July 24th, 2024

After Supreme Court immunity ruling, Biden draws sharp contrast with Trump on obeying rule of law

By Colleen Long And Will Weissert, The Associated Press on July 1, 2024.

WASHINGTON (AP) – President Joe Biden is seeking to put the focus squarely onto Donald Trump following his uneven debate performance last week.

Speaking Monday after the U.S. Supreme Court ruling granting broad immunity from prosecution to Trump and other presidents, Biden said the high court’s ruling had undermined the rule of law. The court’s conservative majority ruling makes it all but certain that the Republican will not face trial in Washington ahead of the November election over his actions during the violent riot on Jan. 6, 2021.

“No one is above the law, not even the president of the United States,” Biden said from the White House.

During his brief remarks he made no mention of last week’s debate or his performance, and did not take questions.

Biden seemed relaxed and confident, striking a clear and crisp tone and looking tanned and rested – all of which was in stark contrast to his often halting performance during last week’s debate, when his face was notably pale. The president also had the benefit of a teleprompter for his remarks about the court, something he didn’t have while facing off with Trump.

“I know I will respect the limits of presidential power as I have for the three-and-a-half years, but any president, including Donald Trump, will now be free to ignore the law,” Biden said.

For all the public efforts to shift the focus away from his uneven performance that spooked donors and prompted Democratic anxiety, there have been private discussions on what more Biden could do to counteract what Americans saw during the debate, when he gave convoluted answers, trailed off at times, occasionally stared blankly and sounded raspy-voiced.

There has been talk about whether Biden should be seen more in public through town-hall-style events or interviews and press conferences, which he has generally avoided during his time in office.

But most in his orbit are waiting on more substantial polling to come back in order to assess how bad the damage was before altering course in any substantial way. That’s according to four Biden advisers who were not authorized to speak publicly about internal discussions and spoke to The Associated Press on condition of anonymity.

Biden’s team may not alter anything at all. Many think – or hope – the fraught moment will pass, particularly after Biden’s family encouraged him to stay in the race and keep fighting during a huddle at Camp David on Sunday.

Campaign officials said Monday they had nothing to announce on new events. They said Biden would be campaigning as he has been, hitting battleground states as he has already been doing for months.

An ad released Monday was called “I Know” using clips from Biden’s post-debate North Carolina rally, where he said, “When you get knocked down, you get back up.”

Quentin Fulks, Biden’s principal deputy campaign manager, put the focus on Trump in a call with reporters, saying, “When you do see President Biden out on the trail, he will be talking about the reasons why Americans should be scared of Donald Trump, as he has been for months.”

Even before the debate, the age of the 81-year-old Democratic president had been a liability with voters, and the prime-time faceoff put the issue front-and-center before perhaps the largest audience he will have in the four months until Election Day. CNN, which held the debate, said more than 51 million people watched.

“I think his age was baked in, to a large degree, and I know he can do better than he did on Thursday night. I expected to see better. I’m not sure other voters did,” said Jennifer Palmieri, a White House communications director during the Obama administration and a spokesperson for Hillary Clinton’s 2016 campaign.

She added that, tactically, the campaign has responded by promoting Biden’s strong speech in North Carolina on Friday and by continuing to post strong fundraising numbers. Palmieri also said Biden might also want to sit for more interviews to continue to show that the debate was an anomaly.

“Their focus needs to be on getting him in front of voters that matter the most, and more interviews should be part of that. Don’t be like Trump in your own little universe,” she said. “For now, we’re early, but what they’re doing is working.”

There’s a sense that voters may now be watching Biden more closely for signs that show one way or another whether his debate debacle was a blip – whether he is, as he says, capable of doing the job.

Alan Kessler, a lawyer and member of the Biden campaign’s national finance team, has spent days calming jittery donors, telling them what he says he has personally witnessed when he’s seen the president – that he’s “lucid, strong as he’s always been.”

“To the extent it’s necessary, I’m reassuring people,” Kessler said.

Rebecca Katz, a strategist who worked with Democratic Pennsylvania Sen. John Fetterman’s winning campaign in 2022, saw potential parallels in Fetterman’s comeback from a shaky debate performance after he had a stroke.

Fetterman’s team highlighted especially bombastic comments his opponent made about abortion during that debate, and also had the candidate travel extensively afterward. He did lots of local television interviews to ensure voters in key markets saw him outside of clips from the debate.

“It’s not a perfect comparison but there is a blueprint for the Biden campaign,” Katz said. “You can have a rough debate night and still win.”

Biden expressed interest in doing at least one interview. At a Saturday fundraiser in East Hampton, New York, Biden said he had spoken with the broadcaster Howard Stern, who had interviewed him in April, where he answered open-ended questions mostly about his early years.

The president told the crowd he was ready for another sit-down with Stern, saying: “I had a great time on his show. And I’m actually going to take a chance in going back.”

The Democratic National Committee and Biden’s campaign, meanwhile, kept up damage control, holding an evening finance call. Over the weekend, they held calls with donors and one with dozens of committee members across the country – some of the most influential members of the party. They offered a rosy assessment of the path forward and gave no opportunity for others on the call to ask questions.

Multiple committee members on the weekend call, most granted anonymity to talk about the private discussion, described feeling like they were being asked to ignore a serious predicament.

Campaign officials have said there was no discussion “whatsoever” of Biden exiting the race nor of any staff shakeups following the debate.

Democratic Sen. Bob Casey of Pennsylvania said he thought voters were more concerned with the issues at stake, anyway. “I’ve been at this a while, and I know his work,” Casey said.

The window of opportunity for that is shrinking anyway. The Democratic National Committee has announced that it will use a virtual roll call to formally make him the nominee before the convention begins in Chicago on Aug. 19. But when that will happen and what it will look like is still unclear.


Associated Press Writers Josh Boak, Michael Rubinkam in Scranton, Pa., and Thomas Beaumont in Des Moinse, Iowa contributed to this report.

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