Politics

Biden Aides to Meet Senators After Pelosi Remarks Deal Blow

Joe Biden and Nancy Pelosi during a medal of freedom ceremony in the East Room of the White House in Washington, DC on May 3. (Tierney L. Cross/Bloomberg)

(Bloomberg) -- Former House Speaker Nancy Pelosi said Joe Biden should quickly consider whether to stay in the presidential race and top officials from his reelection campaign were set to meet anxious Senate Democrats, as unease over the incumbent’s age and ability to defeat Republican Donald Trump continued to reverberate across Capitol Hill.

Pelosi appeared Wednesday morning on MSNBC’s Morning Joe and implored Biden — who has said repeatedly since his faltering debate performance that he is not considering dropping out of the race — to decide whether to continue atop the ticket.

“It’s up to the president to decide if he’s going to run,” Pelosi said. “We are all encouraging him to make that decision because time is running short.”

Separately, Mike Donilon and Steve Ricchetti, two of Biden’s closest advisers, and campaign chairwoman Jen O’Malley Dillon scheduled a meeting with Senate Democrats for Thursday.

Taken alongside new calls for the president to step aside — delivered by Democratic lawmakers and Hollywood donors — the Senate meeting and Pelosi’s comments underscore how perilous Biden’s political position remains. While the president so far has avoided a jailbreak among influential party members that might make his continued candidacy impossible, allies remain deeply concerned about his campaign’s viability and the risk it poses to other elected Democrats.

Biden began the week by flatly telling members of Congress that he intends to remain the party nominee, as doubts swirl in the aftermath of his calamitous debate performance. 

He reiterated his intention to remain in the race again hours after Pelosi’s comments, telling labor leaders gathered in Washington he was “staying” atop the ticket. Pelosi, 84, faced calls herself to make way for a new generation of leaders before stepping aside as the top House Democrat in 2022.

NBC News also announced that Biden planned to sit Monday for a primetime interview with anchor Lester Holt, during a trip to Austin, Texas. Biden is attempting to counterprogram the beginning of the Republican National Convention with remarks commemorating the 60th anniversary of the Civil Rights Act at the Lyndon Baines Johnson Presidential Library, followed by visits to the NAACP National Convention and a gathering of Latino activists organized by UnidosUS.

Hollywood Donors

The outcry, though, extended to one of the party’s biggest celebrity supporters and donors, George Clooney, who called for a new nominee Wednesday just weeks after he co-hosted a fundraiser with Biden.

“We are not going to win in November with this president,” Clooney wrote in a New York Times op-ed, adding that Biden, at the fundraiser, was “the same man we all witnessed at the debate.” 

Clooney said he had spoken to senators, members of the House, and governors about his concern — and that “every single one” believed Democrats would lose control of both chambers of Congress.

Actor Michael Douglas, who hosted a fundraiser for Biden at his home earlier this year, called Clooney’s concerns “valid” during an appearance on ABC’s The View.

“I don’t worry necessarily today or tomorrow, but a year down the line, I worry. I am concerned,” Douglas said.

When Harry Met Sally director Rob Reiner, who hosted an event with Vice President Kamala Harris last month, tweeted that it was time for Biden to step down.

‘Hold Off’

Pelosi urged lawmakers not to publicly air their concerns about the president until the NATO summit being held in Washington concludes. Biden is expected to hold a high-stakes news conference Thursday afternoon, with foreign allies attending the event closely watching the US president.

“I said to everyone, let’s just hold off — whatever you’re thinking, either tell somebody privately, but you don’t have to put that out on the table until we see how we go this week,” Pelosi said.

The poor debate from Biden, 81, raised worries about the fitness and mental acuity of the already-oldest US president in history to defeat Trump and serve another four-year term. Those worries have been amplified by fears that a weak presidential candidate at the top of the ticket could wreck Democratic hopes of retaking the House and holding onto Senate control.

The issue even came up as Federal Reserve Chairman Jay Powell testified on Capitol Hill on Wednesday. Powell said that while he had not met with Biden for years, he had not seen a cognitive decline in the president.

A New York Times/Siena College poll after the debate found Trump ahead of Biden by six percentage points and Democratic worries intensified on Tuesday after the Cook Political Report updated their Electoral College analysis to show a more favorable map for the Republican.

Still, many prominent Democrats have been reluctant to outright call on Biden to exit the race. In the hours after her MSNBC comments, Pelosi told CBS News she had not intended to signal Biden “should reconsider his decision.”

She subsequently released a statement saying Democrats “must turn our attention to why this race is so important: Donald Trump would be a disaster for our country and our democracy.”

Jim Clyburn, a South Carolina congressman who has long championed Biden in Democratic politics, said he would ask Pelosi what she meant by her remarks.

“I’m still riding with Biden,” he added.

New Defection

But Pelosi’s comments were followed by another Democratic lawmaker — Pat Ryan, a congressman from New York — calling on Biden to step aside.

“I’d be doing a grave disservice if I said he was the best candidate to serve this fall,” Ryan told the New York Times. 

Other prominent Democratic lawmakers simply echoed Pelosi’s tepid support. Katherine Clark, the No. 2 House Democrat, said Biden is the party’s nominee but like Pelosi did not explicitly stand behind him.

“As always this decision is up to the president,” Clark said.

Ritchie Torres, a Democratic congressman from New York, said “there must be a serious reckoning with the down-ballot effect of whomever we nominate,” nodding to the risk that an unpopular Biden could drag down House and Senate candidates.

Kate Bedingfield, who was Biden’s deputy campaign manager in 2020, said the president’s current team needed to demonstrate that he still has a viable path to victory. 

“If they have data that supports the path to victory that they see, they should put it out there now,” Bedingfield wrote on X.

--With assistance from Erik Wasson, Steven T. Dennis and Zach C. Cohen.

(Updates with NBC interview in 8th paragraph)

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