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Blumenthal on Biden's debate: 'I was really surprised by the performance'

U.S. President Joe Biden pauses during the CNN Presidential Debate at the CNN Studios on June 27, 2024 in Atlanta, Georgia. President Biden and Republican presidential candidate, former U.S. President Donald Trump facing off in the first presidential debate of the 2024 campaign.
Justin Sullivan
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Getty Images
U.S. President Joe Biden pauses during the CNN Presidential Debate at the CNN Studios on June 27, 2024 in Atlanta, Georgia. President Biden and Republican presidential candidate, former U.S. President Donald Trump facing off in the first presidential debate of the 2024 campaign.

Democrats are considering whether President Joe Biden is really up for the task of running for re-election, after a disastrous debate performance set triggered anxiety within the Democratic Party and spawned calls for the 81-year-old to drop out of the race months before the general election.

Sen. Richard Blumenthal, a Connecticut Democrat, said Wednesday he was recently with Biden in Normandy for the 80th anniversary of D-Day.

“He was sharp, insightful, eloquent and completely on his game,” Blumenthal said of the Normandy trip. “I was really surprised by the performance at the debate.”

“I am hopeful that he will be showing some strength over the next few days,” Blumenthal said.

Blumenthal said it is ultimately Biden’s call whether or not to run for re-election.

“People can advise him what to do, but at the end of the day, the decision whether to run or not is Joe Biden's, and he's given every indication that he's going to stay in the race,” Blumenthal said.

Blumenthal declined Wednesday morning to say what advice – if any – he would give to Biden about staying in the race.

“If I give advice to Joe Biden it will be in private – not through the media,” Blumenthal said. “I know my colleagues have views across the spectrum, but for right now – no governor, no member of the Senate or Congress, except maybe a handful, have said he should get out of the race.”

Blumenthal said voters should bear in mind the contrast between Biden and his Republican opponent, former President Donald Trump.

“The next four years is much more important than one night of debate performance four months before the election,” Blumenthal said. “Donald Trump on that stage spewed falsehoods, refused to answer questions about climate change and child care, extolled the Jan. 6 insurrectionists [and] refused to say he would accept the results of the election.”

Other Democrats raising alarm

Rep. Lloyd Doggett, of Texas, on Tuesday became the first sitting Democrat in Congress to call for Biden to withdraw from the race. He praised Biden but said he “has the opportunity to encourage a new generation of leaders from whom a nominee can be chosen to unite our country through an open, democratic process.”

“Recognizing that, unlike Trump, President Biden’s first commitment has always been to our country, not himself, I am hopeful that he will make the painful and difficult decision to withdraw. I respectfully call on him to do so,” said Doggett, who's 77.

Some other congressional Democrats have moved in recent days to outspoken concern, not just over Biden’s performance during the 90-minute debate last week, but also the level of transparency Biden’s team has offered about his mental fitness. They've tiptoed toward embracing the idea Biden should withdraw.

“Everybody is asking one question within the Democratic Party ... which is how do we defeat Donald Trump and how are we going to defeat the threat of authoritarianism,” Rep. Jamie Raskin, a prominent Democrat from Maryland, said on MSNBC late Tuesday.

He added that the question of whether Biden stays as the presidential candidate or Democrats select someone else “is a moving target. It has to happen quickly.”

Sen. Sheldon Whitehouse, D-R.I., told a local CBS-affiliated television station he was “horrified” by both Biden’s performance and Trump’s falsehoods during the debate.

“People want to make sure that this is a campaign that’s ready to go and win,” Whitehouse said. “That the president and his team are being candid with us about his condition — that this was a real anomaly.”

While several vulnerable Democrats have stopped short of calling for Biden to withdraw, they've also cast the situation in stark terms: If Biden continues, he'll lose.

“The truth, I think, is that Biden is going to lose to Trump,” Rep. Marie Gluesenkamp Perez, a Washington Democrat, told an ABC-affiliated television station. "I know that's difficult, but I think the damage has been done by that debate."

The Associated Press contributed to this report.

Matt Dwyer is an editor, reporter and midday host for Connecticut Public's news department. He produces local news during All Things Considered.