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Updated Jul 9, 2024, 11:36am EDT
politicsNorth America

‘The morale of the caucus is at historic lows’: Congressional Democrats debate Biden’s fate

Vice President Kamala Harris speaks with President Joe Biden on a White House balcony during an Independence Day celebration in Washington, D.C., on July 4, 2024.
Elizabeth Frantz/Reuters
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The News

House Democrats gathered Tuesday morning for a consequential meeting, kicking off a day of closed-door discussions where the focus centered on whether President Joe Biden is still the right candidate to face Donald Trump in November.

Inside the meeting, some Democrats aired concerns and grievances about Biden’s viability, others called for unity behind his nomination, and the caucus left without a clear plan for how to proceed beyond continuing the conversation among themselves as news develops, according to a Democratic member.

Biden has made progress in recent days by securing support from the Congressional Black Caucus, Congressional Hispanic Caucus, and left-wing “Squad.” House Minority Leader Hakeem Jeffries has stood by him as well. Rep. Pramila Jayapal, the leader of the Congressional Progressive Caucus, declared “he is our nominee right now, until he’s not our nominee” and suggested attacking him was counterproductive.

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“Joe Biden is, will be and should be our nominee,” Florida Rep. Debbie Wasserman Schultz told reporters after the meeting, echoing similar comments from other members.

The president’s continued support from key leaders raised hopes among his supporters that Democrats might give up on discussions about alternative nominees as soon as today. But his public appearances and interviews since his disastrous debate have also done little to restore confidence among members, some of whom described the caucus as depressed and divided.

“The morale of the caucus is at historic lows” one member said. Told that others had compared the mood to a funeral, they replied: “That is an insult to funerals.”

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Lawmakers’ cellphones were collected as they entered the Democratic National Committee headquarters, a sign of how sensitive the conversation was expected to be.

Heading into the meeting, there were signs that Biden’s absolute insistence that he will not drop out — leaving Democrats with the ugly prospect of weakening their nominee if they kept up their criticisms — may have saved him for now. New York Rep. Jerry Nadler, a longtime and influential member who had privately said Biden should step aside, told reporters “he is going to be our nominee,” rendering further concerns “besides the point.”

Hopes for a buoyant “rally around the flag” moment out of Tuesday’s caucus discussions did not materialize, though.

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“I’m concerned about him dragging the ticket down,” Illinois Rep. Mike Quigley said as he exited the meeting. “I don’t think he should stay in the race.”

He also suggested that others shared his view, but wouldn’t say it out loud — and that he was sworn to secrecy as to who. They were “already off the Christmas card list,” he said.

Massachusetts Rep. Lori Trahan, a member of the Democratic leadership, struck a sour note after the gathering as well.

“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 said in a statement, according to Politico.

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The View From The Senate

Democratic senators — many of whom are publicly uneasy with Biden’s position after his debate performance — held a similar discussion at their weekly lunch meeting on whether he should step aside as the party’s nominee.

Whatever happened inside, they were not excited to discuss it afterwards. Lawmakers who often talk to the press after meetings offered no comment, sped away, or brushed aside questions with a noncommittal answer as to Biden’s status.

What was clearer by the end of the day: Democratic senators are still too divided to move on from the debate.

“As I’ve said before, I’m with Joe,” Majority Leader Chuck Schumer said at a press conference afterwards, after being asked about fellow leadership member Patty Murray’s Monday statement expressing deep concerns about Biden. He repeated a similar phrase in response to other questions about the president’s path forward.

Senator Dick Durbin, the no. 2 ranking Democrat in leadership, told a PBS News reporter that it “remains to be seen” whether Biden should remain on the ticket and that he had more work to do.

Sen. Gary Peters, who chairs the party’s campaign arm, was asked by Semafor whether Senators were rallying behind Biden, as the president had asked them to do. “We understand it’s imperative Donald Trump loses,” he answered.

CNN reported that Sens. Tester, Brown, and Bennet said Biden will lose to Trump in November. A senior Democratic Senate aide told Semafor that Tester made his views known at the lunch that Biden has not been doing a good job reassuring him and voters that he’s up to serve another four-year term.

Sen. Joe Manchin of West Virginia described the lunch as “entertaining” and a “good discussion” of senators’ perspectives from their own states. But it was also, he said, a “tough atmosphere.”

One of Biden’s more reliable allies, Delaware Sen. Chris Coons, told reporters that the president’s rhetorical skills were perhaps unfairly being scrutinized too much after the debate.

“We need to remember President Biden for 30 years has been someone who does stutter, and who occasionally misspeaks in small ways and not judge him by too high a standard,” he said. “He’s been the most consequential president in my lifetime.”

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Know More

The last week and a half has been tumultuous for Biden, whose lackluster debate performance alarmed top Democrats, voters, and donors alike. Recent polls show Biden’s numbers slipping post-debate, though not by much.

The polls, particularly those showing Vice President Kamala Harris running more successfully against Trump than Biden does, set off a wave of speculation over whether Biden might be replaced on the ticket. Over the past several days, potentially damning stories have surfaced about how Biden’s inner circle sought to shield him from the public and hide how much he has appeared to age in office.

But in a defiant letter to Congress on Monday, the president warned his party to stop theorizing about a new nominee. “The question of how to move forward has been well-aired for over a week now. And it’s time for it to end,” he said. In a phone interview on Morning Joe around the same time, he denounced the “elites” trying to push him out of the race, daring them to challenge him at the convention.

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Notable

  • In The Washington Post, Mariana Alfaro and Marianna Sotomayor detail Democrats’ attempt to forge a path forward on Biden.
  • For CNN, MJ Lee and Kayla Tausche unpack why Dems see Tuesday as make-or-break day for Biden’s political future.

Benjy Sarlin contributed to this story.

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