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Updated Jul 8, 2024, 10:16pm EDT
politics

Senate Democrats haven’t turned on President Biden — yet

REUTERS/Elizabeth Frantz
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The News

Senate Democrats didn’t turn on President Biden when they returned to the Capitol on Monday, but they made clear they’re not done talking about it either.

Brushing off a written demand from Biden to move on from conversations about his status, Democrat after Democrat implied that his nomination was still in question while asking for more time to deliberate on the issue. At minimum, several said Biden had more work to do to restore confidence in his political viability after a disastrous debate against Donald Trump late last month that threw Democrats in a panic.

“It’s a moral question,” Sen. Michael Bennet of Colorado told Semafor. “And we should satisfy ourselves as Democrats that in an era of Donald Trump… that we are putting our best foot forward.”

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Bennet argued Democrats were on course to win control of Congress and the White House before Biden went on the CNN debate stage. He said he wasn’t sure that was the case anymore and Democratic senators needed to “assess” the fallout. Bennet also expressed confidence in the party’s ability to find a replacement for Biden, while adding “it’s no one’s first choice.”

Several senators, including Bennet and Sen. Tina Smith of Minnesota, said Monday they had heard from voters concerned about Biden’s age affecting his ability to serve out another four-year term. “President Biden has got to prove to the American people — including me — that he’s up to the job for another four years,” Sen. Jon Tester, who faces a tough reelection back in Montana, told a local TV station.

Perhaps the toughest statement came from the Senate’s longest-serving Democrat, Patty Murray of Washington, who seemed to walk close to the line of asking Biden to drop out.

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“More than a week since the debate, and after talking with my constituents, I believe President Biden must do more to demonstrate he can campaign strong enough to beat Donald Trump,” Murray said in a statement. “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.”

Sen. Mark Warner of Virginia, a member of Senate Democratic leadership who reportedly has been feeling out interest in an effort to push Biden aside, issued a statement urging “conversations about the strongest path forward.” He added Biden should “aggressively make his case to the American people” while widening the voices he listens to, given the president’s penchant to prize counsel from a small, insular group of longtime advisors.

Sen. Dick Durbin of Illinois, the second-ranked Senate Democrat, said upon arriving in the Capitol on Monday afternoon the debate “raised a lot of questions” that Biden has responded to with mixed results. Asked later by Semafor whether Democrats and Biden were on a collision course, Durbin responded: “I want our party unified behind one person as soon as possible.”

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Should that person be Biden? “We’ll see,” Durbin told Semafor.

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Know More

The Senate Democratic caucus gathers on Tuesdays for lunch, and the discussion could veer in a different direction once Biden skeptics see how much willingness there is to challenge a president who has made clear he’s not going anywhere without a fight.

Not every Senator has been so circumspect about Biden’s status. Several Democrats offered supportive statements for Biden. “As I’ve said before, I’m with Joe,” Senate Majority Leader Chuck Schumer of New York told reporters.

Sen. Catherine Cortez-Masto of Nevada — who faced a competitive Senate race in 2022 — urged Democrats to support Biden. “He’s always had Nevadans’ backs, whether it’s on the picket lines, protecting our personal freedoms, or lowering costs — now it’s time for us to have his,” she said in a statement.

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Joseph’s view

Like the famous scene in “Wolf of Wall Street” where a beleaguered Jordan Belfort insists he’s not going anywhere, Biden is making clear he isn’t stepping aside as the Democratic nominee for president — a post he’s fought for since the late 1980s. Notably, he invited critics to directly challenge him at the Democratic National Convention in August if they want to defenestrate him.

The Democratic Party’s reckoning over Biden’s candidacy, though, runs a real risk of unleashing protracted infighting. There’s a palpable unease among Democratic senators, few of whom have issued full-throated endorsements of the party’s standard bearer.

One Democrat close to the White House said that Biden may well lose more confidence among Hill Democrats if he insists on dispelling widespread concerns around his age as the function of out-of-touch Democratic elites. “We can all see what’s happening,” the Democrat source said. “We know that his age is having an impact on him.”

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The View From THE HOUSE

While the default in the Senate was a cryptic wait-and-see statement on Monday, Biden seemed to make more progress in the House.

Left-wing “Squad” members Alexandria Ocasio Cortez and Ilhan Omar both publicly backed Biden on Tuesday. “Joe Biden is our nominee,” Ocasio Cortez said. “He is not leaving this race. He is in this race and I support him.”

The chair of the Congressional Black Caucus, Nevada Rep. Steven Horsford, also announced his support for Biden — a potentially critical bellwether. Biden called into a virtual meeting with the CBC on Monday to thank them for their continued support. The leadership of the Congressional Hispanic Caucus also backed Biden.

There are still some questions about how deep CBC support runs behind the scenes, especially among younger members, but Georgia Rep. Hank Johnson dismissed the idea of a generational split. “We respect our elders, and our elders mean a lot to us and Joe Biden is an elder and he has exemplified what it is to be a great public servant,” he told reporters.

Not everyone in the party was as supportive. “You have to go to voters,” Rep. Joe Morelle, D-N.Y., told reporters. “I mean, are Americans convinced that you’re in the kind of shape to both stand for the campaign, but more importantly, can you continue to serve as president? I think that’s the challenge. I don’t think he’s met that challenge yet. He needs to continue to work at it.”

Morelle reportedly expressed similar concerns on a leadership call over the weekend and privately told colleagues Biden should step down.

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Room for Disagreement

Sen. Chris Coons of Delaware, a top Biden ally, said that Biden remains the most effective Democrat to defeat Trump. “I think it would be a huge mistake for the Democratic Party based on one evening in one debate to turn aside from supporting a very seasoned and capable President,” he told reporters.

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Notable

  • Semafor’s Benjy Sarlin writes that Biden is using the threat of “mutually assured destructionto quell a potential rebellion against his nomination.

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