President Biden's dam begins to crack after new Democratic detractors speak out


WASHINGTON — Just when it looked like President Joe Biden was starting to unite congressional Democrats around his embattled reelection bid, the dam has cracked.

A drip-drip of calls from party faithful for a dramatic last-minute change atop the Democratic ticket this November is turning into something else entirely.

What had started as pleadings from a few lone lawmakers, donors and media figures in its earliest days after the incumbent 81-year-old's poor performance at his June 27 debate with Republican Donald Trump now includes warnings from the country's first-ever female House speaker, plus senior Senate Democrats and the nation's most well-known celebrities.

First came Sen. Michael Bennett, D-Colo., who gave a blistering assessment of Biden's reelection bid in an interview Tuesday night on CNN, warning that Trump could defeat the incumbent Democrat "by a landslide and take with it the Senate and the House."

More: Jill Biden, facing calls for her husband to step down, defends him fiercely

By Wednesday morning, former House Speaker Nancy Pelosi, D-Calif., seemed to question whether Biden should remain the Democratic nominee during an appearance on MSNBC's "Morning Joe," a television program Biden himself called into two days earlier defending his 2024 candidacy and is widely known to regularly watch.

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

Sen. Richard Blumenthal, D-Conn., previously supportive of Biden, told reporters he too is "deeply concerned about Joe Biden winning this election." U.S. Rep. Ritchie Torres, D-N.Y, said in a statement "there must be a serious reckoning with the down-ballot of whomever we nominate."

"What matters is not how we feel but what the numbers tell us," Torres said Wednesday.

President Joe Biden speaks as he meets with national union leaders at the American Federation of Labor and Congress of Industrial Organizations (AFL-CIO) headquarters in Washington, DC, on July 10, 2024.
President Joe Biden speaks as he meets with national union leaders at the American Federation of Labor and Congress of Industrial Organizations (AFL-CIO) headquarters in Washington, DC, on July 10, 2024.

The shift comes after most Democrats in Congress, which reconvened this week, have so far held off on publicly calling for Biden to withdraw following his disastrous debate performance last month − even as many express grave concerns about the odds of Biden beating Trump.

Aiming to shore up support, Biden's campaign is making another effort Thursday by sending three senior campaign advisors to meet with Senate Democrats. The full caucus normally only meets once a week.

What's at stake? Although nine House Democrats have said publicly Biden should end his campaign, no Democratic senators have gone as far, and the president has held onto support from the entire Black and Hispanic caucuses, two key voices in the Democratic coalition.

Rep. James Clyburn, D-S.C., a top Biden campaign surrogate, told reporters Wednesday he has "no feelings" about Pelosi's comments.

House Minority Leader Hakeem Jeffries, D-N.Y., has been holding several meetings with Democratic lawmakers throughout the week to discuss Biden's candidacy and fitness to serve. Jeffries has told his members in those private discussions he will bring their concerns back to Biden, according to a House Democrat familiar with the meetings.

When asked if Biden should remain the Democratic nominee, Sen. Tim Kaine, D-Va., told NewsNation: "I have complete confidence that Joe Biden will do the patriotic thing for the country. And he's going to make that decision. He's never disappointed me.“

More: 'I've been doing this a long time': Joe Biden courts pivotal Pennsylvania voters after rocky debate

But Biden's mounting resistance extends beyond the Capitol.

Actor George Clooney − a major Democratic donor who just last month co-hosted a lucrative Hollywood fundraiser for Biden − called for a new Democratic nominee in a New York Times opinion piece. He said the Biden he saw at the fundraiser was not the same man he’s known for years, writing that the one battle Biden can’t win is the “fight against time.”

"We are not going to win in November with this president. On top of that, we won’t win the House, and we’re going to lose the Senate," Clooney wrote.

Actor and filmmaker Rob Reiner, another deep-pocketed Democratic donor, agreed. "We acknowledge all he has done for our country. But Democracy is facing an existential threat. We need someone younger to fight back. Joe Biden must step aside," Reiner wrote on X, formerly known as Twitter.

Biden did not address his party's unrest during a brief stop at AFL-CIO headquarters in Washington, where he spoke to union leaders. "I've never been more optimistic about America's chances, not because of me, but because of what we're doing together," Biden told the group.

Biden campaign spokesman Ammar Moussa declined to comment on the new calls for Biden to withdraw. He instead pointed to Biden’s past remarks emphatically affirming he’s staying in the race, including in a letter Monday to congressional Democrats.

With the Democratic National Convention next month in Chicago − and Republicans holding their convention next week − Democrats face a time crunch if they want to find a different nominee.

More: Democratic Sen. Michael Bennet warns Biden could lose to Trump in 'landslide' after debate

Biden, who is hosting a NATO summit commemorating the alliance's 75th anniversary, is set to take questions from reporters at a press conference Thursday that some Democrats have circled as an important test for the president.

But other Democrats are starting to sound the alarm with a greater sense of urgency.

Rep. Earl Blumenauer, D-Ore., who became the ninth House Democrat on Wednesday to call for Biden to step aside, said it was "a painful and difficult conclusion."

"There is no question in my mind that we will all be better served if the president steps aside as the Democratic nominee and manages a transition under his terms."

"Joe Biden is a patriot but is no longer the best candidate to defeat Trump," Rep. Pat Ryan, D-N.Y., who represents a swing district, said in a statement Wednesday. "For the good of our country, I am asking Joe Biden to step aside − to deliver on his promise to be a bridge to a new generation of leaders"

Reach Joey Garrison on X, formerly Twitter, @joeygarrison.

This article originally appeared on USA TODAY: Biden's dam begins to crack with new Democratic detractors