While Biden campaigns in Pennsylvania, some Democratic leaders in the House say he should step aside

HARRISBURG, Pa. (AP) — President Joe Biden urged his supporters to stay unified during a series of stops in critical Pennsylvania on Sunday, even as some leading congressional Democrats privately suggested it was time for him to abandon his reelection bid because of intensifying questions about whether he's fit for another term.

Addressing a rousing church service in front of stained glass windows bathed in sunshine at Philadelphia's Mount Airy Church of God in Christ, the 81-year-old Biden joked, “I know I look 40” but “I’ve been doing this a long time.”

“I, honest to God, have never been more optimistic about America’s future if we stick together,” he said.

There and during a subsequent rally with union members in Harrisburg, Biden offered short speeches that touched on familiar topics. But he also left plenty of room for key backers to discuss standing by him. In that way, the Pennsylvania swing seemed meant to showcase support for the president from key political quarters more than proving he’s up to four more years.

His party, though, remains deeply divided.

As Congress prepares to resume this week, House Democratic leader Hakeem Jeffries convened top committee lawmakers Sunday afternoon to assess their views. Several Democratic committee leaders, including Rep. Jerry Nadler of New York, Rep. Jim Himes of Connecticut and Rep. Mark Takano of California, said privately that Biden should step aside, according to two people familiar with the meeting and granted anonymity to discuss it.

But other top Democrats, including members of the influential Congressional Black Caucus, argued just as forcefully that Biden remain the party's choice. The conversation was wide ranging, with the committee leaders sharing various views on the situation, but there was no unanimity on what should be done, the people said.

Biden was personally calling lawmakers through the weekend. He also joined a call with campaign surrogates and reiterated that he has no plans to leave the race. Instead, the president pledged to campaign harder going forward and to step up his political travel, according to two people who spoke on condition of anonymity to discuss private conversations.

One Democrat the president spoke to, Sen. Alex Padilla of California, said he and others are pushing the Biden campaign to “let Joe be Joe, get him out there.”

“I absolutely believe we can turn it around,” Padilla told The Associated Press.

Meanwhile, a person familiar with Sen. Mark Warner’s thinking said there will be no meeting on Monday to talk about Biden’s future, as had been previously discussed, and that those discussions will take place in Tuesday’s regular caucus luncheon with all Democratic senators. The person said a private meeting was no longer possible after it was made public that the Virginia Democrat was reaching out to senators about Biden, and that a variety of conversations among senators continue.

Five other, different Democratic lawmakers have already publicly called on Biden to abandon his reelection campaign ahead of November. Meeting this coming week in person means more chances for lawmakers to discuss concerns about Biden’s ability to withstand the remaining four months of the campaign — not to mention four more years in the White House — and true prospects of beating Republican presumptive nominee Donald Trump.

Biden’s campaign team was also calling and texting lawmakers to try to head off more potential defections, while increasingly asking high-profile Biden supporters to speak out on his behalf..

Calls to bow out nonetheless popped up from different directions.

Alan Clendenin, a Tampa city councilman and member of the Democratic National Committee, on Sunday called for Biden to "step aside and allow Vice President Kamala Harris to carry forward his agenda as our Democratic nominee.” Director Rob Reiner, who has helped organize glitzy Hollywood fundraisers for Biden in the past, posted on X, “It’s time for Joe Biden to step down.”

The Democratic convention is fast approaching and Biden’s Friday interview with ABC has not convinced some who remain skeptical.

Democratic fundraising bundler Barry Goodman, a Michigan attorney, said he's backing Biden but, should he step aside, he'd throw his support to Harris. That’s notable since Goodman was also a finance co-chairman for both of the statewide campaigns of Michigan Gov. Gretchen Whitmer, who has also been mentioned as a top-of-the-ticket alternative.

“We don’t have much time,” Goodman said. “I don’t think the president gets out. But if he does, I think it would be Kamala.”

There was no such suggestion at Mount Airy, where Pastor Louis Felton likened the president to Joseph and the biblical story of his “coat of many colors.” In it, Joseph was sold into slavery in Egypt by his jealous brothers, only eventually to obtain a high place in the kingdom of the pharaoh and have his brothers beg him for assistance without initially recognizing him.

“Never count Joseph out,” Felton implored. Then, referring to Democrats who have called on Biden to step aside, he added, "That's what’s going on, Mr. President. People are jealous of you. Jealous of your stick-to-itiveness, jealous of your favor. Jealous of God’s hand upon your life.”

Felton also led a prayer where he said, “Our president gets discouraged. But today, through your holy spirit, renew his mind, renew his spirt, renew his body.”

After the church service, Biden visited a campaign office in Philadelphia, where Sen. John Fetterman, a Pennsylvania Democrat who won a tough 2022 race while recovering from a stroke, offered a forceful endorsement.

“There is only one guy that has ever beaten Trump," Fetterman said. “And he is going to do it twice and put him down for good.”

Later stepping off Air Force One in Harrisburg, the president was asked if the Democratic Party was behind him and emphatically responded, “Yes.”

Joining him at the union event, Rep. Madeleine Dean, also a Pennsylvania Democrat, said that “democracy is on the line. There’s one man who understands it it’s Joe Biden.”

Isabel Afonso, who saw Biden speak in Harrisburg, said she was worried when she saw the president’s debate performance, but doesn’t think he should drop out of the race and that he can still win. “I know he is old, but I know if something happens to him, a reasonable person will replace him,” said Afonso, 63.

At the same event, 73-year-old James Johnson said he knew what it was like to forget things as he's gotten older but called Biden “a fighter." He said replacing the president at the top of the Democratic ticket would only cause confusion.

“I’m talking about lifelong Democrats and people that have been in the Democratic Party for a long time,” Johnson said. “They may just decide to jump ship, because of that.”

Still, others aren't fully convinced.

Democratic Sen. Chris Murphy of Connecticut told CNN that Biden "needs to answer those questions that voters have” while adding, “If he does that this week, I think he will be in a very good position.”

Biden has rejected undergoing independent cognitive testing, arguing that the everyday rigors of the presidency were proof enough of his mental acuity. Yet California Democratic Rep. Adam Schiff told NBC on Sunday that he'd be “happy if both the president and Donald Trump took a cognitive test.”

As some Democrats have done, Schiff also seized on Biden suggesting during the ABC interview that losing to Trump would be acceptable “as long as I give it my all.”

“This is not just about whether he gave it the best college try," Schiff said “but rather whether he made the right decision to run or to pass the torch.”


Weissert and Mascaro reported from Washington. Associated Press writers Zeke Miller and Kevin Freking in Washington, Michelle Price in New York, Meg Kinnard in Chapin, South Carolina, and Bill Barrow in New Orleans contributed to this report.