© 2024 Allbritton Journalism Institute

Democrats Have an Answer to Questions About Biden: Trump

Democrats complained about the press, raised alarms about Project 2025 and ignored the questions altogether on their first day back on Capitol Hill.

Republican presidential candidate former President Donald Trump
Republican presidential candidate former President Donald Trump speaks at a Get Out The Vote rally at Coastal Carolina University. Manuel Balce Ceneta/AP

As reporters bombarded lawmakers with questions Monday night about Joe Biden, there was only one topic Democrats really wanted to discuss: Donald Trump.

The only problem is, it feels like no one is listening.

“I’m not talking about anything except Project 2025,” Rep. Jim Clyburn, a South Carolina Democrat, said into the void as reporters asked him Monday if Biden should stay in the presidential race.

Clyburn’s not the only one. Rep. Shontel Brown of Ohio deflected when approached by NOTUS: “What I’m concerned about is Project 2025.”

Rep. Jasmine Crockett agreed. “This is all a complete distraction,” she told NOTUS. “The real threat is around Project 2025. The real threat is MAGA.”

“Project 2025,” said Rep. Ayanna Pressley. “It is a complete dismantling and undoing of the federal government as we know it. So I’m not focused on a 90-minute debate.”

And if the topic of the day wasn’t clear enough, when NOTUS asked Rep. Frank Pallone Jr. if Biden is able to defeat Trump, an aide interjected: “Project 2025.”

When pressed again, Pallone said he was “not speculating on that.”

“I just want to concentrate on the fact that we have to defeat Donald Trump,” he said. “All this speculation is not helpful because it takes away from the fact that we can’t have Trump as president.”

But Democrats aren’t avoiding the speculation, even among themselves. Democratic lawmakers promised robust, “healthy” internal conversations about the future this week, setting up high-stakes weekly conference meetings and lunches on Tuesday.

Many shared their own concerns on Monday that Biden isn’t up to the task, even if they stopped short of calling for him to stand down. Sen. Patty Murray, a senior figure who is widely respected by her colleagues, got close: “At this critical time for our country, President Biden must seriously consider the best way to preserve his incredible legacy and secure it for the future,” she said in a statement Monday night.

As the questions about Biden swirled, though, most Democrats were remarkably disciplined in their messaging.

Asked if she has concerns about Biden remaining the nominee, Congressional Progressive Caucus Chair Pramila Jayapal argued that “every reporter should spend at least equal time asking every Republican if they are going to call on Donald Trump to step down, and also focusing on asking every Republican if they support Project 2025.”

But Biden’s dismal performance in last week’s debate has left almost no room for that conversation. Asked whether the focus on Biden’s viability isn’t its own argument for him stepping aside, Jayapal took her own advice: She stayed focused on Trump.

“I said at least as much time,” she said, steamrolling right through the question. “I believe, looking at the news analysis, that that is not the case.”

Time and again Monday night, Democrats turned questions about Biden into familiar criticisms of the press.

Asked about Biden remaining the nominee, Sen. Chris Coons said he was “really struck that no one’s asked me a question about should Donald Trump drop out.”

Asked about Biden’s debate performance, Sen. Ron Wyden acknowledged it was a “rough night.”

“I just feel very strongly that people should also zero in on the fact that having Donald Trump as president would be four years of very rough nights,” Wyden said.

And when NOTUS asked Sen. Ben Ray Luján if there was anything Biden could do to lose his support, Luján said he’d only stop supporting Biden if he becomes a convicted felon too.

“That disqualifies the other guy,” he said.

Of course, some Democrats think that the questions about Biden’s age and mental state are actually the greatest cause for Trump fading into the background. It’s why some of those lawmakers said they’re calling on Biden to drop out of the race.

“I just don’t see how it happens,” Rep. Mike Quigley of Illinois, who has urged Biden to step down as the nominee, said when asked if a Biden victory is possible. If he had the ability to defeat Trump, Quigley said, Biden “would have shown it in the time since the debate. And the numbers are going the opposite way.”

Rep. Jared Huffman didn’t go quite as far, but he seems to share the same anxieties. “I support continuing this conversation and winning the election,” he told NOTUS when asked if Biden should be the Democratic nominee.

“The most important thing is to defeat Donald Trump in November,” Hawaii Sen. Brian Schatz likewise told NOTUS, saying Democrats will have some “serious family conversations” about what happens next.

“I don’t want to get in front of that,” he said when asked for his own view.

Other Democrats were just as cryptic. They used familiar euphemisms about “a process” and having an “important national conversation,” as Sen. Chris Van Hollen of Maryland put it. (Van Hollen declined to share his stance in that very conversation.)

“I have confidence the president will make the right decision for the country,” Van Hollen said. “He understands what’s at stake.”

Sen. Tina Smith of Minnesota said the party is having a “big robust discussion about what comes next and what we should do,” which she argued is a healthy conversation to have.

“But I am concerned,” she said. “It’s extremely important that we all keep our focus on making sure Donald Trump is never president again.”

The next part of those statements — that Biden might not be the best Democrat to defeat Trump — has largely gone unsaid by these Democrats.

Other Democratic lawmakers avoided the questions altogether. Sen. John Hickenlooper walked to votes in silence, not even acknowledging the reporters asking him about the president. Rep. Joe Neguse responded with a simple “no comment.” Rep. Josh Harder just smiled and shook his head. Reps. Lauren Underwood and Haley Stevens took refuge in numbers. When asked about Biden, Stevens rebuffed the question. “I’m just catching up with an old friend,” she said.

But the message of the day for Democrats was Trump. And as much as reporters tried to get them to respond to questions about Biden Monday night, Democrats kept coming back to it.

In the words of Rep. Jim McGovern, Trump is “a clear and present danger for our democracy.”

McGovern was the rare Democrat on Monday willing to say he believes Biden could defeat Trump, even if he wouldn’t share why. “I don’t want to get into that right now,” he said.

And when he was pressed on whether he supports Biden staying at the top of the ticket, he was still less than definitive.

“We’ll talk more about that later,” McGovern answered.

Does he even have an opinion?

“Not that I want to express right now,” he said.