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Updated Jul 10, 2024, 8:54pm EDT
politics

As leadership steps back, the anti-Biden rebellion grows

REUTERS/Ken Cedeno
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The News

Democratic leaders are giving their party plenty of space to process the fallout from President Biden’s debate. Increasingly, they’re filling it with calls for him to get out.

Nancy Pelosi’s interview on Wednesday morning casting doubt on Biden’s nomination kicked off a day of intense criticism of his campaign from inside and outside the Capitol.

Sen. Peter Welch became the first Democratic member of the upper chamber to call on Biden to leave the race, after earlier expressing discontent with the campaign’s response to the party’s concerns.

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On the House side, Reps. Pat Ryan of New York and Earl Blumenauer of Oregon became the eighth and ninth members to oppose Biden’s nomination. Maine Rep. Jared Golden, who holds a highly competitive seat, said he may not vote for Biden in a general election over questions around his health.

At the same time, Democrat after Democrat in both chambers echoed Pelosi by pointedly refusing to acknowledge Biden’s decision to stay in the race as final.

“He’s going to make the patriotic decision for the country because that’s what Joe Biden does,” Sen. Tim Kaine told Semafor. Asked if he wants Biden to reach a different decision, the Virginia Democrat replied: “I’ve already answered the question.”

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Many others are staying quiet, seemingly waiting to see what other shoes might drop either in the news, public opinion surveys, or in Biden’s own public appearances.

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Our View

One of the most striking things about the slow-moving rebellion is how little leadership seems to be involved. Neither the pro-Biden nor anti-Biden efforts seem especially organized, and both Minority Leader Hakeem Jeffries and Senate Majority Leader Chuck Schumer have carefully avoided prodding their members in either direction, even as they reiterate their support for the Biden status quo when asked.

“We are continuing to have candid, clear-eyed and comprehensive conversations with the House Democratic Caucus throughout the week, and that is the focus of our activity today, tomorrow, and we’ll see where we go from there,” Jeffries told reporters on Wednesday.

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Democratic members and staff who talked to Semafor insisted there’s no hidden agenda or secret meetings behind the scenes to try to force a consensus — they really are getting limited guidance, beyond a general encouragement to criticize Republicans when possible. Jeffries is set to take concerns he’s heard from the caucus to the White House this week.

“Leadership has really taken this approach of: we’re here to listen, and we’re here to take back your feedback to the president, but they’re not pushing one way or the other,” Rep. Norma Torres of California told Semafor.

One senior Democratic aide contrasted the approach with Pelosi, who was known for carefully listening to her members, but taking decisive action when it became clear that they were adrift or their majority was threatened. Her interview on “Morning Joe,” which did not appear to be coordinated with other leaders, fit that mold.

“I have faith and a keen respect and appreciate the way he leads,” Rep. Greg Landsman, an Ohio Democrat, said of Jeffries. “It’s different. Everyone has their style and he’s a thoughtful, deliberative, but determined leader.”

Schumer has responded to almost every question about Biden with some variation of “I’m with Joe,” while taking calls from members on his signature flip phone and moderating discussions in caucus meetings. On Wednesday night his office issued a relatively similar statement in response to an Axios report that he was open to a new ticket in conversations with donors. Schumer responded that “I support President Biden and remain committed to ensuring Donald Trump is defeated in November,” which was notably not a denial.

“I don’t think anybody is pushing anybody,” Sen. Joe Manchin of West Virginia, an independent who caucuses with the Democrats, told Semafor. “I haven’t heard of anyone being pushed at all.”

Schumer’s terse responses aren’t without a purpose: The goal is to drive as little news as possible while his caucus, which has so far proven even more resistant to Biden than their counterparts in the House, slowly works out its position.

“I really do admire Senator Schumer’s message discipline here,” said Jim Manley, a former senior aide to Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid. “But anytime you are sticking to three-word answers for days or weeks you got a problem.”

Despite a defiant letter to Congress from Biden on Monday that sought to shut down talk of a new nominee, the Biden campaign doesn’t appear to have a highly visible campaign to whip members in line either. Senior Biden aides who meeting with senators on Thursday to address concerns are coming at the request of Schumer.

The overall picture: A vacuum that the likes of Pelosi, Welch, and even George Clooney have filled, with little sign of retaliation from anyone in power.

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Room for Disagreement

Biden’s not without enthusiastic supporters and the list of open calls for him to end his campaign are still a small minority. Sens. John Fetterman and Chris Coons have been steadfast defenders. Sen. Bernie Sanders, despite being Biden’s top 2020 rival, has also praised his record and said he can win. And in the House, Biden’s still counting on support from leaders of the Congressional Black Caucus and Hispanic Caucus to carry the day. The AFL-CIO also reaffirmed its support for Biden on Wednesday.

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The View From A Republican

They have very little role in what’s going on, but are taking note of the other party devolving into finger-pointing and acrimony over a president for a change. “We’re seeing an odd, very odd circumstance,” Wyoming Sen. Cynthia Lummis said at a Semafor event on Wednesday. “We’re seeing my party very united, and we’re seeing the Democrats kind of struggling to find a sure path forward.”

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Notable

  • Politico’s Jonathan Martin reports that Biden’s aides are telephoning convention delegates in order to make sure there’s not a floor fight over his nomination brewing.
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