Biden's candidacy faces new peril, as first Senate Democrat says he should exit race

WASHINGTON (AP) — President Joe Biden's imperiled reelection campaign hit new trouble Wednesday as House Speaker Emerita Nancy Pelosi said merely “it's up to the president to decide” if he should stay in the race, celebrity donor George Clooney said he should not run and Democratic senators and lawmakers expressed fresh fear about his ability to beat Republican Donald Trump.

Late in the evening, Vermont Sen. Peter Welch called on Biden to withdraw from the election, becoming the first Senate Democrat to do so. Welch said he is worried about the race because “the stakes could not be higher.”

The sudden flurry of grave pronouncements despite Biden's determined insistence he is not leaving the 2024 race put on public display just how unsettled the question remains among prominent Democrats. On Capitol Hill, an eighth House Democrat, Rep. Pat Ryan of New York, and later a ninth, Rep. Earl Blumenauer of Oregon, publicly asked Biden to step aside.

“I want him to do whatever he decides to do,” Pelosi said Wednesday on MSNBC’s “Morning Joe” rather than declaring Biden should stay in. While Biden has said repeatedly that he’s made his decision, she said, “We’re all encouraging him to make that decision, because time is running short.”

Welch said in a Washington Post opinion piece published Wednesday evening, “We cannot unsee President Biden’s disastrous debate performance.”

The first-term senator said he is calling on Biden to withdraw “with sadness.”

It’s a crucial moment for the president and his party, as Democrats consider what was once unthinkable — having the incumbent Biden step aside, just weeks before the Democratic National Convention that is on track to nominate him as their candidate for reelection.

Biden is hosting world leaders in Washington for the NATO summit this week with a crowded schedule of formal meetings, sideline chats and long diplomatic dinners showcasing his skills. His party at a crossroads, Biden faces the next national public test Thursday at a scheduled news conference that many Democrats in Congress will be watching for signs of his abilities.

To be sure, Biden maintains strong support from key corners of his coalition, particularly the Congressional Black Caucus on Capitol Hill, whose leadership was instrumental in ushering the president to victory in 2020 and is standing by him as the country’s best choice to defeat Trump again in 2024.

“At this moment, the stakes are too high and we have to focus,” Rep. Ilhan Omar of Minnesota told The Associated Press on Tuesday, saying Democrats are “losing ground” the longer they fight over Biden’s candidacy. “Democracy is on the line. Everything we value as Democrats, as a country, is on the line, and we have to stop being distracted.”

Pelosi has been widely watched for signals of how top Democrats are thinking about Biden’s wounded candidacy, her comments viewed as important for the party’s direction as members weigh possible alternatives in the campaign against Trump.

Because of her powerful position as the former House speaker and proximity to Biden as a trusted longtime ally of his generation, Pelosi is seen as one of the few Democratic leaders who could influence the president’s thinking.

The lack of a full statement from Pelosi backing Biden’s continued campaign is what lawmakers are likely to hear most clearly, even as she told ABC later she believes he can win. Her remarks came as actor Clooney, who had just hosted a glitzy Hollywood fundraiser for the president last month, said in a New York Times op-ed that the Biden he saw three weeks ago wasn’t the Joe Biden of 2020. "He was the same man we all witnessed at the debate.”

Sen. Michael Bennet, a Democrat from Colorado, spoke forcefully late Tuesday about the danger of a second Trump presidency and said it’s for the president “to consider” the options.

Stopping just short of calling for Biden to drop out, Bennet said on CNN what he told his colleagues in private – that he believes Trump “is on track to win this election -- and maybe win it by a landslide and take with him the Senate and the House."

Bennet said, “It’s not a question about politics. It’s a moral question about the future of our country.”

Another Democrat, Sen. Richard Blumenthal of Connecticut, said Wednesday he was “deeply concerned” about Biden winning the election, which he called existential for the country.

“We have to reach a conclusion as soon as possible,” Blumenthal said on CNN.

And Sen. Tim Kaine of Virginia told reporters, “I have complete confidence that Joe Biden will do the patriotic thing for the country. And he's going to make that decision.”

Democrats have been reeling over whether to continue backing Biden after his poor showing in the June 27 presidential debate with Trump and his campaign’s lackluster response to their pleas that Biden, at 81, show voters he is up for another four-year term.

Biden and his campaign are working more intently now to shore up support, and the president met with labor leaders Wednesday, relying on the unions to help make the case that his record in office matters more than his age.

With the executive council of the AFL-CIO, America’s largest federation of trade unions, Biden told the crowd that even Wall Street was acknowledging the power of unions, as he once again articulated his vision for an economy built “from the bottom up and middle out.”

“I said I’m going to be the most pro-union president in American history,” Biden told the cheering crowd. “Well guess what? I am.”

While more House Democrats have publicly called on Biden to end his candidacy, no Senate Democrats have gone that far. Bennet was among three Democratic senators, including Jon Tester of Montana and Sherrod Brown of Ohio, who spoke up during a private lunch Tuesday, according to a person familiar with the meeting and granted anonymity to discuss it.

Senate Majority Leader Chuck Schumer invited Biden's campaign to address senators' concerns. The president's team is sending senior Biden advisers Mike Donilon and Steve Ricchetti, and Campaign Chair Jen O’Malley Dillon to meet with Democratic senators privately Thursday for a caucus lunch, according to both a Senate leadership aide and the Biden campaign.

There were some concerns, however, that it could backfire. One Democratic senator who requested anonymity to speak about the closed-door meeting said it could be a waste of time if Biden would not make the case to senators himself.

Pelosi of California said Biden “has been a great president” who is beloved and respected by House Democrats.

The Californian said she watched as he delivered a forceful speech at the NATO summit on Tuesday, and recounted his many accomplishments.

While foreign leaders are in Washington this week and Biden is on the world stage hosting the event at a critical time in foreign affairs, Pelosi encouraged Democrats to “let’s just hold off” with any announcements about his campaign.

“Whatever you’re thinking, either tell somebody privately but you don’t have to put that out on the table until we see,” she said, how it goes “this week.”

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Associated Press writers Mary Clare Jalonick, Farnoush Amiri and Kevin Freking contributed to this report.

07/10/2024 23:50 -0400

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