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Congressional Democrats are divided over Biden's future after debate performance

Democrats in Washington are split on whether President Biden can remain at the top of the party's ticket in November.
Chris Kleponis
AFP via Getty Images
Democrats in Washington are split on whether President Biden can remain at the top of the party's ticket in November.

Updated July 08, 2024 at 19:21 PM ET

Democrats returned to Capitol Hill Monday still deeply divided over President Biden and his future within the party. Many Democrats are publicly and privately struggling with serious questions about Biden's fitness for office after a string of disappointing public appearances and private meetings that raised further questions Biden's age and ability to lead.

The responses from Democrats have ranged from clear support:

"I'm for Joe," Senate Majority Leader Chuck Schumer, D-N.Y. told reporters in the Capitol.

To scathing calls for Biden to step aside:

"If the President continues his campaign, it would be a mistake," wrote Rep. Adam Smith, D-Wash., the top Democrat on the House Armed Services Committee. "He should step aside now so that we can find a new candidate that will put us in the strongest possible position to beat Donald Trump in November."

Other lawmakers have stopped short of calling on Biden to step aside, but have voiced concern about his candidacy since his debate with former President Donald Trump.

Sen. Tina Smith, D-Minn., told reporters, “I have a lot of concerns and I’m not the only one." Smith, who is also vice chair of the Democratic Senatorial Campaign Committee, said Democrats would have a more robust conversation in their caucus meeting Tuesday.

So far, Biden has responded with defiance.

"I am not going anywhere," Biden said Monday in an interview with MSNBC's Morning Joe. "I wouldn’t be running if I didn’t absolutely believe that I’m the best candidate to defeat Donald Trump in 2024."

Despite Biden's insistence, Democrats in Washington view this week as a critical test of his support. Biden will meet with world leaders at the NATO summit in Washington and Democrats will be watching.

Some Democrats want to see more from Biden

Sen. Richard Blumenthal, D-Conn., said the president has his support, but added that Biden "has to more aggressively address what’s at stake in this election and earn the support of the American people."

Sen. Michael Bennet, D-Colo., said Democrats need to have an "open discussion" about the path to winning the White House, House and Senate. Bennet said "many, many people" raised the issue of Biden's future last week as he was campaigning in Colorado.

"I need to be able to see that [Biden] is ready to go out there and campaign day and night, vigorously and passionately in all in certainly in the battleground states and in states all across the country," Bennet said.

Senior Democratic Sen. Patty Murray, D-Wash., said in a statement that "President Biden must do more to demonstrate he can campaign strong enough to beat Donald Trump."

"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," Murray, the Senate pro tem, said.

Supporters want to shift the focus back to Trump

Sen. Mark Kelly, D-Ariz., Arizona said he's been hearing from constituents supportive of Biden remaining in the race.

"The sentiment — and I agree with this — is Joe Biden is our nominee," Kelly said. "Millions of people voted for Joe Biden to be on the ballot. He's on the ballot, and I truly believe he's going to win in November."

Sen. Ron Wyden, D-Wash., urged people to "zero in" on the contrast between Biden and Trump.

"It was one rough night," Wyden said. "You want a lot of rough nights? You're going to get four years of them if you elect Donald Trump."

After a meeting with other House Democrats, Minority Leader Hakeem Jeffries told reporters, "I made clear publicly the day after the debate that I support President Joe Biden and the Democratic ticket. My position has not changed."

This comes a day after four more Democrats publicly called for Biden to step aside.

Biden reaches out to Black allies in the House

Members of the Congressional Black Caucus met virtually with Biden Wednesday evening. Black voters helped propel Biden to victory in the 2020 Democratic primary and remain a key demographic to his reelection hopes.

Rep. Frederica Wilson, a member of the caucus, said in a statement that the call "reaffirmed [her] support for Biden and Harris."

Copyright 2024 NPR

Claudia Grisales is a congressional reporter assigned to NPR's Washington Desk.
Deirdre Walsh is the congress editor for NPR's Washington Desk.
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.
Susan Davis is a congressional correspondent for NPR and a co-host of the NPR Politics Podcast. She has covered Congress, elections, and national politics since 2002 for publications including USA TODAY, The Wall Street Journal, National Journal and Roll Call. She appears regularly on television and radio outlets to discuss congressional and national politics, and she is a contributor on PBS's Washington Week with Robert Costa. She is a graduate of American University in Washington, D.C., and a Philadelphia native.
Ximena Bustillo
Ximena Bustillo is a multi-platform reporter at NPR covering politics out of the White House and Congress on air and in print.
Jeongyoon Han
[Copyright 2024 NPR]