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House Dems’ ‘sad’ venting session yields no clear path forward on Biden’s future

House Democrats spent Tuesday morning privately venting to each other about President Joe Biden’s future. It left them no closer to resolving the split that has consumed their party.

In a closed-door caucus meeting hosted at Democrats’ campaign headquarters, increasingly distressed Democrats spoke candidly to each other for the first time since Biden’s unnerving debate performance. Several lawmakers who have already called for Biden to step aside made their case, provoking a larger block of the caucus that believes Democrats need to stay united behind the president, according to about a half-dozen members in the room.

“It’s the stupidest thing I’ve ever seen,” said Biden-backer Rep. Juan Vargas (D-Calif.), who called the president’s critics a “circular firing squad.”

Closely watched House Minority Leader Hakeem Jeffries opened the private meeting with remarks about unity, according to one member, who interpreted those comments as support for Biden. But the New Yorker said little the rest of the meeting, allowing members to spend most of the time speaking to each other on open mics. Another person briefed on the meeting, granted anonymity to discuss private matters, described the mood as “sad and frustrated.”

Jeffries’ message, according to Rep. Chuy Garcia (D-Ill.), was to “stay together” and “listen to each other.”

Many Democrats had hoped the meeting might provide some clarity on a path forward for the party, as lawmakers have grappled with which choice would be worse for their November prospects: sticking with Biden or tossing him aside. The continued state of limbo has exacerbated internal frustrations, as members worry their chances of both flipping the House and keeping twice-impeached Donald Trump out of the White House are growing worse.

“Democrats are waking up to the fact that we’re going to have a very tough election, and it doesn’t matter who our nominee is. This is going to be a dogfight in November,” said Rep. Lou Correa (D-Calif.), who is strongly backing Biden. “The candidate that the voters chose is who we have as a candidate.”

Asked about whether Democrats had reached a consensus on a path forward, Rep. Brittany Pettersen (D-Colo.) said: “I think that’s hard to tell. You’re gonna get people on both sides that are getting up to speak. So I don’t think that there was a general consensus.”

Democrats who tried to argue that Biden should step down from the ticket included Reps. Seth Moulton (D-Mass.), Lloyd Doggett (D-Texas) and Mike Quigley (D-Ill.), who later told reporters he is concerned about Biden “dragging the ticket down.” All three have already publicly called on Biden to drop out of the race.

Still, most of the voices at the meeting were in support of the president. But the internal divide was on full display — and many more are still harboring private doubts.

Senate Democrats will have their own family meeting Tuesday afternoon, though it’s doubtful they’ll have any more luck on charting a path forward. Senate Majority Leader Chuck Schumer will steer that discussion of his caucus, several of whom have voiced their own concerns about Biden’s electability. No Democratic senators have called on Biden to step aside.

Biden has been working to lock down support across the Capitol in recent days. He met virtually with the Congressional Black Caucus — his deepest well of support in the Capitol — on Monday night. The group has remained some of Biden’s closest allies amid broader questions about his candidacy.

“My personal takeaway is that Joe Biden has tremendous support from the Democratic caucus, and we’re going to move forward,” said Rep. Hank Johnson (D-Ga.), a senior member of the Black Caucus.

Asked about how the party moves forward, however, Johnson didn’t have a clear answer.

“I don’t know how our leadership will handle this. But I do know that we will be making a decision or collective decision and then we will move forward,” he said.

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