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Concern mounts among lawmakers, donors over Biden’s candidacy


Concern mounts among lawmakers, donors over Biden’s candidacy

Washington — Several days after President Biden’s shaky debate performance, the president, his campaign and the Democratic Party have failed to allay the concerns of a number of Democratic lawmakers and financial backers.

Rep. Lloyd Doggett of Texas became the first Democratic lawmaker to call on President Biden to drop out of the presidential race in the wake of his debate performance last week, saying Tuesday that he is “hopeful that he will make the painful and difficult decision to withdraw.”

Rep. Lloyd Doggett at the U.S. Capitol on Wednesday, June 5, 2024.
Rep. Lloyd Doggett at the U.S. Capitol on Wednesday, June 5, 2024.

Tom Williams/CQ-Roll Call, Inc via Getty Images

“While much of his work has been transformational, he pledged to be transitional,” the Texas Democrat said in a statement. “He has the opportunity to encourage a new generation of leaders from whom a nominee can be chosen to unite our country through an open, democratic process.”

A group of House Democrats is also calling for Mr. Biden to transition out of the race, a Democratic lawmaker told CBS News. The member said the group, which was characterized as large and covering a broad swath of the Democratic caucus, is concerned about the president’s ability to win reelection, and the lawmakers are hoping the president will make the right decision and help find a new candidate.

A Democratic House member told CBS News that Democratic House “frontline” representatives — vulnerable House Democrats who are facing tough re-election races — are circulating a letter among House Democrats asking the president to step aside as the presumptive nominee. The Democratic member, who is not one of the frontline members and supports Mr. Biden, said that “if there is a lot of people who sign up, I think the dam can break.”

The lawmaker said there is real concern among some Democratic lawmakers, such as Doggett. The congressional source also emphasized that momentum may be picking up after Democratic Rep. Marie Gluesenkamp Pérez told a local station in her home state of Washington Tuesday she thinks the president’s debate performance will cost him the election. Gluesenkamp Pérez is a first -term member who won in a rural red district.

“About 50 million Americans tuned in and watched that debate. I was one of them for about five very painful minutes. We all saw what we saw, you can’t undo that, and the truth I think, is that Biden is going to lose to Trump. I know that’s difficult, but I think the damage has been done by that debate,” Gluesenkamp Pérez said.

The Biden-Harris campaign is aware of the frontline letter and trying to stop its momentum, according to a Biden campaign source.

Donors concerned 

One Democratic donor and Biden supporter, Whitney Tilson, who describes himself as a six-figure donor to Democrats, including Mr. Biden, is one of the few advocating publicly for the president to withdraw.

“I’m not privy to [Biden campaign] planning, but you can see it: The dam is breaking.”

Tilson said he is witnessing a quiet but fervent groundswell among Biden donors.

“These are people who like Biden, as I do, and we all believe he has been a great president,” Tilson said. “But we are rational and say, Trump must be stopped. Every one of us has reached the conclusion that sticking with Biden is not the answer.”

Tilson said there are “non-stop phone, email and text conversations going on,” and he described several scenarios that have been discussed among the donors. For instance, he said Mr. Biden could hand over the job to Vice President Kamala Harris before his term ends, reasoning that as an incumbent, “you give her all the advantages of being the incumbent and demonstrate she can do the job.”

Another alternative would be to “throw it open and say it is up to the Democratic convention,” he said. In that scenario, Mr. Biden “releases all his delegates to vote their conscience,” even if he still wished to endorse Harris and throw his support behind her.

Two other Biden donors who are on several high-level donor email chains that are circulating right now say that there are wide-ranging discussions about how to come up with a list of alternate candidates and what circumstances might lead to the president’s departure from the top of the ticket.

One group of Biden supporters has discussed mounting an effort to have former Presidents Barack Obama and Bill Clinton draw up a short list of candidates, have the party hold a series of debates and then vote on a new ticket at the convention.

One argument favoring Mr. Biden preserving his candidacy, the donors said, is that aside from Transportation Secretary Pete Buttigieg, who ran against Mr. Biden in 2020, very few of the names in contention have been seriously vetted for a national campaign.

The Biden campaign admits that the president had a bad night but resists any suggestion that the president would drop out of the race. And a campaign spokesperson reiterated to CBS News after Doggett’s statement that the president will “absolutely not” step aside.

The comments from Doggett, who has represented an Austin-area district in Congress for nearly three decades, come amid growing concerns among elected Democrats about the president’s ability to win November’s election, with a handful of members of the party leaving the door open for a possible replacement.

Other lawmakers weigh in

Although the most of elected Democrats have publicly continued to back the president following his debate performance — pointing to the president’s record while insisting that the president simply had a bad night — subtle cracks have emerged in recent days among a handful of elected officials, with suggestions that Mr. Biden may be unfit for another term.  

Sen. Sheldon Whitehouse, a Rhode Island Democrat, acknowledged the concerns about the president’s debate performance in an interview with CBS affiliate WPRI on Monday, saying he was “horrified” by the debate, while noting that it could be the boost the Biden campaign needs to “make a more compelling case against Donald Trump.”

“I think people want to make sure that this is a campaign that’s ready to go and win, that the president and his team are being candid with us about his condition — that this was a real anomaly and not just the way he is these days,” Whitehouse said.

Then Rep. Mike Quigley, an Illinois Democrat, said on CNN Tuesday morning that there is a “decision” that the president will have to make, signaling an openness to a new name atop the ticket while stopping short of calling for Mr. Biden to drop out of the race. 

“His decision not only impacts who’s going to serve in the White House the next four years, but who’s going to serve in the Senate, who’s going to serve in the House, and it will have implications for decades to come,” Quigley said, adding that “it has to be” the president’s decision.

Quigley said “we have to be honest with ourselves that it wasn’t just a horrible night,” but he declined to go further, citing his respect for the president who he said has “served us extraordinarily well for 50 years.” 

Rep. Angie Craig, a Minnesota Democrat, told reporters on Tuesday that “the president himself has to be the one to step aside if anything else proceeds forward,” adding that she’s been in touch with his campaign and has outlined what she needs to see from the president. 

“I need to see him out everywhere talking unscripted, no teleprompter, and he needs to make sure that the American people have confidence in his ability to run for reelection,” she said. “And so that’s where I am.”

Craig said she’s talking with a number of her colleagues in Congress about the issue, but made clear that “we need to let the president think about whether he wants to continue moving forward.”

Sen. Peter Welch, a Vermont Democrat, pointed his frustration at the Biden campaign, telling Semafor on Monday that he criticizes the campaign for “a dismissive attitude towards people who are raising questions for discussion.”

Welch said it’s a discussion the party has to have, while arguing that the campaign’s dismissiveness over the concerts are “inappropriate.”

Meanwhile, Kentucky Gov. Andy Beshear said on Monday that he will continue to support the president “so long as he continues to be in the race.”

Mr. Biden is set to hold a meeting with Democratic governors on Wednesday, CBS News has learned, after the outreach to reassure elected officials following the debate has primarily been from the president’s aides and advisers.

Margaret Brennan, Nikole Killion, Scott MacFarlane, Nancy Cordes, Aaron Navarro and Patrick McGuire contributed reporting.

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