Democrats weigh risks and benefits of losing Biden

by Holly Honderich, BBC News, Washington

Getty Images Joe Biden speaks during an Independence Day event on the South Lawn of the White House on July 4, 2024 in Washington, DC.Getty Images

Concerns about Biden’s fitness to run appear widespread among Democrats.

President Joe Biden on Sunday sought to revive his embattled reelection effort as party members debate the future of his candidacy.

His awkward performance at last week’s presidential debate raised serious questions about the physical and mental strength of his campaign, and his primetime interview on ABC on Friday sparked further speculation about his campaign’s future.

Amid the uncertainty, Biden attended two campaign events in the key battleground state of Pennsylvania on Sunday.

But those efforts haven’t stopped Democratic colleagues from considering the risks and benefits of putting the 81-year-old Biden at the top of their presidential hopes. On Sunday afternoon, House Minority Leader Hakeem Jeffries convened a meeting with top Democrats, where Biden’s candidacy was reportedly discussed.

Four people on the call said they thought Biden should withdraw, according to the BBC’s US news partner CBS, while at least three others expressed concerns about Biden’s chances of winning the November election, sources said.

Over the weekend, several prominent Democrats also took their positions in television interviews, trying to answer the question of whether it is riskier to support Biden or abandon him.

Some say that if Biden stays in office, the Democrats could lose to Donald Trump in the November presidential election, but others say there are many unknowns about who will succeed Biden.

Some people see potential in a new start

In the aftermath of Biden’s disastrous debate performance, calling on the president to step aside may offer some immediate relief.

Some Democrats, including some of the president’s outspoken supporters, have made similar comments, suggesting concerns about the president’s age and mental capacity are becoming harder to overcome.

California Rep. Adam Schiff said Sunday that the debate “raised legitimate questions among the American people about whether the president has the power to defeat Donald Trump.”

Schiff, in his NBC News interview, stopped short of saying Biden should step down. Five House Democrats photographed in public so far.

Instead, Schiff urged people to seek advice from people with “distance and objectivity” to help them decide whether they are the best candidate to run.

“Given Joe Biden’s incredible record and Donald Trump’s terrible record, [Biden] “Republicans should win by a landslide against President Donald Trump,” Schiff said. “It shouldn’t be close, and the only reason it’s close is because of the president’s age.”

Biden is 81 and Trump just turned 78. The ages of both candidates have become an increasingly contentious issue among voters.

Polling from the left suggests some voters are losing confidence in Biden: A Wall Street Journal poll released Friday found that 86% of Democrats say they support Biden, down from 93% in February.

A different candidate might offer a clean slate in other areas. Before the wave of Democratic panic, Biden had come under fire from voters on several policy fronts, including his handling of the U.S. economy and the migrant crisis at the southern U.S. border.

Footage of Biden in an exclusive interview with ABC News host George Stephanopoulos.

The president faced the threat of alienation from progressive voters who opposed his handling of Israel’s war on Gaza, whose resistance cost him more than 100,000 votes in the key battleground state of Michigan in February’s primary.

Biden “is going to undermine everybody else,” former Ohio Rep. Tim Ryan said in an interview with Fox News on Sunday. “I think there’s going to be a lot of pressure today, tomorrow, or over the course of this week as members of Congress make the case that this may not be something they can stand.”

Some say the unknown is too risky.

Some Democratic leaders say any gains from losing Biden could be offset by looming risks.

Much of what happens if the president steps down remains unclear: Who will replace Biden, what will that look like, and how will that candidate fare against Trump?

And in recent days, several of Biden’s allies have highlighted the pitfalls of instituting new policies that Biden has already proven successful.

“Biden is old,” Vermont Sen. Bernie Sanders, 82, told CBS News on Sunday. “He’s not as eloquent as he used to be. I wish I could jump up the steps of Air Force One, but I can’t. We need to focus on policy — whose policies have benefited and will continue to benefit the majority of people in this country.”

California Gov. Gavin Newsom, who spent the weekend campaigning in support of the president, made similar remarks at a rally in Doylestown, Pennsylvania, on Saturday.

“The hypothetical debate is getting in the way of progress in terms of advancing this candidate,” Newsom said. “What the other party wants us to do is have an intraparty fight, which I think is extremely unhelpful.”

Biden’s allies say replacing him could be a direct benefit to Trump’s Republican Party, which can claim its opponent is embroiled in internal party turmoil.

“Let’s stop talking about this,” Rep. Debbie Dingell of Michigan told CNN on Sunday. “We’ve had a full week. Republicans are having a good time. Which means we need to get back to talking about Donald Trump and his performance.”

A moderate who keeps Harris in her position?

Earlier this week, former Ohio congressman Tim Ryan named Vice President Kamala Harris as his pick to succeed Biden.

“I strongly believe our best path forward is with Kamala Harris,” he wrote in a Newsweek op-ed. “Anyone who says that a Harris candidacy is riskier than the Joe Biden we saw last week and will see in the future is missing the point.”

Harris has so far only offered her staunch support for Biden, but the idea that the 59-year-old could run on Biden’s behalf has gained traction in recent days.

Rep. Adam Schiff, in an interview Sunday morning, said Harris could beat Trump “by a large margin.”

As vice president and the 2020 Democratic nominee, she already has a proven track record on the campaign trail and is familiar with the Democratic establishment and fundraisers, supporters say.

Harris “knows her job,” former Democratic National Committee chair Donna Brazile told ABC on Sunday, and “asking Biden-Harris delegates elected to the convention to ignore Kamala Harris … is political malpractice.”

But Ms Harris’s appeal to supporters could also be a pitfall: Her age is not the only complaint voters have about Mr Biden, and the administration’s slump over policy choices could extend to Ms Harris.

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