On Capitol Hill, Democrats Panic About Biden but Do Nothing

Senator Christopher S. Murphy, an ambitious young Democrat from Connecticut, went on television on Sunday with a carefully worded warning to President Biden about the viability of his campaign.“This week is going to be absolutely critical; I think the president needs to do more,” Mr. Murphy said, arguing that Mr. Biden needed to hold a town hall and participate in unscripted events because “the clock is ticking” for him to put to rest the doubts about his candidacy raised by a disastrous debate performance. Multiple times, Mr. Murphy emphasized his deadline, saying that he, as well as voters, must see more action “this week.”Senator Michael Bennet, the Colorado Democrat who briefly ran for president himself, said Mr. Biden had to “reassure the American people that he can run a vigorous campaign to defeat Donald Trump.”Senator Patty Murray of Washington, a senior member of the Democratic leadership team, put out a statement that passed for fighting words, saying that the president “must do more to demonstrate that he can campaign strong enough to beat Donald Trump.”So far, Mr. Biden has done none of that.And yet, Democrats on Capitol Hill are stifling their doubts and falling in line behind him anyway.Having spent the last week and a half in various stages of private panic and public skepticism about Mr. Biden’s viability as a candidate and whispering among themselves about what the best way to push him aside might be — a strongly worded letter? a White House meeting? a high-level intervention? — top Democrats on Tuesday settled on a strategy many of them conceded could be disastrous: They would do nothing, at least for now.“As I’ve said before, I’m with Joe,” Senator Chuck Schumer, Democrat of New York and the majority leader, said multiple times at a news conference after a closed-door Senate lunch. The lunch gave Democrats their first opportunity after a weeklong recess to gather in person and discuss how aggressive or public they wanted to be in standing up to a defiant party leader who has unequivocally refused to step aside on his own.Representative Jerrold Nadler, Democrat of New York and the ranking member of the Judiciary Committee, explicitly told colleagues on a private call on Sunday afternoon that Mr. Biden should withdraw from the race. But by Tuesday as he made his way into a House caucus meeting, he was backtracking, saying that any concerns he harbored were “beside the point” and that Mr. Biden was “going to be our nominee, and we all have to support him.”Senator Richard Blumenthal, Democrat of Connecticut, left the Senate lunch arguing that Mr. Biden and only Mr. Biden would decide his future, and that it was not up to Congress to pressure him out of the race.“He has my support, and I think he is right now the only one who will decide whether he continues to be the candidate,” Mr. Blumenthal said.Never mind that Mr. Biden had done almost none of the kind of unscripted events, town halls or interviews his critics had said he needed to to show that he was still fit to run. He was not scheduled to until Thursday, when he is set to participate in a preplanned NATO news conference.Instead, a defiant letter Mr. Biden sent to lawmakers on Monday in which he refused to drop out of the race — coupled with members of the influential Congressional Black Caucus vociferously rallying to his side — appeared to have successfully paralyzed the entire party into a state of uncertainty and inaction during what it had deemed to be the critical week.Longtime party loyalists said they were now reduced to hoping for another major public misstep by Mr. Biden, such as a serious stumble at his NATO news conference, to either persuade reticent members of Congress to speak out or to convince the president that he should leave the race on his own.The stance struck the lone-wolf Democrats who have stuck their necks out to publicly call for Mr. Biden to step aside as preposterous — and even dangerous.“The idea that we are going to slow-walk into fascism because we don’t want to hurt somebody that we respect’s feelings — I cannot even begin to tell you how angry that makes me,” said Representative Adam Smith of Washington, the ranking member of the Armed Services Committee and one of seven House Democrats to publicly call on Mr. Biden to step aside.Privately, vulnerable Democrats who represent competitive districts were panicking that there appeared to be no plan to pressure Mr. Biden out of what they expected to be a losing proposition for all of them. Behind closed doors, there was a consensus forming among the members in the toughest House seats that Democrats would have a much better shot of winning the majority with Vice President Kamala Harris at the top of the ticket.Their position was expressed privately to Representative Hakeem Jeffries of New York, the minority leader, who was still in listening mode on Tuesday, debating how to proceed.“I think he’s thinking about logistics and practicality and how do you get a

Jul 10, 2024 - 01:01
 0  1
On Capitol Hill, Democrats Panic About Biden but Do Nothing

Senator Christopher S. Murphy, an ambitious young Democrat from Connecticut, went on television on Sunday with a carefully worded warning to President Biden about the viability of his campaign.

“This week is going to be absolutely critical; I think the president needs to do more,” Mr. Murphy said, arguing that Mr. Biden needed to hold a town hall and participate in unscripted events because “the clock is ticking” for him to put to rest the doubts about his candidacy raised by a disastrous debate performance. Multiple times, Mr. Murphy emphasized his deadline, saying that he, as well as voters, must see more action “this week.”

