ABC News anchor George Stephanopoulos' exclusive interview with Biden: Full transcript

Full transcript of the ABC News exclusive interview with President Joe Biden.

ABCNews logo
Saturday, July 6, 2024
Biden doubles down on debate explanations in ABC News exclusive
President Joe Biden, in his first television interview since his debate with Donald Trump, brushed off the poor performance as a "bad episode" and said he alone was to blame for what transpired.

President Joe Biden, in his first television interview since his CNN debate with former President Donald Trump, sat down with ABC News anchor George Stephanopoulos in Madison, Wisconsin, on Friday.

Below is a full transcript of the exchange between Biden and Stephanopoulos.

GEORGE STEPHANOPOULOS: Mr. President, thank you for doing this.

PRESIDENT JOE BIDEN: Thank you for having me.

GEORGE STEPHANOPOULOS: Let's start with the debate. eh, You and your team said, have said you had a bad night. But your--


GEORGE STEPHANOPOULOS: But your friend Nancy Pelosi actually framed the question that I think is on the minds of millions of Americans. Was this a bad episode or the sign of a more serious condition?

PRESIDENT JOE BIDEN: It was a bad episode. No indication of any serious condition. I was exhausted. I didn't listen to my instincts in terms of preparing and-- and a bad night.

GEORGE STEPHANOPOULOS: You know, you say you were exhausted. And-- and I know you've said that before as well, but you came-- and you did have a tough month. But you came home from Europe about 11 or 12 days before the debate, spent six days in Camp David. Why wasn't that enough rest time, enough recovery time?

PRESIDENT JOE BIDEN: Because I was sick. I was feeling terrible. Matter of fact, the docs with me. I asked if they did a COVID test because they're trying to figure out what was wrong. They did a test to see whether or not I had some infection, you know, a virus. I didn't. I just had a really bad cold.

GEORGE STEPHANOPOULOS: And-- did you ever watch the debate afterwards?

PRESIDENT JOE BIDEN: I don't think I did, no.

GEORGE STEPHANOPOULOS: Well, what I'm try-- what I want to get at is, what were you experiencing as you were going through the debate? Did you know how badly it was going?

PRESIDENT JOE BIDEN: Yeah, look. The whole way I prepared, nobody's fault, mine. Nobody's fault but mine. I, uh-- I prepared what I usually would do sittin' down as I did come back with foreign leaders or National Security Council for explicit detail. And I realized--bout partway through that, you know, all-- I get quoted the New York Times had me down, at ten points before the debate, nine now, or whatever the hell it is. The fact of the matter is, what I looked at is that he also lied 28 times. I couldn't-- I mean, the way the debate ran, not-- my fault, no one else's fault, no one else's fault.

GEORGE STEPHANOPOULOS: But it seemed like you were having trouble from the first question in, even before he spoke.

PRESIDENT JOE BIDEN: Well, I just had a bad night. You've had some bad interviews once in a while. I-- I can't remember any, but I'm sure you did.

GEORGE STEPHANOPOULOS: I've had plenty. I guess the question of-- the problem is here for a lot of Americans watching is, you've said going back to 2020, "Watch me," to people who are concerned about your age. And, you know, 50 million Americans watched that debate. It seemed to confirm fears they already had.

PRESIDENT JOE BIDEN: Well, look. After that debate, I did ten major events in a row, including until 2:00 in the morning after the debate. I did events in North Carolina. I did events in-in in Georgia, did events like this today, large crowds, overwhelming response, no-- no-- no slipping. And so, I just had a bad night. I don't know why.

GEORGE STEPHANOPOULOS: And-- how-- how quickly did it-- did it come to you that you were having that bad night?

PRESIDENT JOE BIDEN: Well, it came to me I was havin' a bad night when I realized that even when I was answering a question, even though they turned his mic off, he was still shouting. And I-- I let it distract me. I-- I'm not blaming it on that, but I realized that I just wasn't in control.

GEORGE STEPHANOPOULOS: Part of the other concern is that-- this seems to fit into a pattern of decline that has been reported on recently. New York Times had a headline on July 2nd, "Biden's lapses are said to be increasingly common and worrisome." Here's what they wrote.

"People who've spent time with President Biden over the last few months or so said the lapses appear to have grown more frequent, more pronounced, and after Thursday d-- Thursday's debate, more worrisome. By many accounts, as evidenced by video footage, observation, and interviews, Mr. Biden is not the same today as he was even when he took office three-and-a-half years ago." Similar reporting in The Washington Post and the Wall Street Journal. Are you the same man today that you were when you took office three-and-a-half years ago?

