Biden’s team is struggling to contain Democratic defections

President Biden and his advisers rushed to fend off the first serious defections within the Democratic Party since his shaky debate last week, with leading Democrats lending legitimacy to questions about his mental acuity and raising fears of a replacement on the ticket.

Mr. Biden’s move on Wednesday, hoping to secure new control, called in person and practically with a group of Democratic governors as he seeks to garner support after days of private hand-wringing suddenly and quickly turned public.

On Tuesday, Mr. Biden faced the first formal call to resign from the race from a Democratic member of Congress. A key black lawmaker who promoted Mr Biden to the nomination in 2020 said he would support the vice president if Mr Biden “steps down”. Former House Speaker Nancy Pelosi, Mr. After stopping on Biden’s debate show, “‘Is this a chapter or is this a condition?’ It’s a fair question to say,” he said.

For days, the Biden campaign has insisted that the race remains unchanged in private donors and party activists and in memos. But private polls from a pro-Biden super PAC leaked to the news site Puck showed the president losing — by two percentage points — in all the most important battleground states. He now trails New Mexico, New Hampshire and Virginia in three states that a year ago Republicans didn’t see much chance of contesting.

Early defections and low support in polls show the extent of the crisis still in the Democratic Party. Mr. While Biden’s aides have repeatedly said publicly that the president has no plans to drop out of the race, the first public call for him to step aside from elected lawmakers made it clear the issue is far from over.

Frustrations, Mr. The focus is not just on Biden’s poor showing, but on the steps he and his allies have taken to reassure Democrats that he is capable of winning the election. Many Democrats, Mr. They worry that Biden has moved too slowly to address fears about his morale and stamina, saying he should have immediately held a series of interviews or campaign events in swing states.

Efforts by the campaign and the White House to assuage concerns will amount to a series of tests for the president in the coming days. They announced an interview with ABC News anchor George Stephanopoulos on Friday, the president’s first in-depth appearance with a journalist in weeks, and a news conference next week. At the end of the week, Mr. Biden will travel to Pennsylvania and Wisconsin for campaign events.

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If anything goes wrong with those appearances, it will slowly ignite conversations among groups of Democratic officials, top donors and elected leaders about whether the president should be on the party’s ticket.

Mr. The discontent reflects how sharply Biden’s disastrous debate has changed political expectations for Democrats. Fears of losing the White House extend beyond the presidential election, and Mr. Biden’s weak position — and the path he’s taken in the polls for much of the year — has fueled Democratic concerns that it could erode his chances of control and maintenance of Congress. Any grip on power in Washington.

Even as top campaign and White House aides moved aggressively to allay supporters’ fears, Mr. Biden has been particularly quiet in recent days. As of early Tuesday, he had yet to call either of the top two Democrats in Congress, Representative Hakeem Jeffries and Senator Chuck Schumer, according to two people familiar with the situation, but Mr. At some point during the day, Biden said Mr. . He has spent much of the past three days out of the public eye, emerging only to make brief remarks on Monday evening and not taking questions from reporters.

At a gathering of Democratic governors hosted by Minnesota Gov. Tim Walls, president of the Democratic Governors Association, some of the party’s top leaders said that Mr. They expressed frustration at the lack of communication with Biden. A person was explained what had happened. After the debate, most Democratic governors said Mr. There has been no direct contact with Biden, which has continued to raise questions about his health, causing irritation.

At a White House press conference Tuesday, White House press secretary Karine Jean-Pierre faced a nearly hour-long barrage of questions about the president’s abilities, medications and physicals, including whether he had received a neurological exam.

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“We want to look forward,” said Ms. Jean-Pierre, who dismissed the idea of ​​neurological testing. “We’ll be out across the country. Americans will see him.

Mr. At a closed-door meeting this week with Trump’s key Republican opponents, some attendees, including former and current Republicans, told two top officials — Jeff Giants, the White House chief of staff, and Jen O’Malley Dillon, the campaign chair — that the two people familiar with what happened said that , Mr. Biden should drop out of the race.

Mr. Biden’s aides responded that it was a non-starter.

Still, comments from top campaign supporters have fueled speculation — and some wishful thinking — that Mr. Biden may cede his seat to Vice President Kamala Harris. On Tuesday, South Carolina Representative James E. Clyburn, Mr. in the 2020 primary. A proven key to Biden, he told MSNBC that he still wants a Biden-Harris ticket. But Mr. He also announced early on who he would endorse if Biden left the ticket.

“I will support her if she steps down,” said Mr. Clyburn said of Mrs. Harris.

Appearing outside a fundraiser in San Francisco on Tuesday, Ms. Harris tried to avoid talking about any ticket other than Biden-Harris, saying she was “proud to be Joe Biden’s running mate.”

“Look, Joe Biden is our nominee,” he told CBS News. “We beat Trump once, and we’re going to beat him again. Period.”

It is unclear whether efforts to rebuild confidence in the campaign will succeed, as confusion within the party grows by the day, with Mr. The breadth of Biden’s political alliances is expanding.

Two Democratic lawmakers who represent some of the most competitive swing districts in the country — Reps. Jared Golden of Maine and Mary Klusenkamp Perez of Washington — both offered public predictions that Mr. Trump would win the election. Senator Sheldon Whitehouse of Rhode Island asked plainly In an interview with a local television station, Mr. White House assurances about Biden’s “status.”

Rep. Lloyd Doggett of Texas, a veteran progressive lawmaker representing an Austin-area district, said Mr. He issued a statement calling on Biden to drop out of the race.

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“President Biden saved our democracy by ridding us of Trump in 2020,” Mr. Doggett wrote. “He shouldn’t give us Trump in 2024.”

Privately, many Democrats have said that given the GOP’s current advantage in Senate races and now the White House race, they must ensure that they win the House to prevent Republicans from taking control of all three branches of government. Some donors have begun discussing shifting funds from presidential races to congressional races, where they believe their party has a better chance of victory.

“You have to make sure you win in the House,” said Dan Sena, former executive director of the House Democratic campaign division.

CNN, an independent news outlet, released one of the first polls after the debate. On Tuesday Mr. Mr. Trump He led Biden by six percentage points49 percent to 43 percent, which was his lead in an earlier CNN poll.

A majority of Democrats and pro-Democrat voters polled said Mr.

Polls show the race would be a little closer if Ms. Harris is the nominee, as she is ahead of Mr. He trailed Trump by two percentage points, 47 percent to 45 percent. Other Biden alternatives — California Gov. Gavin Newsom, Transportation Secretary Pete Buttigieg and Michigan Gov. Gretchen Whitmer — also dropped out.

Former Oklahoma Gov. David Walters, a member of the Democratic National Committee, stopped short of calling for the president to step aside in an interview Tuesday. But if the swing-state polls emerge, other potential Democratic candidates are Mr. “It would give everybody pause,” he said, if he appeared to be in a very strong position against Trump.

He also urged party leaders to be honest with Democrats in their conferences.

“Donors, activists and others will respond better to straightforward updates and explanations of why it is necessary to continue as we are,” he said. “You can overdo the rah-rah because people saw what they saw, and they know 51 million people saw it.”

Come to Camp David rested and ready.

“I came back and almost fell asleep on stage,” Mr. Biden said.

Katie Klug And Nicholas Nehamas Contributed report.

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