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  /  Editor's Pick   /  Hill Democrats deeply torn about Biden’s fate as they return to Washington

Hill Democrats deeply torn about Biden’s fate as they return to Washington

Senate and House Democrats remain deeply torn about President Biden’s fate as they return to Washington on Monday, asking themselves and each other whether the president should remain at the top of the ticket and what that means for them come November.

It’s the first time both chambers will hold serious discussions in person since Biden’s halting debate performance at the end of June shattered expectations among scores of lawmakers, some of whom doubt the president can serve out another term.

While several lawmakers are publicly declaring their allegiance to Biden, they are rivaled by those who have spent the past week agonizing over his future and expressing grave doubts that the 81-year-old could defeat Donald Trump in November.

As of Sunday, nine House Democrats — four privately and five publicly — had called for Biden to exit the race. In addition, at least 18 current and former top Democrats as of Saturday had publicly raised concerns about Biden’s fitness for office and his ability to defeat Trump as the president heads into a critical week.

House Minority Leader Hakeem Jeffries (D-N.Y.) is in listening mode, and has kept his opinions on Biden’s situation to himself, for now. So has Senate Majority Leader Charles E. Schumer (D-N.Y.). Both have to balance their allegiance to Biden with their own members’ concerns about recapturing the slender House majority and holding the Senate in November.

The Biden campaign has stepped up its outreach to Democrats on Capitol Hill in hopes of stanching the bleeding upon their return.

On Monday morning, Biden sent a two-page letter to all congressional Democrats laying out a united party vision and defiantly declaring he is “firmly committed to staying in this race, to running this race to the end, and to beating Donald Trump.”

“The question of how to move forward has been well-aired for over a week now. And it’s time for it to end,” Biden writes at the end of his letter. “Any weakening of resolve or lack of clarity about the task ahead only helps Trump and hurts us. It is time to come together.”

Hours before the letter was sent, the Biden-Harris campaign blasted a memo to all Democratic offices Sunday evening. In the memo, obtained by The Washington Post, the campaign outlined 15 public and private events Biden has taken part in since the debate, touting remarks by Hill Democrats defending Biden and recapping how grass-roots support continues for the president.

While it’s unclear how the memo will be received by lawmakers, many House Democratic members and aides privately grumbled early last week over the campaign sending talking points instead of considering their asks to put Biden on the campaign trail with more frequency. Many Democrats think the outreach is too little, too late, and should have occurred a week ago, days after the debate.

Biden is expected to call more lawmakers this week after touching base with 20 last week — including Schumer, Jeffries, and Reps. Nancy Pelosi (D-Calif.) and James E. Clyburn (D-S.C.) — to reassure Democrats that he is hearing their concerns, according to a campaign official.

Some Democrats are waiting to see how Biden fares on the campaign trail and at this week’s NATO summit in Washington before casting judgment. Others consider the campaign and Biden’s ramped-up schedule too little, too late.

Many say they’re worried that the president remains in denial about his ability to beat Trump.

The calls for Biden to step aside have so far exclusively come from House lawmakers. But that could easily change, and last week, Sen. Mark R. Warner (D-Va.) sought to form a group that would go to the White House and seek the president’s exit.

“The president, he said he’d listen to the Lord Almighty if he came down, and it’s Sunday, and I certainly respect the Lord, but this is a real-world decision for him and for everyday Democratic senators and members of Congress,” Sen. Peter Welch (D-Vt.) said in an interview Sunday, referencing Biden’s remarks in a Friday sit-down with ABC News. “As much as we’d like divine intervention, it will elude us. So we have to act.”

In a preview of the divisive week ahead, 24 top Democrats on House committees joined a virtual off-the-record call with Jeffries, Minority Whip Katherine Clark (D-Mass.) and Caucus Chair Pete Aguilar (D-Calif.) on Sunday where members were divided over whether to defend or desert Biden, according to three people on the call, who, like others in the story spoke on the condition of anonymity to speak openly about internal party deliberations.

Reps. Adam Smith (D-Wash.), Mark Takano (D-Calif.), Joseph Morelle (D-N.Y.) and Jerry Nadler (D-N.Y.) — all of whom are the top Democrats on their respective committees — were all described as forcefully making the case for ditching Biden.

