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Biden Looks to Black, Latino Leaders to Stem Party Uprising

Joe Biden, center, at Mt. Airy Church of God in Christ in Philadelphia, Pennsylvania, on July 7. (Hannah Beier/Photographer: Hannah Beier/Bloom)

(Bloomberg) -- Joe Biden is turning to Black, Hispanic and progressive leaders to curb an intraparty uprising over his fitness for office, an unexpected lifeline for a president whose standing among voters in those groups has diminished.

Biden this week has drawn battle lines in the Democratic Party’s struggle over whether he should remain its presidential nominee. Some of his staunchest defenders have been lawmakers of color, bolstering Biden’s case that he has rank-and-file support while he chastised “elites” for voicing concerns that his age, calamitous debate performance and faltering speech will usher Donald Trump back into the White House.

Biden’s fate remains unclear. Many other Democrats have expressed fear the president’s insistence on staying in the race risks a Republican sweep in November. Another poor showing, in a Thursday press conference at the NATO summit or afterward, could spell the end for Biden’s run.

Former House Speaker Nancy Pelosi — among the most influential figures in the Democratic Party — Wednesday declined to say that Biden should run, instead framing the issue as an open question, despite Biden’s insistence that he is staying in the race. 

“It’s up to the president to decide if he is going to run,” Pelosi, 84, told MSNBC. “Whatever he decides, we go with.” She called on Democrats to “hold off” on airing concerns until after the NATO summit wraps up Thursday. Pelosi herself faced calls to make way for a new generation of leaders before stepping aside as the top House Democrat in 2022.

Asked about her comments, a Biden campaign spokesperson reiterated that he has told lawmakers that he is running. 

For now, support from key groups — for reasons ranging from loyalty to reality — has substantially slowed momentum behind an effort to force him out that could result in a mutually assured destruction of both factions. 

“He is leaning on what he knows,” said Democratic strategist Antjuan Seawright. “The reason why Joe Biden was our nominee and the reason why he’s president is because of his unwavering, undoubtable, undisputed relationship with Black people.”

Representative Maxine Waters of California, one of the most senior Black women in Congress, said Biden had earned support with his policies on education and drug prices and his personnel choices, including Vice President Kamala Harris, the nation’s first Black and female No. 2. 

“We have to move forward with Joe Biden,” she said Tuesday in a SiriusXM radio interview.

Black communities have long formed the backbone of the Democratic Party. But polls have shown Biden under-performing with Black voters who have expressed concern about inflation, slow progress on civil-rights issues and the president’s support for Israel in its war in Gaza. Trump, meanwhile, has sought to make gains with Black voters.

That could make it difficult in the long run for Biden to prop up his candidacy using Black support. The president’s effort to differentiate between Democratic elites and the diverse voting base could also sow further divisions.

But as the biggest political crisis of Biden’s presidency has unfolded, his backing among Black elected leaders has become evident. It was on display when Biden met virtually on Monday with the Congressional Black Caucus to rally support and lay out his path to victory. 

“There will be no other nominee than President Biden,” Representative Steven Horsford, the caucus chairman from battleground Nevada, said on CNN after the meeting. 

Biden has announced numerous events to signal he has no intent of stepping aside, including trips to Detroit and Las Vegas, where he’ll speak to the NAACP National Convention, and a Wednesday speech to the AFL-CIO labor coalition.

“The base is getting fired up,” said Biden campaign co-chair Cedric Richmond. “If you stand up and fight for the Black community, the Black community will stand up and fight for you.”

Harris on Tuesday met with members of the US men’s Olympic basketball team, including Joel Embiid, Stephen Curry and LeBron James, in Las Vegas ahead of a campaign event. Harris will also deliver speeches this month to two historically Black sororities.

‘Brung Me to the Dance’

Biden’s strategy is one he’s used in the past. When his 2020 primary run was on the precipice of failure, an endorsement from prominent Black lawmaker Jim Clyburn propelled Biden to a roaring victory in South Carolina that ultimately vaulted him to the nomination. 

“You all brung me to the dance,” Biden often tells Black voters, a phrase he also uses with unions.

Biden has also received backing from what has generally been his weakest flank: progressives. But some have sounded more resigned than buoyant about supporting him.

New York Representative Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez, a member of the “Squad” of young progressive lawmakers, said she spoke to Biden over the weekend and concluded he’s steadfast in running. “The matter is closed,” she told reporters Monday on Capitol Hill.

The heads of the Congressional Hispanic Caucus have supported Biden, while stopping short of explicitly saying he should remain the nominee. Trump has also sought to make inroads with Latinos, a group Biden carried by more than 20 percentage points in 2020.

“We stand with President Biden and Vice President Kamala Harris,” said Chair Nanette Barragán and Deputy Chair Adriano Espaillat.

Dour Democrats

Some 55% of respondents in seven swing states thought Biden should probably or definitely drop out, according to a Bloomberg News/Morning Consult poll taken July 1-5. Only 31% of Black respondents agreed.

Biden received a hero’s welcome on Sunday at a Black church in Philadelphia. Some of his first interviews after the debate were with Black radio stations — an approach that ultimately backfired when it was revealed his campaign fed questions to some interviewers.

Black voters are concentrated in several swing states that will decide the election. Biden launched an ad campaign in Philadelphia on Tuesday accusing Trump of being hostile to Black people. 

Biden’s appearances have reinforced his perceptions about his candidacy’s viability, even as polls show him trailing Trump due to voters’ doubts about his age, acuity and ability to serve a second term.

“I wanted to make sure I was right, that the average voter out there still wanted Joe Biden,” he said Monday on MSNBC’s Morning Joe. “I’m confident they do.”

Many Democrats do not share his enthusiasm. House members left an internal meeting Tuesday morning in Washington in a dour mood. Several lawmakers declined to answer questions while some grudgingly expressed support for Biden, if only because he has dug in.

Asked whether Biden was the best person to beat Trump, New York Representative Jerrold Nadler said it was irrelevant because “the president has determined that he is the best candidate.” 

Two days earlier, Nadler told colleagues privately Biden should step aside.

--With assistance from Maeve Sheehey, Riley Griffin and Gregory Korte.

(Adds Pelosi’s age, political history in fourth paragraph)

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