PRESIDENT JOE BIDEN: In terms of successes, yes. I also was the guy who put together a peace plan for the Middle East that may be comin' to fruition. I was also the guy that expanded NATO. I was also the guy that grew the economy. All the individual things that were done were ideas I had or I fulfilled. I moved on.

And so, for example, you know, "We-Well, that was true then, what's Biden done lately?" Di-you-just just see today, just announced 200,000 new jobs. We're movin' in the direction that no one's ever taken on. I know you know this from days in-- in-- in the-- in the government.

I took on big pharma. I beat them. No one said I could beat them. I took on all the things we said we got done, were told we couldn't get done. And part of it is what I said when I ran was I wanted to do three things: Restore some decency to the office, restore some support for the middle class instead of trickle down economics both from the middle out and the bottom up the way the wealthy still do fine, everyone does better, and unite the country.

GEORGE STEPHANOPOULOS: But what has all that work over the last three-and-a-half years cost you physically, mentally, emotionally?

PRESIDENT JOE BIDEN: Well, I-- I-- I just think it cost me a really bad night, bad run, but, you know, I-- George. I have-- I'm optimistic about this country. I don't think we're a country of losers that he points out. I don't think America's in tough shape. I think America is on the cusp of breaking through in so many incredible opportunities.

In this next term, I'm gonna make sure we gotta-- straighten out the tax system. I'm gonna make sure we're in a situation where we have healthcare for all people, where we're in a position where we have-- have childcare and eldercare, free up-- and all these things.

One thing I'm proudest of is, remember when my economic plan was put forward? A lot of the mainstream economists said, "This is not gonna work." Guess what? We now have 16 Nobel laureates, 16 of 'em in economics saying that "Biden's next term would be a sig-- enor-- based on what he wants to do, enormous success." Trump's plan would cause a recession and sig-nif-- gi-- increase inflation. I've made great progress, and that's what I plan on doin'. And we can do this.

GEORGE STEPHANOPOULOS: I-- I-- I understand that, and I'm not disputing that. What I'm asking you is-- about your personal situation. Do you dispute that there have been more lapses, especially in the last several months?

PRESIDENT JOE BIDEN: Can I run the 100 in 10 flat? No. But I'm still in good shape.

GEORGE STEPHANOPOULOS: Are you more frail?



PRESIDENT JOE BIDEN: Come keep my schedule. (LAUGH)

GEORGE STEPHANOPOULOS: I know you spoke with your doctor after the debate. What did he say?

PRESIDENT JOE BIDEN: He said he-- just looked at me and said, "You're exhausted." That's it. I have medical doctors travel with me everywhere. Every President does, as you know. Medical doctors, some of the best in the world travel with me everywhere I go. I have an ongoing assessment of what I'm doin', and they don't hesitate to tell me if they think there's something wrong.

GEORGE STEPHANOPOULOS: I know you said you have an ongoing assessment. Have you had a full neurological and cognitive evaluation?

PRESIDENT JOE BIDEN: I've had-- I get a full neurological test everyday with me. And I've had a full physical. I had, you know, I mean, I-- I've been at Walter Reed for my physicals. I mean--uhm yes, the answer.

GEORGE STEPHANOPOULOS: I-- I know your doctor said he consulted with a neurologist. I-- I guess I'm asking-- a slightly different question. Have you had the specific cognitive tests, and have you had a neurologist, a specialist, do an examination?

PRESIDENT JOE BIDEN: No. No one said I had to. No one said. They said I'm good.

GEORGE STEPHANOPOULOS: Would you be willing to undergo an independent medical evaluation that included neurological and cognit-- cognitive tests and release the results to the American people?

PRESIDENT JOE BIDEN: Look. I have a cognitive test every single day. Every day I have that test. Everything I do. You know, not only am I campaigning, but I'm running the world. Not-- and that's not hi-- sounds like hyperbole, but we are the essential nation of the world..

Madeleine Albright was right. And every single day, for example, today before I came out here, I'm on the phone with-- with the prime minister of-- well, anyway, I shouldn't get into detail, but with Netanyahu. I'm on the phone with the new prime minister of England.

I'm workin' on what we were doin' with regard to-- in Europe with regard to expansion of NATO and whether it's gonna stick. I'm takin' on Putin. I mean, every day there's no day I go through there not those decisions I have to make every single day.

