PA Reacts: Gov. Shapiro Comes To Pres. Biden’s Defense Following ‘Bad Debate’

The reaction poured in after Thursday’s debate.

By John Cole & Kim Lyons | Pennsylvania Capital-Star

Gov. Josh Shapiro speaking. Credit: Tom Sofield/NewtownPANow.com

The morning after the first presidential debate between President Joe Biden and former President Donald Trump, Gov. Josh Shapiro and other Pennsylvania Democrats came to Biden’s defense, both on the airwaves and on social media.

Gov. Josh Shapiro said during separate Friday morning interviews on MSNBC and CNN that Democrats should “stop worrying” and “start working,” as headlines trumpeted Democrats in a “panic” over a lackluster debate performance from Biden that reignited speculation that the president’s age is a major concern in his reelection bid. 

“Here’s the bottom line. Joe Biden had a bad debate night, but Donald Trump was a bad president,” Shapiro said on CNN.

During both interviews, Shapiro was pressed about Biden’s performance and admitted on both multiple times that Biden had a bad debate and that it “was not a good look,” but reemphasized the point that the election is a choice between Biden and Trump. 

“I would just say Democrats stop worrying and start working,” Shapiro said on MSNBC. “We all have a responsibility here to do our part.”

Shapiro also said that Biden is “up for the job,” in response to a question about various Democratic strategists and pundits calling for him not to seek his party’s nomination. 

MSNBC’s Mika Brzezinski challenged Shapiro at one point, pushing back on his comments, and asking about the stakes of the debate, saying Biden was “terrible” in one of the most important nights of the election cycle. Shapiro said that Trump “also had a terrible night.” 

“I’ve acknowledged now multiple times Joe Biden had a bad debate night, and he’s got a burden on him to show people that he is still able to move forward in these debates in prosecuting the case against Donald Trump,” Shapiro said. “I believe he can do that. I also believe that we all have a responsibility to help him do that.”

During his interview on CNN, Shapiro also blasted Trump, saying “it ain’t easy debating a pathological liar,” and called out CNN for its moderation. 

“Frankly, I think CNN could have done a better job of calling those lies out,” Shapiro said during the CNN interview. “The bottom line here is that there is a clear contrast in this race, and we have a responsibility to prosecute the case against Donald Trump, not get caught up in any hand wringing right now. Stop worrying and start working and help move this country.”

Democrats cancel Friday Biden campaign event in Harrisburg

Also Friday morning, a Biden campaign event in Harrisburg scheduled to feature state Democratic lawmakers never happened. It was billed by a Pennsylvania House Democrat spokesperson earlier in the week as a “response to Trump’s debate lies. Bring a chair, it will take a while.” 

Jack Doyle, the Biden campaign’s Pennsylvania campaign manager, said the event was canceled the day before due to the Senate adjourning for the weekend and a conflicting House floor schedule.

Republican House Minority Leader Bryan Cutler (R-Lancaster) has raised concerns about Biden campaign events in Harrisburg, including whether Department of General Services resources were improperly used. 

On Thursday, Cutler appealed House Speaker Joanna McClinton’s ruling that an amendment he attempted to add to a Senate bill to “prohibit any administrative department …from expending funds for the purpose of preparing, planning or holding an event, advocating for or against the election of any candidate or ballot question” was irrelevant to the bill in question, which was to reauthorize funding for the state’s geospatial coordinating board. McClinton called the amendment and Cutler’s appeal “frivolous and absurd.”

Reaction to Biden’s performance

Prior to the debate on Thursday evening, Shapiro addressed a Biden debate watch party in Harrisburg where he shared a similar message of the 2024 race being between two candidates, claiming Biden “loves this nation” and Trump “doesn’t love America.” 

The mood in the room changed throughout the evening as Biden’s shaky performance unfolded. A CNN flash poll following the debate showed that 67% of those who watched said Trump outperformed Biden last night. 

