Vowing to stay in race, Biden urges Hill Democrats to ‘come together,’ defeat Trump

Amid calls for him to step back, US president sends letter to congressional party members saying ‘lack of clarity’ over his candidacy only helps his Republican opponent’s campaign

US President Joe Biden and First Lady Jill Biden walk to the White House in Washington, DC, on July 7, 2024, returning from campaign events in Pennsylvania. (Chris Kleponis / AFP)
US President Joe Biden and First Lady Jill Biden walk to the White House in Washington, DC, on July 7, 2024, returning from campaign events in Pennsylvania. (Chris Kleponis / AFP)

WASHINGTON — US President Joe Biden, in a letter to congressional Democrats, stood firm against calls for him to drop his candidacy and called for an end to the intraparty drama that has torn apart Democrats since his dismal public debate performance last month.

Biden’s efforts to shore up a deeply anxious Democratic Party came Monday as lawmakers returned to Washington confronting a choice: decide whether to work to revive his campaign or try to edge out the party leader, a make-or-break time for his reelection and their own political futures.

The president will be under extra scrutiny this week as he hosts a summit of NATO leaders in Washington, with many allies seeking reassurance amid polls forecasting that the isolationist Republican nominee Donald Trump will win in November. Many European countries are fearful of a return of Trump, as the 78-year-old has long criticized the defense alliance, voiced admiration for Russian strongman Vladimir Putin, and insisted he could bring about a quick end to the war in Ukraine.

“The question of how to move forward has been well-aired for over a week now. And it’s time for it to end,” Biden wrote in the two-page letter. He stressed that the party has “one job,” which is to defeat Trump in November.

“We have 42 days to the Democratic Convention and 119 days to the general election,” Biden said in the letter, distributed by his reelection campaign. “Any weakening of resolve or lack of clarity about the task ahead only helps Trump and hurts us. It’s time to come together, move forward as a unified party, and defeat Donald Trump.”

Anxiety is running high, as top-ranking Democratic lawmakers are joining calls for Biden to step aside despite his defiance. At the same time, some of the president’s most staunch supporters are redoubling the fight for Biden’s presidency, insisting there is no one better to beat Trump in what many see as among the most important elections of a lifetime.

This combination of photos shows Republican US presidential candidate former president Donald Trump, left, and President Joe Biden during a presidential debate hosted by CNN, June 27, 2024, in Atlanta, Georgia. (AP/ Gerald Herbert)

Biden followed up the letter with a phone interview with MSNBC’s “Morning Joe” show, on which he insisted that “average Democrats” want him to stay in the race and said he was “frustrated” by the calls from party officials for him to step aside.

Sounding angry in the telephone interview, Biden said he was “getting so frustrated by the elites… in the party.”

“They’re big names, but I don’t care what those big names think,” Biden said. He threw the gauntlet at his critics, saying if they are serious they ought to “announce for president, challenge me at the convention” or rally behind him against Trump.

Democratic voters are split on whether Biden should remain the Democratic Party’s nominee for president, or whether there should be a different Democratic nominee, according to a New York Times/Siena College poll.

As lawmakers weigh whether Biden should stay or go, there appear to be no easy answers.

It is a tenuous and highly volatile juncture for the president’s party. Democrats who have worked alongside Biden for years — if not decades — and cherished his life’s work on policy priorities are now entertaining uncomfortable questions about his political future.

US President Joe Biden attends a church service and campaign event at Mount Airy Church of God in Christ in Philadelphia, Pennsylvania, on July 7, 2024. (Saul Loeb/AFP)

Time is not on their side, almost a month from the Democratic National Convention and just a week before Republicans gather in Milwaukee to re-nominate Trump as their presidential pick. Many Democrats are arguing the attention needs to be focused not on Biden but on the former president’s felony conviction in the hush money case and pending federal charges in his effort to overturn the 2020 election.

It is what Biden himself might call an inflection point. As he defiantly says he will only step aside if the Lord Almighty comes and tells him to, Democrats in the House and Senate are deciding how hard they want to fight the president to change his course, or if they want to change course at all.

In an effort to “get on the same page,” House Democratic leader Hakeem Jeffries is convening lawmakers for private meetings before he shows his own preference, according to a person familiar with the situation and granted anonymity to discuss it. He planned to gather Democrats on Monday whose bids for reelection are most vulnerable.

A private call Sunday, including some 15 top House committee members, exposed the deepening divide as at least four more Democrats — Rep. Jerrold Nadler of New York, Rep. Jim Himes of Connecticut, Rep. Adam Smith of Washington State, and Rep. Mark Takano of California — privately said Biden should step aside.

Still other members, including Rep. Maxine Waters of California and Rep. Bobby Scott of Virginia, both leaders in the Congressional Black Caucus, spoke forcefully in support of Biden, as did Rep. Richard Neal of Massachusetts, the top Democrat on the powerful Ways and Means Committee.

Neal said afterward that the bottom line is Biden beat Trump in 2020 and “he’ll do it again in November.”

Chairwoman Rep. Maxine Waters, a California Democrat, speaks as Facebook CEO Mark Zuckerberg appears for a House Financial Services Committee hearing on Capitol Hill in Washington, October 23, 2019. (AP Photo/ Andrew Harnik/ File)

After a barnstorming day of campaign events in swing state Pennsylvania on Sunday, Biden has no public events scheduled for Monday, which he is expected to spend preparing for the NATO summit.

First Lady Jill Biden, a fierce defender of the president, is scheduled to campaign for him instead in Georgia, Florida, and North Carolina.

On Friday, the president picks up the campaign trail once more, heading for the battleground state of Michigan, before going to his beachside home in Rehoboth, Delaware.

With election day just four months away and the party convention in mid-August, the clock is ticking on any move to replace Biden as the nominee.

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