These are the Democrats who say Joe Biden should step aside

Will Democrats nominate Joe Biden to run for president in 2024?

A month ago, it seemed like a foregone conclusion. But in the wake of a shaky, raspy, and concerning performance at last Thursday’s showdown with Donald Trump in Atlanta, the Democrats are suddenly having a very public conversation about the primary the party just refused to put on.

The president’s debate performance was roundly viewed as a disaster. Within minutes of the program ending, members of the president’s party were heading for the exits — spurred on by moments early in the debate when Biden appeared to lose track of the points he was trying to make.

Joe Biden reaffirmed on Tuesday that he was remaining in the race; his White House Press Secretary, Karine Jean-Pierre, did too. The next debate is not scheduled until September, a month after the president (or another Democrat) will accept their party’s nomination.

But it’s becoming clear that Biden’s view is one not shared far outside of his own inner circle and his most vocal loyalists on Capitol Hill. Increasingly, Democrats are openly calling for Biden to step aside and let another candidate — probably Vice President Kamala Harris — run for the nomination.

President Joe Biden looks on during his debate with Donald Trump in June 2024 (AFP via Getty Images)
President Joe Biden looks on during his debate with Donald Trump in June 2024 (AFP via Getty Images)

And still more are giving their colleagues, particularly those in swing districts, the room to do so.

Putting aside the handful of Democrats like John Fetterman who have openly urged Biden to stay in, the statements coming in from Capitol Hill and elsewhere have roughly fallen into two categories: those who believe Biden should end his candidacy, and those who are willing to admit those conversations are taking place — while not overtly taking a position themselves. The point of the two-pronged message is clear: it gives Democrats in tough races the space to call for Biden to step aside and effectively run away from associations with the president, while also thumbing the party’s nose at the GOP. Democrats, the party wants voters to know, are not in a cult: unlike Republicans, they are not beholden to any leader.

Let’s look at which Democrats are falling into these respective camps as the fallout from the debate continues.

The “get-out” group

Rep Lloyd Doggett - The Texas congressman was the first member of his party in Congress to call for the president to step aside and let another Democrat take the nomination at the DNC convention in August. He did so on Tuesday, declaring: "Too much is at stake to risk a Trump victory—too great a risk to assume that what could not be turned around in a year, what was not turned around in the debate, can be turned around now.”

“I am hopeful that he will make the painful and difficult decision to withdraw. I respectfully call on him to do so.”

Rep Raúl Grijalva - Grijalva became the second elected member of his party to call for Biden to step down, doing so on Wednesday. The swing-state congressman called Thursday’s debate an “opportunity” for Biden to gracefully make the decision to step aside.

“If he’s the candidate, I’m going to support him, but I think that this is an opportunity to look elsewhere … What he needs to do is shoulder the responsibility for keeping that seat — and part of that responsibility is to get out of this race.”

Adam Frisch - The almost-congressman from Colorado; Adam Frisch came within 600 votes of beating Lauren Boebert to become the congressman representing Colorado’s 3rd district in 2022. He’s running a well-funded campaign again this year and called on Biden to drop out of the race on Tuesday.

“I thank President Biden for his years of service, but the path ahead requires a new generation of leadership to take our country forward,” said Frisch.

Tim Ryan - Ryan, a former member of the House who lost a run for Senate against JD Vance in 2022, was early on the bandwagon calling for Nancy Pelosi to step aside as Speaker of the House, arguing that the party’s graying leadership was doing it a disservice. He issued a similar call for Biden to step down on Tuesday.

“We have to rip the band aid off! Too much is at stake,” he tweeted. “⁦[Vice President Kamala Harris]⁩ has significantly grown into her job, she will destroy Trump in debate, highlight choice issue, energize our base, bring back young voters and give us generational change. It’s time!”

Julian Castro - A former Housing and Urban Development secretary who ran against Biden for the nomination in 2020, Castro’s remarks on X shortly followed Doggett’s. The two both hail from Texas.

“I believe that another Democrat would have a better shot at beating Trump and because, as Congressman Doggett said in his statement that it’s too risky to let Donald Trump walk into this in November. I think the Democrats would do well to find a different candidate.”

Tom Harkin - A key Biden ally and former senator from Iowa, Harkin said in a statement this week: “I think the president should step aside and let the convention pick a new candidate.

