Biden tried to put his campaign crisis behind him. It isn’t working yet.

A defiant Joe Biden had laughed Friday at the idea that his top congressional allies would convince him to drop out of the presidential race. “They’re not gonna do that,” he told ABC News’ George Stephanopoulos. Senate Majority Leader Chuck Schumer, House Democratic Leader Hakeem Jeffries and former Speaker Nancy Pelosi? He’d already talked to all of them, […]

Jul 8, 2024 - 01:28

A defiant Joe Biden had laughed Friday at the idea that his top congressional allies would convince him to drop out of the presidential race.

“They’re not gonna do that,” he told ABC News’ George Stephanopoulos. Senate Majority Leader Chuck Schumer, House Democratic Leader Hakeem Jeffries and former Speaker Nancy Pelosi? He’d already talked to all of them, he said.

And indeed, there was no such public call Saturday from those figures — no raising of questions, no airing of concerns.

Instead, there was silence. Including, conspicuously, from Schumer and Jeffries.

The two top congressional Democrats said nothing publicly. Asked for comment on the interview, Schumer’s team declined, while Jeffries’ didn’t respond to POLITICO’s request.

It was not the kind of show of force that suggested an end to the political crisis sparked by the president’s rocky debate performance last week. Biden had sought to end the turmoil inside the Democratic Party by demonstrating his vigor and shutting down talk of replacing him on the ticket. He delivered a forceful speech before a crowd of hundreds in Wisconsin, participated in two radio interviews and sat for an interview with ABC News, during which he was asked repeatedly about his age and viability going into November.

But public questions about his age and mental acuity continued to mount Saturday, starting when Minnesota Rep. Angie Craig issued a statement calling for Biden to withdraw from the race, making her the first battleground House Democrat to do so (Craig has said in the past that she believes the party needs a “new generation” of leadership). She’s now the fifth House member to make this plea, as others grow louder in their skepticism about the president’s odds of beating former President Donald Trump.

Controversy also rose Saturday as two radio hosts said the Biden aides provided them with questions for the president’s Friday interviews. Biden campaign officials defended the process as typical, with aides sharing posts on X that described this as standard practice.

The question of the state of Biden’s reelection campaign — which the president had tried so hard to answer — was set to continue to dominate Sunday.

The Sunday shows will feature a few Biden allies, including Rep. Debbie Dingell (D-Mich.) and Sens. Chris Murphy (D-Conn.) and Bernie Sanders (I-Vt.). Before issuing a brief statement Friday about Biden being “who our country needs,” Rep. Jim Clyburn of South Carolina, one of Biden’s top allies, pulled out of a Sunday interview on CBS’ “Face the Nation.” His team did not respond to a request for comment on why the congressman canceled his appearance.

Eyes will also be on the president during his campaign trip Sunday in Pennsylvania, where Biden will attend a church in Philadelphia before traveling to Harrisburg for an event in the afternoon.

And with the House and Senate set to return to Washington on Monday questions are swirling about whether a slew of Democrats will go public with their private fears about Biden in the coming days, or if the party will rally around the president and his fight to take on Trump.

“No one is more committed to defeating Donald Trump and defending our democracy than Joe Biden, and few know better than Joe Biden the importance of showing up and campaigning to earn the support of voters,” said Biden campaign spokesperson Kevin Munoz. “This was always going to be a close race — and the dynamics at play are the ones we’ve long anticipated: voters continue to be deeply concerned by Donald Trump and his harmful agenda, and the more we engage and reach out to voters, the more they support President Biden. There are a lot of days between now and election day, and the hard work of earning every single vote is far from over.”

Pelosi’s team also initially said it had no comment. Less than an hour later, soon after the Biden campaign was contacted for comment, spokesperson Ian Krager offered a statement: “Speaker Pelosi has full confidence in President Biden and looks forward to attending his inauguration on January 20, 2025.”

White House and campaign officials on Saturday shared new polling from Bloomberg News/Morning Consult showing Biden with his best performance to date in battleground states, with the president now leading Trump in Michigan and Wisconsin. And the campaign doubled down with its message in a fundraising email to supporters Saturday titled, “The pundits have gotten everything wrong.”

