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U.S. Rep. Jim Clyburn, D-S.C., welcomes President Joe Biden.
Rep. Jim Clyburn is a longtime ally of President Joe Biden. Artie Walker Jr./AP

The Congressional Black Caucus Has Biden’s Back — Publicly

The CBC’s alliance with President Joe Biden is fraying behind the scenes, sources told NOTUS.

Rep. Jim Clyburn is a longtime ally of President Joe Biden. Artie Walker Jr./AP

Privately, some members of the Congressional Black Caucus believe that President Joe Biden needs to step down from the ticket to circumvent Democratic losses in November — even if they’re publicly standing behind him for pragmatic reasons, members and sources told NOTUS.

“I want somebody who can win, and if it’s Biden, it’s fine,” Rep. Emanuel Cleaver told NOTUS.

And if it’s someone else? “It’s also fine,” he said.

NOTUS spoke to over a dozen CBC members about why the powerful caucus has shown support for Biden even as other Democrats call for him to leave the race. Most expressed support for Biden for a myriad of reasons: empathy and loyalty to their party’s leader, his record of delivering wins for Black voters and simply that Biden is still the nominee and would be difficult to ditch. But some members are worried that Biden’s debate performance has ruined his chances of beating Trump in November and that dropping out of the race is the only way to prevent down-ballot losses.

The CBC isn’t the united front in support of Biden that it may appear from the outside.

“We’ve always prided ourselves on speaking in one voice,” one CBC member told NOTUS, requesting anonymity to comment on private discussions. “And I think there’s a lot of pressure to be a part of that one voice. … But I know how people feel, and I know what people come up to me and say.”

Rep. Ritchie Torres said there was “widespread concern.”

“We all saw what we saw during the debate,” he told NOTUS several hours after he broke with some of the caucus by issuing a statement about his reservations about Biden’s viability as a candidate.

At the same time, many CBC members think staying quiet publicly is their best bet, sources told NOTUS. The caucus has long been known for its pragmatism — Rep. Jim Clyburn told NOTUS in February that being slow and steady has yielded him many wins — and the same is true now. According to a source with close ties to the CBC and the Biden campaign, the thinking is that if the president insists he isn’t going anywhere, why should CBC members stick out their necks and say otherwise?

“He’s won the primaries. He controls the delegates, he controls the DNC, he controls the White House,” said the source, who requested anonymity to discuss details of a conversation they had with four CBC members, including some in caucus leadership.

“No one has power over him to make him say, ‘Don’t do this.’ He’s gonna run. He’s running,” the source said one CBC member told them.

The CBC has been repaid for its loyalty with attention from Biden, who addressed the caucus Monday evening via video call. He thanked them for supporting him and pleaded with them to continue.

“I mean it from the bottom of my heart. I need you! I’m not gonna disappoint you, I promise you,” Biden said to the caucus, according to a source who described meeting details to TheGrio.

CBC members heeded the call, and some explained the choice as the typical expectation of Black lawmakers. (So far, all but one of the seven House Democrats who have called for Biden to step down are white.)

“Black Democrats have saved democracy time and time again and will continue to do so when given an opportunity to participate in our democracy,” Virginia Rep. Jennifer McClellan, who sits on Biden’s campaign advisory board, told NOTUS. “Whether it’s fair or not, the Black community has had to clean up the mess of this country since we got here and we will continue to do so.”

Another member, who requested anonymity to be frank about intraparty dynamics, lamented: “Black people don’t have the luxury to be flippant. We really don’t have the luxury to have infinite options. We also don’t have the luxury to be wrong a lot of times.”

The member also questioned the “genuineness” of the calls to replace Biden with Vice President Kamala Harris, who could potentially become the first Black woman president. “If she were to run in 2028 after Joe Biden finishes his second term, will these same people be rallying behind her?” they said.

In terms of ultimately boosting Harris, a Democratic operative familiar with the campaign said they “think it is better for her for [the CBC] to be supportive of Biden and have others push him out.”

There’s also another pragmatic reason for backing Biden: He remains the president and has the power to effect change. And some members acknowledged they want Biden to make their support worthwhile.

“After this is over, we’re going to raise our voice,” Rep. Jonathan Jackson said. “I think our gains should be commensurate with our participation. We’re talking about going to rebuild Gaza and Ukraine. What about rebuilding the South Side of Chicago? What about rebuilding Dallas or Raleigh or southeast D.C. right here in the capital?”

But all of these calculations could change. Cleaver told NOTUS that many CBC members were “moving back and forth” in their opinions of Biden’s future on the ticket.

“They listen to people at home and advisers, and they move back and forth,” he said. “Like I told somebody right now, ‘You know, it’s just a mild rain.’ If it reaches hurricane proportions, God forbid a tsunami, then that changes a lot.”

Tinashe Chingarande and Calen Razor are NOTUS reporters and Allbritton Journalism Institute fellows.