[White House]

Hill Democrats mum on Biden interactions amid party’s rattled nerves

Not only did lawmakers watching see an uneven performance on TV, many didn’t answer to questions about whether they’ve spoken with the president in recent months.

POLITICO reached out to more than 100 Democratic Senate and House offices — both chambers are out of session for the Fourth of July holiday this week — on Tuesday in the aftermath of Biden’s uneven debate performance last week. The vast majority did not respond to questions about when their members last interacted with the president and whether they’ve found him accessible.

Lawmakers, including very senior ones, have cited positive interactions with Biden at public events and direct communication between their staff and the White House — but none indicated direct outreach in other forums from the president in the wake of the debate.

Some pointed to conversations with chief of staff Jeff Zients and White House counselor Steve Ricchetti, but not Biden himself. White House press secretary Karine Jean-Pierre said Tuesday the president had been out campaigning in the days after the debate, but he planned to reach out to Hill leaders this week and that “high-level, senior” administration officials had already talked to leadership.

It’s an indication that efforts to tamp down the private worries among elected lawmakers about Biden’s capacity to remain president for a second four-year term are still in their infancy.

“The president has spoken personally with multiple elected officials on the Hill and across the battlegrounds since the debate,” said Lauren Hitt, a Biden campaign spokesperson, without detailing who those conversations included.

Rank-and-file members don’t often get a ton of personal outreach from the president outside of formal events. But even top leaders and Biden allies hadn’t heard directly from the president in recent days.

Rep. Jim Clyburn (D-S.C.), a Biden campaign co-chair who played a key role in securing the nomination for the president in 2020, said he had yet to hear from the incumbent following the debate — but indicated he had a call slated for later Tuesday.

“I’ve only had one of my colleagues say to me they think there should be some kind of replacement. Everybody else expressed concern, but they dug in,” he said on MSNBC Tuesday afternoon.

Clyburn added he would support Vice President Kamala Harris if Biden “were to step aside.” Senate Majority Leader Chuck Schumer also reiterated his support for Biden on Tuesday in comments to a reporter at an event in New York.

Jean-Pierre said Biden hadn’t called Capitol Hill Democrats because he’s been engaging “directly with supporters,” but that his senior aides had been in touch with senior party figures.

“It’s not like we were silent. It’s not like we were quiet. It’s not like we were not engaging with them — we were,” Jean-Pierre said.

Notably, former House Speaker Nancy Pelosi — usually a staunch defender of Biden — said Tuesday she had not heard from him since the debate, but had spoken to aides close to him.

“No, I haven’t spoken to him since the debate, but I have spoken to him regularly,” Pelosi said on MSNBC. “But we all have been in touch with people close to the president, so it’s not a question of not having an opportunity to make our concerns known or have some questions answered.”

A spokesperson later reiterated the former speaker has “full confidence” in Biden following the interview.

Amid those Democratic calls for unscripted interactions for Biden to demonstrate his stamina and fitness, ABC News announced Biden would sit down with George Stephanopoulos for an interview to air July 5 and over the weekend.

The relative radio silence toward Capitol Hill comes as senior Democrats are only amplifying their concerns publicly with longtime Rep. Lloyd Doggett of Texas on Tuesdaybecoming the first to call for Biden to stand down.

A handful of Democrats pointed to recent interactions with the president, though few cited outreach following the debate. And roughly a half-dozen House Democratic aides, granted anonymity to speak candidly, acknowledged that while their bosses might hobnob with Biden at events, most of the day-to-day interaction with the White House is happening at the staff level.

“We hear from [White House] staff often including from high-level people,” one aide said, adding that while their boss has interacted with Biden at “lots” of events, it’s not like former President Barack Obama was giving “huge amounts of face time” to members either.

Another House Democratic aide added that their boss has met with Biden but not often, instead mainly interacting with White House staff. A third echoed that they regularly interact with White House staff but that their boss was last with Biden in May and “does not meet with POTUS frequently.”

The office of Rep. Frank Pallone (D-N.J.), ranking member of the Energy and Commerce Committee, said he saw Biden on Saturday —at a fundraiser in New Jersey — and described the president as “very accessible” with the longtime lawmaker always getting his calls returned. Bidenwas also at an event in New York with Rep. Jerry Nadler (D-N.Y.) on Friday a day after the debate.

Rep. Jim Himes (D-Conn.), ranking member of the Intelligence Committee, met with Biden when he attended a fundraiser in Connecticut in early June and flew back with the president on Air Force One, according to his office.

Speaking briefly after a pro forma session Tuesday, Sen. Laphonza Butler (D-Calif.) expressed confidence in Biden remaining the nominee. She said she’d recently spent considerable time with Biden and found he “had a great handle on the material and topic of discussion and gave the impression to me that he is the commander in chief of the United States.”

Other Democrats defended the president’s access and alertness in other moments, both public and private. Rep. Judy Chu of California, chair of the Asian Pacific American Caucus, said in a statement she’d been with Biden recently for the signing of a proclamation and had seen him at other White House events where she “found him to be very engaged, with a lot of stamina, and interacting with so many people so positively — including with my own guests.”

Irie Sentner and Ursula Perano contributed to this report.