U.S. Sen. John Fetterman (D-Pa.), who has been another vocal Pennsylvania surrogate for the Biden campaign, weighed in on social media. He shared a screen grab of a Politico headline reading ‘WTF’: Panicked Dems start looking for alternatives to Biden’ and reminded people of his own poor debate performance in 2022’s U.S. Senate race.

“I refuse to join the Democratic vultures on Biden’s shoulder after the debate. No one knows more than me that a rough debate is not the sum total of the person and their record,” Fetterman wrote.. 

Fetterman struggled during his one and only debate in 2022 against GOP candidate Mehmet Oz. Fetterman was still recovering from a stroke he had suffered a few months earlier. While the performance was widely viewed as a campaign-ender by political pundits, voters generally felt sympathy for Fetterman, and he won the election by 5 points

“Morning-after thermonuclear beat downs from my race from the debate and polling geniuses like 538 predicted l’d lose by 2. And what happened? The only seat to flip and won by a historic margin (+5). Chill the f— out,” Fetterman wrote in a follow-up post on X Friday morning. 

U.S. Sen. Bob Casey (D-Pa.), who is seeking reelection to a fourth term in office, has not commented on Biden’s debate performance. His campaign replied to a request for comment on Friday with a statement from the senator that did not address the debate, instead criticizing his GOP opponent David McCormick without naming him. “Pennsylvanians deserve someone fighting for working families, not for billionaires,” the statement reads.

McCormick posted to social media on Thursday night during the debate writing “this is just hard to watch as an American. I don’t know how anyone can watch this and continue to think Joe Biden is fit for office.” 

During an interview on KDKA-FM in Pittsburgh on Friday morning, McCormick said Biden’s performance gave anyone watching a “sense of fear” and “sadness.”

“As an American, put aside politics for a second, you say listen, we should be worried,” McCormick said. “Our founders, our forefathers had some vision on this, they had something called the 25th Amendment.”

The 25th Amendment to the U.S. Constitution includes the steps for replacing the president or vice president in the event of death, removal, resignation or incapacitation.

When pressed if he thought there should be conversation about replacing the president right now via the 25th Amendment, McCormick said “If what we saw last night is reflective of what he is like day to day, they’re sitting with him… if you’re Secretary of Defense, or Attorney General, or a Secretary of State, you have a responsibility to say, hey wait a second, this guy is not up to the job, yes I am saying that that’s the thing they should be asking themselves right now.”

U.S. Rep. Matt Cartwright (D-8th District) told States Newsroom that Biden’s performance reminded him of a 2022 debate he had where his own performance was “lousy,”

“He had a tough night,” Cartwright said, adding that he believes Democrats shouldn’t “overreact.”

Cartwright said he didn’t believe Biden’s debate performance would affect how voters in his district, which covers sections of northeastern Pennsylvania, including Biden’s boyhood home of Scranton, will vote for down-ballot races later this year.

“People split their tickets where I live,” Cartwright said. “They know who I am and they know I’m not the same guy as whoever’s in the White House.”

Rob Bresnahan, Cartwright’s GOP challenger, responded to the debate saying there’s a “leadership void in the White House. 

“Joe Biden may be a nice guy, but it’s time for him to hang them up. It’s time for new leadership in Washington, DC,” Bresnahan wrote.

This article was updated at 1:35 p.m., Friday, June 28, 2024 to include comment from Sen. Bob Casey, and at 3:40 p.m to include comment from Rep. Matt Cartwright.

Ian Karbal of the Capital-Star staff contributed.

Pennsylvania Capital-Star is part of States Newsroom, a network of news bureaus supported by grants and a coalition of donors as a 501c(3) public charity. Pennsylvania Capital-Star maintains editorial independence. Contact Editor Kim Lyons for questions: info@penncapital-star.com. Follow Pennsylvania Capital-Star on Facebook and Twitter.

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