Pelosi, Clooney, Democratic senators raise new doubts about Biden

By Trevor Hunnicutt, Jeff Mason and Jarrett Renshaw

WASHINGTON/DALLAS (Reuters) -U.S. President Joe Biden faced fresh doubts on Wednesday about his re-election chances from heavyweights Nancy Pelosi and George Clooney, who may influence other Democratic lawmakers and financial donors, and two Senate Democrats.

Biden must decide quickly whether to stay in the 2024 White House race, former House Speaker Pelosi, a longtime Biden ally, said on MSNBC while declining to say definitively that she wanted him to run.

Hollywood star Clooney, a Democrat who co-hosted a star-studded fundraiser for Biden last month, withdrew his support with a damning opinion piece in the New York Times saying Biden was not the same man he was in 2020.

Senate Majority Leader Chuck Schumer, meanwhile, has privately signaled he's open to a Democratic candidate other than Biden, according to Axios. Schumer, though, reiterated his support for Biden in a statement following the Axios report.

Senator Peter Welch called on Biden to withdraw in an op-ed published late on Wednesday, the first Democratic senator to explicitly call for the president to step aside.

One major donor said Democratic leaders had indicated they would issue statements of concern after the NATO summit, but did not mention Schumer by name.

"It's going to be a bloodbath," the source said, citing growing anger among lawmakers and donors, as well as growing pressure on down-ballot candidates.

The Abandon Biden Campaign, which has opposed Biden's candidacy over his handling of the Israel-Gaza war, on Wednesday urged all Americans to call for Biden to step aside, although saying it also has no delusions about Trump and his "culture of hate."

Pelosi's remarks, which ignored Biden's repeated insistence that he is staying in the race, appeared to be the harbinger of a fresh wave of calls from fellow Democrats to exit the race.

For nearly two weeks, the 81-year-old Biden has sought to stem defections by Democratic lawmakers, donors and other allies worried he might lose the Nov. 5 vote to Republican Donald Trump, 78, after his halting June 27 debate performance.

The president has said he had a bad night at the debate, insisting he will stay in the race and defeat Trump.

Pelosi said on MSNBC she was encouraging colleagues on Capitol Hill with concerns about Biden to refrain from airing them while he hosts NATO leaders in Washington this week.

"I've said to everyone: let's just hold off. Whatever you're thinking, either tell somebody privately, but you don't have to put that out on the table until we see how we go this week," she said, describing Biden's strong remarks at the NATO summit on Tuesday as "spectacular."

She declined to say definitively that she wanted Biden to run. "I want him to do whatever he decides to do," she said. "We're all encouraging him to make that decision because time is running short."

Biden's campaign chair Jen O'Malley Dillon and senior advisers Mike Donilon and Steve Ricchetti will brief Senate Democrats at a lunch on Thursday, Biden's campaign said.

Asked to comment on Pelosi's remarks and Clooney's article, Biden's campaign pointed to a letter he sent Democrats in Congress saying he was "firmly committed" to staying in the race and beating Trump.

Asked at the NATO summit whether he still had Pelosi's support, Biden responded by raising a triumphant fist.

Other Democrats echoed Pelosi on Wednesday, however, suggesting Biden's efforts to quell dissent within his party had not succeeded. Democratic Senator Richard Blumenthal said he was "deeply concerned" about Biden's ability to win the race.

In Dallas, Vice President Kamala Harris, the party frontrunner to replace Biden if he were to step aside as the Democratic candidate, spoke to a group of some 19,000 people at an event of the historically Black Alpha Kappa Alpha Sorority.

The election is the most "existential" and consequential of their lifetimes, Harris said to a crowd that chanted, "Four More Years!"


In his opinion piece, Clooney wrote: "It's devastating to say it, but the Joe Biden I was with three weeks ago at the fund-raiser was not the Joe 'big F-ing deal' Biden of 2010. He wasn't even the Joe Biden of 2020. He was the same man we all witnessed at the debate," Clooney wrote.

"We are not going to win in November with this president. On top of that, we won't win the House, and we're going to lose the Senate."

Democrats in Congress remain deeply divided over whether to fall in line behind Biden or to urge him to step aside because of persistent questions about his health and acuity. U.S. Representative Earl Blumenauer on Wednesday became the ninth Democratic member of the House of Representatives to call for the president to end his re-election campaign.

Public defections remain a small segment of the 213 Democratic-aligned House members, and the party's leadership has continued to back Biden publicly. No Senate Democrat had broken ranks until Welch's op-ed on Wednesday, although Senator Michael Bennet of Colorado said on Tuesday he did not believe Biden could beat Trump.

Biden, eager to change the story, has surrounded himself with communities of his staunchest supporters, including Black Democratic lawmakers and voters. His campaign has framed sticking with Biden as a return of the loyalty he has shown them through his half-century of public life.

Biden was greeted with raucous applause when he met on Wednesday with a group of labor leaders, an important part of his political base, joining an AFL-CIO executive council meeting in Washington to discuss "their shared commitment to defeating Donald Trump," the Biden campaign said.

Biden listed high rents, expensive groceries and a lack of housing as issues to be tackled going forward.

Labor votes helped Biden defeat Trump in competitive states, including Michigan, Nevada and Pennsylvania, in 2020.

(Reporting by Trevor Hunnicutt and Jeff Mason; Additional reporting by Andrea Shalal, Susan Heavey and Jarrett Renshaw; Editing by Heather Timmons, Howard Goller and Tom Hogue)