Congressional Democrats Try to Find a Path Forward for Biden

Democratic Congressmen will convene for the first time Tuesday for crucial meetings since President Biden’s poor debate performance threw the party into disarray and raised concerns about whether he — and they — can be re-elected.

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

Over the past week, lawmakers have pointed to the Senate luncheon and 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 at the top of the Democratic ticket.

The signals leading up to Monday had been mixed, with nine Democratic incumbents in the House of Representatives publicly or privately calling for Biden to step aside, as his team ramped up the pressure campaign and the president himself vowed to keep running. But some Hill Democrats, including many influential members of the Congressional Black Caucus, embraced Biden and suggested they would continue to support his candidacy. While relatively few lawmakers have publicly called for the president to step aside, the whining behind the scenes is palpable and could be growing louder.

Meanwhile, Biden sent a letter to all Democrats on Monday saying he is “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 have succeeded in quelling much of the discontent among their bases, some of whom worry that Biden cannot defeat Trump and are concerned about the implications for their ability to retake the House and retain 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 withdraw from the race, but some want Biden to do more to prove he can beat 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 show he can campaign strongly enough to defeat Trump.

“There is such a case that needs to be brought against Donald Trump — President Biden needs to take the lead in bringing that case,” she said.

She praised Biden for leading a “historic” first term but called on him to step up his efforts.

“We need to see a much more forceful and energetic candidate on the campaign trail in the near future who can convince voters he is up to the task,” Murray said. “At this critical moment for our country, President Biden needs to think seriously about how best to preserve his incredible legacy and ensure it will continue into the future.”

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

“With so much at stake in the upcoming election, it is time for conversations about the strongest path forward,” Warner said in a statement. “As these conversations continue, I believe it is incumbent on the President to more aggressively advocate his case to the American people, and to hear directly from a broader range of voices on how best to 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 need to do is inject policy, the contrast between what Biden stands for and what Trump stands for, and then I think Biden could do a great job,” Sanders told CNN Monday night.

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

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

“I think he’s ultimately our nominee until he’s not,” said Rep. Pramila Jayapal (D-Wash.), chair of the Congressional Progressive Caucus. “And I think we shouldn’t let Trump and the Republicans do it for them.”

Rep. Bonnie Watson Coleman (D-N.J.) said her constituents told her they “felt bad” for Biden and wanted her to tell the president they stand behind him.

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

Rep. Jan Schakowsky (D-Ill.) said Democrats have no plan to replace Biden on the ballot. “There is no name. And if there is a name, is that name going to work? How about a vice president? How many people are going to rally behind that name? And in the meantime, we’ve got to get people out to vote,” she said.

Rep. Jesús “Chuy” García (D-Ill.), meanwhile, said he remains concerned about Biden’s fitness and is keeping a close eye on him. Still, Garcia has not called on 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 concerns about what is at stake in this election.”

“I’m not blind to it,” he said. “I can respond to this by saying clearly and unequivocally: I would not run for re-election if I didn’t absolutely believe that I was the best person to defeat Donald Trump in 2024.”

That appeared to be the same message he shared with members of the roughly 60-member Congressional Black Caucus — one of his staunchest allies on Capitol Hill — during a call Monday night, in which, amid discussions about 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, who was granted anonymity to speak freely, the members who spoke on the call praised Biden and kept their support.

Before the call, several CBC members told reporters on Monday that they would continue to support Biden and did not want their party to be thrown into chaos as they tried to find a new candidate.

Rep. Frederica S. Wilson (D-Fla.) said she wouldn’t even consider the possibility of replacing Biden on the ballot. 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 it because it’s not that simple,” she said. “You can’t just switch the ballot and switch the delegates and switch the votes and switch the finances and the money. It doesn’t happen that way. So it would be a total disaster for the Democratic Party.”

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

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