Biden says he decided to stay in the race. Some Democrats want a different decision.

  • July 11, 2024
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President Biden sent a message to restive Democrats on Capitol Hill at the beginning of the week in a sternly worded letter: I am staying in this race, and you need to accept that.

But many Democratic lawmakers have instead painted a picture of a president deep in thought over whether to continue his reelection campaign following a halting debate performance, insisting that Biden is close to making a “decision” on his political future. Their carefully crafted statements praise Biden while also rejecting the president’s contention that his candidacy is a settled matter after the debate two weeks ago.

“I have complete confidence that Joe Biden will do the patriotic thing for our country,” Sen. Tim Kaine (D-Va.) said to one reporter when asked on Wednesday if he believes Biden should step aside. “He’s going to make that decision. He’s never disappointed me; he’s always put patriotism and the country ahead of himself and I’m going to respect the decision he makes.’

The subtle rhetoric may be a tad removed from the current reality, but it avoids directly confronting a president who has been described as dug in on his candidacy and angry at the constant questioning from his own party. It also leaves the door open for lawmakers to notch up the pressure in future days and sends a message that they’d be more than open to a different decision from Biden.

The most high-profile Hill Democrat to frame the issue this way is undoubtedly former House speaker Nancy Pelosi (D-Calif.), who praised Biden in a television interview on Wednesday. But she also urged the president to quickly decide whether he is still running.

“We’re all encouraging him to make that decision, because time is running short,” Pelosi said.

The strategy, ignoring Biden’s public posture on his own run, risks being perceived as condescending to some, however.

“This is beginning to feel like when you turn in a paper and the teacher gives it back and tells you to rewrite it and then hand it in again,” Democratic strategist Rebecca Katz joked on X.

But it may be a way to gently encourage a change of heart. Some lawmakers say they believe Biden when he says he is committed to running but are still hoping the incoming raft of dismal polls could change his mind. On Wednesday, Cook Political report analyst David Wasserman described Trump’s lead in the polls post-debate as “the most drastic shift in the race all year.”

When asked about lawmakers’ contention that Biden needs to “decide” whether he’s running or not, a Biden campaign official pointed to his letter to lawmakers on Monday, in which Biden declared, “I am firmly committed to staying in this race, to running this race to the end, and to beating Donald Trump.”

Biden added that it was time for discussions to “end” about a different way forward. In an MSNBC interview, he also dismissed “elites” who have questions about his ability to run, arguing they’re not listening to regular voters. That comment angered many lawmakers, according to two people familiar with the reaction who spoke on the condition of anonymity to discuss private conversations.

Neither Senate Majority Leader Charles E. Schumer (D-N.Y.) nor House Minority Leader Hakeem Jeffries (D-N.Y.) have joined in on framing Biden as needing to make a “decision.”

“As I have made clear repeatedly publicly and privately, I support President Biden and remain committed to ensuring Donald Trump is defeated in November,” Schumer said in a statement Wednesday evening.

The careful rhetoric shows the tightrope lawmakers are walking as they seek to send a message to Biden without permanently alienating him if he stays in the race or further hurting Democrats’ chances in the election by airing more negative perceptions of Biden.

So far, just one Democratic senator, Peter Welch of Vermont, has called on Biden to step aside. But several more privately expressed their concerns that he would not be able to win in November in a closed-door meeting on Tuesday, according to two people briefed on the gathering. Sen. Michael Bennet (D-Colo.) later aired his concerns publicly on CNN, saying that Democrats could lose in a “landslide” with Biden atop the ticket, while stopping short of calling on him to bow out of the race.

Sen. Chris Coons (D-Del.), Biden’s campaign co-chair, downplayed the importance of Bennet’s comments.

“I respect my dear friend Michael Bennet; I do not share his views,” he said. “We have 51 members who caucus with the Democrats and have there been a dozen others who have come forth and said, ‘now that Michael has shared that they share the same view?’ I don’t think so.”

Some lawmakers, including Sen. John Fetterman (D-Pa.), have affirmatively made the case that Biden is the best person to lead the presidential ticket and can defeat Trump. “He’s our guy,” Fetterman told reporters this week. But many share deep concerns they are headed for defeat, even if they are divided about the right path forward.

On Thursday, top Biden officials Mike Donilon, Jen O’Malley Dillon and Steve Ricchetti will brief Senate Democrats at lunch at the Democratic Senatorial Campaign Committee.

Until then, lawmakers are urging Biden to make a decision, even if he says he already has.

“I think he’s the kind of person that in the end it’s not going to be about him, it’s going to be about what’s best for the country,” said Sen. John Hickenlooper (D-Colo.).

And is the best decision for Biden to continue running, a reporter asked? “I think what’s best is to win,’ he said.

Mariana Alfaro and Paul Kane contributed to this report

This post appeared first on The Washington Post

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