Joe Biden’s determination to stay in race divides congressional Democrats

Democrats in the US Congress were torn over the fate of Joe Biden’s re-election campaign as they held a tense and gloomy day of talks on whether to rally around the president or push him to drop his bid.

After vowing to stay in the race and calling for unity within the party on Monday, Biden received the backing of some important Democrats, including members of the congressional black caucus, the congressional Hispanic caucus and other progressive lawmakers.

Several Democratic lawmakers said the continuing battle to replace him at the top of the ticket would damage their chances of beating Donald Trump in November.

“I think that once [Biden’s] decision has been fully made, it does start to do more damage than good [to question his candidacy],” said Maxwell Frost, a 27-year-old Florida Democrat, after leaving a meeting of party members in the House of Representatives on Tuesday. “And I do believe his decision has been made.”

Jerry Nadler, the New York Democrat and the party’s top lawmaker on the House judiciary committee, who had privately said over the weekend that he would like Biden to quit the race, said he was now backing the president.

“The president made very clear yesterday that he’s running. For me that’s dispositive; we have to support him,” he said.

But other Democrats were worried that Biden’s determination to plough ahead was dooming the party to defeat against Trump in November, with polling already showing Biden trailing nationally and losing in most battleground states.

Some Democrats also fear Biden’s insistence on running could lead to widespread losses for Democrats in congressional races as well.

“He just has to step down, because he can’t win, and my colleagues need to recognise that,” said Mike Quigley, a Democratic lawmaker from Illinois.

One Democratic lawmaker who took part in the call said the mood during the two-hour discussion was extremely “sober” as the politicians grappled with the high stakes amid the fear that Trump could win the election.

But he said there was not enough of a groundswell to put overwhelming pressure on Biden to drop out.

“There was more negative sentiment towards the president than positive sentiment,” said the lawmaker. “But the reality is that he won the primary so it has to be his decision. I don’t see any great movement . . . coming from the House Democrats [to try to oust him].”

Underscoring the gravity of the call, lawmakers were not allowed to bring their cell phones into the meeting.

“This needs to get resolved ASAP,” Jim Himes, the top Democrat on the intelligence committee, told the Financial Times.

Many House Democrats remained undecided about their position on the president’s viability. Andy Kim, a New Jersey representative who is running for the US Senate, said he was pondering whether to call for Biden to step aside.

“There’s been concerns even before the debate, questions about what might come next,” said Kim. “I do feel that and still hear that from people.”

Massachusetts congressman Jim McGovern said he was “going to let this play out and then I will have something more to say”. He added: “He’s been a great president.”

Other House Democrats appeared peeved that their private concerns aired on a call Sunday had become public. “I think what goes on in private meetings should stay private,” said congressman Mark Takano of California.

Harley Rouda, a former US congressman, said many of his colleagues were simply not ready to go on record that Biden should drop out.

“Ideally, Joe would do the right thing,” Rouda told the FT. “What he has done has been phenomenal, but this is not a decision based on what he’s done. It’s a decision based on what is best for our country right now — and for this election. If he’s honest and thoughtful about that, then he should come to the appropriate conclusion to drop out.”

Democratic senators were also set to meet at their regular lunch on Tuesday, with Biden’s fate at the top of the agenda.

Several senior lawmakers have stopped short of calling on the president to end his campaign but have been harshly critical of his debate performance against Trump and suggested he needs to consider the country’s best interests.

“More than a week since the debate, and after talking with my constituents, I believe President Biden must do more to demonstrate he can campaign strong enough to beat Donald Trump,” Patty Murray, the senior senator from Washington state, said in a statement on Monday.

Biden is expected to speak at the Nato summit in Washington later on Tuesday, but his most important public remarks this week could well be when he holds a press conference on Thursday evening. He is then due to travel to Michigan, a pivotal battleground state, for a campaign rally.

The drama surrounding Biden’s future could eclipse the Republican convention to nominate Trump in Milwaukee next week. Speaking on Fox News on Monday night, Trump said he expected Biden to stay in the race.

“It looks to me like he may very well stay in. He’s got an ego, and he doesn’t want to quit. He doesn’t want to do that,” Trump said.

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