Reps. Richard E. Neal (D-Mass.), Rosa DeLauro (D-Conn.), Maxine Waters (D-Calif.) and Robert C. “Bobby” Scott (D-Va.) countered and fiercely defended Biden, saying that his one bad debate night should not overshadow his historic presidency and vision for the future. They also pointed out there is little evidence so far that proves he can’t beat Trump.

“President Biden beat Trump in 2020, and now, bolstered by his historic record of success, he’ll do it again in November,” Neal said in a statement after the call. “Republicans are the biggest threat to the health of our democracy, our economy, and the people, and the president knows what’s at stake. I’m with him all the way, fighting like hell to defeat those threats.”

Other Democrats began to publicly air criticism of their colleagues leaking private meetings and grievances to reporters.

“Some people spending more time in the last 10 days leaking more negativity and attacks on our own nominee rather than on the opponent. 120 days left till the election,” Rep. Grace Meng (D-N.Y.) posted on social media Sunday.

While Jeffries and his lieutenants have largely kept defections at bay as they’ve listened to frustrated colleagues vent, House Democrats and top aides recognize conversations over the next three days — including at their weekly all-members caucus Tuesday — will make clear Congress’s role during an unprecedented time.

“Whatever we decide, we need to get it done within the next 48 hours, because right now we are in the worst of both worlds,” Rep. Brendan Boyle (D-Pa.) told his colleagues Sunday, according to a Democrat on the call.

Democratic senators, long the president’s strongest base of support on the Hill, have kept quieter than their rowdier House counterparts. But behind the scenes, many senators share similar fears that Biden no longer has a path forward, according to multiple senators and aides who spoke on the condition of anonymity to discuss the dynamics freely.

Warner, who has told people he believes Biden cannot beat Trump, has quietly pushed for the group to coalesce around a strategy to get Biden to exit the race. The Virginia Democrat’s tentative plan to assemble senators for an in-person meeting to discuss Biden’s future appears to be scrapped, after reporting about the effort scrambled the plans, one senator said. Instead, senators are likely to discuss Biden at their regularly scheduled Tuesday lunch.

Several senators said Sunday that time is of the essence.

“Right now, we’re sort of stuck in the mud where despite the fact that we’ve got a convicted felon running against us, the whole conversation is about the president’s fitness and we can’t be stalled in that place,” Welch said. “So we have to move on. So it’s either an extraordinary success on the part of Biden to put to rest the age issue — very hard to see how it’s done — or we bust a move.”

Sen. Chris Murphy (D-Conn.) said on CNN that this week will be “absolutely critical,” adding that the president’s ABC News interview didn’t do enough to assuage people’s concerns. “I think the president needs to do more,” he said.

Other senators defended Biden.

“Biden is old,” Sen. Bernie Sanders (I-Vt.), 82, said on CBS’s “Face the Nation.” “He’s not as articulate as he once was. I wish he could jump up the steps on Air Force One. He can’t. What we have got to focus on is policy. Whose policies have and will benefit the vast majority of the people in this country?”

Sanders said he would not attend a meeting of senators to discuss Biden’s future.

Many lawmakers remained worried by “what ifs” surrounding Biden: What if he has another debate moment in the weeks after he officially becomes the Democratic nominee post-convention? What if he continues to decline if reelected and drags down congressional candidates in the midterms two years from now? What if he cannot beat Trump in November?

Some House Democrats are still weighing whether to come out publicly, noting the feedback from local leaders and constituents has been mixed — some want their lawmakers to go public asking Biden to step aside, and others argue Biden should make the decision on his own without the input of members of Congress. Some lawmakers also disclosed that their Washington offices have been getting calls from constituents all week with both those viewpoints represented.

Only one thing is for sure: Hill conversations will continue.

“The fear of having another Trump presidency, especially given how much more unhinged he has been, is palpable. And so I think people are going to pull together,” Rep. Deborah Ross (D-N.C.) said.

Paul Kane contributed to this report.

This post appeared first on The Washington Post