Hill Democrats focus on Trump debate answers after halting Biden performance

Few congressional Democrats could muster a defense of President Joe Biden’s halting debate performance Thursday, opting instead to criticize former President Donald Trump for his answers on how he would handle women’s reproductive health decisions and falsehoods about the Jan. 6 insurrection.

The vast majority of Democrats tried to redirect the conversation to Trump, rather than attempting to defending Biden’s raspy and sometimes unintelligible performance.

“Tonight [Trump] presented another pack of lies which along, with his candidacy, must be rejected,” wrote former Speaker Nancy Pelosi. “How dare he place the blame for January 6th on anyone but himself, the inciter of an insurrection?”

A notable outlier: Sen. John Fetterman (D-Pa.), who faced his own cycle of questions about his viability after a poor debate performance against Mehmet Oz following a stroke in 2022.

“No one knows more than me that a rough debate is not the sum total of the person and their record,” Fetterman wrote in a post on social media platform X. “Chill the fuck out.”

Senate Majority Leader Chuck Schumer didn’t address Biden’s performance, but wrote: “Tonight’s debate made the choice clear: Four more years of progress, or four more years of attacks on our fundamental rights and our democracy.”

House Minority Leader Hakeem Jeffries wrote simply, without mentioning Biden: “Freedom and Democracy are on the line. We will never surrender.”

Normally active Democratic social media posters in Congress were conspicuously silent during and after the debate, but others were not.

Rep. Dean Phillips (D-Minn.), who mounted a futile primary bid against Biden citing concerns over the president’s age, simply posted a Gandhi quote to social media Friday morning: “Speak only if it improves upon the silence.”

“Biden had a very low bar going into the debate and failed to clear even that bar,” wrote former Obama Cabinet official Julián Castro, whose brother Joaquin represents Texas in the House. “He seemed unprepared, lost, and not strong enough to parry effectively with Trump, who lies constantly.

Even those Republicans who’ve been critical of Trump couldn’t defend Biden’s performance.

“Former President Trump has understandably been characterized as a narcissist, however the greatest example of narcissism at this time in America politics is President Biden’s belief that he’s the only person who can defeat Mr. Trump,” posted former Rep. Carlos Curbelo (R-Fla.).