President Biden stops campaign bleeding - but more tough days could be ahead

Updated

WASHINGTON — President Joe Biden has largely stopped eroding support from congressional Democrats for now but he hasn't calmed fears about a brutal presidential campaign ahead that will put his mental fitness under the microscope for four more months.

And some Democrats still aren't convinced he can defeat former President Donald Trump.

Despite the concerns, Biden and his allies have so far succeeded in fending off widespread calls from Democrats in Congress for him to withdraw from the race against Trump, the former president, following his disastrous debate performance last month.

Although seven House Democrats have said publicly Biden should end his campaign, no Democratic senators have gone as far, and he has held onto support from the entire Black and Hispanic caucuses, two key voices in the Democratic coalition.

Yet in the 12 days since the 81-year-old Biden struggled to finish sentences and complete thoughts during his much-maligned debate against Trump, the scrutiny over his mental and physical wellbeing has only intensified − and it's showing no signs of subsiding. Biden's Democratic skeptics still want him to prove he can change the trajectory of the race.

"Donald Trump is on track, I think, to win this election and maybe win it by a landslide and take with it the Senate and the House,” Democratic Sen. Michael Bennet, D-Colo., said in an interview Tuesday night on CNN, delivering one of the bleakest assessments of any Democrat about Biden's campaign.

"The White House in the time since that disastrous debate, I think, has done nothing to really demonstrate that they have a plan to win this election." Bennet said, though stopping short of explicitly calling for Biden to exit the race. "This is something for the president really to consider."

President Joe Biden waves as he embarks Air Force One as he prepares to depart Harrisburg International Airport on July 07, 2024 in Harrisburg, Pennsylvania.
President Joe Biden waves as he embarks Air Force One as he prepares to depart Harrisburg International Airport on July 07, 2024 in Harrisburg, Pennsylvania.

The endless speculation on Biden's mental state has drowned out his campaign's efforts reset the stakes of the election against Trump. And the last two weeks might have offered a glimpse into rest of the 2024 campaign in which any slipup or sign of fatigue from Biden will feed more ammunition to detractors.

"We need to see a much more forceful and energetic candidate on the campaign trail in the very near future in order for him to convince voters he is up to the job," U.S. Sen. Patty Murray, D-Wash., said Monday in another stinging critique.

Rep. Mike Quigley, D-Ill., one of the six House defectors, was more blunt Tuesday in his assessment. "He can't win," Quigley said, later telling the Associated Press, "The fighting spirit and pride and courage that served the country so well four years ago, that helped Joe Biden win, will bring the ticket down this time.“

Still, the White House and Biden campaign were pleased overall with the last 48 hours since Congress reconvened in Washington following a holiday recess, with Biden maintaining considerable support for his reelection bid from Democratic lawmakers in the face of skeptics.

That includes public backing from House Democratic Leader Hakeem Jeffries, Senate Majority Leader Chuck Schumer and Rep. Jim Clyburn, D-S.C.

However, another influential Democrat, former House Speaker Nancy Pelosi, appeared to question whether Biden should be the party's nominee during an appearance Wednesday morning on "Morning Joe."

"It’s up to the president to decide if he is going to run," Pelosi said, even though Biden has made clear repeatedly that he's still running. "We're all encouraging him to make that decision. Because time is running short.”

Sen. Patty Murray (D-WA) speaks during a news briefing after a weekly Senate Democratic policy luncheon at the U.S. Capitol on July 9, 2024 in Washington, DC.
Sen. Patty Murray (D-WA) speaks during a news briefing after a weekly Senate Democratic policy luncheon at the U.S. Capitol on July 9, 2024 in Washington, DC.

Pelosi's comments came a day after some Biden critics seemed to backtrack and coalesce around the president.

“Whether or not I have concerns is besides the point," said Rep. Jerry Nadler, D-N.Y., who on Tuesday reversed his previous stance that Biden should step aside as the Democratic presidential nominee. "He is going to be our nominee and we all have to support him,” Nadler, the top Democrat on the House Judiciary Committee, told reporters.

Rep. Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez, D-N.Y., who has a large following of young progressive supporters, was unwavering in her support of Biden.

"The matter is closed,” Ocasio-Cortez told reporters Monday. “He reiterated that this morning. He has reiterated that to the public. Joe Biden is our nominee. He is not leaving this race. He is in this race and I support him.”

During a Tuesday press briefing, White House press secretary Karine Jean-Pierre highlighted the comments of Ocasio-Cortez and other Democrats in support of Biden but wasn't ready to say Biden has completely weathered the political storm.

