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Congressional Democrats attempt to forge a path forward on Biden


Congressional Democrats attempt to forge a path forward on Biden

Congressional Democrats will gather in pivotal meetings Tuesday, for the first time since President Biden’s faltering debate performance wreaked havoc inside the party and sparked concern over whether he — and they — can win reelection.

At 9 a.m., House Democrats will hold an all-member caucus meeting in D.C. at the headquarters of the Democratic National Committee. Later in the day, Senate Democrats will gather for their weekly policy lunch.

Over the last week, lawmakers have been pointing to the Senate luncheon and the House meeting as moments when emotions and differing opinions will come to a head — and perhaps reveal whether Biden has enough support on Capitol Hill to remain atop the Democratic ticket.

Signals before Monday were decidedly mixed, with nine sitting House Democrats either publicly or privately calling for Biden to step aside as his team amped up the pressure campaign and the president himself vowed to keep running. However, some Hill Democrats — including many influential members of the Congressional Black Caucus — embraced Biden and suggested they would continue to back his candidacy. Though relatively few lawmakers have publicly called for the president to step aside, the grousing behind the scenes is tangible and could get louder.

Meanwhile, Biden sent a letter to all Democrats on Monday saying he was “firmly committed to staying in this race.”

House Minority Leader Hakeem Jeffries (D-N.Y.) and Senate Majority Leader Charles E. Schumer (D-N.Y.) have publicly defended Biden and managed to tamp down much of the dissent roiling their rank-and-file, some of whom worry Biden can’t beat Trump and fret about the downstream impact on their ability to recapture the House and maintain the Senate majority in November.

On Monday, Jeffries said his “position has not changed” in support of Biden. And Schumer succinctly told reporters on Monday: “As I’ve said before, I’m for Joe.”

No sitting senator has publicly called on the president to exit the race, but some want Biden to do more to prove that he can best Trump in November.

Sen. Patty Murray (D-Wash.), who serves as president pro tempore of the Senate, said Biden needs to “be more forceful and energetic” to demonstrate that he can campaign strongly enough to beat Trump.

“There is such a case to be prosecuted against Donald Trump — President Biden has to lead the charge in making that case,” she said.

She praised Biden for leading a “historic” first term but called on him to be more vigorous in his efforts.

“We need to see a much more forceful and energetic candidate on the campaign trail in the very near future in order for him to convince voters he is up to the job,” Murray said. “At this critical time for our country, President Biden must seriously consider the best way to preserve his incredible legacy and secure it for the future.”

And Sen. Mark R. Warner (D-Va.), who sought last week to organize a group of Democratic senators to ask Biden to end his campaign, made clear on Monday that he remains concerned about the viability of Biden’s bid.

“With so much at stake in the upcoming election, now is the time for conversations about the strongest path forward,” Warner said in a statement. “As these conversations continue, I believe it is incumbent upon the President to more aggressively make his case to the American people, and to hear directly from a broader group of voices about how to best prevent Trump’s lawlessness from returning to the White House.”

Others, such as Sen. Bernie Sanders (I-Vt.), were more steadfast in their support for Biden.

“What we’ve got to do is inject policy, the contrast between what Biden stands for and what Trump stands for, and then if you do that, I think Biden could do just fine,” Sanders told CNN on Monday night.

Meanwhile, in the House, Democrats from across the party’s spectrum — including members of blocs representing progressives, moderates, Hispanics and Black Democrats — continued to line up behind Biden’s candidacy. Some stated over and over again that he is their party’s de facto nominee and that they would work to get him over the finish line in November.

“He is the nominee,” said Rep. Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez (D-N.Y.). “I am focused on making sure that we win in November.”

“I think at the end of the day, he is our nominee right now, until he’s not our nominee,” said Rep. Pramila Jayapal (D-Wash.), chairwoman of the Congressional Progressive Caucus. “And I think we shouldn’t do Trump and Republicans’ dirty work for them.”

Rep. Bonnie Watson Coleman (D-N.J.) said her constituents told her that they “felt badly” for Biden and that they wanted her to tell the president that they’re with him.

“Biden is our nominee. I want the convention to go smoothly,” she said. “I think that the worst thing that could happen would be for the media to hype up all the negativity about Biden and ignore the fact that his opponent is … lying, stupid [and] amoral.”

Rep. Jan Schakowsky (D-Ill.) said that Democrats don’t have a plan to replace Biden on the ballot. “There’s not a name. And when there is a name, is that name going to work? And then what about a vice president? How many are going to line up behind that? And, in the meantime, we have to be getting people out to vote,” she said.

Rep. Jesús “Chuy” García (D-Ill.), meanwhile, said that he still has concerns over Biden’s fitness and that he has been watching him closely. Still, Garcia has not called for him to leave the ticket.

In the letter he sent to Democratic lawmakers, Biden said he has had “extensive conversations” with party leaders, lawmakers, rank-and-file members and voters about their “good faith fears and worries about what is at stake in this election.”

“I am not blind to them,” he said. “I can respond to all this by saying clearly and unequivocally: I wouldn’t be running again if I did not absolutely believe I was the best person to beat Donald Trump in 2024.”

That appeared to be the same message he shared with members of the roughly 60-member Congressional Black Caucus — among his most loyal allies on the Hill — during a call Monday night, in which, amid conversations on policy and investments in the Black community, he doubled down on his pledge to stay in the race. According to a person on the call granted anonymity to freely discuss the conversation, members who spoke during the call praised Biden and did not back away from their support.

Ahead of the call, on Monday, several members of the CBC told reporters that they would stick by Biden and would rather not see their party thrown into chaos in the effort to find a new nominee.

Rep. Frederica S. Wilson (D-Fla.) said she did not even want to think about the possibility of replacing Biden on the ticket. Wilson said she was surprised that some of her colleagues “who have been here for years don’t understand the process” behind naming a nominee.

“I don’t even want to think about that because it’s not that simple,” she said. “You can’t just switch the ballot and switch the delegates and switch the vote and switch the finances and money. It doesn’t happen that way. So it would be a total calamity for the Democratic Party.”

Marianna Sotomayor, Theodoric Meyer, Jacqueline Alemany, Liz Goodwin and Leigh Ann Caldwell contributed to this report.

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