Biden must show proof he can beat Trump, Democratic leaders say

Democratic leaders on Wednesday called on President Biden and his campaign to provide compelling evidence of a viable path to victory, amid a continuing spate of poor state polling and growing concerns that he cannot defeat former President Donald Trump in November.

The calls came after top labor leaders expressed serious concerns about his candidacy, more members of Congress and other Democrats called on him to step aside, and even members of Biden’s senior campaign staff began to express doubts about his prospects.

At a private meeting on Wednesday, some of the country’s labor leaders — many of whom are staunch Biden supporters — said Americans’ doubts about Biden’s ability to do the job were hurting his candidacy and repeatedly asked Biden’s campaign leaders about their plan to defeat Trump, according to two people familiar with their comments, who as others spoke for this story on condition of anonymity to share private comments. Two of the most outspoken leaders were Sara Nelson, the president of the Association of Flight Attendants, and Shawn Fain, the president of the United Auto Workers, two of Biden’s biggest union allies.

In a statement later Wednesday, the AFL-CIO leadership “voted unanimously to reaffirm its commitment to Biden,” saying, “No president has been more invested in helping workers than Joe Biden.”

Senior campaign officials have grown more pessimistic about Biden’s chances, even as they remain committed to pushing the campaign forward and convincing allies that the president has the potential to recover.

“An overwhelming majority of senior campaign staff are despondent and see no way out,” said a Democratic strategist familiar with the conversations. A second person familiar with the discussions did not dispute the description.

“We can worry about whether we can work, and this team is doing the work that wins us elections,” Biden campaign spokesman Kevin Munoz said in a statement.

Meanwhile, Democrats say the defections are likely to increase in the coming days, with lawmakers and donors privately indicating they could publicly call for Biden to withdraw by the end of the week. They argue they don’t want to embarrass Biden at the ongoing NATO summit in Washington, while also wanting to give him time to decide for himself whether to drop out of the race.

On Wednesday, Sen. Peter Welch of Vermont became the first Democratic senator to call on Biden to withdraw. In an op-ed in the Washington Post, he wrote that he had to do so “for the good of the country” because of the danger Trump posed. Reps. Pat Ryan (D-N.Y.), one of the party’s most vulnerable members; Rep. Earl Blumenauer (D-Ore.); and Antonio Delgado, the lieutenant governor of New York who previously represented a swing district in Congress, also called on Biden to step aside.

During the first presidential debate with Trump on June 27, Biden was unable to finish sentences, often spoke haltingly and at times seemed confused about what question he was trying to answer. Democrats panicked over the performance, raised questions about his ability to serve another four years as president and reiterated their questions about the 81-year-old’s mental acuity.

Biden and his campaign have continued to publicly maintain that he will not drop out of the race and that he is positioned to defeat Trump in an election that is 117 days away. Biden’s campaign told Democratic senators on Wednesday that campaign manager Jen O’Malley Dillon, senior campaign adviser Mike Donilon and White House adviser Steve Ricchetti would meet Thursday for a briefing on the path forward. Biden’s campaign said it conducted a poll immediately after the debate that showed no significant movement in swing states for Biden.

One Democratic senator said that if the campaign tells senators there has been little to no deterioration in the president’s position, “I don’t think anyone is going to believe it.” He added that senators will be looking for “compelling evidence that they can turn this around.”

Kate Bedingfield, Biden’s deputy campaign manager for 2020 and a former White House communications director, expressed frustration within the party that the campaign has yet to provide empirical evidence that Biden recovered from his debate setback and subsequently gained enough momentum to win.

“If they have data that supports the path to victory that they see, they need to get it out now and help rally people who want to defeat Trump around it,” Bedingfield wrote on social media. “People want to see the path.”

Ron Klain, a longtime Biden adviser and former White House chief of staff, said there was unanimity within Biden’s team that he remains the best candidate to beat Trump. “He will win in 2024 like he did in 2020 — because his personal values ​​and character will ultimately prevail against Trump,” Klain wrote in a text message.

Democrats have privately outlined possible scenarios and their timing should Biden decide to leave the race, including Biden potentially endorsing the nomination of Vice President Harris. One Democratic strategist said time is of the essence: “Any iteration of this, sooner is better,” to avoid “crazy chaos” near or during the Democratic National Convention in Chicago in August.

Biden announced in a letter to Democratic allies on Monday that he is “committed to staying in this race, seeing this race through to the end and defeating Donald Trump.” But former House Speaker Nancy Pelosi (D-Calif.) appeared on MSNBC’s “Morning Joe” on Wednesday — a show Biden watches regularly — where she described Biden’s continued candidacy as an open question.

“It’s up to the president to decide whether he will run,” said Pelosi, who has remained a member of the House since leaving the speakership. “We all encourage him to make that decision. Because time is running out.”

House Democrats’ concerns are anchored in pre-debate polls that showed Biden already trailing Trump in districts he won by a wide margin in 2020, with approval ratings in the low 40s, according to a person with access to the data. In both House and Senate polls, Democrats in lower positions continue to outpace Biden in voting tests.

An AARP poll released Tuesday — conducted by polling firms working for the Biden and Trump campaigns — showed Biden trailing Trump by six percentage points in Wisconsin in a five-way battle with third-party candidates. Biden beat Trump in Wisconsin by less than a percentage point in 2020. Sen. Tammy Baldwin (D-Wis.) maintained a three-point lead over her Republican opponent, businessman Eric Hovde, in the AARP poll.

“He’s a pain in the ass everywhere,” said another Democrat who worked on campaigns this cycle and who had been monitoring private polls across the country.

The campaign began a new round of polling this week, though the results are not yet in, people familiar with the operation said. Biden also announced that he will be in Austin on Monday for an interview with NBC News host Lester Holt that will air during the first night of the Republican nominating convention.

National public polls showed Trump with a narrow lead before the debate — a sharp contrast from the roughly four-point lead Biden had over Trump at the same point in the 2020 campaign. Since the debate, national polls have shown an average shift of 2.5 points in Trump’s direction, according to a Washington Post polling average.

Democrats are particularly concerned about Biden’s diminished standing compared to the 2020 campaign. At this point in the cycle, he was nine points ahead of Trump in the RealClearPolitics average of polls. Biden won the national popular vote by 4.5 points in November. Trump now leads by more than three points on the same average.

Some Democrats have grown concerned in recent days about the pace of fundraising for Biden and the independent groups backing his campaign, as the president’s big donors have been reluctant to use their networks or reluctant to make donations. The campaign brought in more than $3 million in the day after the debate, according to people familiar with the internal figures. Donations have since fallen, and campaign advisers are waiting for next week’s Republican convention to see if enthusiasm returns.

The uncertainty among big donors about giving to independent groups has made it “hard to balance the checkbook,” said one fundraiser involved in the effort. “I think a lot of the big donors are going to move their funding to the House and Senate. If Biden wants to stay, he has to pray that the small donors will come.”

On Wednesday, George Clooney, the Academy Award-winning actor and longtime Democratic Party donor, said Biden should drop out of the race. Clooney — who co-hosted a fundraiser for Biden in Los Angeles last month — said the president was “not even the Joe Biden of 2020” at that event.

“This is not just my opinion; this is the opinion of every senator, every congressman and every governor I have spoken to in secret,” Clooney wrote in the New York Times. “Every single one, regardless of what he or she says publicly.”

He continued: “The dam has broken. We can either bury our heads in the sand and pray for a miracle in November, or we can speak the truth.”

Lauren Kaori Gurley and Liz Goodwin contributed reporting.

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