Anxious Senate Democrats warn time running short for answers on Biden’s future

Senate Democrats returned to Washington on Monday voicing concerns about President Biden’s future as the Democratic presidential nominee, setting up high-stakes talks in the coming days about a path forward for the party.

While no Senate Democrat has gone as far as at least six of their House counterparts in calling for Biden to step aside following his disastrous debate performance, questions swirled among anxious lawmakers about whether Biden would cost them in November — and they want an answer in short order.

“I have a lot of concerns,” Sen. Tina Smith (D-Minn.) said. “And I’m not the only one.”

“I’ve been hearing a lot of concerns from folks back home in Minnesota. I mean, I think right now, our party is having a big robust discussion about what comes next and what we should do. And I actually think that that’s healthy,” said Smith, a vice chair of the Senate Democratic campaign arm. “There’s no simple path here. There’s no simple path forward.”

Senators’ return to Capitol Hill coincided with a more concerted effort by Biden to assuage the fears of top Democrats, including him making clear to supporters, donors and reporters in interviews that he isn’t going anywhere, and bristling at suggestions that he should.

But whether he’s able to soothe Senate Democrats’ jangled nerves remains unclear. Multiple Senate Democrats declined to fully throw their weight behind him Monday and called for a series of conversations aimed at answering whether he should be atop the ticket in November.

Sen. Mark Warner (D-Va.) had been planning a Monday meeting with members to discuss potentially replacing Biden on the ticket, but dropped that plan as the Senate Democratic Conference is set to talk at length about the subject during lunch Tuesday.

In a statement, the Virginia senator said “now is the time for conversations about the strongest path forward” for the party, and a number of his colleagues agreed.

“They’re worried,” Sen. Michael Bennet (D-Colo.) said when asked what he’s heard from constituents back home since the debate. “They want to know this wasn’t a reflection of a serious condition, but just was a bad night. … If the American people reach the conclusion that it was a bad night, we’re going to be fine, and the president’s going to be fine. If they reach the conclusion that it’s something else, that’s going to be difficult.”

Bennet, a former Democratic Senatorial Campaign Committee chair, also noted that the party has downballot candidates “who are killing themselves in battleground states and in swing districts” — a top concern of many members, as the party can ill afford mistakes in their struggle to keep the majority.

Sen. Jon Tester (D-Mont.), one of two red-state Democrats up for reelection this year, made his concern clear in a statement Monday, saying Biden “has got to prove to the American people — including me — that he’s up to the job for another four years.”

Sen. Sherrod Brown (D-Ohio), the other endangered party member, added that Ohio voters “have legitimate questions about whether the president should continue his campaign.”

But for now, party leaders have the president’s back. Senate Majority Leader Chuck Schumer (D-N.Y.) told reporters multiple times “I’m for Joe” when entering the Capitol on Monday.

Sen. Dick Durbin (Ill.), the No. 2 Senate Democrat, added that his confidence is “high” in Biden, but acknowledged that his conference is divided at this point.

“I understand the reality of the challenges that he faces and we face,” said Durbin, who has been home recovering from hip replacement surgery. “I’ve been parked in front of a television for 12 or 14 days. There’s been one topic, one issue day after day … and that’s the situation after the debate.

“We can’t ignore the reality,” he said, pointing to the Tuesday meeting. “We have to settle this issue.”

Other top Biden allies noted the importance of this week but said the president is attempting to quell concerns and answer questions voters have about his mental acuity and ability to serve four more years in the White House.

Sen. Chris Coons (D-Del.), one of his foremost supporters, noted that Biden will be hosting the NATO summit in downtown Washington this week and will hold a solo press conference. The move is a rarity for the president but comes amid Democratic calls for him to hold more events in impromptu settings and to demonstrate he is up to the job.

“I’d say that he has and he will,” Coons said. “To colleagues who’ve had any concerns, I say: Talk to him. He’s happy to talk to them. Watch the last five interviews, events … and speeches he’s given.”

“And give him the benefit of the doubt, for the love of God,” he continued. “It’s Joe Biden.”

Alexander Bolton contributed.

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