Democrats back Biden in lopsided internal debate

Democrats emerging from a closed-door meeting Tuesday to discuss President Biden’s political future offered support for their party leader a day after the White House’s full-court press to beat back critics within his party, even as some detractors pushed for a reset.

In a meeting that ran for roughly two hours, the debate was lopsided in favor of keeping the president on the ticket — a dynamic suggesting that Biden has, at least for now, prevented the slow seep of individual detractors from becoming a flood.

“I feel we’ve hit a turning point,” Rep. Stephen Lynch (D-Mass.), who is backing Biden, said after the meeting. “As the president said, I think yesterday, it’s been 10, 11 days or so since the debate and it’s time to move on. And I think that’s where many more members are today than they were last week.”

“We’re ridin’ with Biden,” said Rep. James Clyburn (D-S.C.), a prominent voice in the Congressional Black Caucus, which has rallied aggressively behind Biden since the debate.

The voices of support for Biden suggested the tide is beginning to turn for the president, who has been resolute in insisting he will not be pushed out of the presidential race over heightened concerns over his age, health and ability to defeat former President Trump in November.

Among the most notable comments were those of veteran Rep. Jerrold Nadler (D-N.Y.), who over the weekend on a private call with House party leaders expressed opposition to Biden being his party’s nominee, but who in public comments outside the meeting sang a different tune.

“Whether I have concerns or not is beside the point,” Nadler told reporters before the meeting. “He’s going to be our nominee and we all have to support him.”

It could also reflect the difficulty Democrats would face in convincing Biden, who swept through this year’s primaries and has warned of an effort by elites to topple him, to withdraw from the race. Democrats who think Biden will lose the presidential race and be a drag on their hopes of winning the House majority have few tools to get him off the ticket other than convincing him it would be for the good of their party and the country.

There were voices within the Tuesday meeting who expressed concerns about Biden remaining at the top of the ticket, and who suggested it could lead to defeat in November.

Thus far, only a handful of House Democrats have come out publicly to call for Biden to exit the race, and several of those lawmakers — including Reps. Lloyd Doggett (D-Texas), Seth Moulton (D-Mass.) and Mike Quigley (D-Ill.) — also spoke before the caucus on Tuesday to push their argument.

“I shared my position and how I came to it,” Moulton told reporters afterwards. “Everyone was listening very carefully to a variety of positions in the room.”

Several sources said there were no new voices that emerged to press for a Biden replacement during the private gathering. But in a sign of potential trouble on the horizon, Rep. Lori Trahan (D-Mass.), a co-chair of the Democrats’ messaging arm, issued a statement shortly after the meeting voicing reservations with Biden’s candidacy.

“I voted for Joe Biden to be our nominee because I believe in his work with House Democrats to deliver unprecedented progress for the American people. However, since the debate, I have met with fellow Biden voters in Massachusetts who have real concerns about the President’s ability to beat Donald Trump. I share those concerns,” she said in a statement.

“While President Biden has made clear he feels he is the best candidate to win this election, nothing that has happened over the past twelve days suggests that voters see things the same way,” she added.

Biden’s detractors are quick to applaud the president’s first-term legislative record, which includes major bills to combat COVID-19, rein in health care costs and boost the nation’s infrastructure projects.

But the June 27 debate, his critics say, revealed that the president has lost the ability to articulate those victories to the voting public, threatening to damage Democratic candidates up and down the ballot in November.

“I’m concerned about him dragging the ticket down,” Quigley said.

A House Democrat who requested anonymity to discuss the private deliberations told The Hill that Rep. Ann McLane Kuster (D-N.H.), the head of the New Democrat Coalition who is retiring at the end of this year, also spoke up and said, “I’m just representing a lot of people who are concerned.”

Biden, to be sure, is not yet out of the woods. A much larger number of Democrats oppose his candidacy, based on his debate performance, but have been unwilling to say so publicly. Those voices are still awaiting the arrival of postdebate polls in order to gauge its effect on the Democrats’ chances of not only keeping the White House, but also flipping control of the House next year. Heading into Tuesday’s meeting, some said there were no expectations that new opponents would surface before those polls do.

“No one’s gonna say anything because they’re gonna be afraid it’s gonna leak,” the House Democrat, who believes Biden should step aside, told The Hill on Monday night. “So no one who actually has an opinion that’s contrarian will say anything.”

That dynamic, however, could change as soon as this week. The lawmaker said if polling begins to show members slipping in key swing districts with Biden at the top of the ticket, putting the House in jeopardy, more Democrats may come out of the woodwork to urge the president to drop out of the race.

“My sense is they’re like gonna get a bunch of data back this week … I think if it looks like there’s a major bleed in some of our swing districts and we can’t win the House, that’s gonna be the five-alarm fire, because our job at the end of the day is to win the House,” said the lawmaker, who requested anonymity to discuss the sensitive topic.

Biden, for his part, has been adamant that he has no plans of dropping out of the race, declaring on MSNBC’s “Morning Joe” on Monday: “The bottom line here is we’re not going anywhere.”

“I’m not going anywhere,” he added. “I’m not letting up, Joe. I’m not letting up even a little bit.”

Scores of influential Democratic groups are backing him up. And Biden, after a quiet lull following the debate, has gone on a damage-control blitz in recent days, to include a feisty letter sent to congressional Democrats on Monday.

Members of the Congressional Black Caucus held a call with Biden on Monday night, and afterward, lawmakers emphatically supported him remaining at the top of the ticket.

“We heard from him, we felt very good, and we understand but we will take Joe Biden any day over a convicted felon,” Rep. Bennie Thompson (D-Miss.) said on CNN after the meeting.

Members of the Congressional Hispanic Caucus are similarly backing Biden in droves. Reps. Nanette Barragán (D-Calif.) and Adriano Espaillat (D-N.Y.), the chair and co-chair of the group, issued a statement that said “We stand with President Biden and Vice President Kamala Harris.”

“We’re staying with Papa,” Espaillat said Tuesday morning.

And Rep. Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez (D-N.Y.), a prominent liberal with a national following, left no question as to where she stands on the debate over Biden.

“I have spoken to the president over the weekend. I have spoken with him extensively. He made clear then — and he has made clear since — that he is in this race,” she told reporters Monday night. “The matter is closed.”

Aris Folley contributed.

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