Biden tells governors he needs more sleep, less work at night

President Biden told a gathering of Democratic governors that he needs to get more sleep and work fewer hours, including limiting events after 8 p.m., according to two people who attended the gathering and several others briefed on his comments.

Wednesday’s comments were a clear acknowledgement of the 81-year-old president’s fatigue at a rally meant to convince more than two dozen of his top supporters that he is still in charge and capable of waging a robust campaign against former President Donald J. Trump.

Biden’s comments about the need for more calm came shortly after The New York Times reported that current and former officials had noted that the president’s mistakes had become more frequent and obvious in recent months.

But Biden told the governors, some of whom attended the White House and others who participated online, that he was staying in the race.

He detailed his extensive foreign travel in the weeks leading up to the debate, something the White House and its allies have cited in recent days as a reason for his faltering debate performance. Biden’s campaign initially blamed a cold, and then mid-debate he mentioned it amid a flurry of social media posts questioning why Biden was struggling.

Biden said he told his staff he needed to get more sleep, multiple people familiar with what happened at the meeting said. He repeatedly referred to pushing too hard and not listening to his team about his schedule, and said he needed to work shorter hours and avoid events after 8 p.m., according to one of the people familiar with what happened at the meeting.

After Hawaii Gov. Josh Green, a physician, asked Biden about the status of his health, Biden responded that his health was fine. “It’s just my brain,” he added, according to three people familiar with what happened — a comment that some in the room took as a joke, including New York Gov. Kathy Hochul, according to a person close to her. But at least one governor did not and expressed surprise.

Jen O’Malley Dillon, Biden’s campaign manager, who attended the meeting, said in a statement that he had said, “All joking aside,” a recollection corroborated by another person with knowledge of the meeting. Ms. O’Malley Dillon added: “He was clearly joking.”

Kevin Munoz, a Biden campaign spokesman, said of the president’s comments about getting more sleep and working less late: “President Bush went to bed at 9, and President Obama made dinner at 6:30. Normal presidents strike a balance, and Joe Biden is no exception. Hardly the same severity as Donald Trump, who spends half his day on Truth Social ranting about plans to cause a recession and the other half playing golf.”

Mr. Biden made two foreign trips in the weeks before the debate, but then spent a week at Camp David preparing for the debate with a group of advisers. A person close to Mr. Biden said his comment about sleep and work hours reflected the fact that he was juggling a lot of official work on top of campaign activities during the practice sessions, which came on the heels of the foreign trips.

Several governors who attended the meeting expressed dismay afterward that there had been little discussion about whether Biden should continue his 2024 presidential campaign — a topic they discussed at length during a governors’ call Monday.

Despite their private concerns about Biden continuing his campaign, none of the governors — some of whom have been mentioned as possible Biden successors — directly said he should withdraw from the race, according to multiple people briefed on the meeting.

Illinois Gov. J.B. Pritzker, a staunch Biden supporter, questioned the president’s campaign plans early in the meeting, two people with knowledge of the meeting said.

Others in the meeting were pointed in their remarks. Colorado Gov. Jared Polis, who attended virtually, told the president toward the end that he had heard a wave of wishes from several people that Mr. Biden would end his campaign, according to two people with knowledge of the conversation.

Two other governors, Janet Mills of Maine and Michelle Lujan Grisham of New Mexico, also voiced concerns. Ms. Mills said people didn’t think Mr. Biden was capable of running, and Ms. Lujan Grisham said she worried the president could lose her state, according to two of the people briefed.

Speaking for themselves, some governors have been more vocal. Massachusetts Gov. Maura Healey, though she did not speak at Wednesday’s meeting with Mr. Biden, said during a Monday phone call with fellow governors about the situation that she had told White House chief of staff Jeff Zients that the president’s political standing was “irreparable” after his disastrous debate performance, according to two people present on Monday’s call.

Biden has admitted to two allies that he knows he may not be able to salvage his bid for a second term if he can’t demonstrate his capabilities to voters after the debate. He sought to reassure worried campaign aides in a Wednesday phone call before the governors’ meeting, saying he was in the running to stay.

But the fact that Biden began the call with the governors by declaring that he would move forward left some participants feeling that further discussion about the state of affairs was being dampened.

Biden told a Milwaukee radio station in an interview made public Wednesday that he had “a bad night.” In the pre-recorded interview with radio host Earl Ingram, Biden added: “The fact is, I made a mistake. I made a mistake.”

Mr. Biden also told governors that he had been examined by his doctor at some point in the days after the debate for a cold he had been suffering from and that he was fine, multiple people familiar with what happened said. Politico previously reported that Mr. Biden’s checkup, which the White House said took place on Monday, was brief and did not amount to a full physical.

White House spokesman Andrew Bates confirmed that Mr. Biden had visited the White House physician to see if he had a cold. But on Friday, White House press secretary Karine Jean-Pierre said the opposite, telling reporters that Mr. Biden had not had a medical checkup since February.

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