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Democratic Leaders Swarmed TV Trying to Project Calm About Biden. But Conversations Are ‘Ongoing.’

While fellow party leaders deflected on Biden’s age, Rep. Hakeem Jeffries called for all hands on deck to recover from Thursday’s debate.

Hakeem Jeffries
J. Scott Applewhite/AP

With the Democratic Party in disarray after Thursday’s debate raised questions about President Joe Biden’s mental fitness, House Minority Leader Hakeem Jeffries shifted responsibility to the party to find a path forward.

“So the moment that we’re in right now is a comeback moment, and it’s going to require all of us to lean in, articulate a forward-looking message as to why the Democratic platform is best equipped to deal with the challenges facing the American people,” Jeffries said on MSNBC’s “The Weekend.”

During an all-out Sunday media blitz, the party’s all-stars dotted the major networks: Rep. Jim Clyburn, former Speaker Nancy Pelosi, and Sens. Raphael Warnock, Chris Coons and John Fetterman ignored questions of Biden’s age to attack former President Donald Trump. They committed to Biden — “We have a man who has the competence and the character to lead this great nation,” said Warnock — and called the debate “one bad night.”

Sticking to the script, they also repeatedly pointed to the past as evidence of what could happen in the future.

“I do not believe that Joe Biden has a problem leading for the next four years because he’s done a great job of leading for the last three and a half years,” Clyburn said on CNN’s “State of the Union.” “I always say that the best predictor of future behavior is past performance.”

“I’d really like to remind everybody watching that right now Biden is 1 and Trump is still 0, and he’s the only person who has ever beaten Trump,” Fetterman said on “Fox News Sunday.” “And I really believe Joe Biden will do that again, despite all of the Democrats wetting the bed over that kind of thing.”

“I think he’s the only Democrat who could beat Donald Trump,” Coons said on ABC’s “This Week.”

Jeffries, too, called the debate a setback. But while other surrogates pledged firm allegiance to Biden, he subtly acknowledged the discourse about Biden as the party’s nominee among Democratic House members. When asked for his response to concerned conference members, Jeffries admitted, “We’re in the process of having conversations with various parts of the House Democratic caucus. That’s ongoing, that will continue.”

The Biden family will convene Sunday at Camp David, where NBC News reports they will discuss the future of his campaign. The meeting was planned before the debate. Since Biden’s multiple gaffes and extended pauses during the debate, Democratic operatives, donors and voters (and, privately, members) have been in a panic. Major media outlets, including The New York Times editorial board, immediately called for Biden to step down. Prominent party strategists have openly discussed the process of removing Biden as the party’s nominee.

But the simplest (and maybe the only) way for there to be a new Democratic presidential nominee would be for Biden to step down. So far, there’s no indication he will. At a rally Friday in North Carolina, a completely different Biden appeared onstage. Energetic and quippy, he declared his intention to remain the party’s nominee.

Democratic heavy hitters quickly defended Biden after Thursday’s performance.

Meanwhile, potential replacement nominees, including Vice President Kamala Harris and Michigan Gov. Gretchen Whitmer, re-upped their support for the president.

Though party leaders are calling for Democrats to “stay the course,” initial data tracking the debate’s voter impact seems to confirm the party’s fears. A new CBS News poll shows 72% of registered voters believe Biden does not have the mental and cognitive health to serve as president.

When asked about the poll, Pelosi evaded: “Well, what do they think about the other guy?”

Ben T.N. Mause is a NOTUS reporter and an Allbritton Journalism Institute fellow.