GEORGE STEPHANOPOULOS: And you have been doing that and the American people have been watching, yet their concerns about your age and your health are growing. So that's why I'm asking -- to reassure them, would you be willing to have the independent medical evaluation?

PRESIDENT JOE BIDEN: Watch me between-- there's a lotta time left in this campaign. There's over 125 days.


PRESIDENT JOE BIDEN: They'll make a decision.

GEORGE STEPHANOPOULOS: Right-the answer right now is, no, you-- you don't want to do that right now.

PRESIDENT JOE BIDEN: Well, I've already done it.

GEORGE STEPHANOPOULOS: You talked a lot about your successes in-- at the beginning of this interview. And-- and I don't want to dispute that, I don't want to debate that. But-- as you know, elections are about the future, not the past. They're about tomorrow, not yesterday. And the question on so many people's minds right now is, "Can you serve effectively for the next four years?"

PRESIDENT JOE BIDEN: George. I'm the guy that put NATO together, the future. No one thought I could expand it. I'm the guy that shut Putin down. No one thought could happen. I'm the guy that put together a South Pacific initiative with AUKUS. I'm the guy that got 50 nations out-- not only in Europe, outside of Europe as well to help Ukraine.

I'm the guy that got Japanese to expand their budget. I'm the-- so I mean, these-- and, for example, when I decided we used to have 40% of computer chips. We invented the chip, the little chip, the computer chip. It's in everything from cell phone to weapons.

And so, we used to have 40%, and we're down to virtually nothing. So I get in the plane, against the advice of everybody, and I fly to South Korea. I convince them to invest in the United States billions of dollars. Now we have tens of billions of dollars being invested in the United States making us back in a position we're gonna own that industry again. We have, I mean, I-- I just-- anyway. I'm-- I don't wanna take too much credit. I have a great staff.

GEORGE STEPHANOPOULOS: But hold on. My-- I guess my point is, all that takes a toll. Do you have the mental and physical capacity to do it for another four years?

PRESIDENT JOE BIDEN: I believes so, I wouldn't be runnin' if I didn't think I did. Look, I'm runnin' again because I think I understand best what has to be done to take this nation to a completely new new level. We're on our way. We're on our way. And, look. The decision recently made by the Supreme Court on immunity, you know, the next President of the United States, it's not just about whether he or she knows what they're doin'.

It's-- it's-- it's not-- not about a con-- a conglomerate of people making decisions. It's about the character of the President. The character of the President's gonna determine whether or not this Constitution is employed the right way.

GEORGE STEPHANOPOULOS: Let me ask you a tougher, more personal question. Are you sure you're being honest with yourself when you say you have the mental and physical capacity to serve another four years?

PRESIDENT JOE BIDEN: Yes, I am, because, George, the last thing I want to do is not be able to meet that. I think, as some of senior economist and senior foreign policy specialists say, if I stop now, I'd go down in history as a pretty successful President. No one thought I could get done what we got done.

GEORGE STEPHANOPOULOS: But are you being with honest-- with yourself as well about your ability to defeat Donald Trump right now?

PRESIDENT JOE BIDEN: Yes. Yes, yes, yes.

GEORGE STEPHANOPOULOS: You say that, and let me challenge you.


GEORGE STEPHANOPOULOS: Because you were close but behind going into the debate. You're further behind now by-- by any measure. It's been a two-man race for several months. Inflation has come down. In those last few months, he's become a convicted felon. Yet, you're still falling further behind.

PRESIDENT JOE BIDEN: You guys keep saying that. George, do you-- look, you know polling better than anybody. Do you think polling data as accurate as it used to be?

GEORGE STEPHANOPOULOS: I don't think so, but I think when you look at all the polling data right now, it shows that he's certainly ahead in the popular vote, probably even more ahead in the battleground states. And one of the other key factors there is, it shows that in many of the battleground states, the Democrats who are running for Senate and the House are doing better than you are.

PRESIDENT JOE BIDEN: That's not unusual in some states. I carried an awful lotta Democrats last time I ran in 2020. Look, I remember them tellin' me the same thing in 2020. "I can't win. The polls show I can't win." Remember 2024-- 2020, the red wave was coming.

Before the vote, I said, "That's not gonna happen. We're gonna win." We did better in an off-year than almost any incumbent President ever has done. They said in 2023, (STATIC) all the tough (UNINTEL) we're not gonna win. I went into all those areas and all those-- all those districts, and we won.

GEORGE STEPHANOPOULOS: All that is true, but 2020 was a close race. And your approval rating has dropped significantly since then. I think the last poll I saw was at about 36%.

