As Biden digs in, some top Democrats want him out of the race this week | CNN Politics (2024)


Defiance has become as much a part of Joe Biden’s psychology as Delaware.

But as the president and his inner circle dig in following his disastrous debate performance last week, a growing number of Democratic leaders are saying they want him to step aside for the good of the party – and the country.

Democratic Rep. Lloyd Doggett of Texas was the first to break ranks.

“I represent the heart of a congressional district once represented by Lyndon Johnson.Under very different circ*mstances, he made the painful decision to withdraw.President Biden should do the same,” Doggett said in his statement Tuesday.

“There’s a large and increasing group of House Democrats concerned about the president’s candidacy, representing a broad swath of the caucus,” another House Democratic lawmaker told CNN on condition of anonymity to speak candidly. “We are deeply concerned about his trajectory and his ability to win. We want to give him space to make a decision [to step aside], but we will be increasingly vocal about our concerns if he doesn’t.”

Biden is expected to meet Wednesday with Democratic governors and congressional leaders, the White House said Tuesday. The announcement came after CNN reported that some governors expressed concerns about the president’s debate performance. The governors, one source said, were worried about going public with their concerns out of fear it would lead to Biden digging in further.

President Joe Biden delivers remarks on the Supreme Court's immunity ruling at the Cross Hall of the White House in Washington, DC, on July 1, 2024. Mandel Ngan/AFP/Getty Images Related article CNN Poll: Most voters think Democrats have a better chance of keeping White House if Biden isn’t the nominee

CNN talked to more than two dozen current and former Democratic officials, as well as donors and longtime Biden allies, all of whom spoke on condition of anonymity to avoid alienating Biden. Many of these people say they have already made up their minds that the president should quit his campaign, a decision some of them think he needs to announce this week.

They have held off going to Biden directly, hoping he would make the decision himself, but patience is wearing thin, multiple Democrats told CNN, amid signs that Biden has taken no steps to seriously consider the mounting concerns.He is poised to travel to swing states this weekend, aides said, a sign that he has no plans of changing course. On Tuesday, ABC News announced Biden will sit down with George Stephanopoulos for his first TV interview since the debate, with clips airing on Friday.

Initially, there was hope that the president’s family would convince him to step aside,given how badly the debate went. However, at a Biden retreat Sunday at Camp David, it became apparent the president’s family rallied around his decision to continue his campaign, blaming staff for his missteps.

“One word you know about Biden: stubborn,” said one senior Democratic official who has publicly supported Biden in the past but who privately thinks he needs to step aside. “They are trying to give him the space to realize what a disaster this is.”

And while the Biden campaign has insisted the debate was just a bad night for the 81-year-old president, the Democrats who want him to step aside say it was not a one-off incident that can be fixed.

“This is not like Obama being rusty for a debate,” said a senior Democratic official, referring to former President Barack Obama’s lackluster performance in his first debate against Republican opponent Mitt Romney in 2012.

“[Biden] might be able to survive this if this was the only incident. But it won’t be the only incident,” said a senior Capitol Hill Democratic official.

“We have to be honest with ourselves that it wasn’t just a horrible night,” Illinois Rep. Mike Quigley told Kasie Hunt on“CNN This Morning” on Tuesday.“He clearly has to understand, I think, what you’re getting to here is that his decision not only impacts who’s going to serve in the White House the next four years but who’s going to serve in the Senate, who’s going to serve in the House, and it will have implications for decades to come.”

During an interview on MSNBC on Tuesday, former House Speaker Nancy Pelosi called on Biden to participate in multiple interviews with journalists in the aftermath of his debate performance.

The California Democrat,who emphasized it is Biden’s decisionabout whether to step aside,said she has heard “mixed” responses to the debate from donors and others in her Democratic network.

“Ithinkit’salegitimatequestiontosay,isthisanepisodeoristhisacondition?” Pelosi said, referring to Biden’s debate performance. She quickly added that this was a legitimate question for former President Donald Trump as well, citing hisrepeated liesduring the debate.

