Congressional Democrats return to work grappling with questions of their party’s future

House Democrats
Capitol Hill police officers gather in front of the Democratic National Headquarters to provide security for a visit of Democratic members of the House of Representatives to discuss the future of President Biden running for the presidency, Tuesday, July 9, 2024 in Washington. (AP Photo/John McDonnell)

Democrats on Capitol Hill met behind closed doors Tuesday. House Democrats in the morning. Then Senate Democrats in the afternoon. If there was a common theme, it was that members of both chambers had very little to say — at least publicly.  

It was the first time the Democratic caucuses have met since President Joe Biden’s disastrous debate performance, and comes as members continue to talk, a few openly, but more privately, about the need for a new candidate.

In the morning, House Democrats, who met at the Democratic National Committee headquarters, walked out into the sweltering heat and a wall of reporters. Many said they weren’t going to comment on internal discussions or that conversations were “ongoing” or “constructive,” while others continued to express support for Biden and the accomplishments of his first term.

First term Colorado Congresswoman Brittany Pettersen left the meeting saying, “we’re united to make sure we defeat (Donald) Trump.” But she acknowledged people had different opinions on what that would look like going forward.

She added it was “a serious conversation” and many perspectives were heard.

On the other side of the Capitol, many senators left their meeting saying the discussion was “constructive,” or that Democrats remained focused on defeating Trump in November, but otherwise remained mum.

Senate Democratic Leader Chuck Schumer, however, made his position known. “I’m with Joe,” he said three times at a press conference after the meeting.

On Monday, Colorado Sen. Michael Bennet told reporters that Democrats have to have “an open discussion and an open debate” to show the American people they have a presidential candidate who can win. “I think that's an act, not of disloyalty, but an act of loyalty. And I hope the President sees it that way. He was a member of this body. He knows how important it is.”

If it should come down to picking a new candidate at this late date, “that's no one's first choice,” added Bennet, who had his own short-lived presidential run in 2020. “But I think we have a moral obligation to the country to establish that we can win.”

Journalists surround politician outside
Caitlyn Kim/CPR News
A reporter scrum trying to talk to Rep. Lou Correa of California after the Democratic House Caucus meeting.
Group of journalists gather around a politician outside.
Caitlyn Kim/CPR News
Reporters surround a lawmaker after the meeting as they jump into a car to go back to the Capitol.

A couple of senators have also said they need to see more energy from candidate Biden, a sentiment echoed by some of their colleagues leaving Tuesday’s meeting.

The dean of the Colorado delegation, Rep. Diana DeGette, also said something similar. She put out a statement urging Biden to “campaign aggressively” to show he’s still up to the task of leading the nation.

DeGette left the caucus meeting early to go to the White House, where the President signed legislation that included her bill to transform and modernize nuclear energy production and workforce.

The Denver Democrat concluded her statement with a call for party unity.

“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. President Biden has been a very successful president: defending our reproductive rights, protecting our environment, and upholding the values of our democracy. Meanwhile, Trump is a crazy felonious authoritarian,” she said in a statement.

Whether the party is really ready to stay in line, however, remains to be seen.  For now at least, Biden appears to have managed to stem the tide of congressional criticism to a trickle

By the end of Tuesday, only one sitting Democrat, New Jersey Rep. Mikie Sherrill, had called on Biden to drop his bid for reelection and “help lead us through a process toward a new nominee.”