thinks it is time for someone from the Democratic bench to be the candidate, like Vice President Harris.

"What I don't want for (Biden) is for us to engage in perpetual wishful thinking," said Miller, 65, who was attending a campaign event for Sen. Tim Kaine, D-Va. (Kaine has said that he supports Biden and whatever decision he makes.)

"What I would love for him is to be the older statesman, the person that you go to for advice when you need something," Miller told NPR.

But back in Philadelphia, Katie Decker — a campaign volunteer who heard the president speak just before heading out to knock on doors — said she has become a Biden fan since 2020 because of his legislative accomplishments. She wants him to stay in the race.

"This isn't the time to swap out, even if we wanted to, and historically, it would be a really bad idea if we did," Decker told NPR, saying she'd like to see a Harris-Buttigieg ticket — in 2028.

Copyright 2024 NPR

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Tamara Keith has been a White House correspondent for NPR since 2014 and co-hosts the NPR Politics Podcast, the top political news podcast in America. Keith has chronicled the Trump administration from day one, putting this unorthodox presidency in context for NPR listeners, from early morning tweets to executive orders and investigations. She covered the final two years of the Obama presidency, and during the 2016 presidential campaign she was assigned to cover Hillary Clinton. In 2018, Keith was elected to serve on the board of the White House Correspondents' Association.