To a Defiant Biden, the 2024 Race is Up to the Voters, Not to Democrats on Capitol Hill

President Joe Biden speaks at a campaign rally at Sherman Middle School in Madison, Wis., Friday, July 5, 2024. (AP Photo/Morry Gash)

WILMINGTON, Del. (AP) — To a defiant President Joe Biden, the 2024 election is up to the public — not the Democrats on Capitol Hill. But the chorus of Democratic voices calling for him to step aside is growing, from donors, strategists, lawmakers and their constituents who say he should bow out.

The party has not fallen in line behind him even after the events that were set up as part of a blitz to reset his imperiled campaign and show everyone he wasn’t too old to stay in the job or to do it another four years.

On Saturday, a fifth Democratic lawmaker said openly that Biden should not run again. Rep. Angie Craig of Minnesota said that after what she saw and heard in the debate with Republican rival Donald Trump, and Biden’s “lack of a forceful response” afterward, he should step aside “and allow for a new generation of leaders to step forward.”

Craig posted one of the Democrats’ key suburban wins in the 2018 midterms and could be a barometer for districts that were vital for Biden in 2020.

With the Democratic convention approaching and just four months to Election Day, neither camp in the party can much afford this internecine drama much longer. But it is bound to drag on until Biden steps aside or Democrats realize he won’t and learn to contain their concerns about the president’s chances against Trump.

There were signs party leaders realize the standoff needs to end. Some of the most senior lawmakers, including Speaker Emerita Nancy Pelosi and Rep. James Clyburn, were now publicly working to bring the party back to the president. Pelosi and Clyburn had both raised pointed questions about Biden in the aftermath of the debate.

“Biden is who our country needs,” Clyburn said late Friday after Biden’s interview with ABC aired.

On Saturday, Biden’s campaign said the president joined a biweekly meeting with all 10 of the campaign’s nation co-chairs to “discuss their shared commitment to winning the 2024 race.” Clyburn was among them.

But the silence from most other House Democrats on Saturday was notable, suggesting that lawmakers are not all being convinced by what they saw from the president. More House Democrats are likely to call for Biden to step aside when lawmakers return to Washington at the start of the week.

The president’s ABC interview on Friday night — billed as an effort to get the campaign back on track — stirred carefully worded expressions of disappointment from the party’s ranks, and worse from those who spoke anonymously. Ten days into the crisis moment of the Biden-Trump debate, Biden is dug in.

Even within the White House there were concerns the ABC interview wasn’t enough to turn the page.

Campaign manager Julie Chavez Rodriguez has been texting lawmakers and administration officials are encouraging them not to go public with their concerns about the race and the president’s electability, according to a Democrat granted anonymity to discuss the situation.

Democrats were particularly concerned that Biden suggested during the interview that even if he were to be defeated in a rematch with Trump, he would know that he gave it his all. That seemed an insufficient response. Biden was questioned during the interview if he would take a cognitive test to calm the nerves of voters, but he repeatedly said that he would not, stating that his daily life is such a test. During the debate, Trump asserted that he had taken and passed cognitive tests, and asked that Biden do so as well.

“A lot can change in the next 72 to 96 hours, because that’s what happens nowadays,” Hawaii Gov. Josh Green said Saturday. “You know, four months is an eternity in today’s political world. I’m not worried about making sure we have a great ticket if the president chose some other road.”

Democratic leaders in the House and Senate, without breaking with Biden at this point, are pulling together meetings with members in the next few days to discuss options. Many lawmakers are hearing from constituents at home and fielding questions. One senator was working to get others together to ask him to step aside.

Biden roundly swatted away calls Friday to step away from the race, telling voters at a Wisconsin rally that he was not going anywhere.

“Completely ruling that out,” he told reporters at the rally.

Biden dismissed those who were calling for his ouster, instead saying he’d spoken with 20 lawmakers and they had all encouraged him to stay in the race.

Concern about Biden’s fitness for another four years has been persistent. In an August 2023 poll from The Associated Press-NORC Center for Public Affairs Research, fully 77% of U.S. adults said Biden was too old to be effective for four more years. Not only did 89% of Republicans say that, but so did 69% of Democrats. His approval rating stands at 39% in the most recent AP-NORC poll.

Biden has dismissed the polling, citing as evidence his 2020 surge to the nomination and win over Trump, after initially faltering, and the 2022 midterm elections, when many expected Republicans would sweep but they didn’t.

“I don’t buy that,” when he was reminded that he was behind in recent polls. “I don’t think anybody’s more qualified to be president or win this race than me.”

At times, Biden rambled during the interview, which ABC said aired in full and without edits. Asked how he might turn the race around, Biden argued that one key would be large and energetic rallies like the one he held Friday in Wisconsin. When reminded that Trump routinely draws larger crowds, the president laid into his opponent.

“Trump is a pathological liar,” Biden said, accusing Trump of bungling the federal response to the COVID pandemic and failing to create jobs. “You ever see something that Trump did that benefited someone else and not him?”

Republicans, though, are squarely behind their candidate, and support for Trump, who at 78 is three years younger than Biden, has been growing.

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