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Biden’s painful day sinks hopes Democrats will move forward

Via Anthony Zurcher, @awzurcher, North American Reporter
EPA US President Joe Biden takes the stage for a family photo during NATO's 75th anniversary celebrationUnited States Environmental Protection Agency

The most shocking argument against Joe Biden’s re-election bid may not come from a politician or a pundit, but from a movie star.

But George Clooney, with his scathing New York Times op-ed, isn’t the only one speaking out. A growing chorus of Democrats is sinking the president’s hopes of stabilizing his campaign this week — and perhaps forever.

All of this comes after what appeared to be a change in the president, as the influential Congressional Black Caucus and key progressive members of Congress voiced their support for him.

But now the situation has changed again – and it’s all happening against the backdrop of a NATO summit with US allies taking place in Washington.

On Wednesday night, Peter Welch of Vermont became the first Democratic senator to publicly call on Mr Biden to withdraw, “for the good of the country,” as he wrote in a newspaper editorial.

The drumbeat of defection makes the stakes even higher for Mr Biden’s news conference at the end of the NATO summit on Thursday afternoon, which will be the biggest unscripted test for him since his botched debate two weeks ago that sparked this crisis.

Mr. Biden also has a scheduled one-on-one interview with NBC News anchor Lester Holt on Monday. A bungle or misstep in the coming days could cement all the most damaging claims made by Mr. Clooney, a top Democratic fundraiser, in the his article in the New York Times.

The actor wrote that the president’s decline is not a fantasy; it’s real. He pointed to a fundraiser in Los Angeles he hosted for the president last month. “The Joe Biden I was with three weeks ago at the fundraiser is not the Joe… of 2010,” he wrote. “He’s not even the Joe Biden of 2020. He’s the man we all saw at the debate.”

The president is not capable of beating Donald Trump in November, Clooney continued. He called the Biden campaign’s claim that he is the Democratic primary voters’ choice “a lie, at best.” And, perhaps most devastatingly, he said that every prominent Democrat he spoke to knew all of this — whether or not they were willing to admit it publicly.

“We can bury our heads in the sand and pray for a miracle in November, or we can speak the truth,” he wrote.

EPA U.S. President Joe Biden (R) greets George Clooney at a reception for Kennedy Center honorees in the East Room of the White HouseUnited States Environmental Protection Agency

Biden campaign is protesting George Clooney’s damaging New York Times article

The Biden campaign is pushing back against Clooney’s post, noting that the president flew across nine time zones from the G7 summit in Italy to attend the star’s fundraising event.

Campaign officials also noted that the president had recently had serious disagreements with the star and his wife, human rights lawyer Amal Clooney, over his administration’s Gaza policy. The op-ed, published three weeks after the Los Angeles fundraiser, could be seen as a strike timed for maximum impact.

But Clooney is no ordinary movie star. He is a powerful Democratic fundraiser and has been for years. Since California, and especially the Hollywood industry, is a major part of the party’s money base, Clooney’s comments pose a very real threat to Mr Biden.

The move also comes on the heels of expressions of discontent from other major Democratic donors, such as Netflix chairman Reed Hastings and IAC chairman Barry Diller.

The actor has also dabbled in partisan politics, with close ties to former President Barack Obama. It’s hard to imagine him appearing on the pages of the New York Times in such a dramatic way, with a double-barreled attack on the incumbent president, without at least some tacit approval from prominent Democrats.

Rejoicing at the Democrats’ chaos on Wednesday night, Trump tweeted about Clooney: “He turned his back on Crooked Joe like the rats they both are.”

A growing number of prominent Democrats are saying things that should give Mr Biden pause.

“We have been asking President Biden to do a lot for a lot of people for a long time,” Senator Welch wrote in the Washington Post.

“This requires unparalleled selflessness and courage. We need him to put us first, as he has done before. I urge him to do that now.”

Earlier in the day, hours before Clooney and Welch’s opinion piece was published, former House Speaker Nancy Pelosi — who still wields considerable influence in the party — did not endorse Mr. Biden’s re-election bid.

She said critics of the president should keep quiet until after this week’s NATO summit. “Whatever you’re thinking,” she said, “you don’t need to put that on the table until we see what we’re going to do this week.”

She added that Mr Biden should make a quick decision about whether to continue his campaign. When pressed about the president’s clear intention to continue his campaign, she deflected. “I want him to do whatever he decides to do,” Ms Pelosi said.

And later in the day, Virginia Sen. Tim Kaine — Hillary Clinton’s vice presidential nominee in 2016 — made similar statements about the president “doing the patriotic thing for the country” and “making that decision.”

Congresswoman Pramila Jayapal of Washington, chairwoman of the Congressional Progressive Caucus, put it more bluntly: “I fully support him being our nominee until he is no longer our nominee.”

It seems that Biden supporters are not taking “yes, I’m still running” for an answer.

Biden: Nancy Pelosi says decision to move forward is up to the president

Meanwhile, even some of Mr. Biden’s most loyal supporters are starting to engage in “what if” scenarios. California Governor Gavin Newsom said he still supports the president and will not run against Vice President Kamala Harris as his nominee if Mr. Biden resigns.

Senate Democrats will meet with Biden campaign officials on Thursday to discuss the future of the campaign. And House Minority Leader Hakeem Jeffries said he would speak directly with the president about Democrats’ concerns on Friday.

The wheels are still spinning, but it is unclear whether they are moving towards the target or still spinning in place.

If Mr. Biden withdraws, it is unclear what will happen next. Some have suggested that Ms. Harris, as the president’s running mate, would be next.

Biden ignores reporter’s question during meeting with Starmer

The solution, Clooney says, is for the Democrats to regroup and choose a new nominee, though he’s been vague about how that would work. And his suggestion that, given the shortened campaign season, whoever the party chooses will be able to avoid opposition research and negative campaigning — from Democrats or Republicans — seems naive in the extreme.

While the mood in Washington has turned against the president in the past 24 hours, his situation on the ground has not changed.

Mr. Biden still controls the majority of the delegates to the national convention that ultimately decide the party’s presidential ticket. And while those delegates are not explicitly bound to support him, he can replace anyone who proves less loyal.

Polls, while showing him trailing Trump, have not budged significantly since his ill-fated debate. And few polls show any of his most obvious alternatives—the vice president and prominent Democratic governors—doing significantly better.

Even critics of Mr Biden, with his appeals to patriotism, responsibility and concern for American democracy in the face of the possibility of a second Trump presidency, implicitly acknowledge that the final decision lies in his hands.

What Wednesday proves, however, is that if he keeps going, he may never be able to completely forget the worry of aging.

His debate performance could become a self-inflicted wound that never heals.


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