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Joe Biden

Democrats once rallied behind Biden. Now they fear he's paving the way for Trump

WASHINGTON – Democrats quickly rallied around Joe Biden four years ago when they became convinced he was their best chance at beating Donald Trump.

One by one, other candidates dropped out of the Democratic primary and threw their support to Biden before many Americans even had a chance to vote amid the global COVID pandemic. The strategy worked. Biden captured the party’s nomination and defeated Trump that November.

Now, with Biden ensnared in a political crisis that threatens to end his five-decade career, a growing number of Democrats have grown fearful that the man who stopped a second Trump presidency in 2020 may be paving the way for Trump’s return in 2024.

Concerns about Biden’s advanced age, questions about his physical and mental health and the fallout from a disastrous debate with Trump two weeks ago are raising doubts about whether the 81-year-old president can beat the 78-year-old Trump again and, even if he does, whether he is capable of serving another four years.

A handful of Democrats, including the top-ranking Democrats on four House committees, already have called on Biden to drop out of the race so the party can nominate someone else with a better chance of winning. Others are expected to soon join the growing chorus urging Biden to quit.

“President Biden has got to prove to the American people – including me – that he's up to the job for another four years,” , a Montana Democrat who is facing his own tough re-election battle in November.

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HARRISBURG, PENNSYLVANIA - JULY 07: U.S. President Joe Biden and First Lady Dr. Jill Biden arrive back at Air Force One as they prepare to depart Harrisburg International Airport on July 07, 2024 in Harrisburg, Pennsylvania. President Biden held several campaign events in the battleground state of Pennsylvania. Biden addressed a Black church service in northwest Philadelphia and attended an event with union members and local Democrats in Harrisburg. The president was joined by Gov. Josh Shapiro (D-PA), Lt. Gov. Austin Davis (D-PA), Sen. Bob Casey (D-PA), Sen. John Fetterman (D-PA), Philadelphia Mayor Cherelle Parker and other local leaders. The campaign events come as calls to end his re-election bid continue after an unfavorable debate performance. (Photo by Michael M. Santiago/Getty Images)

With lawmakers returning to Capitol Hill on Monday after the two-week Fourth of July holiday recess, the next 48 hours will be crucial for Biden’s reelection bid. Some major Democratic donors are looking to the party’s senior leadership to get through to the president.

The conversation is not just about who can defeat Trump, but whether the party should nominate an octogenarian “who looks like he’s slowing down" to lead the country for the next four and a half years, said Marty Dolan, a donor who shelled out $10,000 to the Biden campaign in April.

Dolan said he has been encouraged to speak out by donors who have plunked down multiples of that amount. For now, many of them prefer to work behind the scenes, he said.

“No one thinks confidently that Biden is going to be leading this country when he is 86-years-old,” Dolan said. “That's the central issue that the donors are stuck on.”

Sen. Jon Tester, D-Montana, says President Joe Biden has to prove to the American people that he is capable of serving as president for four more years.

Biden and his reelection team have been working frantically to undo the damage caused by the debate debacle and quell the calls for him to quit. Biden sent a letter to congressional Democrats on Monday and insisted he’s not dropping out.

"I am firmly committed to staying in this race, to running this race to the end, and to beating Donald Trump," he wrote.

But some lawmakers on Capitol Hill and Biden’s wealthy donors are worried time is running out.

The party’s candidate “must be able to clearly, articulately, and strongly make his or her case to the American people,” Rep. Adam Smith of Washington, the top Democrat on the House Armed Services Committee, said in calling on Biden to end his candidacy.

“It is clear that President Biden is no longer able to meet this burden,” Smith said.

Dolan said donors are waiting to see what Senate Majority Leader Chuck Schumer, House Minority leader Hakeem Jeffries and former House Speaker Nancy Pelosi will do.

Schumer, D-N.Y., showed no signs of doubt about Biden on Monday. “I’m for Joe,” he told reporters as he entered the Capitol.

