Senate Democrats emerge from party meeting stuck in limbo on Biden

Senate Democrats, like their House counterparts before them, left a caucus meeting Tuesday trapped in Joe Biden-electability limbo.

Senators went into the meeting, their first since the president’s shaky debate, saying they needed to have a broader conversation before offering their assessment of Biden’s standing atop the ticket. By the end, it seemed all Democrats agreed on is that they need to beat former President Donald Trump in November.

Majority Whip Dick Durbin said “it remains to be seen” if Biden should still be the party’s presidential nominee. Sen. Maria Cantwell (D-Wash.), following the lunch on Tuesday, stood behind Biden and said it’s up to voters on how to proceed.

“I think we have some ideas about how to proceed next,” Cantwell said. “Me personally, I want a standard bearer that’s going to keep it on an economic message. I don’t think we’ve done enough of that, I think we have to do more of that. Whoever’s leading has to do more of that.”

Many typically chatty senators almost entirely refused to talk with press about their caucus’ conversation — aside from a few members saying the group had a “good” or “constructive” discussion. Many also refused to answer questions on whether there were calls for Biden to step down within the lunch. Sen. John Fetterman (D-Pa.) insisted no one was negative.

A number of senators spoke at the meeting, according to attendees, and the conversation appears to have remained civil.

The House Democratic meeting Tuesday morning was a similar story — they emerged from the family discussion with no clear path forward on how to handle Biden’s future on the ticket. While seven House Democrats have called on Biden to step aside as the party nominee, no Senate Democrats have done so. Many have offered critical remarks or insisted the president needs to prove himself as capable of staying in the race.

Majority Leader Chuck Schumer, at the weekly Democratic leadership press conference following the lunch, only echoed his oft-repeated “I’m with Joe” line when asked repeated questions about Biden’s prospects.

Sen. Patty Murray (D-Wash.), a senior Senate Democrat who voiced serious concerns about Biden’s viability, didn’t speak about the president during that press conference Tuesday. She said in a statement Monday that Democrats need to see “a much more forceful and energetic candidate on the campaign trail in the very near future.”

Another member of Senate Democratic leadership, Debbie Stabenow (D-Mich.), expressed confidence in Biden’s viability in her swing state even as “I appreciate and understand” concerns with the incumbent following his debate performance. The meeting, the Michigan Democrat said, had a large focus on Trump.

“The meeting was very thoughtful and very good and we spent most of our time talking about Donald Trump and why a convicted felon has not been called upon to step down by the press,” Stabenow said.

Other lawmakers, including several in competitive reelection bids of their own, played coy on whether it would be valuable for Biden to come to Capitol Hill to address his party.

“I’m not going to give advice,” said Sen. Bob Casey (D-Pa.), who’s up for reelection in his swing state this fall.

David Lim and Eleanor Mueller contributed to this report.