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Rep. Doggett calls on Biden to withdraw. He's the first Democrat in Congress to do so

Rep. Lloyd Doggett, D-Texas, as seen at the Capitol on June 5, 2024. Doggett is the first congressional Democrat to publicly call for President Biden to quit his reelection bid.
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Rep. Lloyd Doggett, D-Texas, as seen at the Capitol on June 5, 2024. Doggett is the first congressional Democrat to publicly call for President Biden to quit his reelection bid.

Updated July 02, 2024 at 21:06 PM ET

Rep. Lloyd Doggett, D-Texas,, became the first congressional Democrat to call for President Biden to withdraw from his reelection bid, issuing a statement saying that Biden had failed to reassure voters in last week's presidential debate and was trailing his Republican opponent, former President Donald Trump.

Biden, 81, badly stumbled in the debate, seeming at times to lose his train of thought, and struggled to defend his record. He and his campaign have insisted that he would stay in the race and make a comeback — despite calls from some Democrats and donors to step back and let another party leader run instead.

In remarks at a fundraising event in McLean, Va., on Tuesday, Biden blamed his debate performance on a punishing travel schedule through many time zones. He had gone to Europe twice in two weeks in June, and also spent time at a Los Angeles fundraiser.

"The fact is that you know, I wasn’t very smart," Biden told donors, quipping that he "nearly fell asleep on stage."

Biden will meet with Democratic leaders on Wednesday

Biden and his campaign have been in damage control mode since the debate. This week, that continues. Biden will meet on Wednesday with Democratic governors — some attending in person, and some by Zoom. He is separately making calls to congressional leaders.

On Friday, he plans to campaign in Wisconsin, with ABC anchor George Stephanopoulos in tow. And next week, at the NATO leaders' summit in Washington, D.C., Biden will give a full-fledged news conference, White House press secretary Karine Jean-Pierre said.

Jean-Pierre said Biden "had a cold and a bad night" at the debate. She said that the White House had been transparent about his medical records. Asked directly if he has Alzheimer's disease, dementia or another degenerative illness, Jean-Pierre curtly said, "no."

"I hope you're asking the other guy the same exact question," she said, referring to former President Donald Trump, 78.

Asked about Rep. Doggett's call, White House press secretary Karine Jean-Pierre said that the congressman was entitled to his opinion. “It is a big-tent party," she said. The Biden campaign did not respond to a request for comment.

Democrats have struggled with how to respond to the fallout

President Biden speaks about extreme weather at the DC Emergency Operations Center in Washington, DC, on July 2.
Jim Watson/AFP via Getty Images / AFP
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President Biden speaks about extreme weather at the DC Emergency Operations Center in Washington, DC, on July 2.

Immediately following the debate, most House Democrats struggled with how to respond, with many acknowledging the president’s poor performance, but none publicly saying he needed to step aside. But five days later, a new CNN poll showed most voters think Democrats have a better chance with another nominee, and there are signs some Democrats are more willing to break with the White House.

Doggett, who represents a safe Democratic district, said that Biden was trailing Trump in most polls. “I had hoped that the debate would provide some momentum to change that. It did not,” he said in a statement.

"Instead of reassuring voters, the president failed to effectively defend his many accomplishments and expose Trump’s many lies," Doggett said.

Top congressional Democrats like former House Speaker Nancy Pelosi and South Carolina Rep. Jim Clyburn, who helped Biden get the 2020 nomination, took to the airwaves over the weekend to defend Biden and pledge support.

But on Tuesday, Pelosi’s tone appeared to shift, and she opened the door to other Democrats to raise concerns about the president’s ability to continue.

"I think it's a legitimate question to say, is this an episode – or is this a condition?" Pelosi said in an interview on MSNBC. "When people ask that question, it's completely legitimate — of both candidates."

Ian Krager, a spokesperson for Pelosi, in a written statement to NPR, said, “Speaker Pelosi has full confidence in President Biden and looks forward to attending his inauguration on January 20, 2025.”

Concerns about downballot races

Earlier on Tuesday, Rep. Mike Quigley, D-Ill., expressed public reservations about the impact on downballot Democrats.

“I think his four years are, you know, one of the great presidencies of our lifetime. But I think he has to be honest with himself. This is a decision he’s going to have to make,” Quigley said on CNN.

“He clearly has to understand … that his decision not only impacts who’s going to serve in the White House the next four years, but who’s going to serve in the Senate, who’s going to serve in the House, and it will have implications for decades to come,” he said.

Two other House Democrats said on Tuesday that they think Trump will win in 2024: Maine Rep. Jared Golden and Washington Rep. Marie Gluesenkamp Perez. Both represent swing districts.

"We all saw what we saw, you can’t undo that, and the truth I think, is that Biden is going to lose to Trump," Gluesenkamp Perez said on Portland's KATU News.

Golden wrote an op-ed in the Bangor Daily News, and dismissed Biden's argument democracy would be in peril if Trump returns to the Oval Office.

Golden wrote, “Democrats’ post-debate hand-wringing is based on the idea that a Trump victory is not just a political loss, but a unique threat to our democracy. I reject the premise. Unlike Biden and many others, I refuse to participate in a campaign to scare voters with the idea that Trump will end our democratic system.”

The House GOP’s campaign arm was quick to criticize most Democrats for keeping their opinions about Biden mostly to themselves, or in background quotes to journalists.

“The cowards in the Democratic caucus have spent every day after the debate in witness protection, too afraid to say what they’re all thinking,” said Jack Pandol, spokesman for the National Republican Congressional Committee.

“Americans remember House Democrats were complicit in covering up and gaslighting the public about the president’s condition, and voters are primed to punish them in November,” Pandol said.

Copyright 2024 NPR

Corrected: July 3, 2024 at 12:19 PM EDT
An earlier version of this story said that Biden would be meeting with congressional leaders. Rather, he is holding calls with individual congressional leaders.
Deirdre Walsh is the congress editor for NPR's Washington Desk.
Deepa Shivaram is a multi-platform political reporter on NPR's Washington Desk.