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Biden: ‘No one’s pushing me out’

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President Joe Biden unexpectedly joined a Zoom call with campaign and Democratic National Committee staff on Wednesday, mounting a new push to preserve the viability of his embattled candidacy, according to two people on the call.

Amid reports that Biden is privately acknowledging to allies that his candidacy is hanging in the balance, the president stated that he’s in the race for the long haul, though he conceded that the days since last week’s debate with former President Donald Trump have been damaging, according to two people on the call who were granted anonymity to discuss the sensitive matter.

“Let me say this as clearly as I possibly can — as simply and straightforward as I can: I am running … no one’s pushing me out. I’m not leaving. I’m in this race to the end and we’re going to win,” Biden said on the call.

Biden’s forcefulness and resolve, especially compared to how he came across during last week’s debate, was as reassuring to several attendees, who discussed the call afterward via text message, as what he said.

Vice President Kamala Harris, whose profile has risen in recent days as Democrats focus on her with new seriousness as a possible replacement atop the ticket, was seated beside Biden on the video call.

“We will not back down,” Harris said. “We will follow our president’s lead. We will fight, and we will win.”

The president thanked everyone working on his campaign and reminded them of what’s at stake. “There is no one I’d rather be in this battle with than all of you,” Biden said. “So let’s link arms. Let’s get this done. You, me, the vice president. Together.”

The Biden campaign has been trying to reassure staffers, donors and allies in recent days that the president’s campaign is not doomed after his disastrous debate performance. The president joined that Wednesday call amid reports of plummeting staff morale in the White House as well as his Wilmington campaign headquarters. He phoned top Democrats in Congress earlier Wednesday, and he was also scheduled to meet in the evening with Democratic governors — some of whom have traveled from across the country to attend the gathering in person rather than virtually.

Although most Democrats are still publicly standing behind him, there have been some cracks in Biden’s support. Rep. Lloyd Doggett (D-Texas) called on Biden to drop out of the race on Tuesday, and Rep. Jim Clyburn (D-S.C.), a key ally of the president, said in an interview with MSNBC that he would back Harris if Biden steps aside.

Biden’s inner circle and the president himself understand the extraordinarily high stakes before them over the next few days, according to three people familiar with internal conversations but not authorized to discuss them publicly.

Many Democrats, however, have been frustrated that Biden hasn’t been more visible or active in the days following the debate, questioning whether he truly appreciates the sudden precarity of his campaign or is capable of a more convincing response. At Wednesday’s briefing, press secretary Karine Jean-Pierre dismissed those concerns, suggesting that Biden’s speech last Friday in North Carolina, where he acknowledged his age and shaky performance, was sufficient.

“He did address it,” she said. “He took it head on.”

In talks with family members and close aides, there has been no discussion of abandoning the reelection bid, the three people said. But Biden and his inner circle understand that the next week needs to go well. Among the key moments on the horizon: campaign appearances in the battleground states of Pennsylvania and Wisconsin and, most of all, an ABC interview scheduled to be taped Friday.

Although some Democratic lawmakers and operatives are calling for him to step aside, Biden and his senior team believe that a strong stretch can save them. If things go badly, then, they believe, the campaign could be in further jeopardy, the three people said.

Biden has told a few close confidants he knows those moments will be key in efforts to hold off further calls for him to abandon his reelection bid, according to two of the people familiar with internal conversations. Democrats in Congress, many of whom have been holding private conversations about when to publicly call for Biden to abandon his campaign, are currently on recess but return to Washington next week.

Small differences are also starting to emerge within Biden’s family, according to two of the people. First lady Jill Biden and the president’s son Hunter Biden are dead-set on the campaign going forward. Biden’s sister, Valerie, is also supportive but has expressed more worry about the toll it could take on her brother’s health and legacy, according to the two people.

On Wednesday afternoon, chief of staff Jeff Zients also held a call with White House staffers and urged them to tune out the “chatter” and “noise,” according to a recording shared with POLITICO. Zients argued that “there have been countless times that the president has been counted out,” but that he has “always seen it through.”

Some staffers had grumbled in recent days about the president’s senior team having not convened such a call earlier. Zients, in addressing the staff, said he’s eager to hear from anyone in the building when they have concerns or feedback.

Minutes after Biden and Zients wrapped their calls, The New York Times and Siena College published their much anticipated post-debate survey, which found that Trump now leads Biden 49 percent to 43 percent among likely voters nationally — a 3-point shift from before the debate.