Stakes have never been higher

The stakes, already remarkable, were raised even higher after the Supreme Court on Monday ruled Trump is entitled to considerable immunity from prosecution, a development that some concerned Democrats say makes it more urgent for Biden to step aside.

The decision hands the former president a significant legal win and “makes Trump even more dangerous,” said one former elected Democratic official who has supported Biden for years but who now wants him to end his campaign.

One Biden adviser argued that the decision, and the fears of how Trump might now feel emboldened to act if reelected, only strengthens Biden’s argument for staying in, as what that adviser said still feels like the surest bet of beating Trump.

US President Joe Biden delivers remarks on the Supreme Court's immunity ruling at the Cross Hall of the White House in Washington, DC on July 1, 2024. The US Supreme Court ruled July 1, 2024 that Donald Trump enjoys some immunity from prosecution as a former president, a decision set to delay his trial for conspiring to overturn the 2020 election. (Photo by Mandel NGAN / AFP) (Photo by MANDEL NGAN/AFP via Getty Images) Mandel Ngan/AFP/Getty Images Related article Biden seizes on Trump’s Supreme Court triumph to seek redemption after debate debacle

Someleading Democrats, including at least one high-ranking Biden administration official,have already started discussing what they believe would be a painful process to replace Biden andpick a new ticket. In addition to Vice President Kamala Harris, a handful of governors and lawmakers are waiting on the Democratic bench. Withjustsix weeks until theDemocratic National Conventionand under 130 days until the election, they want to get started.

Facingthe highest-stakes moment of his long career, Biden is doubling down. The president who still thinks of himself as the stuttering kid so poor he had to wear nuts and bolts as cufflinks to a ninth-grade dance is still holding on to hope that this can be the latest time he comes back after being written off.

“He bets on himself, and he always takes the long view, and he is not a reactionary like a lot of these folks are,” said one person with years of experience in Biden’s orbit.

Earlier, Biden had not reached out to Democratic Party leaders himself to reassure them or to get feedback, something that many sources told CNN they found astounding given the fallout from the debate.

He called House Democratic Leader Hakeem JeffriesTuesday, a person familiar with the call told CNN, marking the first time they had spoken since the debate. CNN has reached out to Jeffries’ office for comment.

Biden also called Democratic Sen. Chris Coons on Tuesday, a source familiar with the matter told CNN. A longtime friend and co-chair of Biden’s re-election campaign, Coons has been one of the president’s staunchest public defenders since last week’s debate.

“They’re equating this moment to every moment they’ve overcome before, and not realizing it’s a totally different moment,” a Democratic operative close to the campaign said in reference to Biden and his inner circle.

During a fundraiser in the Hamptons on Saturday, Biden used a teleprompter, something at least one donor mentioned as troubling. Meanwhile, first lady Jill Biden stuck to the Biden family mythology of resilience while introducing her husband.

“Joe’s mom used to say that God never gives us a cross too heavy to carry,” she said. “Joe isn’t just the right person for the job; he’s the only person for the job. … Joe’s mom was right, there isn’t a cross he can’t bear, that he won’t shoulder for our country and our democracy.”

Coons told CNN he would like to see the president counter the narrative of being too old and incompetent for the job by doing more public events, town halls and interviews. Ahead of the announcement of the ABC interview, White House advisers said Monday that Biden was considering a high-profile interview in the coming days to help prove his fitness for office, in hopes of showing his energetic North Carolina rally the day after debate was not simply a fluke. Campaign aides are also mapping out a more robust travel schedule to battleground states in July.

President Joe Biden speaks at a post-debate campaign rally on June 28, 2024 in Raleigh, North Carolina. Allison Joyce/Getty Images Related article Frustrated Democrats watch for debate fallout as Republicans pounce on Biden’s poor showing

Many leading Democrats doubt that Biden is up to that — and they see his secluded schedule since Sunday as evidence they are correct. That schedule is keeping to Biden’s general mode. Using one metric: Biden has held 36 news conferences since taking office, compared with Trump’s 64 by this point in his presidency, Barack Obama’s 72 at this point in his, and George W. Bush’s 82 by this point in his.

