‘A direct and candid conversation’: Democratic governors speak out before meeting with Biden

Written by on July 3, 2024

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(WASHINGTON) — Some of the Democratic governors meeting with President Joe Biden Wednesday evening at the White House are saying beforehand they hope to hear candidly from him about the path forward for his reelection campaign, and to get a sense of how he plans to speak about himself and his campaign to the American public.

In the wake of Biden’s much-criticized performance in Thursday’s presidential debate a rising number of Democratic governors are calling for better communication, and in a twist, some of those attending have been talked about as possible replacements should Biden decide to drop out.

ABC News has confirmed that Illinois Gov. J.B. Pritzker, California Gov. Gavin Newsom, Michigan Gov. Gretchen Whitmer, Kentucky Gov. Andy Beshear, New York Gov. Kathy Hochul, Minnesota Gov. Tim Walz, Massachusetts Gov. Maura Healy, Rhode Island Gov. Dan McKee, and Maryland Gov. Wes Moore are among the governors attending in person.

Others will attend the Biden 6:30 p.m. ET meeting in the Roosevelt Room virtually.

New Jersey Gov. Phil Murphy, Pennsylvania Gov. Josh Shapiro, North Carolina Gov. Roy Cooper, Arizona Gov. Katie Hobbs, and Washington Gov. Jay Inslee will attend virtually.

Wisconsin Gov. Tony Evers will not be attending, although Evers plans to appear with Biden at an event in Wisconsin on Friday.

In an interview on CNN on Tuesday evening, Beshear outlined what he hopes to hear during Wednesday’s meeting, saying that governors want “a direct and candid conversation with the president.”

“I think we also want to talk about strategy … when governors get out there, we put our own credibility and brands on a line,” he said.

“And so I think that these governors who want to be helpful just want to make sure when they’re talking one-on-one with people in our communities that we are giving them accurate and reliable information.”

A powerful Democrat whose name has been floated as a possible replacement for Biden at the top of the ticket in 2024, Pritzker said Tuesday night on CNN that he has only spoken with the president’s reelection campaign — but not Biden himself — since last week’s debate.

Pritzker, who leads the state where the Democratic National Convention is set to take place next month, said Biden “needs to communicate more,” if he plans to rectify his performance.

He offered a similar desire to Beshear, saying that he hopes to hear about the Biden campaign’s strategy if the president stays in the race.

“I think that there’s a healthy conversation that will happen, with the president, I hope, expressing what he intends to do going forward in the campaign and reassuring everybody that this is the right course to make sure that we stay the course with him,” he said.

Asked if he’d back Vice President Kamala Harris were Biden to drop out, Pritzker responded that the party had a “great bench.”

Wednesday’s meeting comes after Democratic governors held a call on Monday to discuss Biden’s debate performance, a national Democratic official familiar with the call confirmed to ABC News. The call was not out of concern over Biden’s performance, but simply to “touch base” on the debate, multiple sources told ABC News.

Some governors have since framed it as a general meeting where they also spoke about the debate.

“Democratic governors are some of the President and Vice President’s most proactive and vocal supporters because they’ve seen how the Biden-Harris Administration’s accomplishments are directly benefiting their residents. The Biden/Harris team is in constant communication with the governors and their teams, including about yesterday’s meeting,” the Democratic official said in a statement.

The call was organized by Gov. Tim Walz of Minnesota, who is the Chairperson of the Democratic Governors Association. The White House was aware of the call prior to it happening.

Speaking to reporters on Monday afternoon at an unrelated press conference, Walz said, “We got on a call, we talked about some of the things that we’re doing, talking about the political races and things, and talking just candidly about some of the natural disasters each of us are facing in our states, whether it be wildfires or flooding,” he said.

“And then talk turned a little bit to what was obviously a poor performance in last Thursday’s debate. And governors are asking questions about what is the plan? How are you going to do this? How are we going to message this?”

Asked about the upcoming meeting with Biden, Walz said he thinks the governors will discuss “some of … the same concerns that we talked about.”

“I think the question is, how does that impact how the country runs? How does it impact what an election looks like?,” Walz said.

Even some close allies of the president are indicating that the meeting between him and the governors is less about policy and more about how Biden is coming across.

Appearing on CNN on Wednesday morning, Democratic Rep. Jim Clyburn, who is a key campaign surrogate for Biden, said that the governors will likely focus on how the president speaks to them, when asked what he thinks they want to hear from Biden.

“I would say it this way. The governors will listen to the president, and I don’t think it’s all that important as to what the president says, but the way he says it is what will weigh heavily on these governors — what his speech is like, how he follows up with questions,” Clyburn said.

“So I think the governors will not just be listening for what he has to say, but looking at the way he says it, and they will react, hopefully, honestly with him.”

ABC News’ Brittany Shepherd, Isabella Murray, Rachel Scott, Lauren Peller, Tal Axelrod, and Mike Pappano contributed to this report.

Copyright © 2024, ABC Audio. All rights reserved.

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