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President Joe Biden
President Joe Biden speaks to the House Democratic Caucus Issues Conference at Lansdowne Resort. Andrew Harnik/AP

Joe Biden Hasn’t Lost Dems on Capitol Hill. Keeping Them Won’t Be So Simple.

Congressional Democrats largely stayed in line with Biden on their first day back to Capitol Hill. That may change soon.

President Joe Biden speaks to the House Democratic Caucus Issues Conference at Lansdowne Resort. Andrew Harnik/AP

Joe Biden still has a long way to go to solidify his status as the Democratic nominee, but Monday might go down as the first day since his dismal debate when things got better and not worse for the president.

As lawmakers returned to Capitol Hill Monday, most Democrats weren’t offering their unequivocal support for the president — but there also wasn’t a new tide of lawmakers calling for Biden to step down either.

Instead, Democrats, once again, largely ducked questions surrounding the president Monday night.

Rep. Debbie Dingell of Michigan would only discuss an upcoming conversation with Canadian Prime Minister Justin Trudeau about the Great Lakes.

Rep. Jim Clyburn told reporters he would only talk about Project 2025. And even when NOTUS asked whether Biden’s debate pulled attention from the conservative manifesto, Clyburn refused to answer directly.

Rep. Mike Thompson of California had a one-word response to whether he had concerns about Biden remaining at the top of the ticket: “Thanks.”

A week of recess and the Fourth of July holiday gave lawmakers a convenient excuse to lay low and avoid reporters after Biden’s debate. The few Democrats who went on the record to back the president, or call for his withdrawal, willingly released statements or subjected themselves to media interviews.

That made Monday evening — as one podcaster put it — the “Super Bowl” of congressional reporting. A near-rabid Capitol Hill press corps set out to pin down as many Democratic lawmakers as possible and put them on the record.

NOTUS alone had 12 reporters on Capitol Hill Monday night, surrounding various entrances and exits to the House floor, in addition to the more than 100 other reporters staking out the first votes of the week. And yet, there were hardly any new voices going on the record to call for Biden to step aside — even if there were hardly any lawmakers who offered unconditional support either.

A late-night text from one House Democrat — who is privately pushing for Biden to withdraw — confirmed what most reporters could see Monday from their on-the-record conversations: The president and his team are locking down Democratic support.

“Dems are folding all over the place,” this lawmaker texted. “There’s a real circling of the wagons happening. Instead of breaking, the dam is holding. For now.”

The Democratic lawmaker went on to predict that “very few members” would openly push for Biden to step aside in the coming days.

“They’ve outflanked us with the CBC and others,” this lawmaker texted, referring to Biden’s efforts to gather support from the Congressional Black Caucus. “Members are becoming resigned to Biden holding all the cards here, and us having no real say in the matter. The anticipated ‘intervention’ is crumbling in the face of Biden preempting it. The only thing that could change this is some devastating new polling, a major new gaffe, or some revelation that reopens the matter. It feels closed for now.”

For most Democrats, the matter was closed Monday. They didn’t feel a need to talk to the press. But for the lawmakers who did engage with reporters, several tried to have it both ways — acknowledging the stakes of Biden staying the course while also not disavowing him entirely.

But there were, of course, some Democrats who owned up to the problems Biden and Democrats are facing.

“We need a plan to win this campaign,” Rep. Scott Peters of California told NOTUS. “I’m still waiting to hear it.”

Peters said last week that the Biden campaign had appeared “arrogant” since the president’s debate on June 27, and he noted that, even before the debate, Biden was down in key swing states.

Asked Monday night if it was clear to him Biden couldn’t win, Peters was diplomatic. “It’s not going in the right direction,” he said. “So we need to right that ship.”

Biden tried to get ahead of the Democratic uneasiness on Monday. Before lawmakers descended upon Capitol Hill, Biden proclaimed in a letter to Democrats that he would charge ahead with his presidential campaign. He also did a feisty phone interview with his favorite cable show, MSNBC’s “Morning Joe,” in which he dared his fellow Democrats to challenge him at the convention.

Still, Rep. Brittany Pettersen of Colorado expressed concerns about Biden remaining the nominee. She told NOTUS that “the stakes couldn’t be higher” and that it is up to Biden and the first lady to chart a course.

“I don’t think people are concerned about who Biden is as the president,” she said. “I think it’s more about making sure that we defeat the greatest threat to this country.”

Rep. Emanuel Cleaver told NOTUS there are “obviously” concerns that Biden might not be the strongest nominee.

