Joe Biden’s defenders downplayed worries over his age and poor poll numbers on Thursday as the president faced a fresh wave of concern related to his ability to serve a second term.
A CNN poll released Thursday morning showed the president’s approval rating significantly underwater with just 39% of those polled approving of the job he’s doing as president. Significantly, about three-quarters of Americans say they are concerned Biden’s age might negatively affect his current level of physical and mental competence and his ability to serve another full term if reelected. The poll also showed that there is no clear leader between Biden and former President Donald Trump, the front-runner to challenge him in November 2024.
In an interview on CBS that aired Thursday morning, Vice President Kamala Harris was asked about an earlier poll from the Wall Street Journal that showed two-thirds of Americans believe Biden is too old to serve a second term. Harris downplayed those worries, saying that “Joe Biden is going to be fine.”
“I work with Joe Biden every day,” she said. “The work that under Joe Biden’s leadership our administration has accomplished is transformative. I think the American people, most of all, want a leader who actually gets things done.”
Similarly on Capitol Hill, a series of Democratic senators sought to downplay Biden’s poor poll numbers.
Massachusetts Sen. Elizabeth Warren told CNN that Biden does not need to campaign more aggressively because Trump is enough of an albatross to his own party. Warren added that the legislation that Democrats passed during the first two years of Biden’s presidency, combined with issues such as abortion and protecting democracy, will improve enthusiasm as the election gets closer.
“I think enthusiasm comes from two things. One, is things that affect you, like getting rid of junk fees, $35 insulin. I think it also comes from pride in defending democracy,” she said. “Voting for President Biden is going to be about preserving our democracy. And I think a lot of Americans are going to show up to do that.”
Sen. Sherrod Brown, a vulnerable Ohio Democrat who is in one of the toughest Senate races in 2024, added that Biden’s low polling numbers wouldn’t stop him from campaigning with the president.
“I campaign on my own. If he comes in, sure. I work with anybody that wants to work with me on all kinds of issues,” Brown said.
Pressed on how having an unpopular president at the top of the ticket could affect his own chances, Brown replied, “I’m not concerned. I stand on my own.”
Rep. Katie Porter of California, who is running for Sen. Dianne Feinstein’s seat, stressed Biden’s achievements in office in an interview with CNN’s Erin Burnett on “OutFront.” She called the president’s appearance with her on the campaign trail last year where he discussed prescription drugs “incredibly helpful” amid her tough reelection race.
“So, I absolutely would want to stand at the ribbon cutting, at the opening of some of these infrastructure projects,” Porter said, adding that she wants to help Biden deliver a “strong message on the economy across the country.”
The poll comes amid a period of tough news for the president: Special counsel David Weiss said in a court filing on Wednesday that he intends to indict Biden’s son, Hunter Biden, before the end of the month. He also faced criticism from the president of the United Auto Workers as that union appears headed for a massive strike against the Big 3 American automakers. And a rise in Covid-19 cases that hit close to home – first lady Dr. Jill Biden tested positive on Monday – has struck the nation’s frayed nerves over the virus.
None of the concerns over the president’s age are necessarily new to Biden’s team and the White House has continuously worked to reassure Americans that the president is in good health and his age is not an issue. A new ad unveiled by the president’s reelection campaign showcased his trip to Kyiv earlier this year, a grueling trip that involved a flight to southern Poland and a 20-hour roundtrip train ride to the Ukrainian capital to meet with President Volodymyr Zelensky.
“Joe Biden walked shoulder-to-shoulder with our allies in the war-torn streets. Standing up for democracy in a place where a tyrant is waging war to take it away,” a narrator says over video of Biden walking with Zelensky.
The narrator continued, “In the middle of a war zone, Joe Biden showed the world what America is made of. That’s the quiet strength of a true leader who doesn’t back down to a dictator.”
That trip is one that aides and supporters often point to as an example of the president’s fitness and energy level.
On Thursday, he embarked on another intense period of travel, flying to New Delhi for the G20 Summit before a Sunday trip to Hanoi, Vietnam, to meet with the leaders of that nation in an attempt to counter China’s influence in the Indo-Pacific. He’ll then fly to Alaska where he will mark the anniversary of the September 11, 2001, terrorist attacks before flying home later that night.
Such travel schedules led White House press secretary Karine Jean-Pierre to tell CNN’s Jake Tapper last week that “no other president has been able to do” the job like Biden.
“People have come after the president about his age – they did it in 2019, they did it in 2020 leading into the general election, and they did it in 2022, and guess what? He beats them every time,” Jean-Pierre said, “because he has a finger on the pulse of what it is that the American people need, he talks about issues that really matter to the American people, and he is delivering.”
Still, it was clear that some prominent Democrats saw Thursday’s poll – and others like it – as a warning sign for the White House.
David Axelrod, a former top aide to Barack Obama and a CNN senior political commentator, said the poll is “not good” for the White House.
“These numbers are not good, and they are consistent with most of the other polling that we have seen, that the country’s in a sour mood,” he said.
Axelrod added, “He’s not getting credit for what I think is a fairly substantial list of achievements. And there’s real concern about his age. That’s been true for some time. It continues to be true. And the reality is if this were a referendum, he would be in deep, deep trouble.”
Kate Bedingfield, who served as Biden’s communications director and is now a CNN political commentator, said it will be a challenge for the White House to avoid the 2024 election being a referendum on his first term.
“I don’t think anybody is saying that’s easy. I don’t think the Biden White House would say that’s easy. But that’s the challenge before them, is to really make this about the contrast,” Bedingfield said.
Some of the president’s allies on Capitol Hill called on the White House to do more to sell their accomplishments to the American people. Sen. Richard Blumenthal of Connecticut told CNN that the White House needs to be far more aggressive in its messaging.
“The more the better, in terms of pushing that message and making the American people aware of President Biden’s achievements,” he said. “Yes, more aggressive, earlier, and more widely, I think is the right way to go.”
Sen. Mark Kelly of Arizona also acknowledged that the administration could be doing more on the economy to boost its polling numbers. Biden, he added, needs to focus on highlighting his accomplishments from his first two years in office, when Democrats controlled both chambers of Congress.
“When you look at the accomplishments over the last two-and-a-half years – you know, especially last Congress with the House, this Senate, bipartisan legislation that we got passed, things that are going to improve our infrastructure, climate, bringing down the price of prescription drugs – he’s got a strong record to run on,” said Kelly.
“There’s 14 months until an election, and there’s a lot of work we have to do.”
This story has been updated with additional information.