It’s Now Knives Out for Joe Biden among Democrats

In the immediate aftermath of Thursday's presidential debate, open speculation about Joe Biden's electoral viability was mostly consigned to left-leaning commentators, columnists, and former U.S. senator Claire McCaskill (D., Mo.).

But the president's foundation of support among congressional Democrats began to fall out from under him this week, when several sitting lawmakers either publicly called on Biden to drop out of the presidential race or entertained speculation that he should strongly consider stepping aside.

The first shot came from longtime representative Lloyd Doggett. "I am hopeful that he will make the painful and difficult decision to withdraw. I respectfully call on him to do so," the low-profile Texas Democrat said in a statement that functioned as a road map for other House Democrats to follow his lead.

Then came some cryptic comments from high-profile Democrats such as former House speaker Nancy Pelosi. "I think 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," Pelosi said on MSNBC.

When a dam breaks, it's not easy to patch it back up — even as Biden and his advisers continue to dig in their heels. The situation remains dire. A fresh batch of blue-leaning-state surveys conducted by the liberal polling firm OpenLabs and leaked to Puck News on Tuesday suggests that Trump is now leading Biden in New Hampshire, Virginia, and New Mexico — states that are typically out of reach for Republicans.

Party-wide panic has burst into public view this week as Democrats have begun to air criticisms that the president and his team have has been insufficiently communicative and dismissive of those who have concerns. "Like a lot of people, I was pretty horrified," Senator Sheldon Whitehouse (D., R.I.) told a local news station on Monday, adding that "the president and his team to be candid about his condition, that this was a real anomaly and not just the way he is these days."

Others House Democrats are dropping not-so-subtle reminders to Biden and his team that staying in the race will likely be a major drag on down-ballot candidates.

"We have to be honest with ourselves that it wasn't just a horrible night," Mike Quigley (D., Ill.) told CNN. "But I won't go beyond that out of my respect and understanding for President Joe Biden, a very proud person who has served us extraordinarily for 50 years. I just want him to appreciate at this time just how much this impacts not just his race but all the other races coming in November."

Biden’s onstage performance on Thursday was even more alarming given he spent the entire week leading up to the debate away from the White House. Biden acknowledged to donors during a Tuesday evening fundraiser in McLean, Va., that he "wasn't very smart" for "traveling around the world a couple times" before the debate, according to a pool report — an apparent reference to his early-June trips to a G-7 conference in Italy and the 80th anniversary of D-Day in France. "I didn't listen to my staff," he added, "and then I almost fell asleep on stage." His remarks lasted six minutes.

Left unsaid was the reality that Biden returned from his foreign trips and a Los Angeles fundraiser on June 16 — a full eleven days before the June 27 debate. What's more, debate preparations took place over six days at Camp David, "never started before 11 a.m. and Mr. Biden was given time for an afternoon nap each day," the New York Times reported Tuesday.

Just as striking as Biden's onstage performance on Thursday evening is his continued aversion to the press in the aftermath, aside from a sit-down interview with ABC News anchor George Stephanopoulos that is set to air on Friday.

"The fact that Biden has not gotten out there and really done anything since the debate really suggests how uncomfortable he and his staff are putting him out there," former representative Dan Lipinski (D., Ill.) said in an interview with National Review.

Instead of blanketing the media landscape with wall-to-wall interviews, Biden has kept his postdebate public appearances limited to controlled environments where he can rely on a teleprompter. The president delivered on Friday a fiery postdebate speech in North Carolina, where he sought to play down intraparty jitters by acknowledging that he doesn't debate, walk, or speak like he "used to." He made similar remarks to donors at a series of private fundraisers over the weekend. Intraparty grumblings grew even louder on Monday evening, when Biden delivered a five-minute speech in the White House addressing the Supreme Court's ruling on the Trump immunity case and took no questions from the press.

Adding insult to injury was the publication on Monday morning of Vogue's August cover story that pictured First Lady Jill Biden wearing a $4,900 Ralph Lauren silk tuxedo dress. The title: "We Will Decide Our Future."

All of this intraparty wrangling over how to proceed comes a few weeks before Democrats are set to formally nominate Biden in a virtual call ahead of the party's August convention in Chicago.

"The worst possible way to have this fight would be if you have a couple of weeks to determine who the new leader of the party is," says Lipinski.

Thanks to this week's July 4 recess, congressional Democrats who are running tough reelection campaigns have been able to duck questions from reporters in the hallways of the U.S. Capitol about Biden's debate performance. That will change next week when both chambers return to Washington.

In television interviews, some Democrats are already throwing a bone to Vice President Kamala Harris. "I will support her if he were to step aside," Representative Jim Clyburn (D., S.C.), a Biden-Harris campaign co-chairman and former House Democratic whip, told MSNBC. “This party should not, in any way, do anything to work around Ms. Harris. We should do everything we can to bolster her whether she's in second place or at the top of the ticket."

Former representative Tim Ryan (D., Ohio) has been even more candid — calling on Biden to step aside and urging Democrats to rally around Harris in his place. "You’re asking the American people to ignore what they saw last week," Ryan, who distanced himself from Biden on the campaign trail during his 2022 Senate run and who expressed early opposition to Biden's reelection campaign, said in an interview with National Review on Tuesday "It’s completely irresponsible for those people to hide this from us — for him to be in in that condition."

Ryan said his party's failure to confront voters' concerns about Biden's fitness for the job risks causing "irreparable damage" to a party that is already seen as out of touch with large swaths of the American public — including black voters and working-class voters — on a range of issues such as border security, the economy, and public safety.

"Young people, they think we’re insane watching this," he said, while acknowledging the difficulty that accompanies bucking the party line. "I played the game for 22 years. I understand. But when the there’s an existential threat like this, at some point you have to let that smaller stuff go for the constitutional obligations that that we have."

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It's Now Knives Out for Joe Biden among Democrats

‘We have to be honest with ourselves that it wasn't just a horrible night,’ Democratic representative ... READ MORE

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