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Biden meets with Democratic governors amid debate fallout

AILSA CHANG, HOST:

President Biden just finished meeting tonight with a group of 25 Democratic governors. Many of them flew into Washington to talk to the president who is trying to recover from his debate performance last week with former President Trump, that debate where he seemed to lose his train of thought and struggled to get his points across. It has taken Biden a few days to reach out to nervous Democratic leaders. In the meantime, the worries over keeping Biden at the top of the ticket have continued to grow. NPR White House correspondent Deepa Shivaram joins us now with more. Hi, Deepa.

DEEPA SHIVARAM, BYLINE: Hey, Ailsa.

CHANG: OK, so it's been so many calls, so many meetings. Some of the governors that Biden met with just spoke to the press afterwards. What did they say?

SHIVARAM: Yeah, so we heard from three of the governors who gathered outside the White House after this meeting with both Biden and Vice President Harris. And that was Minnesota's Tim Walz, Maryland's Wes Moore and New York Governor Kathy Hochul. And they all three said that Biden has had their backs, and they have his back in this race. They said that the meeting, which lasted about an hour, was an honest conversation. They said it was candid. Here's Moore speaking to reporters after the meeting ended.

(SOUNDBITE OF ARCHIVED RECORDING)

WES MOORE: We always believe that when you love someone, you tell them the truth. And I think we came in, and we were honest about the feedback that we were getting. We were honest about the concerns that we were hearing from people. And we were also honest about the fact that, as the president continued to tell us and show us that he was all in, that we said that we would stand with him.

SHIVARAM: And Moore acknowledged that Democrats are behind at this point, and they still have work to do.

CHANG: OK, so there was an honest, candid conversation. So did the governors get any explanation for why Biden's night on the debate stage was so bad?

SHIVARAM: You know, they didn't get into anything about Biden's health or the details of his debate night performance. Earlier in the remarks that they made, Governor Walz said Biden is fit for office. And he said that last Thursday at the debate that Biden told them that he didn't listen to himself and that Biden said he was worried about numbers instead of worrying about people. And Walz went on to say that what he saw in the meeting today with Biden was the same person who beat Donald Trump the first time.

CHANG: And this wasn't the only conversation Biden has had, right? Like, he spoke over the phone with several Democratic leaders on the Hill both today and yesterday. How did those conversations go?

SHIVARAM: That's right. So Biden had phone calls with Senate Majority Leader Chuck Schumer, Congressman Jim Clyburn, who's a close ally, former House speaker Nancy Pelosi and others. White House Press Secretary Karine Jean-Pierre called them, quote, "strong conversations," but she didn't really get into any further details. But in the meantime, there have been a few House Democrats who have said publicly that they think Biden should step down from the ticket. Others have said that they think Trump is going to win.

NPR's Claudia Grisales spoke to another House member today, who spoke on the condition of anonymity, who said that Biden seems to be declining, and they're worried that that could continue as the race goes on, so it would be better to make a change to the ticket now. But Democratic operatives I've spoken to have also said that a change now would be disastrous for Democrats' chances. So all of that to say the path forward would be really messy if things were to shake up. Biden for his part, though, has been adamant that he's staying in the race.

CHANG: OK. Well, what about Democrats who want Biden to stay in the race but want to see some sort of shift in strategy? What are they calling for?

SHIVARAM: You know, there have been a few criticisms of Biden's senior advisers at the White House. Some Democrats think that they've been too insular. There's also Democrats, like Congresswoman Debbie Dingell from Michigan, who said that Biden needs to be out in front of voters after this debate. He did make a stop in Atlanta and North Carolina after the debate last week. But for the most part, he hasn't really been out on the road. Though I will add that on Friday, he is headed to Wisconsin. And while he's there, he's doing an interview with ABC News, which is pretty significant because Biden doesn't do a lot of sit-down interviews. And it's also one of the few times he'll be doing something without a script and without a teleprompter since the debate.

CHANG: We'll see what happens. That is NPR's Deepa Shivaram at the White House. Thank you so much, Deepa.

SHIVARAM: Thank you.

(SOUNDBITE OF MUSIC) Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.

NPR transcripts are created on a rush deadline by an NPR contractor. This text may not be in its final form and may be updated or revised in the future. Accuracy and availability may vary. The authoritative record of NPR’s programming is the audio record.

Deepa Shivaram is a multi-platform political reporter on NPR's Washington Desk.