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Democrats, Swallowing Fears About Biden’s Candidacy, Remain Behind Him

Democrats, Swallowing Fears About Biden’s Candidacy, Remain Behind Him

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Congressional Democrats indicated on Tuesday that they were unwilling — at least for now — to mount an effort to push aside President Biden despite grave concerns about his age, mental acuity and ability to win re-election, emerging from a crucial day of meetings with no consensus about whether he should remain in the race.

Both in public and behind closed doors, House and Senate Democrats from across the political spectrum, including ultraliberals in safe seats and centrists in politically vulnerable districts, have raised grave fears about Mr. Biden’s viability as a candidate. But no Democratic leader on Capitol Hill was willing to ask the president to withdraw.

Instead, they emerged on Tuesday swearing allegiance to Mr. Biden, if not exactly in enthusiastic or expansive terms.

“I’m with Joe,” Senator Chuck Schumer of New York, the majority leader, repeatedly replied, as he sidestepped multiple questions about Mr. Biden’s fitness for office.

“We are ridin’ with Biden,” Representative James E. Clyburn of South Carolina proclaimed nine times as he sought to shut down reporters’ queries.

Still, House and Senate Democrats left their respective private meetings on Tuesday deeply fractured. Asked whether Democrats were on the same page after the discussion, Representative Steve Cohen of Tennessee replied, “We’re not even in the same book.”

The mood inside the meetings was bleak, and outside, many lawmakers stared grimly and silently ahead as reporters peppered them with questions about Mr. Biden’s fitness to run for re-election and whether their party was unified around him as a nominee.

Still, after a dayslong trickle of public calls for Mr. Biden to withdraw from the race and a flood of leaked conversations in which top Democrats fretted about the potentially devastating consequences of his staying in the race, Democrats appeared eager to move beyond their intraparty drama.

“We’ve got a ways to go,” Senator Peter Welch of Vermont said as he emerged from a closed-door luncheon at the Capitol in which Democratic senators discussed their concerns about the president’s candidacy, and what to do about them. “But we’re not going to negotiate out in public.”

Some senators in the luncheon privately expressed doubts about Mr. Biden’s ability to beat former President Donald J. Trump but said they did not think it would be viable to change nominees now because Mr. Biden has shown no signs of being willing to do so.

“The fact is the president has said he is running,” Senator Ron Wyden of Oregon said. “So that’s the lay of the land today.”

In the House, one veteran Democrat, Representative Diana DeGette of Colorado, suggested in a statement after the meeting that it was time for the party to move on.

“Looking ahead, it is a waste of time and potentially dangerous for Democrats to spend the next few months wringing our hands trying to find an alternative path forward,” Ms. DeGette said in a lengthy statement. “The urgent need right now is for Democrats to stick together and focus on the danger of Trump and his extremist agenda. If we do that, we will win.”

But it remained clear that the whispered fears about Mr. Biden’s performance would be hard to extinguish on Capitol Hill, especially among lawmakers running in difficult re-election races.

Representative Greg Landsman of Ohio said there was still a “ton of concern” about whether Mr. Biden can “go out there and prove that he can make the case” to voters that he can and will win against Mr. Trump.

Even Representative Pete Aguilar of California, the No. 3 Democrat, gave a cautious response when asked by a reporter if Mr. Biden was doing enough to assuage concerns in the party about his ability to win in November.

“The president said himself that he’s going to be out there,” Mr. Aguilar said. “This is about campaigning and hustling. My answer is, let’s see. Let’s see the press conferences. Let’s see the campaign stops. Let’s see all of this, because it’s going to be necessary.”

Mr. Biden’s strength on Capitol Hill has been sustained in large part by party leaders and key constituencies, including the Congressional Black Caucus and the Congressional Hispanic Caucus. When reporters asked Karine Jean-Pierre, the White House press secretary, on Tuesday to respond to lawmakers’ fears raised about Mr. Biden’s fitness, she responded in part by quoting several Black lawmakers who continue to support the president.

And the small ranks of lawmakers who have said Mr. Biden should step down thinned on Tuesday after Representative Jerrold Nadler of New York, who told colleagues privately on Sunday that Mr. Biden must withdraw, said that he still had concerns about the president’s candidacy, but that they were now “beside the point.”

“He’s going to be our nominee, and we all have to support him,” Mr. Nadler told reporters as he entered the meeting on Capitol Hill.

Mr. Biden has defied private and public calls from within the Democratic Party to end his re-election campaign as he faces questions around his age and his health, and about whether he has the stamina necessary to campaign vigorously against Mr. Trump. On Monday, he repeatedly delivered an emphatic message to donors and Democratic lawmakers that he was “not going anywhere.”

Seven members of the House have called on Mr. Biden to end his campaign, most recently Representative Adam Smith, the top Democrat on the Armed Services Committee, who also was one of a half-dozen top Democrats, including Mr. Nadler, who privately said in a meeting on Sunday that Mr. Biden should drop out. But no Democratic senator has called on the president to step aside, even as several have expressed serious concerns about his viability.

Carl Hulse contributed reporting.



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