Polis will be on Biden call with fellow Democratic governors

Election 2024 Debate
Gerald Herbert/AP
President Joe Biden speaks during a presidential debate hosted by CNN with Republican presidential candidate former President Donald Trump, Thursday, June 27, 2024, in Atlanta.

CPR has confirmed that Gov. Jared Polis will take part in a call Wednesday evening between President Joe Biden and several Democratic governors.

The call was scheduled after growing concerns about Biden's age following last week's debate performance.

It comes as Biden has seen the first cracks in support amongst congressional Democrats.

Colorado's delegation has thus far stuck by the president. However on Wednesday one Colorado Democratic National Committee member called on Biden to withdraw his candidacy for a second term.

Former Colorado State Rep. Joe Salazar said that after last week's presidential debate he heard a lot of concerns from Coloradans about Biden’s prospects this November.

"I’m asking that for the good of the country that he steps down and that we’re able to move forward with another candidate," Salazar said. "Because frankly, with the opponent being a lying treasonous multi felon, we should be wiping him off the board. This shouldn’t be a close race."

A meeting at the Jerome Hotel in Aspen the Friday morning after the debate showed some of the earliest signs of eroding support for Biden, the New York Times reported, and it included some 50 Democratic donors.. When asked to raise their hands if they believed the president should bow out of the race, nearly everyone in the room did so.

Meanwhile, Independent candidate Robert F. Kennedy Jr. will appear on Colorado’s presidential election ballots this November, adding another element to the presidential race in this state. The Libertarian Party of Colorado announced Wednesday that its members had agreed to form a “partnership” with the RFK campaign.

Democrats in Congress are torn between backing Biden for president and sounding the alarm.

The Democratic president has vowed to stay in the race against Republican Donald Trump despite the halting and uneven debate delivery that threw a spotlight on questions about Biden's age and capacity to be president. But as Democrats make the case that the stakes of the election are momentous — challenging no less than the foundations of American democracy — they're wrestling with what to do about the 81-year-old who's supposed to be leading the charge for their party.

Here's how Democrats are handling the debate aftermath:

Raising alarm

Prominent congressional Democrats have moved in recent days to open concern not just over Biden’s performance during the 90-minute debate last week but also the level of transparency his team has shown about his mental fitness. They’ve tiptoed toward embracing the idea Biden should withdraw.

One Biden ally, Rep. James Clyburn, on CNN Wednesday openly discussed holding a “mini-primary” in the run-up to the Democratic National Convention in mid-August.

After the debate last week, Clyburn, who is 83 years old, had initially urged fellow Democrats to “stay the course” with Biden and “chill out,” but by Wednesday his tone had changed.

“I saw what I saw last Thursday night, and it is concerning,” Clyburn said.

Hart Van Denburg/CPR News
President Joe Biden delivers a speech promoting his administration’s economic agenda at CS Wind in Pueblo on Wednesday, Nov. 29, 2023. The manufacturing plant produces towers for wind turbines used in wind power generation, and is the largest of its kind in the world. The company says it has invested more than $200 million to expand its facility, and will add as many as 850 jobs in the next few years, because of the Inflation Reduction Act, Biden’s signature climate, tax, and health care law. https://www.cpr.org/2023/11/29/joe-biden-green-jobs-pueblo-colorado/

In recent days, comments from Clyburn and other senior Democrats including former House Speaker Nancy Pelosi have provided signposts for a political party in crisis. Still, it was not clear whether their concerns were reaching Biden, who told aides on a Democratic National Committee call that “no one is pushing me out.”

Clyburn, a senior South Carolina lawmaker who is a former top party leader in the House, also had a lengthy call with Biden on Wednesday.

Pelosi, in an interview Tuesday on MSNBC, still emphasized that the president is on “top of his game, in terms of knowing the issues and what is at stake.”

But she also called on both Biden and Trump, who’s 78, to face tests for their health and mental acuity.

“I think it is a legitimate question to say is this an episode or is this a condition. So when people ask that question, it’s legitimate — of both candidates,” said Pelosi, D-Calif., who’s 84.

Minutes after Pelosi's comments on Tuesday, Rep. Lloyd Doggett, of Texas, became the first sitting Democrat in Congress to call for Biden to withdraw from the race.

“Recognizing that, unlike Trump, President Biden’s first commitment has always been to our country, not himself, I am hopeful that he will make the painful and difficult decision to withdraw. I respectfully call on him to do so,” said Doggett, who's 77.

Pelosi also nudged Biden to prove to the American people that he’s ready for another four years in office by going out and taking tough interviews — something he has rarely done in recent years. Biden will sit for an interview with ABC, his first since the debate, later in the week.

“Everybody is asking one question within the Democratic Party ... which is how do we defeat Donald Trump and how are we going to defeat the threat of authoritarianism,” Rep. Jamie Raskin, a prominent Democrat from Maryland, said on MSNBC late Tuesday.

Joe Biden, Michael Bennet, John Suthers
Andrew Harnik/AP Photo
Air Force One is visible as President Joe Biden, center, speaks with by Sen. Michael Bennet, D-Colo., left, and Colorado Springs Mayor John Suthers, right, as he arrives at Peterson Space Force Base in Colorado Springs, Colo., Wednesday, May 31, 2023.

