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United by their objections to Trump, congressional Dems largely close ranks behind Biden

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United by their objections to Trump, congressional Dems largely close ranks behind Biden

Jul 09, 2024 | 6:25 pm ET
By Ashley Murray Jennifer Shutt Shauneen Miranda Lia Chien
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United by their objections to Trump, congressional Dems largely close ranks behind Biden
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U.S. House Minority Leader Hakeem Jeffries, D-N.Y., speaks to reporters as he leaves a meeting at the U.S. Capitol on July 08, 2024 in Washington, D.C. Jeffries reiterated his support for President Joe Biden, saying the party is backing Biden to defeat the Republican presidential candidate, former President Donald Trump. (Photo by Kevin Dietsch/Getty Images)

WASHINGTON — Congressional Democrats appeared to quell some inner tumult over supporting President Joe Biden’s reelection campaign, after highly anticipated internal meetings Tuesday showed the president retained considerable support from the Congressional Black Caucus and other lawmakers in public statements.

Speaking to reporters on Capitol Hill, Democrats from both chambers largely declined to detail their closed-door conversations. But they said they are lining up behind Biden, nearly two weeks after his debate performance set in motion prolonged speculation about his fitness for office. The party meetings among lawmakers were the first since the June 27 debate.

Biden issued a defiant letter to party members Monday saying that he will not exit the race, and Democrats interviewed by States Newsroom insisted they are uniting as the party heads toward his official nomination later this summer.

Lawmakers left open whether perfect harmony was achieved — a New Jersey Democrat at day’s end joined a handful of other Democrats urging Biden to drop out — but one message was clear: They do not want to see former President Donald Trump in the Oval Office again.

Congressional Black Caucus Chair Rep. Steven Horsford of Nevada briskly exited the House chamber and said Democrats are focused on “beating Donald Trump and electing Democrats to the House majority.” The CBC met with Biden virtually Monday night.

When asked whether Biden’s unsteady debate performance and the anxiety it’s caused presents an obstacle for House colleagues running in tight races, Horsford answered, “The president is the nominee.”

Another defection

While a steady stream of Democrats said they would back Biden, New Jersey Democrat Mikie Sherrill became the seventh House Democrat urging Biden to drop out of the race.

“I know President Biden cares deeply about the future of our country. That’s why I am asking that he declare that he won’t run for reelection,” Sherrill posted on social media shortly before 5 p.m. Eastern.

Those who spoke out against Biden’s reelection bid in previous days included Angie Craig of Minnesota, Lloyd Doggett of Texas, Raúl Grijalva of Arizona, Seth Moulton of Massachusetts, Mike Quigley of Illinois and Adam Smith of Washington.

Rep. Jerry Nadler, of New York, who was among those calling for Biden to exit the race in a private call on Sunday, walked back his comments Tuesday when he told reporters “we have to support him.”

At the White House briefing, press secretary Karine Jean-Pierre said expressions of support from members of the Congressional Black Caucus were key to solidifying Biden’s backing among Hill Democrats.

“We respect members of Congress,” Jean-Pierre said. “We respect their view. But I also want to say there’s also a long list of congressional members who have been very clear in support of this president.”

Jean-Pierre cited strong statements of support from CBC members Joyce Beatty of Ohio and Troy Carter of Louisiana following the caucus’ virtual meeting with Biden on Monday.

Rep. Hank Johnson of Georgia said Tuesday members had an opportunity to “express themselves” during the closed-door House Democratic meeting.

“Leadership listened, and I think what needs to happen is we need to all come together to decide that we’re not going to be a circular firing squad with Joe Biden in the middle,” Johnson said. “We are going to abide by his decision, and if his decision, as he has previously stated, is to stay in, then he’s gonna be our nominee and we need to all get behind him.”

