Biden stems Democratic defections as he insists he won't quit 2024 race

WASHINGTON — Joe Biden’s insistence that he is the Democratic nominee for president and won’t be forced out of the race appears to have stemmed public Democratic defections — at least for now.

While he’s certainly not in the clear and many Democrats are privately and publicly grumbling that he can’t beat Donald Trump this fall, Biden seems to have stanched the bleeding as he and his allies work to shore up support for his beleaguered presidential campaign.

“If the opposition is not unified,” a House Democrat said, “then it’s advantage Biden.”

It appeared Biden would survive the day without a single new defection, but late Tuesday afternoon Democratic Rep. Mikie Sherrill, a potential candidate for governor of New Jersey next year, urged Biden in a statement to exit the race, saying the stakes of the election are too high “to stay silent.

At a closed-door gathering of House Democrats on Tuesday, just a handful of Democrats privately raised concerns about Biden’s age and ability to win in November, according to sources in the room. Sources said the small gang of defectors included Seth Moulton of Massachusetts, Mike Quigley of Illinois and Mark Takano of California, who had already either publicly or privately called for Biden to step aside.

In a small victory for Biden, longtime Rep. Jerry Nadler of New York, the top Democrat on the powerful Judiciary Committee, left the meeting appearing resigned to the fact that Biden would be at the top of the ticket. On a private call with fellow committee leaders two days earlier, Nadler had called on Biden to step aside, sources said.

“Whether I have concerns or not is beside the point,” Nadler told reporters Tuesday. “He’s going to be our nominee, and we all have to support him.”

A day earlier, Biden told lawmakers in a public letter and private phone calls that he’s not quitting the race after his disastrous debate performance late last month. The large majority of lawmakers gathered at the Democratic National Committee headquarters Tuesday morning said that Biden is the party’s nominee and that it was now time for Democratic officials to rally behind him.

There is “overwhelming consensus that Biden has decided to stay in the race and we should unify behind him,” a House Democrat and Biden ally said as he left the meeting. “Those with concerns should voice them privately, because fait accompli — Biden is the nominee.”

Across the Capitol, Senate Democrats also huddled behind closed doors for the first time since Biden’s halting debate performance. Usually chatty senators left the lunch without offering details about what was discussed, saying only that the conversation was “constructive.”

“This was a private family discussion,” said Sen. Debbie Stabenow, D-Mich., who leads messaging for Democrats. “Joe Biden has been the best president Michigan has ever had, bringing jobs home.”

House Minority Leader Hakeem Jeffries, D-N.Y., has publicly backed Biden’s staying on as the nominee, but three sources in the Tuesday morning meeting said Jeffries “respectfully listened” to all sides in the room and didn’t try to twist arms.

As he opened the meeting, however, Jeffries scolded members for leaking the details of Sunday’s private Zoom meeting of Democratic committee leaders, two sources confirmed. Wagging his finger, Jeffries said he didn’t want leaks coming out of Tuesday’s meeting.

To dissuade leaking, lawmakers were told to leave their phones and smartwatches at the door. And Jeffries’ warning explains why many of the normally talkative Democrats leaving the gathering were tight-lipped.

“I’m not going to quote anybody,” said Quigley, a Biden detractor who emphasized leadership’s desire to keep a lid on the family conversation. “I don’t want to be excommunicated. I’m already off the Christmas card list.”

Quigley later told host Andrea Mitchell on MSNBC: “I’m with the Democratic nominee, no matter how we go forward.”

Even pro-Biden lawmakers didn’t want to say much as they left the meeting. “We’re ridin’ with Biden,” said longtime Rep. James Clyburn, D-S.C., a Black Caucus member who is credited with helping Biden win the presidential primary campaign in 2020.

As Biden and his allies hold the line, some Democrats said they feared Biden was one gaffe or slip-up away from political catastrophe.

A lawmaker described the mood in the room about Biden as “shaky,” adding, “People fear he’s declining and worry that the age issue will overshadow everything the rest of the way out.”

At a news conference after the meeting, Democratic Caucus Chair Pete Aguilar of California voiced support for Biden but left the door slightly open to the possibility of a different nominee.

Asked by NBC News whether Biden is doing enough to assuage concerns, Aguilar responded: “My answer is, you know, we’ll see.

“Like, let’s see. Let’s see the press conference. Let’s see the campaign stops. Let’s see all of this, because all of it is going to be necessary,” said Aguilar, the No. 3 Democratic leader in the House.

Several Democrats said their constituents back home are voicing serious concerns about Biden’s health and ability to defeat Trump. After Tuesday’s meeting, Rep. Lori Trahan, D-Mass., a past Biden supporter, issued a tough statement saying he needs to do a lot more to show her and voters that he’s still up for the job.

“[S]ince the debate, I have met with fellow Biden voters in Massachusetts who have real concerns about the President’s ability to beat Donald Trump. I share those concerns,” said Trahan, who is on Jeffries’ leadership team and helps run the party’s messaging operation.

“While President Biden has made clear he feels he is the best candidate to win this election, nothing that has happened over the past twelve days suggests that voters see things the same way.”

Moulton, another Massachusetts Democrat, confirmed that he spoke up in Tuesday’s meeting, explaining to colleagues why he is publicly calling for Biden to step aside and how he arrived at that decision after having had many private conversations. He said, “A lot of colleagues have approached me and thanked me for my comments.”

“If the president would present a plan to turn his campaign around, reverse all the polls and ultimately win the race against Donald Trump, which is what everyone, every Democrat [wants] at the end of the day,” Moulton said, “then many of these concerns might go away.”

Sherrill, who flipped a red seat in the anti-Trump Democratic wave of 2018, said she, too, arrived at her decision after having spoken with constituents in her district.

“People were encouraging me to have some difficult conversations with leadership. … We had those conversations. I listened to my colleagues and then thought about the future of the country, the future of my family, my kids, and felt I needed to advocate as strongly as possible for new leadership so we could really prosecute the case against Donald Trump,” she told reporters Tuesday.

Rep. Greg Landsman, D-Ohio, said in an interview that he wasn’t sure whether Tuesday’s meeting would put an end to members’ questioning Biden, saying, “There’s still a lot of polling, and the president still has a lot of work to do.”

“What I do believe to be true is that people are very scared,” said Landsman, who faces a competitive race this fall. “They are scared of the prospect of Trump 2.0 with a Supreme Court that has said, in Trump’s mind, you can do whatever you want. … Voters are terrified. And that’s why I think you’re seeing such a significant response to the debate. Not necessarily as much about what Biden did or didn’t do but the prospect of Trump becoming president” again.

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