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Biden campaign chair gives a staunch defense of the president’s health to donors, says campaign is clear-eyed about debate

<i>MANDEL NGAN/AFP/AFP via Getty Images via CNN Newsource</i><br/>US President Joe Biden delivers remarks on the Supreme Court's immunity ruling at the Cross Hall of the White House in Washington
MANDEL NGAN/AFP/AFP via Getty Images via CNN Newsource
US President Joe Biden delivers remarks on the Supreme Court's immunity ruling at the Cross Hall of the White House in Washington

By Jeff Zeleny and MJ Lee, CNN

Washington (CNN) — President Joe Biden’s campaign chair on Monday told members of the campaign’s National Finance Committee that the team is “clear-eyed, not pollyannish” after the president’s poor debate performance, two participants on the call told CNN, but defended Biden’s health and offered no indication he was reconsidering his bid for a second term.

Jen O’Malley Dillon held the virtual meeting with about 500 donors, whose pictures spread across 21 pages of Zoom screens. The meeting was called in hopes of easing the tensions and answering questions top Democrats have been raised in response to Biden’s dismal debate performance Thursday night.

Dillon offered no indication that Biden was considering changing course, three participants on the call told CNN, as she offered a staunch defense of his health. She pointed to the president’s health report released by his doctors earlier this year, which declared him fit to serve.

“He’s probably in better health than most of us,” Dillon said, according to two of the participants, one of whom said the comments were offensive and dismissive of the real concerns about Biden in the wake of his debate performance.

A member of the National Finance Committee who participated in the call said it was disappointing that the top Biden official sought to downplay the concerns, rather than hear them.

Questions were allowed, but they were read by staff members, rather than donors themselves.

Among the questions that O’Malley Dillon fielded was how Biden would do better in the next debate and what the campaign plans to do if the president dips in the polls, another donor on the call said.

The main gist of the response regarding Biden’s second debate against Donald Trump was that the campaign fully acknowledges the president had a bad performance, and that the president will be better prepared next time to turn it back onto Trump, per this donor.

As for what happens if Biden falls in public polls, campaign officials stressed they are not concerned about that because their own internal polling was strong, and that Biden has been flat since the debate.

Meanwhile, some top Democratic officials and supporters close to the White House have balked at the tone and language that some campaign officials have taken as part of their defense as the campaign has dug in after the debate.

In particular, the decision by the campaign to refer to those who have called on Biden to drop out of the 2024 race because of their grave concerns after the CNN debate as “the bedwetting brigade” has fueled anger and dismay. One senior Democratic official told CNN that tone was “disrespectful”; another top Democrat in close touch with the White House said it was “disgusting.”

Multiple people taking issue with language like “bedwetting” told CNN that the tone is dismissive and wholly unappreciative of the very serious and widespread concerns inside the Democratic Party about whether Biden is fit to seek and carry out a second term. In one fundraising email over the weekend sent under the name of deputy campaign manager Rob Flaherty, the campaign acknowledged the widespread panic that Biden’s debate performance had caused.

“If you’re like me, you’re getting lots of texts or calls from folks about the state of the race after Thursday. Maybe it was your panicked aunt, your MAGA uncle, or some self-important Podcasters,” the email started.

Later, the message said: “The bedwetting brigade is calling for Joe Biden to ‘drop out.’ That is the best possible way for Donald Trump to win and us to lose.”

In Monday’s call with donors, Chris Korge, the party’s finance chair, urged donors to work harder and unify behind Biden.

“Everyone just needs to breathe through the nose for a minute,” Korge told donors, two participants on the call said, imploring donors not to panic about the trajectory of Biden’s race with Trump.

Quentin Folks, a deputy campaign manager, told donors that negative media coverage of Biden was to blame for any drop in the polls, rather than the president’s debate performance. He said editorials and columnists calling for Biden to leave the race were “blowing this out of proportion.”

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