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Suddenly, Democrats on Capitol Hill are saying Biden has to make a decision. Biden says he has made a decision.

Suddenly, Democrats on Capitol Hill are saying Biden has to make a decision. Biden says he has made a decision.
Suddenly, Democrats on Capitol Hill are saying Biden has to make a decision. Biden says he has made a decision.

In a sternly worded letter earlier this week, President Biden sent a message to the restless Democrats on Capitol Hill: “I am staying in this race, and you must accept that.”

But many Democratic lawmakers have instead painted a picture of a president deeply considering whether to continue his re-election campaign after a sluggish debate performance, insisting that Biden is close to making a “decision” about his political future. Their carefully crafted statements praise Biden while rejecting the president’s claim that his candidacy is a done deal after the debate two weeks ago.

“I have every confidence that Joe Biden will do the patriotic thing for our country,” Sen. Tim Kaine (D-Va.) told a reporter on Wednesday when asked if he thought Biden should resign. “He will make that decision. He has never let me down; he has always put patriotism and country before himself, and I will respect his decision.”

The subtle rhetoric may be a little removed from current reality, but it avoids a direct confrontation with a president who has been described as insistent on his candidacy and angry at constant questions from his own party. It also leaves open the possibility for lawmakers to increase pressure in the future and sends the message that they would be more than open to a different decision by Biden.

The most prominent Democrat on Capitol Hill to frame the issue in this way is undoubtedly former House Speaker Nancy Pelosi (D-California), who praised Biden in a television interview on Wednesday, but also urged the president to decide quickly whether he will still run.

“We all encourage him to make that decision because time is running out,” Pelosi said.

However, this strategy of ignoring Biden’s public stance on his own candidacy runs the risk of being perceived by some as condescending.

“This is starting to feel like you’re handing in a paper and the teacher hands it back to you and tells you to rewrite it and then hand it in again,” Democratic strategist Rebecca Katz joked on X.

But it could be a way to encourage a change of heart. Some lawmakers say they believe Biden when he says he is committed to running, but still hope the coming spate of dismal polls could change his mind. On Wednesday, David Wasserman, an analyst at the Cook Political Report, called Trump’s lead in the polls after the debate “the most drastic change in the race all year.”

When asked about the lawmakers’ claim that Biden must “decide” whether to run or not, a member of his campaign team referred to his letter to lawmakers on Monday. In it, Biden had stated: “I am determined to stay in this race, see it through to the end and beat Donald Trump.”

Biden added that it was time to “end” discussions about a different path forward. In an MSNBC interview, he also dismissed “elites” who cast doubt on his candidacy, arguing they weren’t listening to ordinary voters. That comment angered many lawmakers, according to two people familiar with the reaction who spoke on condition of anonymity to discuss private conversations.

Neither Senate Majority Leader Charles E. Schumer (D-N.Y.) nor House Minority Leader Hakeem Jeffries (D-N.Y.) agreed with the claim that Biden must make a “decision.”

“As I have repeatedly made clear publicly and privately, I support President Biden and remain committed to defeating Donald Trump in November,” Schumer said in a statement Wednesday evening.

The cautious rhetoric shows the fine line lawmakers are walking: They want to send a message to Biden without permanently alienating him if he stays in the race, and they don’t want to further damage Democrats’ chances in the election by bringing even more negative perceptions of Biden to the forefront.

So far, only one Democratic senator, Peter Welch of Vermont, has called on Biden to resign. But several others expressed concern in a closed session Tuesday that he could not win in November, according to two people briefed on the meeting. Sen. Michael Bennet (D-Colo.) later voiced his concerns publicly on CNN, saying that Democrats could suffer a “landslide” defeat with Biden at the top of the ballot, but stopped short of calling for him to drop out of the race.

Senator Chris Coons (D-Del.), co-chair of Biden’s campaign, downplayed the significance of Bennet’s comments.

“I respect my dear friend Michael Bennet, but I don’t share his views,” he said. “We have 51 members who caucus with the Democrats, and were there a dozen others who spoke up and said, ‘Now that Michael has said they share the same view?’ I don’t think so.”

Some lawmakers, including Senator John Fetterman (D-Penn.), have explicitly argued that Biden is the best candidate for president and can defeat Trump. “He’s our guy,” Fetterman told reporters this week. But many are deeply concerned that they are headed for defeat, even if they disagree about the right path to take.

On Thursday, senior Biden officials Mike Donilon, Jen O’Malley Dillon and Steve Ricchetti will brief Senate Democrats at a luncheon at the Democratic Senatorial Campaign Committee.

Until then, lawmakers are pushing for Biden to make a decision, even though he himself says he already has.

“I think he’s the kind of person who, in the end, will not be about himself, but about what’s best for the country,” said Senator John Hickenlooper (D-Colo.).

And is it the best decision for Biden to continue running, a reporter asked? “I think the best thing is to win,” he said.

Mariana Alfaro and Paul Kane contributed to this report

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