Why some Democrats are sticking with Joe Biden

US President Joe Biden. (REUTERS)
US President Joe Biden. (REUTERS)

Summary

Progressives and Congressional Black Caucus members are among the loudest voices defending the president.

WASHINGTON : Democrats on Capitol Hill have thus far largely fallen in line behind President Biden or stopped short of calling for him to withdraw from the race, as he continues to try to assure Democratic voters and donors that he can effectively campaign against, and ultimately defeat, Donald Trump.

His backers point to his legislative record, saying it is deserving of a second term and that they can campaign on achievements such as the infrastructure law and a measure that lowered prescription drug prices. Others say it would be unfair to call for him to be removed from the ticket after he won the Democratic primaries, albeit without a serious challenger. And more say the consternation stands to plunge the party further into chaos, taking the attention off Trump.

Progressives and members of the Congressional Black Caucus are among the loudest voices defending Biden as the party’s nominee. They have provided Biden some cover as he tries to firm up his campaign following the late June debate that exacerbated concerns about Biden’s age and fitness for office and brought his candidacy to the brink.

“I’m riding with Biden," said Rep. Jim Clyburn (D., S.C.), one of Biden’s biggest allies and a Black Caucus member. “Just check his record."

While anxiety remains high, of the 213 House Democrats, seven have publicly called for Biden to be replaced as the nominee. Many more, including those in competitive districts, have expressed concern and said he needs to prove himself to voters and lawmakers. None of the 51 Democratic senators have called for Biden to remove himself, though much of the support for Biden in the chamber he used to serve in is tepid.

“He’s been the best president of my lifetime, so we have his back," said Rep. Ilhan Omar (D., Minn.), a progressive critic of Biden’s handling of the Israel-Hamas war and the resulting humanitarian crisis in Gaza.

A desire to focus on Trump

Democrats’ major defense is: Look at the other guy. Instead of answering questions about why Biden should remain their nominee, some Democrats on Tuesday tried to shift attention to Trump, the former president and presumptive Republican nominee.

Facing repeated questions about Biden, Rep. Ted Lieu (D., Calif.), the vice-chair of the House Democratic Caucus, said: “Donald Trump should drop out of the race."

Ahead of Trump’s Tuesday evening rally in Florida, first lady Jill Biden bashed Trump’s record on abortion and his three Supreme Court appointees who voted to overturn a constitutional right to access the procedure.

“Donald Trump is trying to tell women he’s a moderate on reproductive rights. Does he think we forgot that his Supreme Court justices killed Roe v. Wade and that he brags about it?" the first lady asked.

If Biden withdraws from the race, Vice President Kamala Harris is his likeliest replacement as the Democratic presidential nominee. But other prominent Democrats might jockey for the nomination or be recruited by donors to pursue it, even if Biden steps aside and endorses Harris. Some Democrats argue that such turmoil would stand to damage the eventual nominee—and House and Senate candidates.

Fairness to Biden and voters

Some lawmakers backing Biden point to his victory in the Democratic presidential primary this year. Biden faced little serious Democratic competition, but some lawmakers have said pressuring him out of the race wouldn’t be fair to voters.

“The voters have already chosen their nominee," said Rep. Lou Correa (D., Calif.).

It also may not be fair to the president, some say, arguing Biden has been a loyal Democrat in public service for decades.

“I’ve known Joe Biden 30 years. He is the most accomplished and consequential president in my lifetime," said Sen. Chris Coons (D., Del.), another longtime Biden ally and national co-chair of his campaign. “I think it would be a huge mistake for the Democratic Party, because of one evening and one debate, to turn aside from supporting him."

Some say it isn’t fair to judge Biden primarily on his age and how he presents without taking into account his record.

“Ageism is something we don’t cater to, I would say, as CBC members," Rep. Hank Johnson (D., Ga.) said. “We respect our elders."

Johnson, a Black lawmaker representing Atlanta’s inner eastern suburbs, said a small number of constituents told him they would prefer Biden step aside. The difficulties of doing so would be like changing “horses literally three-quarters of the way to the other side of the stream."

Run on Biden’s record

Some lawmakers who have served in Congress with Biden, a former senator from Delaware, point to a series of accomplishments that they are campaigning on, such as: lowering the cost of insulin to $35, expanding student loan forgiveness programs using executive action and passing the first substantial gun legislation in decades.

“If you look at the last 3½ years…you have someone that has made LGBTQ rights and women’s rights a key cornerstone of his campaign," said Rep. Robert Garcia (D., Calif.).

A counterpoint: Democrats’ internal polling data shows that their vulnerable incumbents facing tough races are polling ahead of Biden. Some of those lawmakers are concerned that a lack of enthusiasm for Biden will be a drag on the ticket and cause them to lose seats.

“Is he a great campaigner? I’m not sure. I think that’s what makes a lot of folks nervous," said Rep. Julia Brownley (D., Calif.). “But in terms of his ability to govern, I don’t doubt that for one second."

More critics may come

Rep. Jerrold Nadler (D., N.Y.), who said in a private call of Democratic leaders on Sunday that he would like Biden to be replaced, said Tuesday that his concerns remain but that those are “beside the point" now.

Still, Democratic lawmakers who are sticking with Biden acknowledge they are somewhat stuck on a hamster wheel, potentially facing more moments of Biden stumbles throughout the campaign. Biden has acknowledged he had a bad debate performance, and subsequent interviews and conversations haven’t put an end to worries that he will falter again.

Two people familiar with internal House Democratic discussions said they expected the number of people calling for Biden to step down to soon increase.

Democrats who have called for Biden to be replaced are increasingly worried that Biden isn’t up to the task of campaigning and risks a Trump victory. Biden’s poll numbers against Trump have slipped since the debate.

“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 has called for Biden to withdraw. “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 to our democracy, to our freedoms, and to our country."

Write to Natalie Andrews at natalie.andrews@wsj.com, Katy Stech Ferek at katy.stech@wsj.com and Owen Tucker-Smith at Owen.Tucker-Smith@wsj.com

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