Congressional Democrats meet amid simmering concerns over Biden reelection

Congressional Democrats meet amid simmering concerns over Biden reelection

Washington — Democrats in Congress met Tuesday as lawmakers returned to Capitol Hill this week for the first time following President Biden’s calamitous debate last month, which has prompted concern among the party about the path forward and calls for Mr. Biden to drop out of the 2024 presidential race. 

House Democrats meet in listening session to air concerns about Biden’s future

During what’s shaping to be a critical week in Mr. Biden’s effort to remain in the presidential race, House Democrats met behind closed doors on Tuesday to privately debate his place at the top of the ticket.

The meeting, which took place at Democrats’ campaign headquarters, outside of the Capitol, lasted for nearly two hours, with members taking two-minute turns to speak. The discussion, described by Democrats as a “listening session,” seemed to mirror the larger public discourse around the president in recent days, with some Democrats affirming their support for Mr. Biden, while others called for him to step aside, and scores others saying they’d reserve judgment until they saw more of the president in public.

Rep. Lloyd Doggett of Texas, who became the first Democratic lawmaker to call on Mr. Biden to step aside last week, told reporters he made the case for a replacement for the president in the meeting. And in a statement posted to social media late Tuesday afternoon, Rep. Mikie Sherrill of New Jersey became the seventh House Democrat to call on Mr. Biden to step aside, asking that he “declare that he won’t run for reelection and will help lead us through a process toward a new nominee.” 

Sherrill is the first congressional Democrat to call on Mr. Biden to step aside after his letter to Democrats Monday saying he’s firmly committed to remaining in the race. She said she felt she “needed to advocate as strongly as possible for new leadership so we could really prosecute the case against Donald Trump.”

At the same time, a number of lawmakers, including Reps. Steny Hoyer of Maryland, Hank Johnson of Georgia and Juan Vargas of California, signaled support for the president as they walked in and out of the meeting. 

“We’re riding with Biden,” Rep. Jim Clyburn of South Carolina, a long-time friend of the president, told reporters, calling the meeting “very positive.”

While the House has been the source of sporadic calls for Mr. Biden to drop out of the race, a number of House Democrats have also been among the most vocal supporters of the president’s reelection. Rep. Jerry Nadler of New York, who said earlier this week that the president should leave the race during a private conference call, told reporters Tuesday morning that he supports Mr. Biden, saying he’s made clear that he’s running, “and to me that’s dispositive — we have to support him.” 

On Monday night, Mr. Biden also received a boost from members of the Congressional Black Caucus after joining their call to talk about the election. And even among some progressives who often break with the president, like Rep. Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez of New York, there have been expressions of support. 

Ocasio-Cortez told reporters that she had spoken with the president over the weekend and he made clear he is not leaving the race. 

House Minority Leader Hakeem Jeffries speaks to reporters as he leaves a meeting at the U.S. Capitol on July 8, 2024, in Washington, D.C.
House Minority Leader Hakeem Jeffries speaks to reporters as he leaves a meeting at the U.S. Capitol on July 8, 2024, in Washington, D.C. 

Kevin Dietsch / Getty Images

“The matter is closed,” she said. “Joe Biden is our nominee. He is not leaving this race. He is in this race and I support him.”

Most notably, House Minority Leader Hakeem Jeffries reiterated his support for the president on Monday, saying, “I made clear publicly the day after the debate that I support President Joe Biden and the Democratic ticket. My position has not changed.” 

On Tuesday, Jeffries told reporters that the meeting “gave members an opportunity to express themselves in a candid and comprehensive fashion,” adding that “those discussions will continue throughout the balance of the week.”

There did not appear to be consensus at the end of the meeting. As one lawmaker left the building, Rep. Steve Cohen of Tennessee was asked by reporters if Democrats were on the same page. “No,” he answered. “We aren’t even in the same book.”

Senate Democrats and Biden

Senate Democrats also met Tuesday for their weekly caucus lunch meeting. And despite some clear statements of support — and a lack thereof — in the House, strong commitments either way have been harder to come by in the more deliberative upper chamber. No Senate Democrats have publicly called for the president to step aside, while some are taking a wait-and-see approach. 

Sen. Patty Murray, a Washington Democrat and the president pro tempore of the chamber, said in a statement on Monday that while she has “strong respect” for the president, he “must do more to demonstrate he can campaign strong enough to beat Donald Trump.”

“President Biden must seriously consider the best way to preserve his incredible legacy and secure it for the future,” she said. 

Sen. Tammy Baldwin of Wisconsin, who’s up for reelection in the key battleground state, told reporters ahead of the meeting that she heard “a lot of input” from constituents over the July 4 holiday, including “expressions of concern” about the president’s ability to win the election. 

“So I think everyone’s looking very carefully at his performance this week and I think that will be very informative,” Baldwin said. 

But others were unequivocal in their support for the president ahead of the meeting. Sen. Kirsten Gillibrand of New York said she’s confident Mr. Biden will “kick Trump’s butt” in November. And Sen. Jon Ossoff of Georgia said he supports the president. 

Sen. Peter Welch of Vermont said “all of us have been supportive of President Biden,” adding that “this is an existential question about how best do we beat Trump.” When asked whether the president could beat Trump in November, Welch said “the voters are going to decide.”

Senate Democrats emerged from the lengthy meeting expressing that there’s unity within the caucus, though they remained tight-lipped about the details of the meeting, which Sen. Debbie Stabenow of Michigan called a “private family discussion.” Sen. Richard Blumenthal of Connecticut told reporters there was “consensus” around defeating Trump in November, though he noted that there wasn’t a “specific outcome in the way of a decision going forward.” Sen. Peter Welch of Vermont, who’s been critical of the Biden campaign’s response to the debate, said “we’ve got a ways to go” upon leaving the meeting. Others kept things simple, such as Sen. John Fetterman of Pennsylvania, who said, “Joe Biden is our guy, he’s my guy.” 

Repeatedly asked about the president’s ability to serve another four years during a weekly news conference following the meeting, Senate Majority Leader Chuck Schumer simply reiterated three times, “I’m with Joe.” 

Attention will likely remain on the Senate, where Mr. Biden represented Delaware for more than three decades, in the coming days. 

The meetings come after the president sent a letter to congressional Democrats on Monday saying he is “firmly committed” to staying in the race and making clear that he wouldn’t be running again if he “did not absolutely believe I was the best person to beat Donald Trump in 2024.”

Nikole Killion, Alejandro Alvarez and Catherine Walter contributed reporting. 

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