Biden, Trump Prep for Presidential Debate that Will Highlight Mental Fitness

FILE PHOTO: Democratic presidential candidate former Vice President Joe Biden answers a question as President Donald Trump listens during the second and final presidential debate at the Curb Event Center at Belmont University in Nashville, Tennessee, US, October 22, 2020. Morry Gash/Pool via REUTERS/File Photo
FILE PHOTO: Democratic presidential candidate former Vice President Joe Biden answers a question as President Donald Trump listens during the second and final presidential debate at the Curb Event Center at Belmont University in Nashville, Tennessee, US, October 22, 2020. Morry Gash/Pool via REUTERS/File Photo
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Biden, Trump Prep for Presidential Debate that Will Highlight Mental Fitness

FILE PHOTO: Democratic presidential candidate former Vice President Joe Biden answers a question as President Donald Trump listens during the second and final presidential debate at the Curb Event Center at Belmont University in Nashville, Tennessee, US, October 22, 2020. Morry Gash/Pool via REUTERS/File Photo
FILE PHOTO: Democratic presidential candidate former Vice President Joe Biden answers a question as President Donald Trump listens during the second and final presidential debate at the Curb Event Center at Belmont University in Nashville, Tennessee, US, October 22, 2020. Morry Gash/Pool via REUTERS/File Photo

President Joe Biden is hunkered down with aides at Camp David for several days to get ready to debate rival Donald Trump, who is eschewing traditional preparation and instead holding informal policy discussions between campaign stops.
The face-off in Atlanta, at 9 p.m. ET on Thursday (0100 GMT on Friday), will be the earliest presidential debate in modern US history and a critical event for both candidates, Reuters said.
Biden, 81, and former president Trump, 78, are neck-and-neck in national opinion polls, with a considerable slice of the electorate still undecided five months before the Nov. 5 vote.
The debate will provide the starkest contrast yet of the two men, the oldest candidates ever to seek the US presidency, as voters question their age and mental sharpness.
"It's an incredible test of their cognitive competence," said Patrick Stewart, a political science professor at the University of Arkansas who has written a book on presidential debates. "This is our chance to see how much they've declined or if they've declined."
With strict speaking limitations, a ban on notes and no audience to cheer them on during the 90-minute CNN debate, they will need to prepare for tough questions and a format that takes them out of their comfort zones, Stewart said.
Independent candidate Robert F. Kennedy Jr. didn't make the cut, so Biden, a Democrat, and Trump, a Republican, won’t have to worry about him.
Ron Klain, Biden's former chief of staff and a veteran of debate preparation, is leading Biden's sessions at Camp David, the mountain retreat in western Maryland where the president prepped for his fiery State of the Union speech in March.
A campaign spokesperson declined to comment on whether former White House counsel Bob Bauer would reprise the role of Trump he played during debate prep in 2020.
Biden's team will focus on refining the argument that Trump pursues extremist policies on abortion and other issues, is a danger to democracy, and is beholden to the rich donors writing him checks, a campaign official told Reuters.
While Biden will not shy away from attacking Trump for past actions, including his role in the US Capitol riot on Jan. 6, 2021, the president wants to project himself as a wise and steady leader in contrast to Trump's division and chaos, the official said.
"What he wants to do is have that split screen, show that contrast and have President Trump be forced to account for his more extreme views," said another strategist advising the campaign, who requested anonymity to speak candidly.
INFORMAL APPROACH
The Trump camp, meanwhile, wants to make Biden defend his administration's record on immigration and inflation, as well as how he is dealing with "a world on fire," senior campaign adviser Brian Hughes said in reference to the conflict between Israel and Hamas and Russia's assault on Ukraine.
Trump has held a series of meetings in recent weeks with US senators and advisers at his Mar-a-Lago estate in Florida and elsewhere to review the kind of substantive policy points he would like to make on the debate stage.
Among those involved in the discussions with Trump are US senators J.D. Vance and Marco Rubio - both leading contenders to be Trump's running mate - and Stephen Miller, a senior adviser to Trump during his presidency known for his hardline stance on immigration.
Trump's aides say he is taking a more informal approach to readying for the debate than in the past, when former ally Chris Christie assumed the roles of rivals Hillary Clinton in 2016 and Biden in 2020.
Trump, the aides say, has been honing his argument to voters during more than a year of rallies and media interviews. He is not expected to participate in a mock debate.
"The idea that he has to be in a room and mock out - first this guy does that, then you do this - it's just not his style," Hughes said.
"If we're doing anything at all," Hughes added, "it's simply reviewing with him policies and accomplishments and looking ahead with him at what he'll do in the four years ahead."
Alan Schroeder, professor emeritus of journalism at Northeastern University, sees some risk in the less formal approach for Trump, who like Biden has not debated in four years after eschewing face-offs with his Republican primary challengers.
One of the rules that could prove challenging for Trump: Microphones will be muted except when it is each candidate's turn to speak.
"He's done so many TV events of different types that he sort of thinks he can wing it," said Schroeder, an expert on presidential debates. "But debating is a very specific thing. It doesn't really pay to just show up."