“I understand you can’t turn on the television or get on the internet without seeing some pundit talking about how I need to drop out of the race. Nonsense,” the email said. “I want you to ask yourself, what have these people been right about lately? Seriously. Think about it.”

It’s the same posture that struck Democratic operatives and lawmakers on the Hill after the ABC News interview Friday, when several told POLITICO the president was in denial about his standing in the race. On Saturday, Rep. Gerry Connolly (D-Va.) told MSNBC that there is a risk in “dismissing critical voices.”

“I think the White House has done a bad job of reaching out to those that they’ve got to know have deep misgivings,” he said. “By not having that kind of outreach, you’re leaving individuals to their own devices and their own judgment. As we’ve seen, that has led to erosion of support in some circles.”

The president had nothing on his public schedule Saturday. The Biden campaign said he joined a biweekly meeting with the campaign’s co-chairs in the morning to “thank them and discuss their shared commitment to winning the 2024 race in the face of the dire threat Donald Trump poses.”

Several of Biden’s Hill allies were on the call, including Clyburn, Sens. Chris Coons (D-DE.) Tammy Duckworth (D-Ill.), Rep. Veronica Escobar (D-Texas) and Rep. Lisa Blunt Rochester (D-DE). Coons, Clyburn and Blunt Rochester issued statements on Friday night after the interview, reiterating their belief that Biden is the best candidate to defeat Trump.

But as House Democrats continued to be questioned Saturday in media appearances and interviews, it was clear that little had changed in the wake of Biden’s interview: the president’s defenders continued to stand behind him, while others grew louder in airing their concerns.

“So long as the president says he can do this job, then that is the ticket,” Rep. Jasmine Crockett (D-Texas) told MSNBC. She had been among the first to defend Biden, talking to reporters in the spin room immediately after the debate in Atlanta. So had Rep. Robert Garcia (D-Calif.), who echoed Crockett in saying Biden had earned Democrats’ support when millions of voters chose him in the primary.

At the ESSENCE Festival in New Orleans, where Vice President Kamala Harris was due to appear, Rep. Maxine Waters (D-Calif.) said Biden wasn’t going to be replaced on the ticket by another candidate.

“Hell, I’m older than Biden,” Waters, who is 85, said to applause during a panel featuring four members of the Congressional Black Caucus. “No matter what anybody says, it ain’t going to be no other Democratic candidate.”

But not all Democrats were so sure.

Rep. Scott Peters (D-Calif.) told the New York Times that he was losing confidence in Biden’s ability to win and that the party would be “foolish not to look at another course” if it believed the president would lose. Rep. Sydney Kamlager-Dove (D-Calif.) said at the Essence festival that the party’s wins did not rely solely on Biden, calling for support for the vice president.

Craig’s call for Biden to drop out was particularly striking because she represents a swing district that voted for Trump in 2016 and Biden in 2020. In her statement Saturday morning, she cited not just the debate itself but “the lack of a forceful response from the President himself following that debate.”

Some congressional Democrats are worried that Biden’s troubles could be an electoral drag down-ballot. With the party facing a brutal path to maintaining the Senate, and Biden falling further behind in the polls, attention has increasingly turned to Democrats’ efforts to reclaim the House as a possible firewall against complete GOP control.

The upcoming days will be closely watched as lawmakers return to Washington on Monday. Democrats from both chambers are expected to speak privately over the next few days — conversations that will likely serve as a venue to air their grievances over Biden’s performance and try to chart a path forward.

Jeffries will meet with Democratic ranking members on Sunday, and it’s expected that Biden’s viability will come up. And in the Senate, Sen. Mark Warner (D-Va.) has approached Senate Democrats to organize a discussion on Biden’s path to reelection, while Schumer will hold a routine leadership meeting Monday night, which will allow him to meet face-to-face with several members of his caucus.

“Biden is a very decent human and a legendary leader in many ways. I have no doubt in his ability to make good decisions and finish out this term as POTUS,” said one House Democrat after Friday’s interview, granted anonymity to speak candidly. “But frankly, he’s just not up to simultaneously being POTUS and being a compelling reelection candidate. It’s too much for him, and while it’s obvious to pretty much everyone, he seems stubbornly blind to that reality.”

Nicholas Wu contributed to this report.

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