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Democrats urge Biden to do more media appearances to combat age concerns

There have been several of those stumbles this week, with the 81-year-old Biden appearing to refer to two deceased European leaders as living statesmen. In his fiery Thursday night remarks, Biden also grew remarkably combative at times. More superficially, at one point he accidentally referred to Mexico in a comment plainly describing Egypt.
But Democrats say that resolving fears about Biden’s age requires getting him out in front of the country much more, even if there is risk involved. There’s hope, in certain circles, that the report prompts a strategic change at the White House and leads to a more visible, livelier version of Biden.
“What we saw [Thursday] night was so rare, because we don’t get too many of these moments and opportunities where he’s off script, and he’s engaged in the back and forth, particularly in a prime-time setting,” said Faiz Shakir, Bernie Sanders’ 2020 presidential campaign manager.
Alan Patricof, a venture capitalist and Democratic donor, encouraged Biden to engage the country more — though Patricof, at 89, also defended the president’s age.
“He’s going to have to come a little bit out of his shell and be more available, whether it’s press conferences or traveling around and meeting with people,” Patricof said.
A major Biden donor, South Carolina attorney Dick Harpootlian, said he would encourage the president to gear up for a likely Donald Trump rematch on the debate stage: “We oughta engage in it as much as we can.”
Democrats have long fretted that Biden’s low public profile at times was feeding the criticism about his fitness for office, allowing a caricature of the president to take hold in place of the real thing. But the Hur report has quickly turned those fears into pleas for a new approach. Members of the party say Biden appearances are increasingly vital in assuring voters that his critics’ claims about his mental fitness are unfounded.
“Voters are going to see and hear from the president a lot over the next nine months and they’re more inclined to use their own eyes and ears than to look to this report, but it’s something that raises the stakes for the campaign to prove the opposite is happening,” said a Democratic pollster granted anonymity to speak openly about the topic.
“Voters are weighing what they feel is one risk — Trump, where the risk is obvious — with another risk, which is a president in decline.”
Biden allies and aides were furious on Friday, believing that Hur’s report describing Biden as a “well-meaning, elderly man with poor memory” was gratuitous, extending well beyond his purview of determining wrongdoing or not in regard to his handling of classified material.
White House Counsel spokesperson Ian Sams at Friday’s briefing called them “inappropriate criticisms” that were “flatly inconsistent with long-standing DOJ traditions.”
Biden delivered an impassioned response and even took questions from reporters Thursday night. Even with the Sisi gaffe, some Democrats believe the president and his top aides should seek to directly combat their critics, as Biden did during those remarks.
Biden allies and the White House press corps have been frustrated that the president’s aides have restricted Biden’s formal exchanges with the press. Though Biden often has shorter, unscripted engagements, he’s done fewer press conferences than his predecessors and often avoids opportunities to engage with the media when foreign leaders come to the White House.
The president has held 33 press conferences in his first three years, compared with Barack Obama’s 66 and Trump’s 52 in the same three-year span, according to University of California Santa Barbara’s The American Presidency Project.
Former Hillary Clinton adviser Philippe Reines said that scarcity of engagement is what prompts a media firestorm when the president does ultimately have a slip up, as he’s prone to do. Trump, who at 77 is just four years younger than Biden, repeatedly makes gaffes of his own. But they often don’t gain as much traction because of how visible he is in the media.
“I would flood the zone, and I felt the same with Hillary [Clinton]. Because if you don’t, then the smallest thing becomes too easy for people and the media to focus on,” Reines said. “The answer to the president is not to put him out there zero times to prevent zero things. It’s to go out there, and have him say whatever it is.”
The Biden campaign doesn’t disagree with the assessment that Biden should be in public more in an election year, which is why they’ve ramped up campaign events and travel across the country. But officials note that it will look different than in past cycles in part because of Americans’ sagging engagement with political news and traditional candidate forums such as debates and town halls.
“I spend a lot of time looking at media consumption studies,” said Pat Dennis, the president of American Bridge 21st Century, a top Democratic superPAC. “And the way you’re going to be deploying a candidate in 2024 is not going to look the same as the way you’re deploying a candidate in 2000 or 2004.”
That’s why there’s been an effort from the Biden campaign to meet people where they are, while tapping into Biden’s strengths as a retail politician. They’ve used social media to highlight these small-scale and intimate conversations with voters, capturing millions of views on TikTok and other platforms where an increasing number of Americans are consuming news.
The campaign believes that these moments, including when one Detroit resident rode in the Beast and spoke with CNN about the president’s sharpness, can at times be more impactful in beating back concerns about the president’s age than a news conference with the White House press corps.
Democrats don’t dispute the value of this type of voter engagement, particularly for a president who’s known for his ability to connect with people in intimate settings. But, even still, they felt Thursday’s prime time press conference had its own benefits, as networks carried a fired-up Biden, embracing the attacks about his age head-on.
“He has the right to be angry, and I think it’s good that he showed his anger to the American people,” said a Democratic strategist, who was granted anonymity to speak candidly about the dynamic. “I hope that they do more of this, and my guess is, I think they will because he’s the president and when he feels like he’s got something to say to the American people, he’s going to go out there and do it.”
Elena Schneider, Hailey Fuchs and Lauren Egan contributed to this report.

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