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Jul 9, 2024, 9:08pm EDT
politics

Skeptical Congress raises stakes for Biden’s ‘Big Boy’ press conference

REUTERS/Leah Millis
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The News

President Biden’s attempt to quash a simmering rebellion among Congressional Democrats remains incomplete, raising the stakes for his NATO summit press conference on Thursday even higher than they were already.

“I think voters are legitimate to ask questions and I think the [NATO] press conference and other events like that will be helpful in getting us back to the contrast between Biden and Trump that we need and the country deserves,” Sen. Chris Murphy, a Connecticut Democrat, told Semafor.

A number of influential Democrats have come out for Biden since he demanded they cut off talk of a replacement on Monday, but others continue to raise grave concerns about his viability and many more have hesitated to take a clear position on his status either way. Caucus meetings in the House and Senate on Tuesday both ended without any clear consensus on the path forward. “At the end of the day, he is our nominee right now ‘til he’s not our nominee,” Rep. Pramila Jayapal told the Wall Street Journal.

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Democrats, it seems, are waiting for something more. And more public opportunities to take questions, starting with Thursday’s press conference, have been a near-universal demand.

“Anything where he can be unscripted…I think it’s great,” Sen. Ron Wyden, an Oregon Democrat, told Semafor. He said he’s urged the Biden administration since “some time ago” to do more events away from teleprompters.

California Rep. Pete Aguilar, the chair of the House Democratic Caucus, told NBC News that he was taking a “let’s see” approach to Biden’s comeback even as he supported him.

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“Let’s see the press conference,” he said. “Let’s see the campaign stops. Let’s see all of this, because all of it is going to be necessary.”

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Benjy’s view

Biden’s coming “Big Boy” press conference, as his aides have jokingly called it, might explain at least a little of the hesitation among Democrats. Decisively endorse the president, only to see him stumble again, and you might get embarrassed. Call for him to drop out, only to see him deliver a vintage performance on the world stage, and you might get pressured into falling back in line.

But this all points to a broader issue for Biden: His support is brittle to the point that every public appearance right now feels like a potential turning point.

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The president has so far reasserted his dominance over the party by leveraging relationships with key leaders and publicly bullying so-called “elites” into standing down. What he hasn’t done is use the nearly two weeks since the debate to dispel allies’ doubts about his political and cognitive abilities with a robust schedule of events that test him the same way the debate did, something many Democrats have demanded over the entire period.

As Massachusetts Rep. Lori Tahan, another member of leadership, put it in a statement after the House meeting: “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.”

That’s created an uneasy standoff. Momentum appears to have slowed for demanding his removal, but it hasn’t disappeared entirely. The default stance among Senate Democrats, in particular, seems to be passive-aggressive seething about campaign tactics, generic statements of “concern,” and cryptic answers about Biden’s future. If they wanted to end talk of a replacement on Tuesday, they could have easily ended talk of a replacement. Instead, they’re buying time.

That’s an environment that could be prone to rapid shifts depending on events. Get used to every speech or interview being a potential “debate moment.”

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Room for Disagreement

Some of Biden’s critics have argued that his status is no longer actually in question. “Whether or not I have concerns is besides the point,” New York Rep. Jerry Nadler told reporters, per Axios. “He is going to be our nominee and we all have to support him.” Nadler had earlier suggested Biden should step down in a private call.

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Notable

  • “The morale of the caucus is at historic lows” one House Democrat told Semafor after Tuesday’s caucus meeting. Read more from our team about how Biden’s faring on Capitol Hill.
  • Biden’s opening speech at the NATO summit was a hit. Per Politico: “The president didn’t fumble over words as he often does during remarks. He was clear and forceful, appearing energized by the transatlanticism that he has embraced throughout his political career.”


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