‘Exhausted,’ ‘bad episode’: Biden doubles down on debate explanations in ABC News exclusive

President Joe Biden, in his first television interview since his CNN debate with Donald Trump, brushed off the poor performance as a “bad episode” and said he alone was to blame for what transpired.

Biden sat down with ABC News anchor George Stephanopoulos in Madison, Wisconsin, on Friday after a fiery rally with Democratic supporters, during which Biden insisted he is remaining in the race.

Stephanopoulos immediately dove into last Thursday’s showdown, which sparked widespread alarm among Democratic lawmakers and pundits about Biden’s ability to campaign and serve another four years.

“Let’s start with the debate. You and your team have said you had a bad night,” Stephanopoulos began.

“Sure did,” Biden responded.

Watch: ABC News anchor George Stephanopoulos’ exclusive first post-debate TV interview with President Joe Biden airs in its entirety in an ABC News prime-time special Friday, July 5, at 8 p.m. ET.

Stephanopoulos went on to ask Biden about a statement from former House Speaker Nancy Pelosi, who led the House during the first two years of Biden’s administration and ushered through some of his signature policy achievements.

“But your friend Nancy Pelosi actually framed the question that I think is on the minds of millions of Americans: Was this a bad episode or the sign of a more serious condition?” Stephanopoulos asked.

“It was a bad episode,” Biden said. “No indication of any serious condition. I was exhausted. I didn’t listen to my instincts in terms of preparing and — and a bad night.”

President Joe Biden speaks with George Stephanopoulos on July 5, 2024, in an ABC News exclusive. ABC News

Biden traveled internationally in mid-June to mark the 80th anniversary of D-Day in France. But he spent nearly a week at Camp David after that in the run-up to the debate to meet with close advisers and prepare.

Stephanopoulos pressed Biden, “Why wasn’t that enough rest time, enough recovery time?”

“Because I was sick. I was feeling terrible,” Biden said. “Matter of fact the docs with me. I asked if they did a COVID test because they’re trying to figure out what was wrong. They did a test to see whether or not I had some infection, you know, a virus. I didn’t. I just had a really bad cold.”

“Did you ever watch the debate afterwards?” Stephanopoulos asked Biden.

“I don’t think I did, no,” the president said.

But did he know how badly it was going while he was on stage?

“Yeah, look. The whole way I prepared, nobody’s fault, mine. Nobody’s fault but mine. I– I prepared what I usually would do sitting down as I did come back with foreign leaders or National Security Council for explicit detail. And I realized– partway through that, you know, all– I get quoted the New York Times had me down, ten points before the debate, nine now, or whatever the hell it is. The fact of the matter is, what I looked at is that he also lied 28 times. I couldn’t– I mean, the way the debate ran, not– my fault, nobody else’s fault, no one else’s fault.”

“But it seemed like you were having trouble from the first question in, even before he spoke?” Stephanopoulos asked.

“Well, I just had a bad night,” Biden said.

ABC News offered a similar interview opportunity to Trump but he declined.

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