Elections 2024 Live Updates: Top Democrats Secretly Wait for Biden to Withdraw

Support for President Biden among top Democrats on Capitol Hill began to crumble Sunday after half a dozen top House members privately told colleagues he should withdraw from the presidential race amid growing concerns about his age and ability to be re-elected.

In a private virtual meeting, House Democrats — all senior members of powerful committees — discussed how they could use their collective influence to convince Mr. Biden that he had little chance of defeating former President Donald J. Trump, according to five people familiar with the confidential discussion, including three who were present, all of whom spoke on condition of anonymity to speak.

The consensus during the session, which was called by Rep. Hakeem Jeffries, Democrat of New York and minority leader, was that a change at the top of the ticket was needed to improve the party’s chances of keeping the White House and winning the battle to secure control of Congress, the people said.

Among those who explicitly said Biden should end his candidacy were Reps. Jerrold Nadler of New York, the top Democrat on the Judiciary Committee; Adam Smith of Washington, the top member on the Defense Committee; Mark Takano of California, the top Democrat on the Veterans Affairs Committee; and Joseph D. Morelle of New York, the top Democrat on the House Administration Committee.

A fifth Democrat, Representative Jim Himes of Connecticut, the ranking Democrat on the Intelligence Committee, also expressed uncertainty about Mr. Biden’s path forward. A sixth, Representative Susan Wild of Pennsylvania, the ranking member of the Ethics Committee, said in a statement after the session that she had “expressed the same concerns that Americans across the country are grappling with about President Biden’s eligibility,” adding that the “difficult process” Democrats are undertaking to determine the best path forward must be conducted in a confidential manner.

Several attendees at the meeting declined to comment on the confidential discussion. One attendee, Representative Don Beyer of Virginia, issued a statement afterward saying, “I support President Biden.” Another, Representative Richard E. Neal of Massachusetts, the top Democrat on the Ways and Means Committee, called Mr. Biden a “visionary leader” on social media and added, “Let’s keep going.”

A Biden campaign aide pointed out that the president has indicated in the past that he would stay in the race and noted that many leading Democrats have openly expressed their support for him in recent days, including leaders and top members of the Congressional Black Caucus and the Congressional Hispanic Caucus, key groups in the House of Representatives.

But the private concerns have only grown. Mr. Jeffries called the high-level meeting, attended only by members of the leadership committee, as a listening session to get input from all corners of the Democratic caucus on Mr. Biden’s candidacy, as Democrats weigh how aggressively and publicly to raise concerns in light of the president’s boastful stance that only divine intervention could force him out of the race.

Instead of opening the meeting with a call to rally behind Mr. Biden’s candidacy, Mr. Jeffries and other leaders remained largely silent as lawmakers took turns expressing doubts about the president’s viability. Some said their constituents believed the president should withdraw, while others said they believed he should.

Jeffries’ decision to hold the meeting at a time of mounting panic within his party’s top brass was itself remarkable. By giving Democrats the chance to air such deep misgivings in private, he left Biden with little choice but to acknowledge concerns within his own party, which he has thus far dismissed.

It reflects where many Democrats in Congress find themselves as they return to Washington after a week-long recess to answer questions about Biden’s viability as a candidate and their own chances of keeping the Senate and winning back the House in November.

They want to give Mr. Biden space to leave the race on his own terms before explicitly calling on him to do so. But they are also aware that there may be no way at this point to prove to voters that he is not too old for the task of defeating Mr. Trump — and there is a growing impatience that could turn private utterances into more public calls for Mr. Biden to step aside.

Some Democrats still say Mr. Biden deserves a final chance to get his campaign in order. Senator Christopher S. Murphy said earlier Sunday that the president’s first televised interview since the debate had failed to address deep concerns about his condition, and that he had more work to do to convince voters he is fit to run and be re-elected.

“Voters certainly have questions,” Murphy said on CNN’s “State of the Union.”

He added: “I personally love Joe Biden, and I don’t know if the interview on Friday night did enough to answer those questions. This week is going to be absolutely crucial. I think the president needs to do more.”

He avoided a direct answer when asked whether Biden should step aside, saying, “I know there are a lot of voters who need to be convinced that Thursday night’s debates were a bad night.”

Mr. Murphy’s carefully calibrated comments were among the first public alarm bells among the ranks of Senate Democrats, who have been largely silent since the debate more than a week ago but have grown increasingly concerned about Mr. Biden’s ability to serve as the party’s nominee.

During the closed-door House meeting, some lawmakers participating, including Democrats who did not explicitly say they thought the president should step aside, said they believed Vice President Kamala Harris would be a strong candidate to take on Trump if Biden were to drop out of the race.

Opposition to continuing Biden as the party’s nominee only came after a few senior Democrats opened the meeting by speaking in support of the president. But the tide quickly turned after Nadler became the first Democrat to speak out against continuing Biden.

While no Democratic leader in Congress has publicly called on Biden to step aside, five rank-and-file Democrats in the House of Representatives have done so. Concerns are also growing among senators.

Mr. Murphy said he believed Mr. Biden could still beat Mr. Trump. But he added that “the president has to answer voters’ questions.” Mr. Murphy repeatedly insisted during the interview that Mr. Biden needed to prove himself “this week” in “unscripted” conversations with voters.

“They need to see more from the president, and I hope we see that this week,” he said.

The senator’s message also appeared intended to warn the president and those around him that the defiant stance in response to real questions about Mr. Biden’s candidacy could not last. The president has denied calls from some Democrats to step aside and has said that only “the Lord Almighty” can convince him to withdraw from the race.

“There are still questions,” Mr. Murphy said. “The clock is ticking.”

Another Democrat, Sen. Michael Bennet of Colorado, said through a spokeswoman that he believes Biden “must convince the American people that he can run a vigorous campaign to defeat Donald Trump,” and that he would meet with colleagues this week to discuss “the most viable path forward in this existential election.”

And Sen. Angus King, an independent from Maine who aligns with the Democrats, feels the same way, a spokesman said. Mr. King “believes that the president must seize every opportunity in the coming days to demonstrate his ability to carry on the campaign and the work of the presidency through unscripted interviews and direct interactions with voters,” spokesman Matthew Felling said Sunday. “Only through such a public process can he demonstrate that Thursday was simply a bad night and that his previous ability to define the problems and seek common-sense solutions is undiminished.”

Sen. Sheldon Whitehouse of Rhode Island last week publicly expressed concerns about how candid the campaign has been about Biden’s condition, but he stopped short of calling for the president to resign. And Sen. Peter Welch of Vermont warned of a “fierce undercurrent” for Democratic candidates for the House and Senate if the Democratic presidential nominee loses badly in November.

Sen. Mark Warner, Democrat of Virginia, has been working this week to convene Democratic senators to discuss a path forward and their concerns about Biden remaining the nominee, a conversation now expected to take place Tuesday when they gather for their weekly private holiday luncheon. Warner has privately expressed concerns about the president’s debate performance and doubts that he can stay in the race and be re-elected.

Carl Hulse And Catie Edmondson contributed to the reporting.

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