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Hill Republicans take post-debate victory lap as Democrats ponder Biden’s future

Congressional Republicans quickly declared victory Thursday night over former President Donald Trump’s debate performance against President Joe Biden, who sounded alarm bells among Democrats for repeatedly stumbling through responses and failing to match the former president’s energy onstage. “Only one of the men on the stage tonight is qualified and capable of being elected President […]

Congressional Republicans quickly declared victory Thursday night over former President Donald Trump’s debate performance against President Joe Biden, who sounded alarm bells among Democrats for repeatedly stumbling through responses and failing to match the former president’s energy onstage.

“Only one of the men on the stage tonight is qualified and capable of being elected President in 2024,” House Speaker Mike Johnson (R-LA) said in a statement. “This is the biggest mismatch in the history of presidential debates.”

House Republican Conference Chairwoman Elise Stefanik (R-NY), a potential running mate for Trump, accused Biden of being “mentally and physically unfit to serve as president of the United States.”


“President Trump won the debate by delivering a strong and presidential performance, addressing how he will fix the massive economic and border problems Joe Biden created during three and a half years of failure,” House Majority Leader Steve Scalise (R-LA) said. “Joe Biden demonstrated he is not fit to be president.”

The question for congressional Democrats will be how they defend Biden’s performance on Friday when House lawmakers return to pass a trio of 2025 spending bills. Panic quickly set in among Democratic operatives and liberal pundits in the debate’s early minutes as Biden’s frequent verbal stumbles raised questions of whether party leaders will urge him to step aside and have an open nomination process at next month’s Democratic National Convention.

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Rep. Ritchie Torres (D-NY) posted on social media, “The greatest loser of tonight’s debate is the country.”

“It was a really disappointing debate performance from Joe Biden,” Kate Bedingfield, Biden’s former White House communications director, said on CNN. “I don’t think there’s any other way to slice it. His biggest issue was to prove to the American people that he had the energy, the stamina — and he didn’t do that.”

Gov. J.B. Pritzker (D-IL), a potential future presidential candidate, was among the few Democrats willing to vigorously go to bat for Biden. Pritzker said Trump was the one who “rambled” and “lied” or “misled” the public.

“Voters were presented with a clear choice — a president working hard every day to improve the lives of all Americans or a convicted felon, a selfish blowhard looking out only for himself,” Pritzker said in a statement. “The contrast between these two men was clear before the debate — it is even clearer now.”

Vice President Kamala Harris conceded there “was a slow start” for Biden.

“That’s obvious to everyone,” she said on CNN, which hosted the debate, before saying the focus should be on policies between the two men.

“This is about a destruction of democracy, electing a man who has said he’ll be a dictator on Day One, or do we want to continue on a course that’s about strengthening America’s economy?” Harris said.

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Among Biden’s gaffes was a claim that he “finally beat Medicare” during a discussion on healthcare.

President Joe Biden, right, walks off stage as Republican presidential candidate former President Donald Trump stands at the conclusion of a presidential debate hosted by CNN, Thursday, June 27, 2024, in Atlanta. (AP Photo/Gerald Herbert)

“Well, he’s right. He did beat Medicare,” Trump said. “He beat it to death. He’s destroying Medicare.”

At another moment, Biden stammered through a response about southern border security.

“I really don’t know what he said at the end of that sentence,” Trump said. “I don’t think he knows what he said either.”

Unnamed sources told media outlets during the debate, including the Washington Examiner, that Biden was battling a cold, suggesting that his rocky performance and horse voice was the result of feeling under the weather.

Republicans scoffed at that notion.

“Does a ‘cold’ cause someone to malfunction on national television?” the campaign arm of Senate Republicans said.

House Republicans’ campaign arm said “extreme House Democrats” have “enabled President Biden doddering in the Oval Office.”

Trump, 78, and Biden, 81, would each break age records if elected in November. Both candidates dismissed age concerns on the debate stage, with Biden noting the two were similar in age but argued he is more competent than Trump.

“First of all, I spent half my career being criticized being the youngest person in politics. I was the second youngest person ever elected United States Senate, and now I’m the oldest. This guy’s three years younger and a lot less competent,” Biden said.

Trump said he “aced” two cognitive tests and challenged Biden to take one. The former president then touted how he is “in good as shape as I was 25-30 years ago,” while claiming Biden was in bad shape.

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The conversation devolved into a bizarre spat over golf.

“I just won two club championships,” Trump said. “To do that, you have to be quite smart, and you have to be able to hit the ball a long way. And I do it. He doesn’t do it. He can’t hit a ball 50 yards. He challenged me to a golf match. He can’t hit a ball 50 yards.”

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Biden shot back, touting his golf handicap, which he said he managed to get “down to a six” when he was vice president — a claim that Trump called “the biggest lie.”

“I have seen your swing, I know your swing,” Trump said.

Naomi Lim and Jack Birle contributed to this report.

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