Lawmakers are also concerned Biden’s weaknesses could tamp down potential voters’ enthusiasm, creating a ripple effect that hurts Democrats as they try to maintain a narrow Senate majority and take back control of the House. Down-ballot Democrats are already confident they can outperform Biden in swing races, but if large numbers of voters reject Biden, it could impact them.

While several vulnerable Democrats have stopped short of calling for Biden to withdraw, they've also cast the situation in stark terms: If Biden continues, Trump will win.

“The truth, I think, is that Biden is going to lose to Trump,” Rep. Marie Gluesenkamp Perez, a Washington Democrat, told an ABC-affiliated television station. "I know that's difficult, but I think the damage has been done by that debate."

Backing Biden

With Biden’s family urging him to stay in the race, attention has turned to senior Democratic lawmakers who could potentially persuade the president to withdraw his nomination. So far, top Democratic leaders have mostly stood behind Biden in public statements.

“There have not been discussions among senior leadership about anything other than making sure we continue to articulate a compelling vision for the future to the American people related to the issues of importance around the economy,” House Democratic leader Hakeem Jeffries told reporters Monday in Pittsburgh.

Senate Majority Leader Chuck Schumer, a New York Democrat, posted on X, the platform formerly known as Twitter, after the debate that it showed voters there was a choice between “four more years of progress, or four more years of attacks on our fundamental rights and our democracy.”

After days of no direct talk between Biden and congressional leaders, the president late Tuesday and Wednesday held calls with Schumer and Jeffries, as well as Sen. Chris Coons, a Delaware Democrat who's a close ally to the president, according to people briefed on the calls who insisted on anonymity to discuss them.

Many of Biden's allies have chided the news media for being fixated on Biden's mental capacities, arguing that instead the focus should be put on Trump's record of refusing to accept the results of the 2020 election he lost to Biden and repeatedly lying.

Rep. Veronica Escobar, a Texas Democrat who's part of Biden's campaign committee, conceded on Friday the debate wasn't what she hoped for but added, “I think there needs to be a real conversation about the things that Donald Trump said. It is beyond vile.”

Feeling it out

The June 27 debate infused a new dynamic into an election contest that had been marked by few surprises. Voters were familiar with Biden and Trump and had previously decided between the two in 2020.

Still, many House Democrats were caught in a state of uncertainty as they faced a barrage of questions on the morning after the debate. Some chalked it up as little more than a bad night for Biden, but others are watching closely to see how voters react and whether Biden can execute a quick political recovery.

Caitlyn Kim/CPR News
President Joe Biden speaks at Camp Hale after declaring the WWII training ground a national monument. Oct. 12, 2022.

Already, vulnerable House Democrats have been distancing themselves from some of Biden’s policies in recent months. That phenomenon became more pronounced after the debate.

Rep. Jared Golden, a moderate Democrat from Maine, argued the outcome of the election was a foregone conclusion.

“While I don’t plan to vote for him, Donald Trump is going to win,” Golden said in a Bangor Daily News op-ed. "And I’m OK with that.”

'I'm in this race to the end,' Biden tells campaign staffers

Biden told his campaign staffers on Wednesday that he is staying in the election race, one of a series of closed-door conversations he is having to try to reassure Democrats after last week’s disastrous debate led to calls for him to step down.

Biden and Vice President Harris joined a campaign all-staff meeting, a person on the call said, speaking on condition of anonymity to describe the private meeting.

"I'm in this race to the end and we're going to win because when Democrats unite, we will always win," Biden said, according to the source.

Harris, who has been seen a likely contender should Biden withdraw from the race, told staffers, "We will not back down. We will follow our president’s lead," the source said.

Separately, White House chief of staff Jeff Zients held an all-staff call with White House staffers. He also acknowledged the tough times, and said it was important to focus on their work and support each other, White House press secretary Karine Jean-Pierre told reporters.

Biden is blaming his debate performance on jet lag

Biden is under pressure from some in his party to withdraw from the presidential race after his hoarse voice and verbal stumbles during his debate with former President Donald Trump left Democrats collectively wringing their hands.

Andrew Harnik/AP Photo
President Joe Biden arrives to the 2023 United States Air Force Academy Graduation Ceremony at Falcon Stadium, Thursday, June 1, 2023, at the United States Air Force Academy in Colorado Springs, Colo.

The White House has blamed it on a cold and a "bad night." On Tuesday, Biden told donors that a punishing travel schedule through many time zones was to blame. He had gone to Europe twice in two weeks in June, and also spent time at a Los Angeles fundraiser.

Later on Wednesday, he will meet at the White House with more than 20 Democratic governors.

He will have a stream of events in coming days, including a trip to Wisconsin

Biden spent last weekend trying to persuade supporters that he could still do the job and a rally and fundraising events.

This week, he has a steady stream of events that will provide the public additional insight into whether the president can move past the headlines surrounding his debate performance.

He plans to celebrate the Fourth of July with service members and their family on the National Mall. On Friday, he will campaign in Wisconsin and give an interview to ABC News' George Stephanopoulos. And next week, he hosts NATO leaders in Washington, where he will give a solo press conference.

CPR's Caitlin Kim, Alejandro A. Alonso Galva and Ryan Warner, the AP's Stephen Groves, as well as NPR's Tamara Keith and Deepa Shivaram contributed to this story.