PRESIDENT JOE BIDEN: Woah, woah, woah

GEORGE STEPHANOPOULOS: The number of Americans who think you're too old to serve has doubled since 2020. Wouldn't a clear-eyed political calculus tell you that it's gonna be much tougher to win in 2024?.

PRESIDENT JOE BIDEN: Not when you're running against a pathological liar. Not when he hadn't been challenged in a way that he's about to be challenged. Not when people--

GEORGE STEPHANOPOULOS: You've had months to challenge him.

PRESIDENT JOE BIDEN: Oh, sure, I had months, but I was also doin' a hell of a lot of other things, like wars around the world, like keeping NATO together, like working-- anyway. But look.

GEORGE STEPHANOPOULOS: Do you really believe you're not behind right now?

PRESIDENT JOE BIDEN: I think it's in-- all the pollsters I talk to tell me it's a tossup. It's a tossup. And when I'm behind, there's only one poll I'm really far behind, CBS Poll and NBC, I mean, excuse me. And-- uh--

GEORGE STEPHANOPOULOS: New York-- New York Times and NBC both have-- have you about six points behind in the popular vote.

PRESIDENT JOE BIDEN: That's exactly right. New York Times had me behind before, anything having to do with this race-- had me hind-- behind ten points. Ten points they had me behind. Nothing's changed substantially since the debate in the New York Times poll.

GEORGE STEPHANOPOULOS: Just when you look at the reality, though, Mr. President, I mean, you won the popular vote-- in-- in 2020, but it was still deadly close in the electoral college--

PRESIDENT JOE BIDEN: By 7 million votes.

GEORGE STEPHANOPOULOS: Yes. But you're behind now in the popular vote.

PRESIDENT JOE BIDEN: I don't-- I don't buy that.

GEORGE STEPHANOPOULOS: Is it worth the risk?

PRESIDENT JOE BIDEN: I don't think anybody's more qualified to be President or win this race than me.

GEORGE STEPHANOPOULOS: You know, the heart of your case against Donald Trump is that he's only out for himself, putting his personal interests ahead of the national interest. How do you respond to critics who say that by staying in the race, you're doing the same thing?

PRESIDENT JOE BIDEN: Oh, come on. Well, I don't think those critics know what they're talkin' about.

GEORGE STEPHANOPOULOS: They're just wrong?

PRESIDENT JOE BIDEN: They're just wrong. Look, Trump is a pathological liar. Trump is-- he is-- you ever seen anything Trump did that benefited sa-- somebody else and not him? You can't answer, I know.

GEORGE STEPHANOPOULOS: I've-- I've questioned him and his allies as persistently as any journalist has.

PRESIDENT JOE BIDEN: Oh, I know you have. I'm not being critical. I'm not being critical, but look, I mean, the man is a congenital liar. As I said, they pointed out in that debate, he lied 27-- 28 times-- times, whatever number, over 20 times. Talk about how good his economy was, how he brought down inflation, how-- this is a guy who unlike-- only other President oth-- other than him is Hoover who lost more jobs than he created.

This is a guy who told us to put bleach in our arms to deal with COVID, with a million-- over a million people died. This is a guy who talks about wantin' to get rid of the healthcare provision we put in place. This is a guy who wants to give the power back to big pharma to be able to charge exorbitant prices for drugs. This is a guy who wants to undo every single thing I've done, every single-- every single thing.

GEORGE STEPHANOPOULOS: I understand that. I understand that's why you want to stay in the race, but have you convinced yourself that only you can defeat him?

PRESIDENT JOE BIDEN: I convinced myself of two things. I'm the most qualified person to beat him, and I know how to get things done.

GEORGE STEPHANOPOULOS: If you can be convinced that you cannot defeat Donald Trump, will you stand down?

PRESIDENT JOE BIDEN: (LAUGH)- It depends on-- on if the Lord Almighty comes down and tells me that, I might do that.

GEORGE STEPHANOPOULOS: Well, if-- I mean, on a more practical level, The Washington Post just reported in the last hour that Senator Mark Warner is-- is assembling a group of Senators together to try and convince you to stand down, because they don't think you can win.

PRESIDENT JOE BIDEN: Well, Mark is a good man. We've never had (UNINTEL). He also tried to get the nomination too. Mark's not-- Mark and I have a different perspective. I respect him.

GEORGE STEPHANOPOULOS: And if Chuck Schumer and Hakeem Jeffries and Nancy Pelosi come down and say, "We're worried that if you stay in the race, we're gonna lose the House and the Senate," how will you respond?

