Democrats in Congress debate Biden's viability as he vows to fight on

President Joe Biden listens during the presidential debate in Atlanta, June 27. Democratic U.S. lawmakers huddled for nearly two hours on Tuesday on Biden's reelection bid.

President Joe Biden listens during the presidential debate in Atlanta, June 27. Democratic U.S. lawmakers huddled for nearly two hours on Tuesday on Biden's reelection bid. (Brian Snyder, Reuters)

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WASHINGTON — Democratic U.S. lawmakers huddled for nearly two hours on Tuesday, only to emerge without a consensus on whether to fall in line behind President Joe Biden's resolve to pursue his reelection bid.

Democrats in the House of Representatives met behind closed doors at party headquarters after Biden defiantly rejected calls from a handful of members to end his campaign for the Nov. 5 election following a disastrous debate last month with rival Donald Trump.

Asked whether Democrats were on the same page as he exited the meeting, U.S. Rep. Steve Cohen replied, "We're not even in the same book."

No new public defections were on display, after a half-dozen members of the House of Representatives called on the 81-year-old Biden to step aside and allow someone else to face the Republican Trump, 78.

"He just has to step down. He can't win," U.S. Representative Mike Quigley, one of the six lawmakers who urged Biden to end his campaign, said on his way into the meeting. "My colleagues need to recognize that."

While the discussion failed to heal the intraparty rift, many Democratic lawmakers left the meeting telling reporters that they either back Biden now or would if he was formally nominated at the party's convention in August.

Democratic lawmakers, especially in the House, worry that Biden's struggles could damage their chances of capturing a majority in that chamber, which could serve as Democrats' sole bulwark against Trump should he prevail.

Republicans hold a 220-213 majority in the House, and Democrats face a far tougher path to protect their 51-49 Senate majority, as they are defending multiple seats in Republican-leaning states.

'Not going anywhere'

Even some who support Biden staying the course have voiced concern about his chances since his halting June 27 debate performance, which raised fresh questions about his ability to mount a successful campaign and to keep up with a grueling job for another 4½ years.

The Biden campaign has scrambled to reassure nervous Democrats. The president called into MSNBC on Monday to say he was "not going anywhere," a message he repeated to donors on a private call later, according to two sources on the call.

Biden also spoke with members of the Congressional Black Caucus, whose backing may help shore up his campaign given the importance of Black voters to the party's base. The caucus chairman, Rep. Steve Horsford, said on Monday that he still supported Biden as the nominee.

Some Democrats compared Tuesday's discussion to a family argument. Rep. Lou Correa urged colleagues to keep voicing their opinions, adding, "This is democracy."

Others expressed frustration that the party was focused on Biden's shortcomings rather than unifying against Trump.

"It's a circular firing squad. It's the stupidest thing I've ever seen," said Representative Juan Vargas, who said he supported Biden.

Senate Democrats were expected to discuss Biden during their weekly policy lunch meeting.

Biden hosts NATO gathering

Biden was hosting a gathering of NATO leaders in Washington on Tuesday, giving him an opportunity to demonstrate he can still serve as a global leader, while Vice President Kamala Harris — seen as the most likely candidate to replace Biden if he were to stand down — was headed for Nevada, one of a handful of battleground states that may decide the election.

Trump, who said during a Fox News appearance on Monday that he expected Biden to remain in the race, will hold a rally in Florida on Tuesday ahead of next week's Republican National Convention.

Biden has vowed to persevere, arguing that Trump poses a unique threat to democracy. Trump, who repeated multiple falsehoods during the debate, has falsely claimed that his 2020 loss was the result of fraud and has not committed to accepting this year's results if he loses.

Democratic Senator Michael Bennet said he wants Democrats to unite on a campaign strategy by week's end — whether Biden remains on the ticket or not.

"What I hope to see is, over the course of this week, our coming together on the kind of compelling and successful path forward that the American people need," he told reporters on Monday.

A Reuters/Ipsos poll last week found that one in three registered Democratic voters believed that Biden should quit the race, with 59% saying he is too old to work in government.

However, the poll also found that none of his possible replacements fared better in a matchup against Trump. The poll showed Biden and Trump tied at 40% each.

Contributing: Moira Warburton and David Morgan, Katharine Jackson and Doina Chiacu

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