Senate Democrats Are Trying So Hard To Look United Behind Joe Biden

WASHINGTON — Senate Democrats met Tuesday for the first time since President Joe Biden’s disastrous debate performance last month, and they emerged with a clear consensus: there is no consensus on whether they think Biden is still their best shot at defeating Donald Trump.

One after another, Democrats trickled out of their private hour-and-a-half lunch and either dashed away from reporters or stopped briefly to emphasize how strongly they agree on the need to beat Trump in November. But things got shaky anytime they were asked about their faith in the other guy, their guy, Biden.

“You know, consensus is a moveable feast,” Sen. Richard Blumenthal (D-Conn.) said. “There was certainly consensus on this critical point that we need to defeat Donald Trump.”

Most Democrats were tight-lipped about their internal disagreements about Biden being the best nominee to take on Trump, if they said anything at all. But a handful lifted the curtain a bit more.

We got a ways to go,” Sen. Peter Welch (D-Vt.) said. “But you know, we’re not going to negotiate in public.”

Asked to clarify what he meant by “a ways to go,” the Vermont Democrat only said, “I don’t have my thoughts put in an orderly process that meets your editorial standards.”

While Senate Majority Leader Chuck Schumer (D-N.Y.) reiterated his support for Biden, Senate Majority Whip Dick Durbin (D-Ill.) told reporters it “remains to be seen” if Biden is still his party’s best presidential nominee.

Senate Democrats, unlike some Democrats in the House, have not yet broken ranks to call on the 81-year-old president to drop out of the race. But several senators expressed concerns on Monday about whether Biden is the best candidate to lead their ticket in November. Vulnerable Democrats facing reelection this year also want Biden to more aggressively make the case to the American people that he can do the job, including holding more unscripted public appearances.

“It was constructive,” said Sen. Jon Tester (D-Mont.), one of the Democrats who is facing reelection in a state Trump won, of the lunch, declining to go into more detail.

Biden is scheduled to hold a rare solo press conference on Thursday after the NATO summit in Washington, setting up another test of his performance as questions linger about his physical fitness. Democrats don’t have long to decide whether to nominate Biden. The Democratic National Committee decided weeks ago to hold a virtual roll call in mid-July to begin the nomination process due to uncertainty about whether Democrats would meet the deadline for Ohio’s general election ballot.

Details about Tuesday’s closed-door conversation were scant. Sen. Debbie Stabenow (D-Mich.) was defiant with reporters who pressed her on whether any of her colleagues had called on Biden to drop out.

“I’m not going to, I’m not going to,” she said, calling the discussion between many of the country’s top Democrats a “private family matter.”

When Sen. John Fetterman (D-Pa.), a vocal Biden defender, was asked a similar question, he flatly ruled it out.

“Fuck no. No, that’s wild,” he said.

“One guy kicked Trump’s ass in the election. One guy banged a porn star ... I don’t understand [why] the outrage is not more focusing on Donald Trump,” Fetterman added, summing up Democrats’ frustrations with media coverage of Biden following the debate.

Meanwhile, Republican senators, who are used to being hounded by reporters about Trump’s regular outbursts, could hardly contain their glee about the disarray on the other side of the aisle. When Senate Minority Leader Mitch McConnell (R-Ky.) approached a throng of reporters at the GOP’s weekly press conference, he deadpanned, “I’m sure you’re all here for us.”

“I’m loving it,” Sen. Kevin Cramer (R-N.D.) commented as a group of reporters chased a Democratic senator down a hallway.

Biden has sought to rally influential members of Congress to his side this week, dialing into a meeting of the Congressional Black Caucus, a key source of support, on Monday. He’s expected to do the same for the Congressional Hispanic Caucus later this week as well. The president also won the backing of a key progressive voice over the weekend: Rep. Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez (D-N.Y.).

But lawmakers voicing private doubts about Biden or publicly urging him to withdraw from the race for a younger alternative aren’t helping put the problem to bed.

On Tuesday, moderate Rep. Mikie Sherrill (D-N.J.) became the seventh Democrat to publicly call for Biden not to seek another term.

“[B]ecause I know President Biden cares deeply about the future of our country, I am asking that he declare that he won’t run for reelection and will help lead us through a process toward a new nominee,” Sherrill said in a statement.