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President Biden, who in the past has dismissed questions about his advanced age with the advice “look at me,” will have one of the most consequential audiences of his political career on Thursday when he steps to the lectern in Washington and faces a horde of journalists. Members of Congress, Democratic donors, party strategists, voters, foreign leaders and officials in his own White House will tune in to watch what will be a real-time test of Biden’s ability to think quickly and deliver under pressure.

The pivotal event comes as Biden tries to salvage his candidacy and convince Democrats that his poor performance at last month’s debate was simply a “bad night” and not indicative of a general decline in his cognitive abilities. The enormous significance of the press conference also underscores that Biden’s attempts over the past two weeks to downplay his debate mistakes and move on with his presidential campaign have so far failed to convince many in his party.

Although the president has defiantly declared he will stay in the race and cemented his support this week by winning over key swathes of voters, the number of leading Democrats who have remained silent or expressed only lukewarm support suggests that a poor showing at the press conference could unleash a new wave of defections. Anxious Democrats fear that Biden’s weak polling and limited public appearances could pave the way for Donald Trump’s return to the White House, a prospect some have called an existential threat to the country’s democracy.

Senator Richard Blumenthal (D-Connecticut) said Wednesday he remains “deeply concerned” about Biden’s prospects against Trump, joining a chorus of Democrats arguing that Biden must do more in the coming days to reassure voters and lawmakers.

“I think he needs to continue to make his case effectively and aggressively to the American people and earn the support of him and some of my colleagues,” he said.

Biden’s aides have suggested that the president’s activities over the past two weeks – including several rallies, a handful of interviews, some well-received speeches, impromptu conversations with supporters and a hosting role at the NATO summit in Washington – have helped him quell calls for him to drop out of the race. Campaign aides pointed to the president’s defiant letter on Monday pledging he would stay in the race and highlighted the expressions of support he has received from some Democratic officials in recent days.

Still, several party leaders remain skeptical, and some have warned that Biden’s inability to quickly recover from the debate and publicly show his strength is particularly troubling. Democratic lawmakers have said for days they want to see Biden in more unscripted situations where he speaks without notes or a teleprompter to show that the debate, in which he often struggled to finish his sentences, was just a one-off.

That the press conference is taking place a full two weeks after the debate seems like a telling sign to some in the party, and several Democratic aides and lawmakers predicted the president would perform poorly before a press primed to ask challenging questions about his age and judgment.

Several congressional staffers and some lawmakers, speaking on the condition of anonymity to discuss private deliberations, said they view the news conference as the first real test of the 81-year-old’s cognitive abilities since the June 27 debate. They pointed out that he will have no script and will have to navigate a wide range of questions. The event will cap off NATO’s 75th anniversary summit hosted by Biden this week, though questions about his political standing and health are likely to dominate.

Biden will face reporters at a time when many in his party are demoralized by his weak position in the presidential race, with several polls showing him trailing Trump in key swing states. Although Trump is only slightly younger than Biden at 78, voters have expressed far greater concerns about whether Biden can serve four more years as president. In a New York Times-Siena College poll released after the debate, 74 percent of voters thought Biden was too old to serve effectively as president; 42 percent said the same about Trump.

On Tuesday, Senator Michael Bennet (D-Colo.) said on CNN that he fears Biden is on track to lose to Trump by a landslide and that the White House needs to do more to “show that it has a plan to win this election.”

On Wednesday, Biden faced a new wave of skepticism, with more and more lawmakers calling for his resignation or saying they expected more political vitality from him before they could fully support him. Senator Peter Welch (D-Vermont) was the first senator to publicly call for Biden to resign, in an op-ed for the Washington Post. On MSNBC’s “Morning Joe,” former House Speaker Nancy Pelosi (D-California) repeatedly called on Biden to make a decision on whether to stay in the presidential race, even as the president insisted he had already decided to remain at the top of the Democratic ticket.

