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Biden campaigns in Pennsylvania, seeking to project strength and quiet Democratic jitters

PHILADELPHIA (AP) — President Joe Biden is attending a Black church and rallying with union members on Sunday in the critical swing state of Pennsylvania, trying to project enough strength for his reelection campaign to quell a growing clamor from within in his own party for him to bow out of the race.

The pair of appearances come after Biden joined a Saturday call with campaign surrogates, and reiterated that he has no plans to step aside, while urging unity among top Democrats. But he also listened to concerns and feedback, according to two people who spoke on condition of anonymity to discuss private conversations.

The president pledged on the call to campaign harder going forward and to hit the road more frequently, taking his message to voters more directly. He’s getting the chance at a church service at Mount Airy Church of God in Christ in northwest Philadelphia, then going to the state capital of Harrisburg to speak at an organizing event with union members and local Democrats.

On Sunday evening, Biden returns to Washington, where leaders from NATO countries will gather for a three-day summit beginning Tuesday to mark the military alliance’s 75th anniversary. The focus could shift more to Russia’s war in Ukraine than questions about Biden’s reelection campaign, but the 81-year-old Biden’s political situation remains precarious.

Five Democratic lawmakers have called on him to abandon his reelection bid ahead of November, and more could do so in coming days, as Congress reconvenes. Meeting in person will give congressional Democrats a chance to discuss concerns about Biden’s ability to withstand the remaining four months of the campaign — not to mention four more years in the White House — and true prospects of beating former Republican former President Donald Trump.

The president’s campaign has announced a $50 million ad blitz throughout the month meant to target large-audience moments like during the upcoming Olympics in Paris. Still, Biden’s campaign team is quietly bracing for the chorus of those calling for him to leave the race to grow in coming days — holding the call with surrogates and calling and texting lawmakers to try and head off more potential defections.

Biden got a weekend boost from other key Democrats who had raised previous questions but now have moved to support him, led by Speaker Emerita Nancy Pelosi and Rep. James Clyburn of South Carolina. Still, with the Democratic convention approaching, the short term is especially critical.

Since his disastrous debate performance late last month donors, strategists, lawmakers and their constituents have urged Democrats to replace him at the top of the ticket before, they argue, it’s too late. Biden’s Friday interview with ABC has not convinced some who remain skeptical that he can resurrect his campaign.

Appearing on CNN on Sunday, Democratic Sen. Chris Murphy of Connecticut said that Biden “needs to answer those questions that voters have.” But he added, “If he does that this week, I think he will be in a very good position and we can get back to what this campaign needs to be.”

Murphy also said he didn’t know if a cognitive test “would be impactful” for voters worried about Biden’s potential decline. During his Friday interview, Biden rejected undergoing such testing, arguing that the everyday rigors of the presidency were proof enough of his mental acuity.

But California Democratic Rep. Adam Schiff told NBC that he’d be “happy if both the president and Donald Trump took a cognitive test.” Trump, during his own campaign rallies, has said Biden should undergo such testing while boasting about his own mental and physical stamina.

Schiff added that the president opting to stay in the race “is going to come down to what Joe Biden thinks is best” and that he could “run hard” to beat Trump or “if his decision is to pass the torch, then the president should do everything in his power to make that other candidate successful.”

Biden has insisted he’s not yielding to any other Democrat, saying he’s Democrats’ best shot to beat Trump. His visiting a Black church, gives him a chance to energize African-American voters, who are Democrats’ largest and most-loyal bloc of support. It could also send a message to members of the Congressional Black Caucus, whose endorsement the president will need as he works to quell potential rebellion on Capitol Hill.

At the Essence Festival of Culture in New Orleans on Saturday, Biden got enthusiastic support from four of the caucus’ members, including Rep. Joyce Beatty, D-Ohio, who told attendees “don’t get out there and turn your back on this president.”

California Democratic Rep. Maxine Waters, who is 85, drew a standing ovation by declaring, “People say Joe Biden’s too old. Hell, I’m older than Biden!”

“It ain’t gonna be no other Democratic candidate,” Waters said “and we better know it.”


Weissert reported from Washington. Associated Press writers Zeke Miller in Washington, Michelle Price in New York, Meg Kinnard in Chapin, South Carolina, and Bill Barrow in New Orleans contributed to this report.

Colleen Long And Will Weissert, The Associated Press