“I also think all incumbent Democratic Senators should write to Biden asking him to release his delegates and step aside so the convention can choose a new candidate,” Harkin said. “A couple of governors may need to do the same.”

The serious conversation-havers

Rep Jim Clyburn- A kingmaker in South Carolina Democratic politics and a key ally of Joe Biden, the aging Clyburn (formerly the House Democratic Whip) was credited with helping the president win his state’s primary over Bernie Sanders and other rivals in 2020. He’s said that he won’t try and force Biden out of the race, but he apparently has no problem with others trying to do just that.

“I will support [Kamala Harris] if [Biden] were to step aside,” Clyburn told MSNBC’s Andrea Mitchell on Tuesday.

But he added: “I want this ticket to continue to be Biden-Harris, and then we’ll see what happens after the next election.”

Rep Jamie Raskin- Raskin spoke about Biden’s future over the weekend and became one of the first to give his colleagues a little breathing room. He appeared for an interview with MSNBC’s Ali Velshi on Sunday and said that “very honest and serious, rigorous, conversations taking place at every level of our party” after Biden’s poor debate showing.

“Obviously, there was a big problem with Joe Biden's debate performance. [But] there's also just a tremendous reservoir of affection and love for Joe Biden in our party,” he added.”

Rep Nancy Pelosi - The former speaker of the House may seem an unusual choice to break from the party line on Biden’s nomination for the presidency in 2024, but her move makes sense when one considers that Pelosi is relentless when it comes to ensuring Democratic victories in close House races — something she is likely seeking to do at this moment.

Pelosi appeared on Sunday’s State of the Union on CNN. There, she asserted that “It’s a legitimate question to say, ‘Is this an episode or is this a condition?’ When people ask that question, it’s completely legitimate — of both candidates.”

Rep Marie Gluesenkamp Perez - The first-term Democrat from Washington state isn’t ready to call for Joe Biden to step aside. She is, however, ready to deliver the bad news that his campaign won’t: the president is losing this election, according to nearly all current available polling.

“About 50 million Americans tuned in and watched that debate. I was one of them for about five very painful minutes. We all saw what we saw, you can’t undo that, and the truth I think, is that Biden is going to lose to Trump. I know that’s difficult, but I think the damage has been done by that debate.”

Rep Jared Golden - Golden’s doom-and-gloom prediction for November, which echoed Perez’s, was couched by the assertion that he did not believe Trump’s ascension to the presidency once more would seriously threaten American democracy — words that diminish the effectiveness of such claims raised by the Biden team in the wake of last Thursday’s debate as they seek to rally supporters.

“After the first presidential debate, lots of Democrats are panicking about whether President Joe Biden should step down as the party’s nominee. Biden’s poor performance in the debate was not a surprise. It also didn’t rattle me as it has others, because the outcome of this election has been clear to me for months: While I don’t plan to vote for him, Donald Trump is going to win,” said Golden.

Rep Summer Lee - Another first-term Democrat, Lee declared on Wednesday that Biden needed to assert his value as the nominee if he wanted to repair his image and regain the confidence of his party.

"People are concerned precisely because of the threat of Trump, precisely because of the threat of the Supreme Court,” she said. “If President Biden and his team decides that he's staying in this race, then it's going to be incumbent on them to show us — to show us, not tell us — to show us that he's up for the task of beating Donald Trump."

Sen Sheldon Whitehouse - One of just two Democrats in the Senate to comment as of Wednesday afternoon, Whitehouse made his thoughts about the president’s concerning appearance clear.

“I think like a lot of people I was pretty horrified by the debate,” he said. “I think people want to make sure that this is a campaign that’s ready to go and win, that the president and his team are being candid with us about his condition — that this was a real anomaly and not just the way he is these days.”

Sen Peter Welch - Whitehouse’s colleague from Vermont went on the attack against campaign officials and White House aides who have pushed back publicly and anonymously to reporters against efforts by Democrats to raise voters’ concerns about the president’s age and mental acuity.

“I really do criticize the campaign for a dismissive attitude towards people who are raising questions for discussion,” said Welch. “The campaign has raised the concerns themselves... So then to be dismissive of others who raise those concerns, I think it’s inappropriate.”