Also on Wednesday, George Clooney, the Hollywood actor and one of Biden’s top re-election fundraisers, called for the president to be replaced by the Democratic candidate. In an op-ed in the New York Times, Clooney, who invited Biden to a fundraiser last month, said the president is losing the battle against time.

“It’s devastating to have to say this, but the Joe Biden I was with at the fundraiser three weeks ago was not the Joe ‘Big F-ing Deal’ Biden of 2010,” Clooney wrote. “He wasn’t even the Joe Biden of 2020. He was the same man we all saw at the debate.”

The many doubts surrounding the president are raising the stakes for his press conference, according to several Democratic officials, who have indicated they will be watching closely for any slip-ups or signs of weakness. For their part, Biden’s advisers are hoping a solid showing on Thursday will help him finally put the debate drama behind him.

Supporters and critics alike have pointed out that the timing could be in Biden’s favor. If he gets through the press conference without triggering a new wave of intra-party panic, the focus will shift to Trump and the Republicans, who hold their nominating convention next week. Trump is expected to announce his running mate in the next few days, and Congress will not be in session next week.

Biden has not always performed well at major solo press conferences, which have been rare during his presidency.

In January 2022, Biden faced reporters for nearly two hours, answering questions on a wide range of topics and occasionally reacting irritably to journalists who asked pointed questions.

After the event, First Lady Jill Biden rebuked the president’s advisers for allowing the event to go on for so long, according to the book “American Woman: The Transformation of the Modern First Lady, from Hillary Clinton to Jill Biden.”

Since then, the President has had significantly fewer substantive dialogues with the media compared to his predecessors.

Biden took part in 36 press conferences during his presidency, the fewest of any president during the same period since Ronald Reagan, according to data compiled by Martha Joynt Kumar, professor emeritus of political science at Towson University and director of the White House Transition Project.

Biden particularly favors so-called two-by-two press conferences, in which he addresses the media alongside a foreign leader and questions are limited to two journalists from each country’s delegation. He often keeps his answers brief, rarely engaging in the kind of long, professorial answers preferred by former President Barack Obama or the long-winded Riffs from Trump.

In his recent press appearances, Biden sometimes read his answers from index cards rather than speaking spontaneously. His voice was deep and raspy at times. He sometimes mixed up names or paused mid-sentence rather than finishing his thought, with Republicans taking advantage of every slip-up.

White House aides, who often determine which journalists are called, have occasionally tried to fish out the content of reporters’ questions in advance of events. This practice predated Biden’s presidency but has received additional scrutiny because of the focus on the president’s mental acuity.

Two radio presenters said on Saturday that they were answered questions from Biden’s aides before conducting separate interviews with him last week, a move the campaign initially defended but later announced it would move away from.

Republicans responded by claiming that Biden was mentally incapable of answering questions he had not asked himself. Republican National Committee officials – who have become experts at filming and broadcasting Biden’s gaffes during public appearances – have often attacked the president at press conferences and suggested without evidence that the events were staged.

In addition to the content of his answers and his oratory skills, the president’s demeanor will also be in focus, as party officials closely examine whether he appears forceful enough to represent the Democrats’ message against Trump in the coming months.

Biden has at times become annoyed at reporters’ attempts to ask multiple questions at once, or he has lashed out at journalists who asked him about topics he considered off-topic.

The conference will conclude a NATO summit at which the president announced the delivery of new F-16 fighter jets to Ukraine, praised member countries for increasing their defense spending and awarded NATO Secretary General Jens Stoltenberg the Presidential Medal of Freedom.

While several journalists are likely to question Biden on Thursday With the 2024 presidential election looming and the issues that now dominate it – his age, health and political standing – world leaders will also be watching the press conference to see whether the president demonstrates competence and skill on a range of global issues.

Biden, for his part, has indicated he will use his future public appearances to challenge Trump more directly, and on Monday he told donors he would approach a future debate with the presumptive Republican nominee differently.

“Attack, attack, attack, attack,” he said.

Jacqueline Alemany, Leigh Ann Caldwell, Marianna Sotomayor, Mariana Alfaro and Liz Goodwin contributed to this report.

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