PRESIDENT JOE BIDEN: I-- I'd go into detail with them. I've speaken (PH) to all of them in detail including Jim Clyburn, every one of 'em. They all said I should stay in the race-- stay in the race. No one said-- none of the people said I should leave.


PRESIDENT JOE BIDEN: Well, it's, like, (LAUGH) they're not gonna do that.


PRESIDENT JOE BIDEN: Well, Yeah, I'm sure. Look. I mean, if the Lord Almighty came down and said, "Joe, get outta the race," I'd get outta the race. The Lord Almighty's not comin' down. I mean, these hypotheticals, George, if, I mean, it's all--

GEORGE STEPHANOPOULOS: But-- but it's-- it's-- it's not that hypothetical anymore. I-- I-- I-- I grant that the-- they have not k-- requested a meeting, but it's been reported--

PRESIDENT JOE BIDEN: But they-- I met with them. I met with a lotta these people. I talk with them regularly. I had an hour conversation with Hakeem. I had more time (UNITEL)with Jim Clyburn. I spent time with many hours off and on in the last little bit with Chuck Schumer. It's not like-- I had all the governors-- all the governors.

GEORGE STEPHANOPOULOS: I agree that the Lord Almighty's not gonna come down, but if-- if-- if you are told reliably from your allies, from your friends and supporters in the Democratic Party in the House and the Senate that they're concerned you're gonna lose the House and the Senate if you stay in, what will you do?

PRESIDENT JOE BIDEN: I'm not gonna answer that question. It's not gonna happen.

GEORGE STEPHANOPOULOS: What's your plan to turn the campaign around?

PRESIDENT JOE BIDEN: You saw it today. How many-- how many people draw crowds like I did today? Find me more enthusiastic than today? Huh?

GEORGE STEPHANOPOULOS: I mean, have-- I don't think you wanna play the crowd game. Donald Trump can draw big crowds. There's no question about that.

PRESIDENT JOE BIDEN: He can draw a big crowd, but what does he say? Who-- who does he have? I'm the guy supposedly in trouble. We raised $38 million within four days after this. Over-- we have over a million individual contributors, individual contributors. That-- that's less than 200 bucks. We have-- I mean, I'm not seen what you're-- you're proposing.

GEORGE STEPHANOPOULOS: You haven't seen the-- the fall-off in the polls? You haven't seen the reports of discontent in the Democratic Party, House Democrats, Senate Democrats?

PRESIDENT JOE BIDEN: I've seen it from the press.

GEORGE STEPHANOPOULOS: You know, I've heard from dozens of your supporters over the last few days, and a variety of views, I grant you that. But the prevailing sentiment is this. They love you, and they will be forever grateful to you for defeating Donald Trump in 2020.

They think you've done a great job as President, a lot of the successes you outlined. But they are worried about you and the country. And they don't think you can win. They want you to go with grace, and they will cheer you if you do. What do you say to that?

PRESIDENT JOE BIDEN: I say the vast majority are not where that-- those folks are. I don't doubt there are some folks there. Have you ever seen a group-- ta-- time when elected officials running for office aren't little worried? Have you ever seen that? I've not. Same thing happened in 2020. "Oh, Biden, I don't know. Man, what's he gonna do? He may bring me down, he may (PH)."

GEORGE STEPHANOPOULOS: Mr. President, I've never seen a President 36% approval get reelected.

PRESIDENT JOE BIDEN: Well, I don't believe that's my approval rating. That's not what our polls show.

GEORGE STEPHANOPOULOS: And if you stay in and Trump is elected and everything you're warning about comes to pass, how will you feel in January?

PRESIDENT JOE BIDEN: I'll feel as long as I gave it my all and I did the goodest job as I know I can do, that's what this is about. Look, George. Think of it this way. You've heard me say this before. I think the United States and the world is at an inflection point when the things that happen in the next several years are gonna determine what the next six, seven decades are gonna be like.

And who's gonna be able to hold NATO together like me? Who's gonna be able to be in a position where I'm able to keep the Pacific Basin in a position where we're-- we're at least checkmating China now? Who's gonna-- who's gonna do that? Who has that reach? Who has-- who knows all these pe...? We're gonna have, I guess a good way to judge me, is you're gonna have now the NATO conference here in the United States next week. Come listen. See what they say.

GEORGE STEPHANOPOULOS: Mr. President, thanks for your time.

PRESIDENT JOE BIDEN: Thank you. Appreciate it.