When asked by States Newsroom whether House Democrats in vulnerable seats now face more potholes on the road to November, potentially costing the party a chance to flip the House, Johnson replied, “No, I think (Biden’s) got a strong record to run on, and the opposition, Donald Trump, has to run against that strong record. So we need to start running on our record, and against the nominee of the other party. And the American people know the difference.”

We concluded that Joe Biden is old’

Democratic senators, leaving a nearly two-hour private lunch meeting later Tuesday, had similar comments to their House counterparts, reiterating the president is their nominee, though worries remained.

Pennsylvania Sen. John Fetterman said that everyone knows about Biden’s age, but that alone won’t lead the party to bump him out as their nominee.

“We concluded that Joe Biden is old, and we found out, and the polling came back that he’s old,” Fetterman said. “But guess what? We also agreed that, you know, like, he’s our guy, and that’s where we’re at.”

Delaware Sen. Chris Coons, a longtime friend and close ally of Biden, argued that Trump is a far worse choice than Biden.

“Donald Trump had a terrible debate,” Coons said. “Donald Trump said things on that debate stage over and over and over that were outright lies filled with vengeance, violated the basic standards of our democracy, and yet we are spending all of our time talking about one candidate’s performance and not the other. Donald Trump’s performance on that debate stage should be disqualifying.”

Coons said Senate Majority Leader Chuck Schumer spoke during the meeting, saying “broadly constructive things, just sort of setting the groundwork of our discussion.”

Coons said he was “not gonna get into the private conversation we just had in the caucus” when asked whether anyone at the meeting called for Biden to not be the nominee. But he added that “folks expressed a range of views in ways that I think were constructive and positive.”

Vice President Kamala Harris’ viability as a potential replacement for Biden didn’t come up during the meeting, Coons said.

Georgia Sen. Raphael Warnock underlined his support for Biden following the meeting, saying “what I think is most important right now is what the American people think.”

“We’re getting feedback on that. I think it’s important for the president in this moment, in any moment, to hear what the people are saying. That’s what democracy is all about,” Warnock said. “Donald Trump, on the other hand, doesn’t seem to believe much in democracy. He said he wants to be a dictator on day one, and with their ruling several days ago, the Supreme Court is setting the table for him to continue to be a dictator. That’s what’s at stake in this election: democracy itself.”

Asked whether Biden is the best person to defeat Trump, Warnock said Biden is “making that case as campaigns do” and “hearing back from the American people.”

Asked whether Biden can win Georgia, he said: “I can tell you that no one thought I could win Georgia but I did.”

Project 2025 fears

Rep. Becca Balint of Vermont told States Newsroom that House Democrats’ meeting led to some cohesion.

“The unity as it exists is that we’re all completely committed to making sure that Trump is not the next president,” Balint said. “That’s the unity, and the unity of wanting the president to be out campaigning vigorously on his record.”

Balint, holding in her hand a copy of the Stop the Comstock Act, said, tearing up, that she worries about a nationwide abortion ban and other priorities in the far-right Project 2025 publication.

The nearly 1,000-page policy roadmap is a product of the Heritage Foundation in anticipation of Republicans gaining control of the White House and Congress. Trump and his campaign have repeatedly distanced themselves from the document.

“Trump is a demagogue, I am the child of a man whose father was killed in the Holocaust. I’m really like ‘What can I do day in and day out to make sure we don’t lose the House?’ because we are the blue line,” Balint said.

The Comstock Act is an 1873 law that could provide an avenue for a future Republican presidential administration to ban the mailing of abortion medications. Democrats in the House and Senate have introduced companion bills to repeal the sections of the law that could hinder abortion access.

New York Rep. Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez told States Newsroom that Biden has “actively thrown weight behind the lawmaking and policy ideas of younger and progressive members,” and that she remains committed to supporting him.

Oregon Sen. Ron Wyden said after the Democratic senators’ meeting that he wasn’t “even gonna get into that,” when asked whether he wants Biden to remain the nominee.

“The fact is, the president has said he is running,” Wyden said. “So, that’s the lay of the land today.”