Senator Michael Bennet, the Colorado Democrat who briefly ran for president himself, said Mr. Biden had to “reassure the American people that he can run a vigorous campaign to defeat Donald Trump.”

Senator Patty Murray of Washington, a senior member of the Democratic leadership team, put out a statement that passed for fighting words, saying that the president “must do more to demonstrate that he can campaign strong enough to beat Donald Trump.”

So far, Mr. Biden has done none of that.

And yet, Democrats on Capitol Hill are stifling their doubts and falling in line behind him anyway.

Having spent the last week and a half in various stages of private panic and public skepticism about Mr. Biden’s viability as a candidate and whispering among themselves about what the best way to push him aside might be — a strongly worded letter? a White House meeting? a high-level intervention? — top Democrats on Tuesday settled on a strategy many of them conceded could be disastrous: They would do nothing, at least for now.

“As I’ve said before, I’m with Joe,” Senator Chuck Schumer, Democrat of New York and the majority leader, said multiple times at a news conference after a closed-door Senate lunch. The lunch gave Democrats their first opportunity after a weeklong recess to gather in person and discuss how aggressive or public they wanted to be in standing up to a defiant party leader who has unequivocally refused to step aside on his own.

Representative Jerrold Nadler, Democrat of New York and the ranking member of the Judiciary Committee, explicitly told colleagues on a private call on Sunday afternoon that Mr. Biden should withdraw from the race. But by Tuesday as he made his way into a House caucus meeting, he was backtracking, saying that any concerns he harbored were “beside the point” and that Mr. Biden was “going to be our nominee, and we all have to support him.”

Senator Richard Blumenthal, Democrat of Connecticut, left the Senate lunch arguing that Mr. Biden and only Mr. Biden would decide his future, and that it was not up to Congress to pressure him out of the race.

“He has my support, and I think he is right now the only one who will decide whether he continues to be the candidate,” Mr. Blumenthal said.

Never mind that Mr. Biden had done almost none of the kind of unscripted events, town halls or interviews his critics had said he needed to to show that he was still fit to run. He was not scheduled to until Thursday, when he is set to participate in a preplanned NATO news conference.

Instead, a defiant letter Mr. Biden sent to lawmakers on Monday in which he refused to drop out of the race — coupled with members of the influential Congressional Black Caucus vociferously rallying to his side — appeared to have successfully paralyzed the entire party into a state of uncertainty and inaction during what it had deemed to be the critical week.

Longtime party loyalists said they were now reduced to hoping for another major public misstep by Mr. Biden, such as a serious stumble at his NATO news conference, to either persuade reticent members of Congress to speak out or to convince the president that he should leave the race on his own.

The stance struck the lone-wolf Democrats who have stuck their necks out to publicly call for Mr. Biden to step aside as preposterous — and even dangerous.

“The idea that we are going to slow-walk into fascism because we don’t want to hurt somebody that we respect’s feelings — I cannot even begin to tell you how angry that makes me,” said Representative Adam Smith of Washington, the ranking member of the Armed Services Committee and one of seven House Democrats to publicly call on Mr. Biden to step aside.

Privately, vulnerable Democrats who represent competitive districts were panicking that there appeared to be no plan to pressure Mr. Biden out of what they expected to be a losing proposition for all of them. Behind closed doors, there was a consensus forming among the members in the toughest House seats that Democrats would have a much better shot of winning the majority with Vice President Kamala Harris at the top of the ticket.

Their position was expressed privately to Representative Hakeem Jeffries of New York, the minority leader, who was still in listening mode on Tuesday, debating how to proceed.

“I think he’s thinking about logistics and practicality and how do you get all of this done,” said Representative Maxine Waters, Democrat of California and the ranking member of the House Financial Services Committee.

Publicly, Mr. Jeffries toed the party line. “I made it clear publicly the day after the debate that I support President Joe Biden and the Democratic ticket,” he told reporters on Monday. “My position has not changed.”

Ms. Waters said it was up to Congress to help Mr. Biden win the election.

“We have not sufficiently educated people as to his accomplishments,” she said. “We all need to do a better job of that.”

Yet the consensus among many Democratic lawmakers was that Mr. Biden himself was the problem. Their unwillingness to say so was reminiscent of how congressional Republicans behaved during Mr. Trump’s presidency, when they would criticize and mock him privately but profess total fealty in public — or simply avert their gaze from his latest incendiary missive.

Representative Ritchie Torres of New York said it was destructive to call for Mr. Biden to step aside if he declined to leave voluntarily, adding that Democrats had to “make the best of a complicated situation.”

“Those publicly calling on President Biden to withdraw should ask themselves a simple question,” Mr. Torres told CNN. “What if the president becomes the Democratic nominee?”

For now, top Democrats have no appetite for breaking with him. In a statement provided to The New York Times, Mr. Schumer said, “I’m working overtime with the Biden campaign and my colleagues to win the presidency and maintain the Democratic majority in the Senate.”

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