Democrats brace for 'raucous' meetings on Joe Biden's future in the 2024 campaign (2024)

Ken Tran,Riley BegginUSA TODAY

WASHINGTON – After a two-week break filled with hand-wringing about President Joe Biden's future as their nominee, Democratic lawmakers will meet face-to-face on Tuesday to discuss the path ahead.

For the House, the pivotal internal huddle is set to take place at Democratic campaign headquarters off campus at 9 a.m. – no cell phones allowed, in order to reduce the amount of leaks (though there will be hot breakfast) according to a notice sent out to House members. For the Senate, a lunchtime Democratic session is scheduled near the historic chamber, their first time together since the debate that started it all.

Both meetings are likely to be make-or-break moments in Biden's battle to remain at the top of his party's ticket. If an influx of lawmakers start speaking out against him, it would ramp up the pressure for him to step aside. If the vast majority express steadfast support, it could kill any momentum to find a new nominee with the Democratic National Convention in Chicago just a little more than a month away.

At this point, it's not clear what's ahead: Only a handful of lawmakers have publicly called for the 81-year-old incumbent president to step aside as the nominee. The president's supporters in Congress have been plenty vocal too.

“It’s going to be raucous,” a House Democrat said on the condition of anonymity to speak candidly about Tuesday morning’s meeting. The Democrat said a “lot of raw feelings” will be aired out at the meeting and described the caucus as “nervous” about Biden’s campaign.

“It's a delicate moment. We're still having a family conversation so I'm not ready to be any more definitive than that," added Rep. Jared Huffman, D-Calif. “Tomorrow is an important part of that, because our whole caucus would be together for the first time to talk about this.”

Sen. Dick Durbin, D-Ill., the second-ranking Democrat in the Senate, said in the last two weeks since Biden's poor debate performance “there’s been one topic, one issue, day after day” on TV. “That’s the situation after the debate. We can’t ignore the reality. We have to settle this issue,” he added.

Durbin – like many Senate Democrats who spoke with reporters upon their return to Washington, D.C., on Monday – said he believes Biden should remain the nominee. He also said he hopes discussions happening this week will unify the caucus behind one person.

Asked whether he thinks Biden will be that person, Durbin replied: “We’ll see.”

One critical voice that all eyes are on belongs to House Minority Leader Hakeem Jeffries, D-N.Y., who told reporters on Monday that he still supports Biden’s reelection campaign and his “position has not changed.” But several Democratic lawmakers said Jeffries, who'd be in position to become the House speaker if his party can win back a majority in November, is still in listening mode and continuing to take in his members' concerns about Biden.

Senate Majority Leader Chuck Schumer, D-N.Y., had a simple answer on Monday when pressed by the press: “I’m for Joe.”

Most other senators said Democrats are largely waiting until Tuesday’s meeting to get a better feel for where their colleagues are.

Biden sent a letter to Congressional Democrats on Monday morning in an attempt to set the tone for those discussions. But his missive did little to assuage concerns among Democratic lawmakers who have reservations about the candidacy and electability of the oldest president in U.S. history, who'd be 86 at the end of his second term in 2029 should he win this November.

“I am firmly committed to staying in this race, to running this race to the end, and to beating Donald Trump,” Biden wrote, adding that he “absolutely” believes he is the best person to beat the former Republican president.

Some progressive members in both chambers who have often been critical of Biden’s stance on issues such as the Israel-Hamas War said they support his candidacy.

“I do think there is somebody who is clearly unfit to be president,” said Sen. Bernie Sanders, I-Vt., a 2020 Biden primary rival. “And that is a guy who is trying to destroy the American democracy. His name is Donald Trump.”

Rep. Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez, D-N.Y., said she spoke "extensively" with the president over the weekend and hadn't changed her mind on who she wants to see running for president in November. “Joe Biden is our nominee, he is not leaving this race, he is in this race and I support him,” she said. “I respect everyone’s opinion, but I’m here to make sure we win in November."

Multiple lawmakers said their constituents had been sharing concerns about Biden and called upon him to do more to show the American people – and Congress – that he is capable of successfully running against Trump.

Democrats need to have an “open and honest discussion… about what the path forward looks like here,” said Sen. Michael Bennet, D-Colo.. “What we're dealing with here is not a political question. It's a moral question. This is a moral question and we should satisfy ourselves (in the face of a second Donald Trump presidency) that we are putting our best foot forward, that we are on a path to win the presidency.”

Sen. Patty Murray, D-Wash., another member of the Senate Democratic leadership team, on Monday issued a statement that Biden needs to “seriously consider” the best way to preserve his legacy.

“I have a deep appreciation and strong respect for Joe, who has led a historic first term as President,” she said. “We need to see a much more forceful and energetic candidate on the campaign trail in the very near future in order for him to convince voters he is up to the job.”

Sen. Mark Warner, D-Va. had reportedly been planning a now-canceled meeting for Monday to discuss the path ahead. In his own statement Monday, he said that Biden needs to “more aggressively make his case to the American people, and to hear directly from a broader group of voices about how to best prevent Trump’s lawlessness from returning to the White House,” an apparent reference to multiple media reports that Biden is surrounded by a small group of longtime aides that shield him from criticism.

Lawmakers facing tough re-election bids also kept their options open. Sen. Tammy Baldwin, D-Wisc., said her constituents are “asking a lot of questions.” Sen. Sherrod Brown, D-Ohio, and Sen. Bob Casey, D-Pa., who last week said he supported the president, avoided weighing in directly. Sen. Jon Tester, D-Mont., said Biden needs to “prove to the American people – including me – that he’s up to the job.”

The Congressional Progressive Caucus is in discussions with the president about holding a meeting this week, but the exact date is still being hashed out, according to a person familiar with the matter.

Biden met on Monday night with the Congressional Black Caucus, a group whose members have mostly publicly come out in staunch support of the president. One of Biden’s top campaign surrogates, Rep. Ro Khanna, D-Calif., said he hopes the president continues to reach out to smaller factions. “It’s probably more effective to do those small caucus meetings,” to put to bed the growing consternations Democrats have about him, he said.

Sen. Alex Padilla, D-Calif., and the co-chair of the Congressional Hispanic Caucus, told reporters on Monday that a meeting between Biden and that caucus is also in the works, though there’s no set date or time yet for the meeting.

Padilla said Biden will continue to show he’s capable of being the nominee by simply doing the job of being president: “I would encourage my colleagues to take all the time and energy that we’re spending on this topic and put it into voter outreach and organizing for November.”

Contributing: Sarah D. Wire

Democrats brace for 'raucous' meetings on Joe Biden's future in the 2024 campaign (2024)
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