Dems Can’t Agree on What to Do About Biden in First Post-Debate Meeting

Democrats weren’t able to cohere around plan regarding the future of President Joe Biden’s campaign after a closed-door meeting of their House caucus on Tuesday, the first such gathering since the president’s disastrous performance on the debate stage against former President Donald Trump.

Representatives leaving the meeting were hesitant to give details about what was said in the no-cell phones, members-only discussion, but the message was still clear: Dems are divided, and there’s no consensus on the path forward.

Democrats are not on the same page, “we’re not even in the same book,” Rep. Steve Cohen (D-Tenn.) told reporters gathered outside the headquarters of the Democratic Congressional Campaign Committee (DCCC), where the meeting was held.

“There’s certainly more that needs to happen,” Rep. Glenn Ivey (D-Md.) added to Rolling Stone on his walk back to the Capitol. “Not just for the people in the room, but for the campaign.”

What needs to happen might be more akin to a resurrection than a few strategy tweaks as the party wrestles with how to move forward. Biden has taken a massive polling hit in key battleground states following the debate, and the prospect of Trump retaking the White House — and Republicans taking total control of Congress — has never felt more acute.

“It feels like a funeral,” one representative told Punchbowl News.

“The morale of the caucus is at historic lows,” another lawmaker told Semafor, “That is an insult to funerals.”

Many representatives made clear that Biden’s recent public appearances have not done enough to quell concerns about his advanced age and health.

Rep. Lloyd Doggett (D-Texas), who last week called for Biden to “make the painful and difficult decision to withdraw,” told reporters on Tuesday that he reiterated his case for the president’s withdrawal before his colleagues.

The threats “of a Trump presidency are so significant that we have to put forward our strongest candidate,” Doggett told reporters.

Rep. Andy Kim (D-N.J), who is currently running to replace indicted Sen. Bob Menendez, told Rolling Stone that while he’s listening to what his colleagues have to say, he’s not going to make a decision based on what’s “best for my race, that’s not the most important thing.”

Kim added that concerns about how Biden’s performance may affect down-ballot candidates like himself were being expressed “even before the debate.”

“The main thing that I’m hearing [from constituents], is uncertainty about what options there are, what steps can we actually take right now,” Kim said.“I think that’s where some of the confusion is.”

For many Democrats firmly in Biden’s camp, the matter has already been settled through the primary process, and the concerns raised in the aftermath of the debate are simply a distraction from the party’s mission to defeat Trump.

“We’re ridin’ with Biden,” Rep. Jim Clyburn (D-S.C.) responded to multiple questions regarding what was said in the discussion, and where he stood after meeting with his colleagues. Clyburn, a top Biden ally, has been credited with helping deliver the president’s key win in the South Carolina Democratic primary in 2020.

Rep. Deborah Ross (D-N.C.) was adamant that Democratic voters’ opposition to Trump would motivate turnout in her state. “We’re yellow-dog Democrats,” she said of her district. “We vote for a yellow dog over a Republican, and we’d certainly vote for a yellow dog over a junkyard dog — and that’s who Donald Trump is.”

Ahead of the gathering, lawmakers representing a collection of vulnerable and swing districts met for what they described to Axios as an “intense” meeting with “actual tears,” from some representatives.

“Most of our caucus is still with him,” one lawmaker who was present for both conversations told Axios. “Meaning he’ll stay in. Which sucks for our country.”

During Democratic leadership’s weekly press conference, House Democratic Caucus Chair Pete Aguilar (D-Calif.) said he was “not going to get into campaign tactics,” when asked by Rolling Stone how he was responding to the concerns of vulnerable Democrats.

“I flipped a Republican-held seat in a really rough year in 2014,” he added. “I try to encourage them to just continue to press ahead.”

In one tense exchange, House Democratic Caucus Vice Chair Ted Lieu (D-Calif.) chastised reporters for their coverage of Biden’s cognitive decline instead of focusing on the many blunders and errors made by the former president. “Look at Donald Trump’s transcripts, and then let’s have a conversation about the crazy things Donald Trump says. Why don’t you ever ask about that?” he said.

With the DNC only weeks away, the Biden campaign and his allies are hoping to ride out the wave of concern through deflection and carefully orchestrated public appearances. On Monday, the president called into MSNBC’s Morning Joe and dared his fellow party members to challenge him at the convention.

“Run against me. Go ahead, announce for president. Challenge me at the convention,” he said.

“I don’t care what those big names think,” Biden added of his critics urging him to pass the torch to a younger, more agile candidate. “The bottom line here is that we’re not going anywhere. I am not going anywhere.”

But even within his own party, Biden’s defiance may not be enough to assuage lawmakers fearful of a GOP sweep in the House and Senate.

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