At the Capitol, Democrats’ anguish over Biden’s debate performance on full display

Written by on June 28, 2024

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(WASHIINGTON) — House Democrats spent their Friday morning huddling on the floor in hushed, anguished conversations about President Joe Biden’s debate performance.

“It was a f—— disaster,” one member said, adding that a lot of members believe Biden should suspend his campaign.

“If something happens it has to happen in the next couple of days,” another House Democrat told ABC News, adding that the only House lawmaker who may be capable of getting through to Biden is Nancy Pelosi, “Catholic to Catholic.”

For her part, Pelosi told reporters that Biden “got off to a bad start but he came through okay on the issues later.”

“Compared to a person who was lying the whole time, we saw integrity on one side and dishonesty on the other,” she said.

When later asked if Biden is the best messenger for the party, Pelosi responded: “I’m a very big supporter of President Biden’s. He’s been a great president and done great things for the country.”

Even Rep. Jim Clyburn, D-S.C., one of Biden’s biggest boosters and often credited for saving Biden’s 2020 primary campaign, said his performance was “strike one.”

But he added that Democrats should “stay the course,” and that there is “no better Democrat” to lead the ticket than Biden.

Former Majority Leader Steny Hoyer, D-Md., acknowledged Biden had a “bad night.”

“He is a good man. He’s got a great record. All the things he said about the economy are actually true — he had a bad night. Some of us have bad nights sometimes,” Hoyer said.

Moderate Rep. Tom Suozzi, D-N.Y., said they “all would’ve liked a better performance by the president.”

“Regardless of what happens, I have got to fight for my district — whoever becomes the president — whether it’s President Biden, former president Trump or some other Democrat or Republican … I am going to fight for my district,” Suozzi said.

Rep. Angie Craig of Minnesota said, “Joe Biden didn’t communicate, and Donald Trump lied every time he opened his mouth.”

However, multiple House lawmakers purposely ignored reporters’ questions about Biden’s performance at the debate. Rep. Jamie Raskin, another Maryland Democrat, appeared to have faked a phone call. Rep. Lauren Underwood, D-Ill., said “you guys are crazy” and Rep. Susan Wild, who represents a competitive Pennsylvania district, talked about the weather when pressed on the topic.

One Democratic source acknowledged that only Biden’s tight-knit circle of family and aides could convince the president to change course. Even former President Barack Obama, the source speculated, would face resistance to any effort to encourage Biden to step aside.

“Obama should tell him he saved the country once from Trump, and he can do so again” by suspending his bid, the source said.

But hours later, Obama appeared to dash hopes he would intervene, posting on X that “bad debate nights happen” but that he still supported Biden’s bid.

“This election is still a choice between someone who has fought for ordinary folks his entire life and someone who only cares about himself. Between someone who tells the truth; who knows right from wrong and will give it to the American people straight — and someone who lies through his teeth for his own benefit,” he wrote. “Last night didn’t change that, and it’s why so much is at stake in November.”

President Biden addressed the performance himself during a rally on Friday afternoon in Raleigh, North Carolina.

“Folks, I don’t walk as easy as I used to. I don’t speak as smoothly as I used to. I don’t debate as well as I used to, but … I know how to tell the truth. I know right from wrong, and I know how to do this job,” he told a roaring crowd.

The Biden campaign, which is now openly acknowledging the president had a bad night, was also asked Friday about calls for Biden to step down or drop out.

Biden Campaign communication director Michael Tyler said there are “no conversations about that whatsoever.”

Tyler was also emphatic that Biden will take part in the ABC News debate scheduled for Sept. 10.

ABC News’ Molly Nagle contributed to this report.

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