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Amid growing calls for Biden to pull out, congressional Democrats remain split

House Democratic Leader Hakeem Jeffries, D-NY, convened a meeting of top House Democrats on Sunday as the party continues to grapple with serious questions about President Biden's future as the party's nominee for president.
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House Democratic Leader Hakeem Jeffries, D-NY, convened a meeting of top House Democrats on Sunday as the party continues to grapple with serious questions about President Biden's future as the party's nominee for president.

Updated July 07, 2024 at 19:20 PM ET

Multiple senior House Democrats told House Democratic leaders on Sunday that President Biden should step aside as the party's presidential nominee, according to several sources familiar with the discussion who were granted anonymity to discuss the details of a private conversation.

Rep. Jerry Nadler of New York, the top Democrat on the House Judiciary committee, Rep. Adam Smith of Washington state, the top Democrat on House Armed Services panel, Rep. Mark Takano of California, the top Democrat on the Veterans Affairs panel, and Rep. Joe Morelle of New York, the ranking member of the House Administration panel, told leaders on a virtual meeting that Democrats should seek a change at the top of the ticket.

The virtual meeting was an opportunity for top Democrats in the House to convene before lawmakers return to Capitol Hill on Monday. Top leaders have generally avoided taking a position on Biden's future as members grapple with a president and a party at a crucial crossroads.

House Minority Leader Hakeem Jeffries, D-NY, told NPR after the debate he backed the president remaining the nominee and believed Democrats could win back control of the House with him at the top of the ticket. But in recent days top Hill Democrats have not made public comments.

One House Democrat who was granted anonymity to speak candidly about internal party discussions said worries mounted after reports from Biden’s meeting with governors last week that he may not do events past 8 p.m. The member added that Democrats don’t have much time for Biden to leave if he ultimately choses to do so but time is running out for a graceful exit.

Support for Biden

But some Democrats were going public with their ire against calls for Biden to withdraw. Florida Rep. Frederica Wilson said Democratic “leaders” calling for Biden to quit the race need to stop listening to the pundits.

“Any 'leader' calling for President Biden to drop out needs to get their priorities straight and stop undermining this incredible actual leader who has delivered real results for our country,” Wilson said in a statement. “And when you contrast that with a dangerous figure like Donald Trump pushing a radical agenda to be dictator on day one and destroy our democracy, we must do everything in our power to defeat him.”

Indeed, many Democrats are still publicly supporting Biden, even as anxiety grows within their ranks. The issue is causing panic within the party just over a month before their August nominating convention in Chicago.

President Biden's widely panned performance in the debate against GOP presumptive nominee Donald Trump prompted five House Democrats to go public with their calls for him to step aside as the 2024 presidential nominee. Many others privately want him to withdraw, worried he could upend Democrats' chances to retake the House and keep control of the Senate.

So far there have been no public calls from senators for Biden to step aside, despite rumors of a meeting led by Sen. Mark Warner, D-Va. No such meeting has been scheduled, according to a source familiar with the planning who was granted anonymity to discuss the private matter.

In an interview with ABC on Friday Biden insisted he would remain in the race, and defended his record. Asked whether he would stand down if he could be convinced that you cannot defeat Trump, Biden was defiant: "Well, it depends if the Lord Almighty comes down and tells me that — I might do that."

Frustration with the president

Connecticut Sen. Chris Murphy acknowledged on CNN that fellow Democrats still have concerns after the interview.

"Personally, I love Joe Biden, I don't know that the interview on Friday night did enough to answer those questions," he said. "So I think this week is going to be absolutely critical. I think the president needs to do more."

Earlier Sunday, Rep. Debbie Dingell, D-Mich., said on CNN she was hearing some constituents urging Biden to step aside and others saying he needs to remain at the top of the ticket.

"I'm hearing lots of things so I think this is not as clear cut as anybody wants it to be," she said.

Multiple Democrats have told NPR that they are frustrated it took Biden days to call top congressional leaders and sit down for a televised interview, and that they are frustrated he's not getting the message about how serious lawmakers' concerns are about the political fallout from the debate.

Copyright 2024 NPR

Deirdre Walsh is the congress editor for NPR's Washington Desk.
Claudia Grisales is a congressional reporter assigned to NPR's Washington Desk.