Joe Biden Was Maybe Going To Survive This. Then Came The Last 24 Hours.

WASHINGTON ― The last 14 days have not been good for Joe Biden. Wednesday may have been one of the worst.

If it seemed at the beginning of the week that Biden might make it through this whole ordeal as the Democratic presidential nominee, Wednesday offered the clearest sign yet that Biden is bleeding the support he needs from all corners of his coalition to stay in the race.

“I think there is widespread sentiment,” Rep. Lloyd Doggett (D-Texas) told reporters. Doggett, who had been the first Democrat to call on Biden to drop out after the debate, was asked whether the metaphorical dam holding back Democrats’ demands that Biden step aside will break in the coming days.

“You’ve seen additional statements today from frontliners, a recognition that this is not just about the presidency but about the future of the House and Senate,” Doggett said Wednesday. “It’s about whether all elements of our government are turned over to Trump and his gang.”

The day began ominously for the president, when former House Speaker Nancy Pelosi appeared on MSNBC’s “Morning Joe” and spoke as if Biden were still deciding whether to stay in the race, even though he has clearly said he has no intention of dropping out. “Time is running short,” Pelosi said.

Biden also lost a major ally in Hollywood when actor George Clooney, who just a month ago hosted a $30 million fundraiser for the president, wrote a devastating opinion article in The New York Times calling on Biden to drop out of the race after his painfully poor debate performance.

The hits kept coming: United Auto Workers President Shawn Fain and Association of Flight Attendants President Sara Nelson, two of Biden’s biggest labor allies, also privately expressed serious concerns about Biden’s candidacy. Michigan Gov. Gretchen Whitmer, a rumored replacement for Biden, said Biden should take a cognitive test.

George Clooney: Loves Joe Biden, wants him to drop out, he wrote in a New York Times opinion piece.
George Clooney: Loves Joe Biden, wants him to drop out, he wrote in a New York Times opinion piece. Evan Agostini/Invision via Associated Press

Biden also saw the first Senate Democrat drop his support Wednesday, when Peter Welch of Vermont told Biden in an opinion piece in The Washington Post to step aside for the good of the country so that Democrats could beat former President Donald Trump.

“We cannot unsee President Biden’s disastrous debate performance. We cannot ignore or dismiss the valid questions raised since that night,” Welch wrote.

Though other Senate Democrats have shared their concerns about Biden running, Welch went a step further on the same day that Senate Majority Leader Chuck Schumer reportedly told donors he’s open to another nominee besides Biden — while publicly insisting “I’m with Joe.”

Welch alluded to unease among Senate Democrats in comments to HuffPost earlier Wednesday. He said the mood in the caucus was “anxious” and added: “We went from an uphill to an up-mountain race, and there’s political realities we can’t ignore.” He also said that “sooner is better than later” for Democrats to decide whether to switch horses.

Welch argued in his article that Biden not only risks losing the White House to Trump, but could jeopardize down-ballot races for control of the House and Senate. He wasn’t exaggerating: Politico reported Wednesday that New York Democrats were freaking out over polling that showed them behind in a handful of House races in swing districts that Biden had carried in 2020.

A national Republican who works on Senate races confirmed that Republicans are feeling, if not better than a few months ago, then at least good about their prospects for retaking the Senate due to Biden’s weakness at the top of the ticket. “Every day is getting worse for them,” this person said. “I’m sure if you’re [Sherrod] Brown or [Jon] Tester, you’re seeing some dire internal polling.” 

Before the day was up, two more Democratic lawmakers had jumped ship. Rep. Earl Blumenauer (D-Ore.) said Biden “should not be the Democratic presidential nominee.” And Rep. Jared Golden (D-Maine), who already revealed he thinks Biden can’t beat Trump, said he won’t vote for Biden unless he’s assured the president is capable of handling the job for four more years.

“I will not vote for someone if I don’t think they are physically or mentally equipped to lead this nation,” Golden told Maine Public Radio. “And I do not know the answer to that question at this time.”

Democrats on the Hill mostly did whatever they could to dodge questions from reporters about the election. They took side doors out of meetings. They slipped into elevators. They said they had nothing more to say. “I haven’t seen it,” one Democratic senator told a reporter who inquired about the latest call for Biden to step aside.

Their creative dodges even brought to mind excuses Republicans used to avoid tough questions from reporters about Trump’s outbursts during his presidency.

Sen. Cory Booker (D-N.J.) practically ran past reporters gathered by the Senate subways. With a huge grin on his face, he high-fived a surprised reporter and shouted out random comments to anyone within earshot — just to avoid talking about Biden.

“There’s nothing to talk about these days!” he said, bouncing away.

On Wednesday, Biden had one of the worst days yet since last month's debate.
On Wednesday, Biden had one of the worst days yet since last month's debate. Jakub Porzycki/NurPhoto via Getty Images

Some Democrats talked about Biden as if he had not yet made a decision to still run, even though he had already done so days ago in a letter calling the debate “over” and urging his party to unite around his candidacy. 

“I have complete confidence that Joe Biden will do the patriotic thing for the country,” Sen. Tim Kaine (D-Va.) told reporters. “And he’s going to make that decision. He’s never disappointed me.”

Biden’s senior advisers and campaign aides will try to address Senate Democrats’ concerns at a briefing at the Democratic Senatorial Campaign Committee on Thursday. Democrats across Capitol Hill will also be closely watching Biden’s performance at a rare solo press conference later in the day, following the NATO summit in Washington. 

A handful of Democrats are still defending Biden.

Sen. John Fetterman (D-Pa.) said he’s “showing up with brass knuckles” to the meeting with Democratic senators and Biden advisers, jokingly suggesting he plans to use them on Democrats who are not rallying behind Biden.

“I’m not going to advise the president on anything other than ‘Stay in. You’re our guy. And I have your back,’” Fetterman said.

Sen. Chris Murphy (D-Conn.) said that although he thinks Biden could do more to “get to firmer standing” with some Senate Democrats, he isn’t personally asking for that.

“I still believe he can win this election,” Murphy said. “I think we should give voters maybe more credit than we’re giving them. Their opinion about a person doesn’t turn on one performance.”

But to Biden’s critics, there’s no way to resolve questions about his fitness for office, which they see overshadowing everything else about the race.

“The reality is what Americans saw in that debate can’t be unseen,” Welch told HuffPost. “Here we have this felon running against us who ditched his wife to have sex with a porn star. She’s home with a newborn. And we’re not talking about him. We’re talking about President Biden’s health — that’s not a good place for us to be.”

Jonathan Nicholson contributed reporting.