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Democrats remain split over Biden's future in the party

Democrats remain divided on how to handle President Biden's campaign missteps. Party leaders like Senate Majority Leader Chuck Schumer, D-NY, say they back Biden, but even Schumer's close deputy Sen. Patty Murray, D-Wash, (left), is among the members questioning Biden's ability to be the party's nominee.
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Democrats remain divided on how to handle President Biden's campaign missteps. Party leaders like Senate Majority Leader Chuck Schumer, D-NY, say they back Biden, but even Schumer's close deputy Sen. Patty Murray, D-Wash, (left), is among the members questioning Biden's ability to be the party's nominee.

Despite mounting pressure over the weekend from Democrats calling on Biden to step aside from the campaign, the proverbial dam did not break when lawmakers returned to Capitol Hill.

Public calls for Biden to step aside slowed to a near standstill with just one member, Rep. Mikie Sherrill, D-NJ, speaking out on Tuesday.

“I know that President Biden and his team have been true public servants and have put the country and the best interests of democracy first and foremost in their considerations,” Sherrill wrote in a statement. “And because I know President Biden cares deeply about the future of our country, I am asking that he declare that he won’t run for reelection and will help lead us through a process toward a new nominee.”

No other House or Senate Democrats joined the push for the president to withdraw as the 2024 presidential nominee, but lawmakers leaving a pair of closed door party meetings on both sides of the Capitol did not emerge on the same page. The private worries about what Biden remaining on the top of the ticket means for the prospects of Democrats to flip the House and keep control of the Senate persists.

The internal party heads into its second week after Democratic lawmakers expressed deep concerns about President Biden’s ability to campaign aggressively enough to win the election after a poor debate performance against former President Donald Trump.

Biden continues to have the support of Senate Majority Leader Chuck Schumer. But when pressed three times about the president’s viability as a candidate and a possible challenge, Schumer repeated the same curt answer: “as I’ve said before, I’m with Joe.”

Montana Senator Jon Tester, perhaps the most vulnerable Democrat running for reelection in a state Trump won handily in 2020, pointed to a written statement he issued a day earlier saying he had concerns and the president needed to demonstrate he could do the job. He called the closed door discussion Tuesday “constructive.”

The number two Senate Democratic leader, Dick Durbin of Illinois, when asked about Biden remaining on the ticket, said “it still remains to be seen” and said the president is putting together his campaign.

Multiple Senate Democrats say this week is really the unofficial deadline for the party to debate the best path forward, if in fact there is a move to get behind an alternative nominee.

But Vermont Democratic Senator Peter Welch told reporters “we have a ways to go” when asked about any consensus about next steps.

House democrats remain split

House Democrats huddled in a private meeting Tuesday morning at the Democratic National Committee headquarters close to the Capitol for close to two hours. Lawmakers were not allowed to bring phones, and the recommendation to those leaving the session was not to discuss the conversation with the media, according to members leaving the meeting. Top leaders left through a back entrance, avoiding reporters.

Most members exiting the meeting barely spoke to the flood of reporters waiting outside, with some simply saying it’s good to have a “family conversation” and the discussion is “exactly what we should be doing as a party.”

Asked about any consensus in the room, Missouri Rep. Emanuel Cleaver deadpanned: “the consensus was not to talk to you guys.”

California Rep. Lou Correa, who backs Biden, said the “vast, vast majority” of those who spoke up during the private session support Biden as the nominee.

“I was surprised how much support Biden had in that room, not that it matters, because the voters, they’ve already chosen their nominee,” he told reporters. He admitted there was “some concern, but I didn't really see a lot of people saying he shouldn’t be the guy.”

Georgia Rep. Hank Johnson said he doesn’t think there was “disunity in the room,” adding: “There were differences of opinion expressed, but we’re all unified in the fact that we can’t allow Donald Trump to regain the White House.”

One member who was granted anonymity to discuss the private meeting told NPR the meeting felt “like a funeral” and that there was a lot of talk about how difficult the situation is for Democrats.

When asked if members are on the same page, Tennessee Rep. Steve Cohen quipped, “We’re not even in the same book.”

Those division include a vocal group of members who continue to say Biden should step aside for the good of the party.

“He just has to step down,” said Illinois Rep. Mike Quigley, adding he thinks Biden can’t win the election.

Massachusetts Rep. Lori Trahan, who is one of the members elected to lead House Democrats on messaging, released a statement after the meeting saying she shared the concerns about Biden that she’s hearing from voters.

“While President Biden has made clear he feels he is the best candidate to win this election, nothing that has happened over the past twelve days suggests that voters see things the same way.” She stopped short of calling Biden to step aside, but added,“over the next four months, I will do everything in my power to help Democrats retake the House and defeat Donald Trump.”

Several Democrats who did speak to reporters stressed that Biden was the nominee and the party needs to return to campaigning and making the contrast between Biden’s record and Trump’s agenda.

Democratic Caucus Chairman Pete Aguilar reiterated this message during a Tuesday afternoon press conference.

“Right now, President Biden is the nominee and we support the Democratic nominee that will beat Donald Trump,” he said.

President Biden is on a campaign blitz as Democrats in Washington worry about his ability to lead the party.
SAUL LOEB/AFP via Getty Images / AFP
President Biden is on a campaign blitz as Democrats in Washington worry about his ability to lead the party.

What’s Biden doing?

President Biden has been doing more outreach to members. He had a call last night with the Congressional Black Caucus. Black voters were critical in propelling Biden to the White House four years ago and remain a critical voting bloc for him this cycle.

He’s also given two interviews in recent days – a call to MSNBC where he essentially called on detractors who think he shouldn’t run to challenge him at the convention and an interview with ABC’s George Stephanopoulos, where he dismissed the possibility that top Congressional leaders would come to him asking him to step aside from the campaign.

On Monday, Biden also sent a two-page letter to Democratic lawmakers saying he’s committed to remaining in the race and that speculation about whether he should drop out helps Trump.

“The question of how to move forward has been well aired for over a week now and it’s time for it to end,”the letter read.

Rep. Deborah Ross declined to talk about Tuesday’s caucus discussion, but used a political term southerners often use to describe Democrats who vote for any candidate with the party’s label, “I’m from North Carolina. We’re yellow dog Democrats and we’d vote for a yellow dog over a Republican and we’d certainly vote for a yellow dog over a junkyard dog and that’s who Donald Trump is.”

NPR Congressional Correspondent Claudia Grisales contributed to this report.

Copyright 2024 NPR

Barbara Sprunt
Barbara Sprunt is a producer on NPR's Washington desk, where she reports and produces breaking news and feature political content. She formerly produced the NPR Politics Podcast and got her start in radio at as an intern on NPR's Weekend All Things Considered and Tell Me More with Michel Martin. She is an alumnus of the Paul Miller Reporting Fellowship at the National Press Foundation. She is a graduate of American University in Washington, D.C., and a Pennsylvania native.
Deirdre Walsh
Deirdre Walsh is a congressional correspondent for NPR's Washington Desk.
Jeongyoon Han
[Copyright 2024 NPR]