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Week in politics: Biden tries to do debate damage control with ABC interview

(SOUNDBITE OF ARCHIVED RECORDING)

PRESIDENT JOE BIDEN: I don't think anybody's more qualified to be president or win this race than me.

SCOTT SIMON, HOST:

President Biden unchanged, implacable in his resolved to run for a second term at the age of 81, following an unsteady performance in his debate last week against Donald Trump.

(SOUNDBITE OF ARCHIVED RECORDING)

BIDEN: The whole way I prepared - nobody's fault - mine. Nobody's fault but mine.

SIMON: Ron Elving joins us now. Ron, thanks for being with us.

RON ELVING, BYLINE: Good to be with you, Scott, and welcome back.

SIMON: Thank you. Good to be with you, my friend. How do you assess the president's appearance? I'll be that simple. Did he allay concerns about running for reelection and, if reelected, continuing to serve?

ELVING: For some, perhaps he did. For many, however, he did not. But it's interesting you call this a Biden appearance. We are all calling it that. That's natural enough, but it highlights the nature of the issue here. If you look at the transcript, just the words, you get one impression. Looking at the screen, you get another. Relatively few people read the transcript, so the visual element is important, even paramount. You know, one of Ronald Reagan's aides used to tell reporters to watch his appearances with the sound turned off to get a sense of how most people get their information. We often watch TV with one eye, so to speak, not with full attention to the words or even the sound. Now, Reagan, of course, had a highly...

SIMON: Yeah.

ELVING: ...Effectual speaking voice and used it well, along with his acting chops. And Biden's voice last night still did not sound full strength. He said again he had been sick for the debate, and he's been out a lot, speaking and using that voice on the stump. So all this may be highly subjective. But off - after all, we are talking about the impression for voters, not political scientists.

SIMON: If there's a change at the top of the ticket, does Vice President Harris seem to be solidifying support?

ELVING: At this point, Democrats in this country are not in love with Kamala Harris, and you know that old adage about Democrats waiting to fall in love with their candidate, always looking for the ideal candidate. And they're not there with Kamala Harris, at least not yet. But they've not given their hearts to any other plausible replacement just now, and Harris is in a unique position. She's the first woman to be vice president - also a woman of color. She would also get immediate access to all the cash on hand raised for Biden-Harris. She also has near-universal name recognition in the status of having been a heartbeat away. So those are unique assets in this field. Yet Democrats are notorious for holding out. If you wait long enough for a unicorn, you may wind up without a horse.

SIMON: U.S. Supreme Court ruled this week that former presidents cannot be prosecuted for the core powers of their office even when they run afoul of the law. What are - are the implications what some people think they are?

ELVING: Get ready for countless disputes over which powers are core powers for the presidency and how far presumptive immunity goes. Some of that will need to be determined with respect to Trump's pending cases in federal court, and some of that process may make its way back to the Supremes before those cases go to trial, if, indeed, they ever do. So this decision would seem to raise the stakes still higher for this fall and for presidential elections in the future because the winners of those elections may be harder than ever to hold accountable.

SIMON: NPR's Ron Elving, a very good week to talk to you. Thanks so much for being with us.

ELVING: Thank you, Scott. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.

NPR transcripts are created on a rush deadline by an NPR contractor. This text may not be in its final form and may be updated or revised in the future. Accuracy and availability may vary. The authoritative record of NPR’s programming is the audio record.

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Scott Simon
Scott Simon is one of America's most admired writers and broadcasters. He is the host of Weekend Edition Saturday and is one of the hosts of NPR's morning news podcast Up First. He has reported from all fifty states, five continents, and ten wars, from El Salvador to Sarajevo to Afghanistan and Iraq. His books have chronicled character and characters, in war and peace, sports and art, tragedy and comedy.
Ron Elving
Ron Elving is Senior Editor and Correspondent on the Washington Desk for NPR News, where he is frequently heard as a news analyst and writes regularly for NPR.org.
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