Biden’s family privately criticizes top advisers and pushes for their ouster at Camp David meeting

Members of Joe Biden’s family privately trashed his top campaign advisers at Camp David this weekend, blaming them for the president’s flop in Thursday’s debate and urging Biden to fire or demote people in his political high command.

There is no immediate expectation that Biden will follow through on that advice, according to three people briefed on the family conversations but not directly involved. The three people were granted anonymity to discuss the matter.

Among the family‘s complaints about the debate practice: that Biden was not prepared to pivot more to go on the attack; that he was bogged down too much on defending his record rather than outlining a vision for a second term; and that he was over-worked and not well-rested.

The blame was cast widely on staffers, including: Anita Dunn, the senior adviser who frequently has the president’s ear; her husband, Bob Bauer, the president’s attorney who played Trump in rehearsals at Camp David; and Ron Klain, the former chief of staff who ran point on the debate prep and previous cycles’ sessions.

“The aides who prepped the President have been with him for years, often decades, seeing him through victories and challenges. He maintains strong confidence in them,” Biden campaign spokesperson Kevin Munoz said in a statement.

A senior Biden aide also pushed back, saying it was “not true” that frustration was directed at Dunn, Bauer and Klain.

Biden allies and staffers have sought to blame a variety of factors in the aftermath of Biden’s dismal debate performance, including that the president was ill, was over-prepared and that the CNN moderators failed to fact-check former President Donald Trump. But as the crisis continued into a third day, the finger-pointing has turned inward toward some of Biden’s closest advisers.

The focus on the staff, however, also allowed the family to overlook Biden’s own failings in Atlanta, one of the people familiar noted.

These people said the Biden family wanted the president to continue in the campaign rather than end his career with a calamitous debate performance against Trump, whom they all loathe. First lady Jill Biden and his son Hunter Biden were the loudest voices urging the president to stay in the 2024 contest.

The Biden family also expected to huddle to discuss the best way to reassure Democrats that staying in the race is the right decision. The president himself was calling around to hear what his confidants thought. As Biden boarded Air Force One on Saturday, he chatted on the phone with Jon Meacham, according to photographs of the caller ID.

Additionally, Biden’s campaign staff only grew angrier at CNN as to how the debate was run, according to several people familiar with the conversations. Their complaints were lengthy, including that the moderators should have fact-checked Trump more often, that Biden was not told which camera he’d be on when not speaking and that the makeup staff made him appear too pale, according to the three people. Biden did, however, agree to the terms of the debate before it was held.

Since the debate, Biden’s family has publicly and privately rallied behind him. Granddaughters Finnegan and Natalie Biden traveled with the president and first lady for a slate of fundraising events on Saturday in New York and New Jersey. Although the family had long planned to spend this weekend together at Camp David to take a family portrait with photographer Annie Leibovitz, the gathering offered an opportunity for them to sit down together in the days following what is shaping up to be a low point in the president’s decades-long political career.

Before Biden even walked off the debate stage on Thursday evening, he was already facing heavy criticism from members of his own party about his rocky performance, with some suggesting that he couldn’t adequately compete against Trump and that his performance exposed long-simmering concerns that he’s too old to campaign and lead the nation. His raspy voice, trailing answers and deflated stage presence during the 90-minute debate set off panic among top Democratic donors and strategists about the viability of his candidacy and opened up a debate about whether he should be replaced at the top of the ticket.

He did better in subsequent days with stronger performances at a rally and fundraisers — but those, unlike the debate, allowed him to use teleprompters.

Biden has acknowledged that the debate did not go well. At a campaign rally on Friday, he said “I don’t debate as well as I used to,” but emphasized that he “would not be running again if I did not believe with all my heart and soul that I can do this job.”

Ever since launching his reelection campaign, Biden has struggled to assuage concerns about his age. Polls have consistently shown that many voters — including his own supporters — think he is too old to effectively serve a second term. Although Trump is just three years younger, voters are far less likely to cite the former president’s age as an issue.

Biden’s debate performance is likely to make the age issue an even bigger hurdle in the coming months. A CBS News/YouGov poll published Sunday showed that 72 percent of registered voters do not believe Biden has the mental and cognitive health to serve as president, up from 65 percent earlier this month. His party is split on whether he should run for president, with 46 percent of registered Democratic voters saying he should not compared to 54 percent who say he should.

Biden often consults his family on big decisions, and people close to him say that the only way he would come to the conclusion to drop out of the race would be if the first lady and members of his family encouraged him to do so.

At a fundraiser in Greenwich Village on Friday night, the first lady said that after the debate, the president came to her and said: “Jill, I don’t know what happened. I didn’t feel that great.”

“And I said, ‘Look, Joe, we are not going to let 90 minutes define the four years that you’ve been president,’” the first lady recounted, according to reporters in the room.

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