Biden campaigns in Pennsylvania as his team quietly braces for more Democratic defections

PHILADELPHIA (AP) — President Joe Biden urged his supporters to stay united during a rousing black church service in critical Pennsylvania on Sunday, even as his campaign team quietly braced for growing pressure on him to abandon his re-election bid amid Intensive questions on whether he is suitable for a new term.

Speaking from a podium flanked by sunlight streaming from stained-glass windows at the Mount Airy Church of God in Christ in Northwest Philadelphia, the 81-year-old Biden laughed off concerns about his age, joking, “I know I look 40,” but “I’ve been doing this a long time.”

“I, honestly, have never been more optimistic about the future of America if we stick together,” Biden said. He did not use a teleprompter, which has become increasingly common since his disastrous debate performancebut spoke from a prepared speech.

That followed Biden participating in a Saturday call with campaign surrogates and reiterating his decision to leave the race despite an increasingly volatile political landscape. Instead, the president vowed to campaign harder and hit the road more often in the future, according to two people who spoke on condition of anonymity to discuss private conversations.

Five Democratic lawmakers have already called on him to end his re-election campaign for Novemberand more could do so in the coming days, when Congress reconvenes. An in-person meeting means more chances to discuss concerns about Biden’s ability to navigate the remaining four months of the campaign — not to mention another four years in the White House — and the real prospects of defeating the former Republican former president Donald Trump.

Biden’s campaign is quietly bracing for more Democrats who say the president should concede to another candidate in the coming days, as they talk to surrogates and call and text lawmakers to try to head off more potential desertions. They’re also asking prominent Biden supporters to speak out, hoping to nudge those with lingering concerns back on track.

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Tampa City Councilman and Democratic National Committee member Alan Clendenin said Sunday: “I believe it is in the best interest of our country and the world for President Joe Biden to step aside and allow Vice President Kamala Harris to continue his agenda as our Democratic nominee.”

And director Rob Reiner, who has helped organize glitzy Hollywood fundraisers for Biden in the past, posted on X: “It’s time for Joe Biden to resign.”

As the Democratic convention rapidly approaches approachingThe short term is especially crucial. Those who believe Biden is no longer up to the task are pleading with Democrats to replace him at the top of the ticket before, they say, it is too late.

Biden’s Friday interview with ABC has not convinced some who remain skeptical. That’s despite a weekend boost from other key Democrats who had previously raised questions but now moved to support Bidenled by Speaker Emerita Nancy Pelosi and Representative James Clyburn of South Carolina.

Democratic fundraiser Barry Goodman, a Michigan attorney, said Sunday that he still supports Biden but that if he were to step aside, he would back Harris. That’s notable given that Goodman also served as finance co-chair for both statewide campaigns of Michigan Gov. Gretchen Whitmer, who has also been mentioned as a top-of-the-ticket alternative.

“We don’t have much time,” Goodman said. “I don’t think the president is going to come out. But if he does, I think it’s Kamala.”

Biden nevertheless found an unusually friendly audience in Mount Airy, where the Rev. Louis Felton compared the president to Joseph and the biblical story of his “coat of many colors,” in which Joseph is sold into slavery in Egypt by his jealous brothers, eventually rising to prominence in Pharaoh’s kingdom and begging his brothers for help without initially recognizing him.

“Don’t ever count Joseph out,” Felton implored. Then, referring to Democrats who have called on Biden to step aside, he added: “That’s what’s happening, Mr. President. People are jealous of you. Jealous of your tenacity, jealous of your favor. Jealous of God’s hand on your life.”

That happened after Biden entered to applause and a cry of, “Let him know we are with him!”

“There is no election we can’t win,” Felton told the crowd. “We’re together because we love our president.”

He also called Biden “a fighter” and “winner” and led a prayer in which he said, “Our president is getting discouraged. But today, by your holy spirit, renew his spirit, renew his body.”

The visit gave Biden a chance to motivate African-American voters, who make up the Democrats’ largest and most loyal base of support. It also could send a message to members of the Congressional Black Caucus, whose support the president needs as he works to quell potential uprisings on Capitol Hill.

After the church service, Biden visited a campaign office in Philadelphia, where Sen. John Fetterman, a Pennsylvania Democrat who won a tough 2022 race while recovering from a stroke, delivered a powerful message of support for the president.

“There’s only one person who’s ever beaten Trump,” Fetterman said. “And he’s going to do it twice and beat him for good.”

Biden also has a meeting scheduled later with union members in Harrisburg. As he stepped off Air Force One there, the president was asked if the Democratic Party stood with him and he replied emphatically, “Yes.” He will return to Washington, where leaders of NATO countries are meeting for a three day summit from Tuesday.

Despite the sentiments of people like Fetterman, others are not entirely convinced.

Democratic Sen. Chris Murphy of Connecticut told CNN that Biden “needs to answer voters’ questions,” adding, “If he does that this week, I think he’ll be in a very good position and we can get back to what this campaign needs.”

Biden has refused to undergo independent cognitive testing, arguing that the day-to-day rigors of the presidency were evidence enough of his mental acuity. Still, California Democratic Rep. Adam Schiff told NBC on Sunday that he would be “happy to see both the president and Donald Trump take a cognitive test.”

Like some Democrats, Schiff also took aim at Biden when he suggested during the ABC interview that losing to Trump would be acceptable “as long as I do everything I can.”

“This is not just about whether he did his best in college,” Schiff said, “but rather whether he made the right decision to run for office or to pass the torch.”

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Weissert reported from Washington. Associated Press writers Zeke Miller in Washington, Michelle Price in New York, Meg Kinnard in Chapin, South Carolina, and Bill Barrow in New Orleans contributed to this report.

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