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Donors are waiting for cues from Senate Majority Leader Chuck Schumer of New York and other Democratic leaders to determine whether they should continue to give money to President Joe Biden's reelection campaign.

Sen. Dick Durbin of Illinois, the Democratic whip, said his level of confidence in the president is “high” and that he thinks Biden should continue his campaign. Durbin said he is discussing “alternatives” with his colleagues but hasn’t heard anything he’ll support publicly.

Durbin said he’s concerned the narrative throughout the 2024 presidential race will remain about Biden’s mental fitness for the job, but he said Biden has “a hard-charging, directly confrontational approach” and that he’s “going to establish that he has the physical and mental strength to finish his campaign and win.”

Walking into the first Senate vote of the week, Sen. Chris Coons, D-Delaware, said he'll tell his colleagues that Biden is doing what they've asked. He pointed to Biden’s primetime interview with ABC News on Friday and decision to call into MSNBC’s Morning Joe on Monday.

Biden “is the most accomplished and consequential president in my lifetime,” Coons said. “I think it would be a huge mistake for the Democratic Party, based on one evening and one debate, to turn aside from supporting a very seasoned and capable president.”

Sen. Ben Ray Lujan, D-N.M., said he remains confident Biden is going to win and with strong support. Still, he said Biden needs to get out into the country and have informal, unscripted conversations with voters and reporters.

“He needs to get out and keep chatting with people,” Lujan said. “And we saw that with gatherings across the country where President Biden was out there chatting with folks, unscripted, just chatting with people. That's when Joe Biden's best.”

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With so much at stake in the upcoming election, “now is the time for conversations about the strongest path forward,” said Sen. Mark Warner, D-Va., who has reportedly from trying to assembling a group of senators to call on Biden to withdraw.

Warner told reporters on Monday that it is incumbent upon Biden “to more aggressively make his case to the American people and to hear directly from a broader group of voices about how to best prevent Trump’s lawlessness from returning to the White House.”

Sen Michael Bennet, D-Colo., said he wants to see Biden be able to "go out there and campaign day and night vigorously and passionately." He declined to say whether he thinks Biden should remain on the ticket. But, "I think it's very appropriate for us to be having this discussion," he said.

Sen. Ron Wyden, D-Oregon, stopped short of a definitive "yes" when asked whether he still supports Biden as the party's nominee. "The president is going to win," he said, warning against electing Trump. 

On the House side of the Capitol, Rep. Joe Morelle, D-N.Y., told reporters Biden “has to make a decision on how he feels about his ability to run, both for office and to serve as president.”

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“He's going to continue to make his judgments, and I think those of us who care deeply about this country and care deeply about him, we're going to have to continue to communicate whatever concerns we have,” Morelle said.

Biden’s letter to congressional Democrats wasn’t enough, added Morelle, who along with three other ranking members of House committees had spoken up about the president exiting the 2024 campaign during a Sunday night call with party leaders.

“The American public is very concerned about his ability to continue to serve as commander-in-chief, and he's going to have to do more to persuade them – and simply writing a letter to Congress or an open letter to the public, I don’t think that’s sufficient,’ Morelle said.

The head of the Congressional Progressive Caucus, Rep. Pramila Jayapal, D-Wash., suggested reporters questioning Biden’s debate performance should also ask Republicans why they are supporting a convicted felon.

“Republicans should be calling for Donald Trump to step down as a candidate for President,” Jayapal said.

Jayapal said Biden and Vice President Kamala Harris had “remarkable accomplishments” during their first term. But Trump’s appointments to the Supreme Court ended the right to abortion, she said, and “he demonizes and scapegoats immigrants and destroys wages and labor protections for working people."

“It is true that Democrats are having many conversations among our members and our constituents as we consider the best path forward to protect our democracy,” said Jayapal, who said she would continue to listen carefully to voters across the country about how to defeat Trump.

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