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George Stephanopoulos steadily presses Biden with tough questions but got no fireworks

CNN  —  ABC News’ George Stephanopoulos had a tall task on Friday: Press President Joe Biden on his age, his acuity and the future of his reelection campaign. It was one of the most anticipated interviews of his career. Stephanopoulos mostly lived up to the challenge, asking rapid-fire, biting questions that did not let Biden off the hook. Although there was no single standout moment, Stephanopoulos challenged Biden’s denialism about the political damage the president did to himself during his disastrous debate performance last week. Behind his questions, viewers got a sense of Stephanopoulos’ frustration, which is shared by the entire White House press corps. Many of the journalists who cover Biden every day are seething; angry at what some say is a White House that has deceived them, and has kept the president from interacting in an open format with the press. In the interview, Biden’s first since the CNN debate last month, Stephanopoulos kept the questions going at a fast clip. He was measured but persistent, clearly aware of the deeply personal and sensitive issues at hand. But he also sometimes seemed almost in disbelief at Biden’s answers. “Do you really believe that you’re not behind right now?” he asked Biden, questioning him again and again over polling. “Just when you look at the reality though, Mr. President,” he implored again. Stephanopoulos pressed Biden the most on whether he has had, and whether he would agree to a neurological and cognitive evaluation, asking him about it five times in a row. At some point Stephanopoulos painted a stark reality for the president. “It’s been a two-man race for several months. Inflation has come down. In those last few months, (Trump has) become a convicted felon. Yet, you’re still falling further behind,” he said. And then an even more brutally honest take. “Mr. President, I’ve never seen a president (at) 36% approval get reelected,” he said. The interview only lasted about 22 minutes and was aired unedited. So any and all pauses, stumbles and even some production issues (like a camera losing focus when Biden leaned forward) were bared for all to see. Although the interview did not necessarily have any earth-shattering moments, it was important for the Biden campaign to try to halt the negative whirlpool around it. Stephanopoulos was asking questions not just for ABC and the American public, but also for an entire White House press corps that’s been urgently requesting access to the president and a press conference — thus far to no avail. Praise for Stephanopoulos Stephanopoulos was widely praised by fellow journalists. “I think Stephanopoulos’s questions are mostly good and tough so far,” Jonah Goldberg, editor-in-chief of The Dispatch, wrote on X, formerly known as Twitter. Josh Jamerson, deputy politics editor at the Wall Street Journal, wrote, “George Stephanopoulos, incredibly impressive interviewer tonight. Not grandstanding at all. Just straight-forward questions.” And New York Times reporter Kenneth Vogel noted Stephanopoulos was “persistent & tough, but not mean.” “His toughest questions were delivered with empathy,” Vogel added. The interview — while important — will likely do little to quell the crisis in the Democratic Party over Biden’s candidacy, but also little to quell the frustration of the White House press corps, which has been demanding a press conference with the president. Biden has given the fewest press conferences of any modern president, although he rates highly for number of quick informal questions and answers with reporters. Stephanopoulos knows intimately well what the White House needed to do with this interview, having been on the other side as a communications director for former President Bill Clinton. During the 1992 presidential campaign, after reports surfaced that then-candidate Clinton had had a mistress, both Bill and Hillary Clinton sat for a “60 Minutes” interview to air after the Super Bowl. Writing in his memoir years later, Stephanopoulos recalled: “We bet a whole campaign on a single interview.”