Biden Battles COVID and Democrats as Crisis Grows

President Joe Biden walks down the steps of Air Force One at Dover Air Force Base in Delaware, Wednesday, July 17, 2024. (AP Photo/Susan Walsh)
President Joe Biden walks down the steps of Air Force One at Dover Air Force Base in Delaware, Wednesday, July 17, 2024. (AP Photo/Susan Walsh)
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Biden Battles COVID and Democrats as Crisis Grows

President Joe Biden walks down the steps of Air Force One at Dover Air Force Base in Delaware, Wednesday, July 17, 2024. (AP Photo/Susan Walsh)
President Joe Biden walks down the steps of Air Force One at Dover Air Force Base in Delaware, Wednesday, July 17, 2024. (AP Photo/Susan Walsh)

Joe Biden holed up at his beach house Thursday, battling both a bout of COVID and calls by senior allies for him to abandon his 2024 reelection bid.

While rival Donald Trump prepared for his star turn at the Republican National Convention, the 81-year-old US president found himself in both personal and political isolation.

The top Democrats in Congress, Senate Majority Leader Chuck Schumer and House Minority Leader Hakeem Jeffries, both reportedly met with Biden in recent days to warn that his candidacy threatens his party's prospects in November's election.

Influential former House speaker Nancy Pelosi added to his woes by privately telling Biden he cannot win and could harm Democrats' chances of recapturing the lower chamber, CNN reported.

Several party figures were meanwhile quoted anonymously by the Axios news outlet as saying that they believed the pressure would persuade Biden to drop out as soon as this weekend.

Biden has insisted he is not backing down, adamant that he is the candidate who beat Trump before and will do it again this year. Pressed about reports that Biden might be softening to the idea of leaving the race, his deputy campaign manager Quentin Fulks said Thursday: “He is not wavering on anything.”

"He's staying in the race," Fulks told a press conference on the sidelines of the Republican convention in Milwaukee.

"Our campaign is not working through any scenarios where President Biden is not the top of the ticket -- he is and will be the Democratic nominee."

California Senator Alex Padilla said Biden was "not skipping a beat."

"I know having spoken to him personally he's committed to the campaign," he added.

Using mountains of data showing Biden’s standing could wipe out the ranks of Democrats in Congress, frank conversations in public and private, and now, the president’s own time off the campaign trail after testing positive for COVID-19, many Democrats see an opportunity to encourage a reassessment.

Biden told reporters on Wednesday that he was "doing well."

His COVID diagnosis however came at the worst possible time for his campaign, forcing him to cut short a trip to Las Vegas and isolate at his holiday home in Rehoboth, Delaware.

The split-screen with Trump could not have been more stark, with Trump set to formally accept the Republican nomination in Milwaukee.

US networks showed images of frail looking Biden gingerly descending the steps of Air Force One in Delaware, in a week when Trump is lauded by supporters each night at a packed party convention.

Former president Trump, who at 78 is just three years younger than Biden, is riding a wave of support from his party after surviving an assassination attempt on Saturday that left him with a bandaged ear.

The United States could now be approaching the climax of an extraordinary three weeks in politics, which started when Biden gave a disastrous performance during a televised debate with Trump.

Biden blamed jet lag and a cold, but the fact that America's commander-in-chief has now fallen ill for a second time just as fears grow about his fitness for the job has merely intensified the panic in Democratic ranks.