The Memo: Biden battles for his political life as Democratic dissent rises

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The Memo: Biden battles for his political life as Democratic dissent rises

President Biden is fighting for his political life amid rising Democratic panic that he will lose to former President Trump in November.

Biden took several fresh hits on Tuesday, adding fuel to the fiery discussions about whether he should step aside as the Democratic nominee.

Rep. Lloyd Doggett (D-Texas) became the first sitting Democratic lawmaker to urge Biden to abandon his reelection bid. Rep. Marie Gluesenkamp Perez (D-Wash.) told a local TV interviewer, “The truth, I think, is that Biden is going to lose to Trump.” 

Big names usually loyal to Biden expressed meaningful reservations.

Former Speaker Nancy Pelosi (D-Calif.) told MSNBC, in reference to Biden’s demeanor at last week’s disastrous debate, that it is a “legitimate question” to ask, “Is this an episode or is this a condition?”

Rep. James Clyburn (D-S.C.), whom Biden has credited in the past as being integral to his 2020 Democratic primary win, told NewsNation that “the American people want an explanation, they need to be reassured” about Biden’s vigor.

Clyburn noted that he expected to speak with Biden either Tuesday evening or Wednesday morning.

“I’m going to tell him what I really feel,” Clyburn said, though he emphasized, “It’s not to say to him, ‘Get out of the race.’ I will tell him exactly what his standing is with the American people as I perceive it.”

NewsNation and The Hill share a parent company, Nexstar Media Group.

The New York Times accelerated the hostile winds buffeting Biden with a story published midafternoon Tuesday citing unnamed “current and former officials” who noticed that in recent months the president has “increasingly appeared confused or listless, or would lose the thread of conversations.”

The day also brought new negative opinion polls for the Biden campaign. 

A poll from CNN/SSRS put Trump up 6 points over Biden nationwide, and found 75 percent of registered voters believing Democrats would fare better with someone else as the party’s nominee. 

A USA Today/Suffolk University Poll pegged Trump’s national lead at 3 points and found 41 percent of Democrats wanting Biden replaced as the nominee.

In that scenario, all eyes would look first to Vice President Harris. The two other biggest names in hypothetical contention are California Gov. Gavin Newsom (D) and Michigan Gov. Gretchen Whitmer (D). 

Harris, Newsom and Whitmer have all been publicly supportive of Biden since the debate, whatever private thoughts might be swirling.

There is of course no vacancy — yet.

Biden, a proud man who believes he has not been accorded sufficient respect for his accomplishments, does not seem inclined to even consider dropping his reelection bid.

He is scheduled to hold a meeting with Democratic governors Wednesday that could calm nerves. He will travel to the key swing states of Wisconsin and Pennsylvania in the next few days. And he will sit for his first major TV interview since the debate on Friday, with George Stephanopoulos of ABC News.

White House press secretary Karine Jean-Pierre, peppered with questions about the president’s fitness for office throughout Tuesday’s media briefing, acknowledged that Biden had “a bad night” at the debate but pushed back at the idea that he had suffered any kind of “episode.”

Asked directly whether Biden was suffering from Alzheimer’s disease or any form of dementia, Jean-Pierre replied, “No, and I hope you’re asking [Trump] the same exact question.”

The press secretary also said that the White House wanted to “look forward” and to “turn the page” following the debate.

Other Biden allies point to public expressions of support from key Democrats, including former Presidents Obama and Clinton, and current Senate Majority Leader Chuck Schumer (N.Y.). “I’m with Joe Biden,” Schumer said at a news conference in DeWitt, N.Y., on Tuesday

The Biden loyalists also emphasize a recent fundraising surge, including a reported $38 million raised between the Thursday debate and Sunday. They also say they see signs of growing grassroots enthusiasm for the president.

Then there are those who are far from enthusiastic.

Doggett, issuing his call for Biden to exit the race, said that the president “saved our democracy by delivering us from Trump in 2020. He must not deliver us to Trump in 2024.”

In a follow-up interview with The Washington Post, Doggett claimed that, while some Democrats disagree with him, his view nonetheless “reflects the feelings of a significant number of my colleagues.”

Sen. Sheldon Whitehouse (D-R.I.) had on Monday told a local TV station that he had been “pretty horrified” by the debate. On Tuesday, Rep. Mike Quigley (D-Ill.) said on CNN that Biden’s candidacy would have an impact on Senate and House races and would “have implications for decades to come.”

On top of all that, former Rep. Tim Ryan (D-Ohio) penned an op-ed for Newsweek arguing that Democrats should replace Biden with Vice President Harris at the top of the ticket. 

“Those who say that a Harris candidacy is a greater risk than the Joe Biden we saw the other night and will continue to see are not living in reality,” Ryan wrote. “It is not just utterly preposterous for the haters to say that, it is insulting.”

None of these blows is fatal to the president. But together, they are bogging him down and making it impossible to move past the debate disaster. Worst of all, the criticism is an invitation for other dissenting voices, private so far, to go public.

It’s possible that Biden calms the waters and that his party reconciles itself to him as the nominee.

But the political fever rose another few degrees on Tuesday. The possibility that Biden might be forced from the race seems increasingly real.

The Memo is a reported column by Niall Stanage.