Democrats in Congress are divided between supporting Biden and sounding the alarm

WASHINGTON (AP) — President Joe Biden’s disastrous decision debate presentation has resonated within the Democratic Party, forcing lawmakers to address a crisis that could upend the presidential election and change the course of American history.

The Democratic president has promised to stay in the race against Republican Donald Trump, despite a choppy and uneven debate delivery that put a spotlight on questions about Biden’s age and ability to be president. But as Democrats argue that the the stakes of the elections are important — who are questioning nothing less than the foundations of American democracy — they are grappling with what to do with the 81-year-old who is supposed to lead their party.

Here’s how Democrats are dealing with the aftermath of the debate:

To alarm


This combination of photos shows Republican presidential candidate former President Donald Trump, left, and President Joe Biden during a presidential debate hosted by CNN, Thursday, June 27, 2024, in Atlanta. (AP Photo/Gerald Herbert)


President Joe Biden, center right, and first lady Jill Biden, right, arrive on Marine One and their granddaughters at East Hampton Airport, Saturday, June 29, 2024, in East Hampton, N.Y. (AP Photo/Evan Vucci)

Leading Democrats in Congress have expressed concerns in recent days, not just about Biden’s performance during the 90 minute debate last week but also the level of transparency his team has shown about his mental fitness, and they have been on their toes to embrace the idea that Biden should withdraw.

A Biden ally, Rep. James Clyburn, spoke openly on CNN on Wednesday about holding a “mini-primary” ahead of the Democratic National Convention in mid-August.

After last week’s debate, the 83-year-old Clyburn initially urged fellow Democrats to “stay the course” with Biden and “calm down,” but his tone changed on Wednesday.

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“I saw what I saw last Thursday night, and it’s disturbing,” Clyburn said.

In recent days, comments from Clyburn and other senior Democrats, including former House Speaker Nancy Pelosi, have hinted at a political party in crisis. Still, it was unclear whether their concerns reached Biden, who told his aides on a Democratic National Committee call that “nobody pushes me out.”

Clyburn, a prominent South Carolina lawmaker and former party leader in the House of Representatives, also had a lengthy phone call with Biden on Wednesday.

Pelosi, in an interview on MSNBC on Tuesday, continued to stress that the president “is at the top of his game, in terms of knowing the issues and what’s at stake.”

But she also called on Biden and Trump, who is 78, to get tested for their health and mental acuity.

“I think it’s a legitimate question to say whether this is an episode or a condition. So when people ask that question, it’s legitimate — from both candidates,” said Pelosi, D-Calif., who is 84.

Minutes after Pelosi’s remarks on Tuesday, Rep. Lloyd Doggett of Texas said: became the first sitting Democrat in Congress to call on Biden to withdraw from the race.

“Recognizing that, unlike Trump, President Biden’s first commitment has always been to our country, not himself, I hope he will make the painful and difficult decision to withdraw. I respectfully urge him to do so,” said Doggett, who is 77.

Pelosi also urged Biden to prove to the American people that he is ready for another four years in office by going out and doing tough interviews — something he has rarely done in recent years. Biden is scheduled to appear for an interview with ABC later this week, his first since the debate.

“Everyone in the Democratic Party is asking one question: How do we defeat Donald Trump and how do we defeat the threat of authoritarianism,” Rep. Jamie Raskin, a prominent Democrat from Maryland, said Tuesday night on MSNBC.

Lawmakers are also concerned that Biden’s weaknesses could dampen the enthusiasm of potential voters, creating a domino effect that hurts Democrats as they try to maintain a slim majority in the Senate and regain control of the House. Democrats further down the ballot are already confident they can outpoll Biden in swing races, but if large numbers of voters reject Biden, it could have consequences for them.

While several vulnerable Democrats have stopped short of calling on Biden to withdraw, they have put the situation in stark terms: If Biden continues, Trump will win.

“The truth is, I think, Biden is going to lose to Trump,” Rep. Marie Gluesenkamp Perez, a Washington Democrat, told an ABC affiliate television station. “I know that’s tough, but I think the damage was done by that debate.”

Support Biden

Of Biden’s family urges him to stay The race has focused on senior Democratic lawmakers who might be able to convince the president to withdraw his nomination. So far, top Democratic leaders have largely backed Biden in public statements.

“There has been no conversation among the top leaders about anything other than making sure that we continue to articulate a compelling vision for the American people going forward on the important issues around the economy,” House Democratic Leader Hakeem Jeffries told reporters in Pittsburgh on Monday.

Senate Majority Leader Chuck Schumer, a Democrat from New York, posted on X, the platform formerly known as Twitter, after the debate that it was showing voters that there was a choice between “four more years of progress, or four more years of attacks on our fundamental rights and our democracy.”

After days of no direct conversations between Biden and congressional leaders, the president held talks Tuesday night and Wednesday with Schumer and Jeffries, as well as with Sen. Chris Coons, a Delaware Democrat who is a close ally of the president, according to people with knowledge of the conversations who spoke on condition of anonymity to discuss them.

Many of Biden’s allies have criticized the news media for fixated on Biden’s mental capacitiesarguing that the emphasis should instead be placed on Trump’s history of refusing to accept the results of the 2020 election, in which he lost to Biden, and repeatedly lying.

Rep. Veronica Escobar, a Texas Democrat who is part of Biden’s campaign committee, admitted Friday that the debate was not what she had hoped for, but added: “I think there needs to be a real conversation about the things that Donald Trump said. It’s beyond disgusting.”

Feeling it out

The June 27 debate brought a new dynamic to an election that had been marked by few surprises. Voters were familiar with Biden and Trump, having chosen between the two earlier in 2020.

Still, many House Democrats were left reeling as they faced a barrage of questions the morning after the debate. Some saw it as a bad night for Biden, but others are watching closely to see how voters react and whether Biden can engineer a swift political recovery.

Already, the vulnerable Democrats in the House of Representatives are have taken distance of some of Biden’s policies in recent months. That phenomenon became clearer after the debate.

Congressman Jared Golden, a moderate Democrat from Maine, claimed the election outcome was already decided.

“While I don’t plan on voting for him, Donald Trump is going to win,” Golden said in an op-ed in the Bangor Daily News. “And that’s fine with me.”


Associated Press journalists Farnoush Amiri and Lisa Mascaro contributed to this report.

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