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Though Biden says he's staying in presidential race, top Democrats express doubts

Biden's support splinters amid calls to exit race
Biden's support splinters amid new calls to exit race 04:35

Washington — Nearly two weeks after a disastrous debate, President Biden remains adamant that he's staying in the race amid circling doubts and reserved expressions of support from members of his party.

He said this week in a letter to congressional Democrats he's "firmly committed" to running, but some Democrats in Congress are still saying Mr. Biden faces a decision about continuing his campaign, suggesting that his future on the ticket remains an open question.

Former House Speaker Nancy Pelosi, when asked Wednesday morning whether Mr. Biden has her support to lead the ticket, deferred to Mr. Biden, saying that "it's up to the president" to decide if he's going to run.

"We're all encouraging him to make that decision," she said on MSNBC. "Because time is running short."

The response fell short of a ringing endorsement for the president's reelection bid, though Pelosi complimented the president on his speech at an event marking the 75th anniversary of NATO on Tuesday night, saying he was "absolutely spectacular." And she touted his record and standing within the Democratic caucus. 

"He's beloved, he is respected and people want him to make that decision," Pelosi said, adding that "I want him to do whatever he decides to do."

President Joe Biden
President Joe Biden pauses while speaking during a NATO 75th anniversary celebratory event on July 9, 2024 in Washington, D.C. Andrew Harnik / Getty Images

Pelosi told CBS News later Wednesday morning that "there are some misrepresentations of what I have said," noting that she "never said he should reconsider his decision." And a spokesperson for Pelosi reiterated in a statement that "Speaker Pelosi fully supports whatever President Biden decides to do."

Late Wednesday, Sen. Peter Welch of Vermont became the first Senate Democrat to publicly call on Mr. Biden to withdraw from the race.

 In an op-ed in the Washington Post, Welch wrote that while he admires the president, "We cannot unsee President Biden's disastrous debate performance. We cannot ignore or dismiss the valid questions raised since that night."

"I understand why President Biden wants to run. He saved us from Donald Trump once and wants to do it again. But he needs to reassess whether he is the best candidate to do so. In my view, he is not," he continued. "For the good of the country, I'm calling on President Biden to withdraw from the race."

Meanwhile, Sen. Michael Bennet of Colorado on Tuesday night expressed doubt that the president will be able to beat former President Donald Trump in November, in some of the most critical comments made publicly by a Senate Democrat in the aftermath of the debate. 

"Donald Trump is on track, I think, to win this election, and maybe win it by a landslide, and take with him the Senate and the House," Bennet said on CNN, though he stopped short of calling on Mr. Biden to step aside. 

The Colorado Democrat pointed to where the president stands in polls at this point, as compared to where he stood against Trump at this time in 2020, as well as where Hillary Clinton stood against Trump in 2016, saying "this race is on a trajectory that is very worrisome." 

Explaining why he isn't calling on the president to step aside, Bennet said that "we're all here this week, to have this discussion, to have this debate," about the president's prospects, though he added that the White House has "done nothing" to demonstrate a plan to win the election following the debate.  

The comments come after congressional Democrats met on Tuesday, following a July 4 holiday recess that kept them out of Washington since the debate last month. House Democrats met Tuesday morning for what one member described as a "listening session." And Senate Democrats held a lengthy meeting Tuesday afternoon that left some touting unity within the caucus, though most remained tight-lipped about the details of the meeting. Neither meeting appeared to yield a path forward for the party. 

On Wednesday evening, Rep. Earl Blumenauer of Oregon became the ninth House Democrat to publicly call on Mr. Biden to exit the race, writing in a statement that he hoped Mr. Biden and first lady Jill Biden had "come to the conclusion that I and others have: President Biden should not be the Democratic presidential nominee."

Particularly in the Senate, Democrats have adopted a wait-and-see approach, with no Senate Democrats having publicly called for the president to step aside. Instead, a number of Democrats, like Sen. Patty Murray of Washington, have outlined that they want to see more from the president, saying he "must do more to demonstrate he can campaign strong enough to beat Donald Trump."

Amid the calls for the White House to do more to reassure the party, Senate Democrats are set to hold a special caucus lunch meeting on Thursday, where they will hear from senior advisors to the president Mike Donilon and Steve Ricchetti, along with Biden Campaign Chair Jen O'Malley Dillon, a Senate Democratic leadership aide told CBS News.

Outside of the Capitol, another admission about the president's ability to serve another term made waves late Tuesday, when a video surfaced from TMZ showing ABC News anchor George Stephanopoulos saying about the president that "I don't think he can serve four more years." Stephanopoulos conducted the first interview of the president last week since his debate about the path forward.

Then, actor George Clooney, who hosted a fundraiser for the Biden campaign just last month, penned an op-ed released Wednesday calling on Mr. Biden to step aside. 

"It's devastating to say it, but the Joe Biden I was with three weeks ago at the fundraiser was not the Joe 'big F-ing deal' Biden of 2010. He wasn't even the Joe Biden of 2020. He was the same man we all witnessed at the debate," Clooney wrote, adding that "our party leaders need to stop telling us that 51 million people didn't see what we just saw."

Clooney said Democrats have "a very exciting bench," while making a push to hear from possible replacements like Maryland Gov. Wes Moore, Vice President Kamala Harris, Michigan Gov. Gretchen Whitmer and California Gov. Gavin Newsom, among others. And he urged that "the scary stories that we're being told about what would happen next are simply not true," arguing that the money "in the Biden-Harris coffers" could go toward the Democratic ticket more broadly.

The actor urged top Democrats in Congress to ask the president to voluntarily step aside, claiming that the party is "not going to win in November with this president," while arguing that control of the House and Senate are also threatened. He noted that "every senator and congress member and governor" that he's spoken with in private agrees, "irrespective of what he or she is saying publicly."

The developments come as top Democrats have continued to back the president, albeit with reserved statements of support. House Minority Leader Hakeem Jeffries reiterated his support for the president this week, saying, "I made clear publicly the day after the debate that I support President Joe Biden and the Democratic ticket. My position has not changed." 

After Tuesday's meeting, Jeffries told reporters that members had an opportunity to express themselves, and "those discussions will continue throughout the balance of the week." Senate Majority Leader Chuck Schumer, repeatedly asked about the president's ability to serve another four years during a weekly news conference following the Senate meeting, simply said "I'm with Joe." 

— Ed O'Keefe, Jaala Brown and Kate Farrell contributed to this report. 

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