Biden's candidacy faces new peril as Pelosi, Clooney and more Democrats weigh in

Rep. Nancy Pelosi, D-Calif., the speaker emerita, left, arrives at the Democratic National Headquarters with other Democratic lawmakers to discuss the future of President Biden running for the presidency, Tuesday in Washington.

Rep. Nancy Pelosi, D-Calif., the speaker emerita, left, arrives at the Democratic National Headquarters with other Democratic lawmakers to discuss the future of President Biden running for the presidency, Tuesday in Washington. (John McDonnell, Associated Press)


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WASHINGTON — President Joe Biden's imperiled re-election campaign hit new trouble Wednesday as House Speaker Emerita Nancy Pelosi said merely "it's up to the president to decide" if he should stay in the race, celebrity donor George Clooney said he should not run and Democratic senators and lawmakers expressed fresh fear about his ability to beat Republican Donald Trump.

The sudden flurry of grave pronouncements despite Biden's determined insistence he is not leaving the 2024 race put on public display just how unsettled the question remains among prominent Democrats. On Capitol Hill, an eighth House Democrat, Rep. Pat Ryan of New York, publicly asked Biden to step aside.

"I want him to do whatever he decides to do," Pelosi said Wednesday on MSNBC rather than declaring Biden should stay in. Though he's said repeatedly that he's made his decision, she said, "We're all encouraging him to make that decision, because time is running short."

It's a crucial moment for the president and his party, as Democrats consider what was once unthinkable — having the incumbent Biden step aside, just weeks before the Democratic National Convention that is on track to nominate him as their candidate for reelection.

Biden is hosting world leaders in Washington for the NATO summit this week with a crowded schedule of formal meetings, sideline chats and long diplomatic dinners. He faces his next public test Thursday when he is scheduled to hold a news conference that many are watching for signs of his abilities.

Biden maintains strong support from key corners of his coalition, particularly the Congressional Black Caucus on Capitol Hill, whose leadership was instrumental in ushering the president to victory in 2020 and is standing by him as the country's best choice to defeat Trump again in 2024.

"At this moment, the stakes are too high and we have to focus," Rep. Ilhan Omar of Minnesota told the Associated Press on Tuesday, saying Democrats are "losing ground" the longer they fight over Biden's candidacy. "Democracy is on the line. Everything we value as Democrats, as a country, is on the line, and we have to stop being distracted."


We have to reach a conclusion as soon as possible.

–Sen. Richard Blumenthal, D-Conn.


Pelosi has been widely watched for signals of how top Democrats are thinking about Biden's wounded candidacy, her comments viewed as important for the party's direction as members weigh possible alternatives in the campaign against Trump.

Because of her powerful position as the former House speaker and proximity to Biden as a trusted longtime ally of his generation, Pelosi is seen as one of the few Democratic leaders who could have influence on the president's thinking.

The lack of a full statement from Pelosi backing Biden's continued campaign is what lawmakers are likely to hear most clearly. Her remarks came moments before actor Clooney, who had just hosted a glitzy Hollywood fundraiser for the president last month, said in a New York Times op-ed that the Biden he saw three weeks ago wasn't the Joe Biden of 2020. "He was the same man we all witnessed at the debate."

Sen. Michael Bennet, a Democrat from Colorado, spoke forcefully late Tuesday about the danger of a second Trump presidency and said it's for the president "to consider" the options.

Actor George Clooney, left, meets with President Joe Biden in Washington on Dec. 4, 2022.
Actor George Clooney, left, meets with President Joe Biden in Washington on Dec. 4, 2022. (Photo: Manuel Balce Ceneta, Associated Press)

Stopping just short of calling for Biden to drop out, Bennet said on CNN what he told his colleagues in private – that he believes Trump "is on track to win this election — and maybe win it by a landslide and take with him the Senate and the House."

Bennet said, "It's not a question about politics. It's a moral question about the future of our country."

Another Democrat, Sen. Richard Blumenthal of Connecticut, said Wednesday he was "deeply concerned" about Biden winning the election, which he called existential for the country.

"We have to reach a conclusion as soon as possible," Blumenthal said on CNN.

Democrats have been reeling over the question of whether to continue backing Biden after his poor showing in the June 27 presidential debate with Trump and his campaign's lackluster response to their pleas that Biden, at 81, show voters he is up for another four-year term.


At this moment, the stakes are too high and we have to focus.

–Rep. Ilhan Omar, D-Minn.


Biden and his campaign are working more intently now to shore up support, and the president met with labor leaders Wednesday, relying on the unions to help make the case that his record in office matters more than his age.

With the executive council of the AFL-CIO, America's largest federation of trade unions, Biden told the crowd that even Wall Street was acknowledging the power of unions, as he once again articulated his vision for an economy built "from the bottom up and middle out."

"I said I'm going to be the most pro-union president in American history," Biden told the cheering crowd. "Well guess what? I am."

While more House Democrats have publicly called on Biden to end his candidacy, no Senate Democrats have gone that far. Bennet was among three Democratic senators, including Jon Tester of Montana and Sherrod Brown of Ohio, who spoke up during a private lunch Tuesday, according to a person familiar with the meeting and granted anonymity to discuss it.

Pelosi of California said Biden "has been a great president" who is beloved and respected by House Democrats.

The Californian said she watched as he delivered a forceful speech at the NATO summit on Tuesday, and recounted his many accomplishments.

While foreign leaders are in Washington this week and Biden is on the world stage hosting the event at a critical time in foreign affairs, Pelosi encouraged Democrats "let's just hold off" with any announcements about his campaign.

"Whatever you're thinking, either tell somebody privately but you don't have to put that out on the table until we see," she said, how it goes "this week."

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Lisa Mascaro

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