Swing state senators

Pennsylvania Sen. Bob Casey, who faces a challenging reelection bid this November, said he didn’t want to characterize what other senators said about Biden during the meeting.

Casey said it’s up to political pundits and analysts to determine how Biden remaining the presidential nominee might affect the Pennsylvania race as well as others.

“I’ve got to continue to do my work in the Senate and also to be a candidate, so I can’t sit around being an analyst,” Casey said.

When back home in the Keystone State, he said, voters tend to talk to him more about issues they’re concerned about, including reproductive rights and the cost of living.

Arizona Sen. Mark Kelly declined to comment on Democrats’ meeting and referred to his prior statements about Biden.

Kelly on Monday evening told reporters that the differences between Biden and Trump “could not be clearer.”

Biden, he said, has “delivered to the American people over and over again,” on climate change, prescription drug prices, infrastructure, and semiconductor manufacturing.

“On the other hand, you have Donald Trump, a convicted felon and now a criminal who has no business running for president,” Kelly said.

“Joe Biden is our nominee. Millions of people voted for Joe Biden to be on the ballot,” Kelly said. “He’s on the ballot, and I truly believe he’s gonna win in November.”

Senate Majority Leader Chuck Schumer, a New York Democrat, said when asked about Biden during a press conference that “as I’ve said before, I’m with Joe.”

Schumer declined to answer questions about Democrats potentially nominating a different presidential candidate and about Washington Democratic Sen. Patty Murray’s statement Monday night critical of Biden.

“As I’ve said before, I’m with Joe,” Schumer reiterated.

Murray’s statement said Biden “must seriously consider the best way to preserve his incredible legacy and secure it for the future.”

Senate Republican Leader Mitch McConnell, of Kentucky, deferred a question about Biden’s debate performance to Democratic leadership.

Maryland, New Mexico senators comment

Maryland Sen. Chris Van Hollen said he had to leave the lunch early for a previously scheduled meeting with the Dutch prime minister, but said he doesn’t have concerns Biden will make the right choice on whether to stay in the race.

“Look, as I’ve said, I trust the president’s judgment, he understands the stakes in this election and he’s in the best position to make this decision,” Van Hollen said.

New Mexico Sen. Ben Ray Luján said Democrats discussed several issues during the closed-door meeting, but declined to talk about what was said, though he reiterated his support for Biden’s candidacy.

“I look forward to voting for President Joe Biden to be president of the United States,” Luján said.

Georgia Sen. Jon Ossoff said the meeting was “a constructive caucus discussion,” and that he supports Biden’s reelection campaign.

Delaware Sen. Tom Carper said he spoke during the meeting, but declined to specify what his comments were.

Colorado Sen. John Hickenlooper said the lunch went “fine,” but declined to opine on where the party was moving on Biden’s nomination nor his own beliefs about the president’s ongoing candidacy.

Rhode Island Sen. Jack Reed declined to answer any questions after the lunch.

House Republicans: ‘Democrats had misled us’

House Speaker Mike Johnson of Louisiana on Tuesday accused the Democratic Party of covering up Biden’s “glaring problem.”

“The Democrats had misled us. They need to be held accountable for that,” he said, during the House GOP’s regularly scheduled press conference.

Johnson also said the 25th Amendment “is appropriate” in this situation. If Biden’s Cabinet declares he is unfit for office, Vice President Kamala Harris would take over presidential duties.

“The notion that the 25th Amendment would be appropriate here is something that most Republicans and frankly, most Americans would agree with,” he said.

Majority Leader Steve Scalise of Louisiana, Majority Whip Tom Emmer of Minnesota and Elise Stefanik of New York, chair of the House Republican Conference, echoed Johnson’s concerns.

Stefanik called Biden “unfit to be our commander in chief” and accused the Democratic Party of concealing Biden’s mental acuity. “The cover-up is over and accountability is here.”

Jacob Fischler contributed to this report.