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‘Rejuvenate him and his spirit’: Biden receives warm welcome at Philadelphia church

‘Rejuvenate him and his spirit’: Biden receives warm welcome at Philadelphia church

‘Rejuvenate him and his spirit’: Biden receives warm welcome at Philadelphia church

PHILADELPHIA – For President Joe Biden, who is deep in the fight of his political life, everything is politics these days, even going to church.

On Sunday morning, Biden spoke at a black church service in Philadelphia, seeking to reassure the group of voters who helped him win the White House in 2020 that he is still capable of beating former President Donald Trump.

“Joy comes in the morning,” Biden told several hundred people at the Mount Airy Church of God in Christ, a political landmark in the city often visited by Democrats. “You’ve never given up in my life. And as your president, I’ve tried to live out my faith.”

Before Biden spoke, church member Rachel Hooks offered a prayer that did little to quell the doubts swirling around his candidacy.

“Touch his mind, O God, his body; rejuvenate him and his spirit, O God; bless him and give him direction,” Hooks said, echoing a similar plea for mental and physical strength he also offered for members of law enforcement.

During his speech, Biden spoke from notes rather than the teleprompter that typically guides his public addresses, and his remarks at times seemed slurred and could be difficult to hear.

“I know I’m going to go on longer than I should,” the president said before ending his speech after about seven minutes. The brevity was notable because he is under extreme scrutiny by the media and the public for signs of physical or mental failings.

But as he visited a supportive religious community on familiar ground, Biden, a lifelong Catholic, faced a political crisis like never before.

A growing number of Democrats across the party’s ideological spectrum are calling for him to drop out of the race over concerns about his age and mental acuity. Some donors have been reluctant to pour money into his reelection campaign. Democratic operatives and elected officials fear that the Biden campaign’s core strategy — turning the 2024 contest into a referendum on Trump — has been upended by the president’s poor debate performance.

During a virtual meeting called by House Minority Leader Hakeem Jeffries of New York, Rep. Jerrold Nadler of New York, the top Democrat on the Judiciary Committee, and at least one other senior Democrat said they believed it was time for Biden to drop out of the race, according to a person briefed on the ongoing session who insisted on anonymity to describe it.

Biden, however, is standing firm. On Friday, he told ABC News that only the “Lord almighty” could force him to step aside after delivering a defiant speech in Madison, Wisconsin. That was an attitude that appeared to be shared by many churchgoers at Sunday’s church service.

“Let him know we’re with him, hallelujah,” a woman in the audience shouted as Biden took the stage and a choir sang.

Black voters make up a key segment of Biden’s coalition, though polls show their enthusiasm for his candidacy has waned. Still, they have higher opinions of the president’s performance than other groups and are less likely to think he should drop out of the race, according to a New York Times/Siena College poll conducted after the debate.

Biden is making efforts like Sunday’s visit to Philadelphia to rally their support. From the pulpit he spoke of policies he has enacted that he says benefit black Americans, highlighting his record of reducing the unemployment rate for black workers, expanding access to health care, passing gun reform in Congress and alleviating some student debt.

Pennsylvania is one of the states Biden almost certainly must win again if he wants to keep the White House. And its largest city, Philadelphia, is one of his favorite places to campaign. But Trump has taken the lead in the state in many polls and now leads the president by about 3 percentage points, according to a New York Times average of polls.

California Gov. Gavin Newsom, a leading Biden backer, spent Friday and Saturday campaigning for the president in western Pennsylvania and in Bucks County, a hotly contested battleground. At the church, he was joined by Sen. Bob Casey of Pennsylvania, a Democrat seeking reelection, and Mayor Cherelle Parker of Philadelphia.

Biden was expected to speak at a National Education Association meeting in Philadelphia on Sunday but pulled out last week after staff at the powerful education union went on strike.

“President Biden is a staunch supporter of unions and will not cross a picket line,” Biden campaign spokeswoman Lauren Hitt said in a statement.

Instead, he leaned toward a black congregation with ties to the civil rights movement, the kind of community the president has tapped several times in his political career and that has been a welcoming group of potential voters.

On Sunday afternoon, Biden will travel to Harrisburg for a community organizing event with union members.

Because he frequently lost his train of thought during debates, Biden has largely limited himself to delivering prepared remarks using a teleprompter. Without the device, he has sometimes found it difficult to speak clearly.

Last week, during two radio interviews, he stumbled over his words, even though his aides had provided the hosts with questions — a practice that runs counter to standard journalistic ethics. And he gave several confusing answers during his interview with ABC News on Friday.

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Even Biden allies have said his campaign should ensure he appears more in public without a teleprompter to demonstrate his mental acuity.

“They don’t need prepared statements,” said Steve Sisolak, a former Democratic governor of Nevada who is backing Biden. “He needs to show people he can do it in the moment and answer questions — tough questions — and be there with voters. Be there, engage with his people.”

After the service, Biden met with parishioners, shook their hands and took selfies with them for more than half an hour.

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The president’s campaign will face a serious test this week when members of Congress return to Washington after the July 4 holiday. Their willingness to offer public support to Biden — or not — could determine whether he remains in the race.

Biden can only hope for a reception as friendly and upbeat as the one he received in Philadelphia on Sunday. Before the president spoke, he was introduced by a spirited sermon from Bishop J. Louis Felton.

“If Joseph could climb out of the pit,” Felton preached, referencing an early biblical figure who was rejected by his brothers, “if Jesus could climb out of the pit, then President Biden will be back.”

This article originally appeared in The New York Times.