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Biden’s Support on Capitol Hill Grimly Uncertain. A Seventh Democrat Says He Should Drop Out

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WASHINGTON — The mood on Capitol Hill turned grimly uncertain Tuesday as Democrats wrestled over President Joe Biden’s reelection and the extraordinary question before them — whether to stand behind his candidacy or push the president to bow out amid concerns over his ability to lead them to victory.

House and Senate Democrats met privately with tensions running high. The conversation was “dour” and “sad” in the House, lawmakers said, as they discussed their party leader who emphatically refuses to step aside and implored them in a sharply worded letter to refocus from him to the threat posed by Republican Donald Trump. In the Senate, where Biden spent a storied career, they said even less.

Late in the day, a seventh House Democrat, Democratic Rep. Mikie Sherrill of New Jersey, publicly called on Biden not to run for reelection, saying with Trump seeking to return to the White House, “the stakes are too high — and the threat is too real — to stay silent.”

What could become a time for Democrats to bolster their president, who remains the favorite for some despite his poor debate performance and public appearances, instead fell deeper into crisis over real fears they could lose the White House and Congress and watch the rise of a second term Trump.

Earlier, House Democratic Leader Hakeem Jeffries of New York said members had “an opportunity to express themselves in a candid and comprehensive fashion” at a closed-door session and the discussions would continue.

It’s a remarkable moment for the president and his party with Democrats in Congress seriously questioning Biden’s place at the top of the ticket, weeks before the Democratic National Convention to nominate him for a second term.

Biden’s supporters have been emerging as the most vocal, and at least one key House Democrat reversed course to publicly support the president. But no agreement was in sight and an undercurrent of dissent runs strong. As Senate Democrats stayed silent in public, Biden’s political future was the remarkable matter in question.

Asked if there was any consensus, Sen. Chris Coons of Delaware, one of Biden’s closest supporters, said the “consensus is that Donald Trump poses a threat and the focus should be on that.”

One Democrat, Sen. Michael Bennet of Colorado, said publicly what he told his colleagues in private — that he believes Trump “is on track win this election — and maybe win it by a landslide and take with him the Senate and the House.

Stopping short of calling for Biden to drop out, Bennet spoke forcefully on CNN about the danger of a second Trump presidency and said it’s up to the president “to consider” the options. He said he did not hear any other Senate Democrat call for Biden to leave the race.

“It’s not a question about politics,” he said. “It’s a moral question about the future of our country.”

In the private House meeting Tuesday, there was a growing concern that Biden remaining in the race means the election will center on his age issues instead of Trump, according to one of the people in the room.

At least 20 Democratic lawmakers stood up to speak during the nearly two-hour session in what for many is an existential moment for their country considering a second Trump presidency.

Most of those who spoke wanted Biden to end his candidacy, said another person granted anonymity to discuss the meeting.

Among them was Rep. Seth Moulton of Massachusetts, who leads a contingent of military veterans in the House and is among the Democrats who have publicly called for Biden to step aside.

Still others dropped their private concerns in order to back Biden, for now. “He said he’s going to remain in, he’s our candidate, and we’re going to support him,” said Rep. Jerry Nadler of New York, the top Democrat on the Judiciary Committee, on CNN. Over the weekend was among those privately saying Biden should not run.

“I’m staying with Papa,” said Rep. Adriano Espaillat, D-N.Y.. He said his constituents understand what the country went through during the COVID-19 pandemic and how Biden led through the crisis. “He was fit then and he’s fit now.”

Many Democrats worry that not only is the presidency in jeopardy but also their own down-ballot races for control of the House and Senate — and the party’s ability to stop Trump and the conservative Project 2025 agenda with its plans to weaken the federal government.

“He just has to step down because he can’t win,” said Rep. Mike Quigley, D-Ill.

One Democratic lawmaker who declined to be named said afterward that people love Biden, but there’s a real sense of helplessness over the situation and the threat of the consequences if Democrats lose the elections. The lawmaker said the situation was “sad.”

After a closed-door Senate lunch meeting, most senators were reluctant to say either that they unequivocally support Biden or that they want to see him step aside.

“I think we should do our best job to defeat Trump and I’m really excited about it,” said Sen. Cory Booker, D-N.J.

While there’s now more than a handful of House Democrats that have publicly called on Biden to end his candidacy, no Senate Democrat has publicly called for Biden to leave the race.

The majority of Democratic senators who spoke during the lunch meeting expressed deep concerns about whether Biden can beat Trump in November, though they stopped short of saying he should step down from the race, according to a person familiar with the conversation and granted anonymity to discuss it.

There were also a handful of senators who defended Biden. Senate Majority Leader Chuck Schumer of New York repeated, “I’ve said before, I’m with Joe.”

Some are turning more serious attention to Vice President Kamala Harris as an alternative.

Rep. Jared Huffman of California who is leading the House Democrats’ task force fighting Project 2025, said Democrats need to get back to confronting Trump and can win the election with Biden at the top of the ticket.

But he said if Biden’s decision to stay on changes “that’s not the end of the world, in my view.”

“I think we’ve got an excellent next up in the vice president. She’s good, and she’s ready to go.”

Huffman said Democrats, unlike their House GOP counterparts, can “have principled disagreements without fighting like ferrets in a phone booth.”

Republicans face their own history-making political situation, poised to nominate a former president who is the first ever to be convicted of a felony — in a hush money case — and who faces federal criminal indictments, including the effort to overturn the 2020 election he lost to Biden.

After a slow initial response to Biden’s dismal debate, the White House and campaign team are working more furiously now to end the drama in part by gathering the president’s most loyal supporters to speak out.

Biden spent part of his Tuesday evening speaking on a virtual call with more than 200 Democratic mayors, saying he will win reelection with “basic block-and-tackling” and boasting of the thousands of calls being made to voters, doors being knocked and signs being posted in support of his candidacy, according to a readout from his campaign.

That came after the president met virtually late Monday with the Congressional Black Caucus, whose members are core to Biden’s coalition, thanking them for having his back, and assuring them he would have theirs in a second term. He was also to meet with the Congressional Progressive Caucus, whose leadership — along with that of the Congressional Hispanic Caucus — has said publicly they are sticking with the president.

Rep. Jasmine Crockett of Texas, a freshman Democrat, said there is too much at stake to turn away from Biden at this point in the campaign, saying a second Trump presidency would be extremely harmful to Black Americans across the country.

“We are not willing to risk our freedoms for somebody feeling good because there’s a different name on the ballot,” she said.

Having been on the campaign trail with Biden, Crockett added, “That is why I can feel so confident, because I have seen more than the 90 minutes that everybody is so concerned about.”

And Rep. Dean Phillips, D-Minn., who ended his long-shot 2024 Democratic presidential bid months ago, was asked by reporters if he felt vindicated by Democrats calling on Biden to step aside. “If this is vindication, vindication has never been so unfulfilling,” he said.

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Associated Press writers Seung Min Kim and Kevin Freking contributed to this report.

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