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Biden vows to keep running as signs point to rapidly eroding support for him on Capitol Hill

President Joe Biden listens during a visit to the D.C. Emergency Operations Center, Tuesday, July 2, 2024, in Washington.
Evan Vucci
Associated Press
President Joe Biden listens during a visit to the D.C. Emergency Operations Center, Tuesday, July 2, 2024, in Washington.

President Joe Biden is vowing to keep running for reelection as he rejects pressure from within his Democratic Party to withdraw.

A defiant President Joe Biden said Wednesday he's still running for reelection, rejecting growing pressure from Democrats to withdraw after a disastrous debate performance raised questions about his readiness. But in an ominous sign for the president, a leading ally publicly suggested a way that the party might choose someone else.

“I am running. I am the leader of the Democratic Party. No one is pushing me out," Biden said in a call with staffers on his reelection campaign, according to a top aide who posted his comment on the X social media platform.

Biden was pulling every possible lever to try to salvage his reelection campaign — talking to top legislators, pumping up his campaign staff and meeting later in the day with Democratic governors before a planned weekend blitz of travel and a network TV interview.

But there were signs that support for Biden was rapidly eroding among Democrats on Capitol Hill.

Rep. Jim Clyburn, a longtime Biden ally, said he would back a “mini-primary” in the run-up to the Democratic National Convention next month if Biden were to leave the race. Clyburn, D-S.C., floated an idea that appeared to be laying the groundwork for alternatives by delegates during the Democrats’ planned virtual roll call that is scheduled before the more formal party convention.

“You can actually fashion the process that’s already in place to make it a mini-primary and I would support that,” Clyburn told CNN.

He said Vice President Kamala Harris, governors and others could join the competition. “It would be fair to everybody. ... Because if she were to be the nominee we need to have a running mate. And need a strong running mate.”

Clyburn, a senior lawmaker who is a former member of his party's House leadership team, said he has not personally seen the president act as he did on the debate stage last week.

“I saw what I saw last Thursday night, and it is concerning,” Clyburn said.

Some suggested Harris was emerging as the favorite to replace Biden if he were to withdraw, although those involved in private discussions acknowledge that Govs. Gavin Newsom of California and Gretchen Whitmer of Michigan remain viable alternatives. But for some insiders, Harris is viewed as the best prospect to quickly unify the party and avoid a messy and divisive convention fight.

Even as pressure around Biden mounted, he and Harris made a surprise appearance on a call with staffers from his reelection campaign and offered a pep talk, stressing the stakes of the election and returning to Biden’s previous post-debate comments that he would get back up after being knocked down. The president told those assembled that he was not leaving the race and would not be dragged out.

Asked a short time later whether Biden would consider stepping down, White House press secretary Karine Jean Pierre said “absolutely not.”

“He understands it is fair for people to ask that question.” she said, while adding, “I cannot lay out something that would change the president’s mind" about seeking a second term.

She also said Biden “is clear-eyed. And he is staying in the race.”

Democrats are unsatisfied with the explanations of Biden’s debate performance, from both White House staff and the president himself. And there is a deeper frustration among some Democrats who feel Biden should have handled questions about his stumbling debate performance much sooner and that he has put them in a difficult position by staying in the race.

White House chief of staff Jeff Zients urged people during an earlier all-staff meeting Wednesday to tune out the “noise” and focus on the task of governing.

Even as Zients acknowledged that the days since the Atlanta matchup between Biden and Republican Donald Trump have been challenging, the chief of staff stressed to more than 500 White House aides on the call the accomplishments and the track record of the Democratic administration and said governing will only become more crucial once the campaign season heats up, particularly after the Fourth of July holiday, according to a White House official.

Biden himself began making personal outreach on his own, speaking privately with senior Democratic lawmakers such as Senate Majority Leader Chuck Schumer of New York, House Minority Leader Hakeem Jeffries of New York, Delaware Sen. Chris Coons and Clyburn.

Zients tried to rally the staff’s confidence in Biden’s reelection apparatus and said Biden has always made it through tough times, despite being counted out over his decades in public office.

The chief of staff also encouraged aides to “continue being a team” and, while acknowledging the increasing political chatter, to “tune it out” and stay disciplined, according to the official, who was granted anonymity to relay Zients’ private remarks.

Staff-wide White House calls aren’t unusual, but Wednesdays’ 15-minute check-in came as Biden and senior White House officials were working to assuage rattled lawmakers, donors and other allies within the party amid sharpening questions about whether the 81-year-old president had the competency to run for a second term in office.

Biden and Harris also held one of their occasional lunches, and the president was planning on hosting an assortment of Democratic governors at the White House in the evening.

Among the Democratic governors who were planning to attend in person were Tim Walz of Minnesota, who leads the Democratic Governors Association, J.B. Pritzker of Illinois, Maura Healey of Massachusetts, Daniel McKee of Rhode Island, Gretchen Whitmer of Michigan, Andy Beshear of Kentucky, Wes Moore of Maryland and Gavin Newsom of California, according to their aides. North Carolina Gov. Roy Cooper and New Jersey Gov. Phil Murphy were planning on attending virtually.

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