“I mean, we lost ground,” he said. “Almost two weeks ago.”

“But the race is still ours to win over the next three and a half months,” he added. “So I’m not ready to slam the door on President Biden.”

It’s unclear — 11 days after the debate and just weeks before the Democratic National Convention — what, exactly, it will take for lawmakers to slam that door shut.

One House Democrat, who spoke to NOTUS on the condition of anonymity to discuss internal dynamics, predicted a “drip, drip, drip” of defections won’t do much to sway the president. In fact, this lawmaker said, it might make Biden “more defensive.”

Still, this lawmaker didn’t anticipate a new wave of Democrats defecting with the president just yet.

“It’s when polling comes out,” the lawmaker said. “I think that’s actually when we look to see, ‘Are we going to lose the House?’ And that’s when people are gonna flip out.”

The impact of Biden at the top of the ticket does, indeed, look increasingly dire for Democrats. Private polls, like the ones Rep. Susan Wild shared Sunday night on a conference call with senior Democratic leadership, suggest Biden will be a drag on Democrats down ballot.

Already, even before the debate, Biden appeared to be running far behind a number of Senate Democrats running for reelection in key battleground states like Pennsylvania, Nevada, Arizona and Wisconsin.

In that sense, with more bad news on the horizon, Monday was more of a stay of execution than a definitive decision on Biden’s future. But if Biden can make it through this week, he may be in a much stronger position. Next week is the Republican National Convention, where the focus will almost certainly be back on Donald Trump and the GOP. Moreover, Congress will be out of town. It will again be difficult for a jailbreak moment of Democrats coming together against Biden to move the president.

For now, lawmakers don’t quite seem ready to give up on the president — at least not until there are caucus-wide meetings Tuesday in the House and Senate.

On the House side, Democrats are taking the extraordinary step of holding a closed-door meeting off-site on Tuesday and demanding that Democratic lawmakers check their phones at the door to prevent leaks. The result of that meeting — in addition to the customary lunch where Senate Democrats meet behind closed doors on the first full day back of the week — could be pivotal for Biden’s survival.

But it’s also true that there is plenty of Biden’s blood in the water. Democrats did, in fact, express concerns about the president Monday night; it’s just that they did it in such loose terms that they have a mile of wiggle room.

Once again, Democrats said the conversations they were having were part of “a process.”

“What we’re in the middle of is a process,” chairperson of the New Democrat Coalition Rep. Annie Kuster said. “And we’re not like the Republicans. We don’t have a cult. We have a conversation. And that’s what we’re discussing — the impact in various districts.”

“We’re having a very legitimate conversation,” Rep. Jim Himes told NOTUS after he expressed concerns about Biden on a private call with House Democratic leadership. “I just hope we can wrap it up sooner rather than later.”

That may be more of a dream than a demand. Democrats don’t seem to be anywhere near unanimity on the topic of Biden. For every House Democrat who breaks with the president, more are publicly championing his candidacy. If anything, what started as a fracture among Democrats about how the party manages its nominee is growing into a chasm.

Rep. Glenn Ivey told NOTUS he’s with Biden “as long as his health is alright.” He had a “bad night at the debate,” Ivey acknowledged, but the president has been “great ever since.”

“I want to see the Biden-Harris ticket go forward,” he said.

Top Biden surrogate Sen. Chris Coons was also resolute. Biden, he said, “is going to be our nominee, and he is going to win this election.”

Coons even went so far as to address his colleagues’ concerns that Biden needs to soothe voter anxiety at interviews and public events. “He’s doing it,” Coons claimed. “He’s doing it well.”

Even progressive Rep. Ilhan Omar — one of the foremost critics of Biden’s posture toward Israel and Gaza — called Biden “the best president of my lifetime.”

“We have his back,” she said.

But the president’s problems could turn quickly. Democratic senators were far more enigmatic about their stance on Biden than the House counterparts who chose to speak to reporters on Monday, and the senators may be far more influential.

While Biden claimed on Friday that Sen. Mark Warner was “the only one” who was expressing concerns about him remaining the nominee, the truth is there are plenty of Democrats in the Senate who sound less than resolute: Tammy Baldwin, Sherrod Brown, Dick Durbin, Martin Heinrich, Patty Murray, Brian Schatz, Tina Smith, Jon Tester and Sheldon Whitehouse have all sounded less than enthusiastic about Biden staying at the top of the ticket.

The Senate, the legislative chamber that formed Biden into the politician he is today, could be the chamber that ultimately undoes him.

But he at least has another day to win his old colleagues over.