Trump has also been out of public view since a post-debate rally in Virginia on Friday and has no schedule for the rest of the week. Anchors for a local television station announced that he at the last minute canceled an interview after the rally after aides asked for the questions in advance. He is expected to spend much of the next few days in New Jersey golfing.

Even for some of those who are staying committed to Biden, a sense has settled in that there is little chance he would be able to make it through the four years that another term would entail.The debate performance has so shaken Democrats that even stalwarts like Sen. Sheldon Whitehouse told local reporters back home in Rhode Island on Monday that he wants a fuller accounting of the president’s health.

From the West Wing to Wilmington

While the high command of the Biden campaign on Monday tried to “keep reassuring everybody and absorbing people’s worries,” one adviser said, there has been a growing appreciation for the anger and concern many Democrats have expressed.

“The seriousness of this is felt by people in the West Wing and in Wilmington,” a different adviser added.

As Biden digs in, some top Democrats want him out of the race this week | CNN Politics (4)

President Joe Biden, first lady Jill Biden, and their granddaughters Finnegan and Natalie Biden head to Camp David on June 29, 2024.

Several Biden advisers told CNN the campaign is still working to assess the true fallout of the debate among voters in key battleground states, with an eye on whether Biden has fallen in a head-to-head matchup with Trump or whether the field of swing states has expanded.A range of engaged senior Democrats cite Minnesota and Virginia as important gauges, as well as the Senate race in Michigan. House Democrats are deep into their own polling, assessing how much damage has been done.

As dark as the mood is among some aides — including those who feel the wind knocked out of them after years of internalizing a related Biden mythology that he always delivers in a crunch — others are hoping to prove wrong people who never believed in him.

Responding to The New York Times Editorial Board on Friday calling for Biden to drop out, one Biden aide reached out to CNN to offer this: “That sh*t is like jet fuel in my veins I love it.” The New York Times did not endorse Biden in the 2020 Democratic primaries.

No clear fix

The same small, insular inner circle that has guided Biden to this point is handling the fallout. Few familiar with how the members of that circle work believe it would be possible to force any of them out.

Still, top aides at the Biden campaign and the Democratic National Committee have spent the days since the debate on a constant churn of calls. Several people involved say that many of those calls have started badly but ended at least somewhat better. And the Biden campaign on Tuesday announced that June was its best fundraising month ever, with $127 million banked — with almost a third of that raised since the debate.

Biden campaign chair Jen O’Malley Dillon on Monday evening told members of the campaign’s National Finance Committee that the team is “clear-eyed, not pollyannish,” two participants on the call told CNN.She did not telegraph anything about Biden’s plans other than full steam ahead.

But after several previous calls with donors boiled over, the campaign restricted that Zoom call so that the only way to pose questions was to put them in a moderated chat.

“Every time Joe Biden is counted out, he proves his doubters wrong. I have faith he’ll do it this time too,” said Andrew Weinstein, a longtime Biden supporter and donor.

Phil Murphy, the New Jersey governor who called Biden the “comeback kid” at a fundraiser he hosted with the president on Saturday night, said that at their dinner table they had a wide-ranging, coherent conversation that covered, by his telling, Ukraine, the Middle East, wage growth, job creation, dealing more effectively with corporations, and expanding prekindergarten and community college.

“His life story, almost every step of the way — including through tragedy — is the story of a guy who’s been counted out and succeeds against all expectations and all odds,” Murphy said. “And he’s in another one of those moments.”

This story has been updated with additional details.

CNN’s Brianna Keilar, Jake Tapper, Annie Grayer and MJ Lee contributed to this report.

As Biden digs in, some top Democrats want him out of the race this week | CNN Politics (2024)


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