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Updated Jun 28, 2024, 1:58pm EDT
politics

‘I couldn’t hardly sleep’: Democrats in Congress have no idea what comes next for Biden

REUTERS/Kevin Wurm/File Photo
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Democrats arrived in Congress dazed and confused on Friday, still picking over President Biden’s debate disaster and unsure how they — and him — should move forward.

“I couldn’t hardly sleep,” Missouri Rep. Emanuel Cleaver said. “People were concerned. As I’ve told everybody, being concerned is healthy. Overreacting is dangerous. And I think I wouldn’t advise anybody to make rash decisions right now. I don’t think that’s healthy for the party and it’s not healthy for the political process.”

Between conversations with “panic-stricken” Democrats, Cleaver tried to look on the bright side. “The president did horribly last night,” he said — no spin, there — but so did his beloved Kansas City Chiefs in their first game last season before going on to win the Super Bowl.

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But the public conversation was no longer just about turning around a campaign strategy. Democrats needed guidance on whether the campaign was still happening at all.

When asked if the party might plausibly nominate someone else, Cleaver shockingly described it as a “big guess.” Ultimately whatever decision on next steps would be “up to the family.”

“I don’t think anybody’s going to go there and try to convince him not to run,” he said. “The only people who should have any legitimate opportunity to say something to him either way, is his family and I don’t think, at this point, we need to get involved.”

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Among members and senators, some tried to put on a brave face. Vice President Kamala Harris’ early take on CNN last night that the president “started slow” but “finished strong,” and that Donald Trump would be judged for his lies, had filtered down to the rank-and-file.

“I think that on his worst night, his presentation of integrity was far better than the other guy’s dishonesty,” former Speaker Nancy Pelosi told reporters.

Many suggested voters compare their records, rather than go off of one bad night. “Substance, not style,” as Sen. Chris Murphy of Connecticut put it in a video he posted to X.

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“Joe Biden is our president, he’s the president and that part’s over,” California Rep. Robert Garcia, who also serves as a Biden campaign surrogate, told Semafor. “He had a raspy voice, we’re moving forward, and we’re going to get behind the one person that already beat Donald Trump.”

For Democrats in competitive races, the results presented immediate questions about how — and whether — to distance themselves from Biden ahead of an expected deluge of attacks tying them to his performance.

“It was a terrible debate — we have to acknowledge that,” Rep. Angie Craig, who represents a battleground seat in Minnesota, said. “And Donald Trump lied every time he opened his mouth.”

Sens. Tammy Baldwin of Wisconsin and Sherrod Brown of Ohio, both up for re-election this year in states that voted for Trump at least once, emphasized their independence in statements to the press. They were focused on their own race, not the president’s.

In an interview with local outlet WBUR, New Hampshire Sen. Jeanne Shaheen — who was a critical negotiator on Biden’s signature infrastructure deal — noted that polls showed voters were dissatisfied with both their choices this election. Asked about Biden’s future as the nominee, she said that there would be “assessments going forward about what happens next.”

“I think, you know, if you and I were going to decide who got to be nominated maybe we would come up with some different answer, but we don’t get that choice,” she said. “That’s the voters who have decided, and what they’ve decided so far is that it’s going to be Donald Trump and Joe Biden.”

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Notable

  • In his Americana newsletter, David Weigel reports from the scene in Atlanta on the debate that redefined the presidential race.
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