Biden speaks to Democratic leaders as he seeks to contain debate fallout

Washington — President Biden spoke with more Democratic leaders Wednesday as his campaign works to contain the fallout of his rocky debate performance that has prompted suggestions that the president may not be fit for another term in office. 

Mr. Biden spoke with key allies Wednesday morning, including Senate Majority Leader Chuck Schumer and Rep. Jim Clyburn, a powerful South Carolina Democrat and longtime friend, CBS News has learned. The president also spoke with House Minority Leader Hakeem Jeffries and Delaware Sen. Chris Coons on Tuesday.

Also on Wednesday, the White House denied reporting from The New York Times that Mr. Biden told an unnamed ally that he is considering whether to continue in the race, with a spokesman calling the report “absolutely false.” 

The Biden campaign has insisted that he’s staying in the race, downplaying the poor debate performance by saying the president had a cold. The president himself blamed the occurrence on a busy travel schedule at a campaign event on Tuesday, saying it wasn’t “very smart” to travel globally beforehand and claiming he “almost fell asleep” on stage.

The outreach to prominent Democrats came after significant cracks began to emerge in Mr. Biden’s dam of support from members of his own party on Tuesday. The first Democratic lawmaker publicly called for him to withdraw from the race. And a group of “frontline” House Democrats facing competitive races this year began circulating a letter asking the president to step aside as the presumptive nominee, a Democratic lawmaker told CBS News. The lawmaker said that “if there is a lot of people who sign up, I think the dam can break.”

By Wednesday, at least 25 lawmakers were planning to sign the letter, which is coming “in a matter of days,” a senior House Democrat told CBS News. 

President Biden speaks in Washington, D.C., on Tuesday, July 2, 2024.
President Biden speaks in Washington, D.C., on Tuesday, July 2, 2024. 

Bonnie Cash/UPI/Bloomberg via Getty Images

Though most elected Democrats continued to back the president publicly in the immediate aftermath of the disastrous debate and brushed off questions about Mr. Biden’s performance as simply a bad night, there’s been a marked shift among some members of the party more recently. Many now appear more willing to question the president’s fitness for office — and opine about the path forward. 

Some have been clear that Mr. Biden needs to assure voters, elected Democrats and donors that he’s up for the job if he remains the party’s nominee. Former House Speaker Nancy Pelosi said on MSNBC on Tuesday that the president should do interviews with “serious journalists” and “just sit there and be Joe.” The president will sit down on Friday with ABC’s George Stephanopoulos for an interview that’s set to air over the weekend.

Meanwhile, there’s also been concern among donors. One Democratic donor, Whitney Tilson, is openly advocating for the president to withdraw, and told CBS News that there are “non-stop phone, email and text conversations going on.”

Among voters, the race has shifted slightly in former President Donald Trump’s direction after the debate, a new CBS News poll found. Across the battleground states, Trump now has a 3-point edge over President Biden, and a 2-point edge nationally.

The president is set to hold a meeting with Democratic governors at the White House on Wednesday evening, while the Biden campaign works to keep the leaders, along with other elected Democrats, in the fold. 

Should the president decide to withdraw from the race, the path forward would be largely uncharted. As the presumptive nominee, a majority of the party’s delegates have already been allocated to Mr. Biden. His withdrawal would spur a contested convention later this summer unless the party was able to quickly agree on an alternative beforehand. The attention would almost certainly turn to Vice President Kamala Harris as a natural successor, but interest in a number of alternatives, who have waited in the wings for a new generation to take the helm of the party, has been swirling in recent days.

The president’s family, who he is famously close with, encouraged him to stay in the race and keep fighting in the weekend after the debate.

Fin Gómez, Nikole Killion, Ed O’Keefe and Matthew Mosk contributed reporting.

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