After president's debate debacle, Jill Biden delivering the message that they're still all in

EAST HAMPTON, N.Y. (AP) — Jill Biden was right at her husband's side Saturday as they exited Air Force One to head for a pair of campaign stops at luxurious vacation homes on Long Island. And she got straight to the point when it was her turn to introduce the president at a tony fundraiser.

“Joe isn’t just the right person for the job. He’s the only person for the job,” she declared.

The first lady also told donors, “Anyone can tell you what they want to do, but Joe Biden can tell you what he’s done with his judgment, his experience, and his relationships with leaders across the globe.”

The first lady is trying to rally support for her husband after a dreadful performance in Thursday's presidential debate created fresh worries about President Joe Biden's age and his ability to compete in November's election and to serve another four years.

The community college professor has been by her husband's side since he exited the debate stage as he faces what could be a defining challenge of his presidency — the president says that democracy itself is on the line in his race against former President Donald Trump.

It's a reflection of the first lady's influence, her love of her husband and the pressure confronting an 81-year-old candidate whom many voters worry is too old to serve another term as president. While Trump's wife has been noticeably absent from the campaign trail, Jill Biden has taken a leading role, wearing a dress Friday decorated with the word “Vote.”

Less than 24 hours after her husband's disastrous debate, she stood before a crowd in Greenwich Village and spoke glowingly about her husband without any nod to the swirling controversy over whether he is up to another term.

“Joe will never stop fighting for this country and for communities like this one,” she said at an event at the Stonewall National Monument, a symbol of LGBTQ+ pride. “That’s who Joe is. He wakes up every morning thinking about how he can make the lives of Americans better.”

She was more frank, though, later in the day at a LGBTQ fundraiser in the city, saying of her husband’s debate performance, “I know it’s on your minds.”

“As Joe said earlier today, he’s not a young man,” she allowed. “And you know, after last night’s debate, he said, ‘You know, 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 went on to deliver a spirited defense of the president’s abilities, signaling there was no stepping back from his intent — their intent, really — for him to press forward with his campaign.

“What my husband does know how to do is tell the truth,“ she said. “When Joe gets knocked down, Joe gets back up, and that’s what we’re doing today.”

Jill Biden, 73, has long been her husband’s chief confidant and public defender, but her role looms larger this year and is attracting increasing scrutiny from Trump supporters, some of whom question whether she's the one doing the steering these days.

When the first lady gripped the president's hand as he left the debate stage on Thursday night after his halting performance, Republican Rep. Chip Roy of Texas reposted the video on X with the question, “Who is the Commander in Chief?”

Jill Biden, early on reluctant to embrace the role of political spouse, is all in.

Earlier in the year, when voters were in denial that Biden truly would seek another term, it was Jill Biden who squashed the idea he might not go through with it.

“How many times does he have to say it for you to believe it?” the first lady told The Associated Press in a February interview during a trip to Africa. She added, “He says he’s not done. He’s not finished what he’s started. And that’s what’s important.”

As a native of the Philadelphia area, her tone has grown increasingly feisty as she has told supporters that Trump has gotten “my Philly up.” But the race with the former Republican is tight and she told the fundraising gathering on Friday that, “We have to work harder than we’ve ever worked before.”

She doesn't just talk up her husband's best attributes, she regularly recounts stories of their courtship and life together for supporters. During Friday's events, she told the LGBTQ+ gatherings that Trump is a “threat” to their rights and “we can't let him win,” a sign that she won't shy from the gritty business of politics.

Last month, the first lady delivered a commencement address to community college students in Arizona, where she talked about ignoring the doubters and pushing forward with their goals.

“The next time someone tells you that you ‘can’t,’ you’re going to say, ‘Oh yeah? Watch me,’” she said.

It was an echo of the words her husband has used on multiple occasions when questioned about his ability to do the job for another four years: “Watch me.”