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The Democratic Dynamic: Publicly Support Biden, Privately Hope for the End

“It’s hard to imagine anything Biden or the campaign could do at this point to stop the bleed,” one Democratic member told NOTUS.

President Joe Biden is seated during a campaign event.
Alex Brandon/AP

As President Joe Biden fights for his political life, many Democrats are hoping for its end — even if few are willing to say so publicly.

One Democratic member told NOTUS that efforts to pressure Biden to withdraw from the race were “speeding up” on Wednesday. The Democrat, who said they have been speaking with colleagues regularly since Biden’s debate performance, said there was near-unanimity among Democrats about whether Biden should remove himself from the ticket.

“Much more member chatter today,” the lawmaker said in a text. “It’s hard to imagine anything Biden or the campaign could do at this point to stop the bleed.”

Publicly, most are staying quiet. “Nobody wants to be Lloyd Doggett,” the member told NOTUS, referencing the first Democrat to call for Biden to step down. (Even though Doggett faced a torrent of online criticism from Democrats, he was joined Wednesday afternoon by Rep. Raul Grijalva.)

But Democratic lawmakers, party officials and strategists told NOTUS that they expect concerns to spill into public view more and more in the coming days. Democrats are just watching to see who speaks out next — and how Biden and his campaign respond.

“If you would have asked me yesterday, there would have been a 20% chance the president gets out,” a state party chair told NOTUS on Wednesday. “And now, it’s a 75% chance, 24 hours later.”

“I can’t imagine a scenario where he isn’t getting out at this point because the dam can only hold so much pressure,” this person said, adding that they and other Democratic leaders felt a “moral obligation” to make sure the party’s ticket was as strong as it could be.

This state party chair added that they couldn’t envision Biden staying in at this point, with the pressure only mounting and the president doing little to make it better. Other Democratic officials they’ve spoken with have undergone a similar shift, they said, driven by a growing fear of what a weak presidential nominee could mean for candidates down the ballot.

“We’re hearing from voters. We’re hearing from donors. We’ve all been in this business, most state chairs, for at least 10 to 20 years. We just know where this is headed,” this party chair said.

While hardly anyone has wanted to speak out with their name attached to comments, plenty of Democrats have been happy to trash Biden anonymously.

On Monday, a top Democratic donor called the situation “Armageddon” to The Washington Post. On Tuesday, Axios reported that, in a preplanned meeting, House Democrats called Biden the “donkey in the room.” And on Wednesday, a Democratic senator told Punchbowl News that “we kind of just feel lied to.”

Reuters also reported Wednesday that about 25 Democrats are preparing to call on Biden to step down.

Biden is scheduled for an interview with ABC News and a few campaign appearances, but Democratic insiders are skeptical that it will be enough to quell the uprising.

The official line remains that Biden is the party leader and that Democrats are sticking with him. Govs. Gretchen Whitmer of Michigan and Josh Shapiro of Pennsylvania have voiced public support, and California Gov. Gavin Newsom plans to campaign for the president this week.

Rep. Jasmine Crockett of Texas made the practical case for sticking with the president on Tuesday, noting logistical problems getting a new nominee on the ballot and assuaging voter concerns about overriding the Democratic primary process. “Whining won’t win,” Crockett texted NOTUS later.

Carol Fowler, a DNC member from South Carolina, also dismissed calls to replace Biden, saying he remains the party’s strongest presidential nominee.

“I don’t have any reason to think Biden is not going to stay, and I’m a big Biden fan,” Fowler said. “I happen to think he’s our strongest candidate right now. I believe he can beat Donald Trump, and that’s the whole idea.”

During a call with campaign staff on Wednesday, Biden reiterated that he would remain in the race, saying his campaign against Trump was too important to back down from.

“I’m in the race to the end, and we’re going to win because when Democrats unite, we will always win,” the president said, according to a source familiar with the call. “Just as we beat Donald Trump in 2020, we’re going to beat him again in 2024.”

His remarks were bolstered on the call by Vice President Kamala Harris, who said she and other Democrats would “follow our president’s lead,” according to the source.

But the Biden campaign’s strategy of minimizing the problem and hitting back at its critics may be backfiring. The strategy seemed best summarized over the weekend when deputy campaign manager Rob Flaherty suggested those calling on Biden to step aside were “bed wetters,” which didn’t seem to sit well with House Democrats.

Another Democratic strategist said calls for Biden to be replaced are growing just as much because of the campaign’s response to the debate as the debate itself. They noted that, with the exception of a rally in North Carolina a day after the debate, the president has been mostly absent from public view. Only now does he seem to be reaching out personally to key members of the Democratic Party to reassure them.

“That’s why you’re seeing people freak out,” said this strategist, who added that the odds of Biden stepping aside are higher Wednesday than they were Tuesday. “We need to know he’s going to be able to push the case here.”

The situation is causing particular stress for down-ballot candidates, who are worried about a bloodbath even though party strategists note that the debate actually juiced House and Senate fundraising, and some top Democrats remain confident in their candidates’ chances.

One former Democratic lawmaker now working on campaigns said they had spoken to “about a dozen members in contested races” and that the consensus was that Biden must go.

“Everyone believes that Biden must pass the torch,” this former lawmaker wrote to NOTUS. “None will say it publicly (nor would I at this stage) in part because that might backfire. Not sure if anyone is telling Biden how strong the sentiment is among down-ballot Dems in key races.”

The state party chair offered a similar explanation for why more Democratic officials weren’t making their concerns public, saying other leaders are worried that if he weren’t replaced on the ticket, the calls to withdraw would hurt his chances of winning.

“That is a worst-case scenario,” the chair said.

For now, most Democrats are just watching from the sidelines, hoping more lawmakers will join the chorus to call for Biden to step down.

“A lot of people are tipping their hats to Lloyd and acknowledging that his statement was incredibly thoughtful,” the Democratic lawmaker said. “He was the first to say the emperor has no clothes, and he said it very thoughtfully and respectfully. I admire him.”

Alex Roarty and Riley Rogerson are reporters at NOTUS. Matt Fuller is Capitol Hill bureau chief at NOTUS.