"He's ready to go. He wants to get out there and continue to show that he has more work to do," Jean-Pierre said of Biden, who is set to return to the campaign trail in Michigan Friday after hosting a NATO summit this week in Washington.

With his five decades in politics on the line, Biden spent Monday and Tuesday on offense to prove he should remain the Democratic nominee.

He sent a letter Monday to congressional Democrats telling them, “The question of how we move forward has been well-aired for over a week now. And it’s time for it to end.” Later in a surprise call into MSNBC's Morning Joe, Biden lashed out at "elites" who want him to drop out and argued Democratic voters have already made their preference for him clear in the Democratic primary.

Yet over the last two weeks, an explosion of media coverage on Biden's mental fitness suggests it's not going to be easy for Biden and his campaign to simply move on.

Biden has been the subject of reports from the New York Times and Washington Post detailing alarm within his own administration about Biden's mental lapses and signs of aging. White House officials faced questions Monday about a neurologist's multiple trips to the White House, with Biden's physician later clarifying that the visits weren't for Biden.

And in his interview with ABC's George Stephanopoulos last Friday, Biden was pressed about his ability to serve another term, whether he would commit to a cognitive test (he would not,) and whether he believes he's gotten frail.

House Democratic Caucus Chairman Rep. Pete Aguilar (D-CA) and Vice Chair of the Democratic Caucus Rep. Ted Lieu (D-CA) answer questions during a press conference following their weekly caucus meeting at the U.S. Capitol on July 9, 2024 in Washington, DC.
House Democratic Caucus Chairman Rep. Pete Aguilar (D-CA) and Vice Chair of the Democratic Caucus Rep. Ted Lieu (D-CA) answer questions during a press conference following their weekly caucus meeting at the U.S. Capitol on July 9, 2024 in Washington, DC.

A meeting Tuesday morning among congressional Democrats − billed as a "family" conversation − revealed a divided party over whether Biden is equipped to lead them to victory in November. Asked whether Democrats had gotten on the same page, Rep. Steve Cohen, D-Tenn., told reporters, "We're not even in the same book."

“I have heard from people in my district who are united in their concern for our country and our future," said Rep. Mikie Sherrill, D-N.J., who became the seventh House Democrat Tuesday to call for Biden to drop out. "They want a leader who can continue to build on our successes but is also able to turn the nation’s attention to the urgent threat that Trump presents."

And despite despite his backing of Biden, Schumer gave a quick answer when asked whether he's confident Biden has what it takes to win the election and serve another four years.

"As I've said before, I'm with Joe," Schumer said.

Sen. Chris Coons, D-Del. a longtime Biden ally, who has defended the president since the debate, noted that Biden "has a lifelong history of slight stutters or misstatements."

"You have to take what he's saying and doing now and reference it back against who he's been for his whole life and who he is: warm and connecting and genuine and motivating," Coons said.

Amid the Democratic unrest, the Biden campaign has tried to reframe the election against Trump, taking aim above all at Project 2025 − a set of policy goals created by the right-wing Heritage Foundation for Trump to implement if he's elected to a second president.

Sen. Ron Wyden, D-Oregon, said he's telling his constituents that Biden had "one rough night," referring to his rocky debate performance.

"If you elect Donald Trump, you're going to have four years of horrifically rough nights," Wyden said.

But Biden and Democrats have struggled to push that message amid the fallout of Biden's dismal debate performance.

President Joe Biden returns to the White House with first lady Jill Biden on July 7, 2024 in Washington, DC.
President Joe Biden returns to the White House with first lady Jill Biden on July 7, 2024 in Washington, DC.

Biden, who was already trailing Trump in most polls before the debate, is heading into the final months of the campaign a damaged candidate. A USA TODAY/Suffolk University post-debate poll found Trump ahead of Biden 41%-38%, gaining three percentage points on Biden since the debate. Other polls reflect a similar bounce for Trump.

A poll conducted by AARP found Trump beating Biden 44%-38% in the critical battleground state of Wisconsin, while Democratic Sen. Tammy Baldwin, D-Wisc., holds a 50%-45% over her Republican challenger, Eric Hovde, in the same state.

Whether Biden can turn around those numbers remains to be seen − but it is increasingly looking like the party won't turn to someone else.

"Right now, President Biden is the nominee and we support the Democratic nominee," said House Democratic Caucus chairman Rep. Pete Aguilar, D-Calif.

Contributing: Ken Tran, Riley Beggin, Sarah Wire and Rebecca Morin. Reach Joey Garrison on X, formerly Twitter, @joeygarrison.

This article originally appeared on USA TODAY: Biden has stopped the bleeding but not the damage in race vs. Trump

Advertisement