Biden team weighs July town hall, interviews to reassure voters

By Jarrett Renshaw and Stephanie Kelly

(Reuters) – U.S. President Joe Biden may increase his direct engagement with voters and journalists in upcoming weeks, hoping to reassure Democrats rattled by his dismal debate performance last week, according to two people involved in the planning.

The events could include a mix of a town hall with voters, one-on-one national interviews with prominent Washington journalists or a solo press conference where Biden would field multiple questions, said the sources, who requested anonymity to discuss internal deliberations.

July is shaping up as a critical month for Biden, 81, who is battling calls from within his own party to step out of the race after a dismal debate performance on Thursday raised new questions about his age.

The Biden administration is also hosting a crucial meeting of world leaders in Washington this month, and will be warily watching opinion polls that will detail the impact – if any – of the debate.

Meanwhile, the Republican National Convention will gather in Milwaukee in mid-July to nominate opponent Donald Trump, an event that’s likely to highlight questions about Biden’s ability to serve four more years.

“It is absolutely vital that the campaign and the White House get the president out there aggressively, get him out of the bunker, out of the bubble, get him in front of people in lots of different kinds of forums,” said Matt Bennett, who works at the think tank Third Way and who previously served in Democratic then-President Bill Clinton‘s White House.

Biden’s White House and campaign have limited the president’s one-on-one television interviews, and not granted interviews to major print or wire news outlets, including the New York Times, the Washington Post, the Wall Street Journal or Reuters since his inauguration.

Aides now believe that position is no longer tenable – at least in the short term – as political pundits and news organizations, including the Times’ editorial board, called for him to leave the race.

“Discussions for one-on-one interviews are underway,” said a source involved in the planning, who added that no final decision has been made.

Biden is also under fire to do more press conferences with groups of reporters.

Data compiled by the University of California, Santa Barbara’s nonpartisan American Presidency Project going back to the beginning of George H.W. Bush’s presidency in 1989 shows Biden has held more solo press conferences than either Donald Trump or George W. Bush in his first three years – but fewer than Bill Clinton, Barack Obama or the elder Bush.

Democratic strategists and supporters say the more ways the public could see him answer candid questions, the better.

“It would be great to see President Biden command several press conferences over the next few weeks,” said Jennifer Holdsworth, a Democratic strategist. “Then, a strong speech at the convention could go a long way in settling any lingering doubts for voters.”

Biden will also step onto the world stage when Washington hosts the NATO summit from July 9-11, where the alliance’s 32 member countries will discuss the ongoing war in Ukraine and efforts to further isolate Russia.

Biden embarked on a series of fundraising events in the days following the debate, raking in more than $27 million.

Unite the Country, a pro-Biden super PAC, will launch a new seven-figure ad buy after the Fourth of July in support of the president, CEO Steve Schale told Reuters. It is targeted at “no-no” voters in battleground states Michigan, Wisconsin and Pennsylvania who are on the fence about voting for either Biden or Trump.

The ad was planned before the debate, Schale said.

Democrats on Sunday ruled out the possibility of replacing Biden as the Democratic nominee and called on party members to focus instead on the consequences of a second Trump presidency.

(Reporting by Jarrett Renshaw and Stephanie Kelly; Editing by Heather Timmons and Jonathan Oatis)

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