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WASHINGTON — As far as apologies go, the one Rep. Carolyn Maloney offered to President Biden during a CNN appearance on Thursday arguably fell somewhat short of the mark.
Having said earlier in the week that she did not believe Biden would run for reelection in 2024, the longtime legislator, who is now locked in a fierce Democratic primary she had not expected, seemed to realize that maligning the leader of her own party may have been a mistake, given how easily the president won her New York City district in 2020.
But the cleanup may have made only a bigger mess. “Mr. President, I apologize,” a seemingly weary Maloney told CNN anchor Brianna Keilar on Thursday morning, before offering an elaboration that seemed to render the apology null.
“I want you to run. I happen to think you won’t be running, but when you run or if you run, I will be there 100%. You have deserved it. You are a great president, and thank you for everything you’ve done for my state and all the states and all the cities in America. Thank you, Mr. President.”
The baffling episode is a sign of how fraught the question of Biden’s reelection has become. It is also the latest twist in the Democratic primary in New York’s 12th Congressional District, which has seen Maloney battling another House veteran, Rep. Jerry Nadler, and attorney Suraj Patel, who is half their age (Maloney is 76, while Nadler is 75).
The primary is on Aug. 23. Given the district’s ideological tilt, the Democratic nominee will be all but assured of winning the general election in November.
It wasn’t supposed to be this way for either Maloney or Nadler, who have been colleagues in Washington since 1993. But a redrawing of the New York congressional map effectively merged their districts, setting up a fight between the two high-ranking House Democrats.
The bitterness of the clash has been to the delight of Patel, a Stanford graduate who had lost to Maloney in the 2018 and 2020 Democratic primaries.
Patel’s argument that New York needs younger and more energetic leadership mirrors what Democrats have been saying about Biden, who will turn 80 in November. “Joe Biden Is Too Old to Be President Again,” read the headline of a column by Michelle Goldberg of the New York Times on July 11. And if a Times op-ed does not have the influence today that it may have had a half-century ago, that influence remains strong among the wealthy white voters of Manhattan whom both Nadler and Maloney are courting.
The need to put distance between themselves and Biden may explain their responses during a televised debate on Tuesday to a question from moderator Errol Louis about whether Biden should seek reelection in 2024.
“Yes,” Patel answered quickly.
“Too early to say,” Nadler replied. “It doesn’t serve the purpose of the Democratic Party to deal with that until after the midterms.”
The most controversial answer came from Maloney, who appeared to be channeling the dissatisfaction with Biden among many Democrats. “I don’t believe he is running for reelection,” Maloney said, offering no evidence for her assertion. She is not known to be especially close to Biden or to any of the advisers who would be familiar with his thinking.
An astonished Patel looked directly into the camera, evidently aware that he was in the midst of a viral moment. Indeed, the exchange instantly became the singularly newsworthy moment of the debate, with the president’s detractors seizing on Maloney’s comments as evidence that even famously liberal Manhattan had grown weary of Biden.
By the next morning, Maloney saw fit to explain herself. “I will absolutely support President Biden, if he decides to run for re-election,” she wrote on Twitter. “Biden’s leadership securing historic investments for healthcare, climate & economic justice prove once again why he is the strong and effective leader we need right now.”
But that wasn’t enough, and there was Maloney on CNN the following morning, apologizing more fulsomely before confoundingly repeating the controversial claim from Tuesday night.
For Patel, the fracas over her debate comments provided an easy opportunity to press the case against the Democratic stalwart. “Carolyn Maloney is on an embarrassing, multi-day flip-flop non-apology tour where she’s now walked back her walk back,” his campaign wrote in a press release.