Congressional Democrats hold critical meetings over Biden candidacy

Democrats in Congress are to hold critical meetings in Washington on Tuesday that could have a bearing on President Joe Biden's candidacy for re-election.

Questions have been raised about the 81-year-old's fitness for office after a stumbling presidential debate performance against Donald Trump late last month.

On Monday, a sixth Democratic congressman, Adam Smith, publicly urged Mr Biden to step aside, telling BBC News the party needed a "stronger messenger".

But in her own interview with the BBC, a major Democratic fundraiser insisted that the president was still the man to take on Trump in November's election.

Mr Biden gave a "bad" performance in the debate, Lindy Li acknowledged, but he had "resuscitated our standing as an international leader and a superpower".

The president will find himself in an even brighter spotlight on Tuesday when he hosts a meeting of leaders of countries in the Nato military alliance.

That is in addition to the day's closely-watched meetings of House and Senate Democrats, during which Mr Biden's candidacy is expected to be a pressing issue.

The debate around the president's mental acuity has only intensified since lawmakers returned to Washington after the 4 July break.

Speculation about who could replace him in the presidential election has mounted, too, with Vice-President Kamala Harris earning some high-profile backers.

Joe Biden speaks to Kamala Harris
Speculation has been mounting about whether Vice-President Kamala Harris (R) could take over from Mr Biden [Reuters]

Mr Smith went public on Monday after being named by multiple American outlets as one of a handful of congressman who had privately told House Minority Leader Hakeem Jeffries that Mr Biden should make way for another candidate.

Speaking to BBC News, he said the president had a strong economic record and foreign policy successes, but that this was a message Mr Biden was "incapable of delivering". Things had not improved since the debate with Trump, Mr Smith said.

Earlier in the day, Mr Biden himself made a surprise call to a radio station during which he dared his doubters to either challenge him or unite behind his candidacy.

He also sent an open letter to Democrats in Congress in which he insisted he could beat Trump. He has previously acknowledged that he "screwed up" in the debate.

His performance in that head-to-head on 27 June has earned the ridicule of Trump, who has suggested Ms Harris would be a "better" competitor for the White House.

But in his latest comments on the matter, Trump told Fox News that he expected his adversary to stay in the race: "He’s got an ego, and he doesn’t want to quit."

In a tense news conference on Monday, Mr Biden's spokeswoman denied suggestions that he might be suffering from an undisclosed illness.

White House press secretary Karine Jean-Pierre rejected speculation that Mr Biden was being treated for Parkinson's disease, which can cause stiff movement and slurred speech.

She was responding to a question about a New York Times report that said an expert on Parkinson's disease had visited the White House as many as eight times since last year.

Later, the White House confirmed that the expert in question had been to visit Mr Biden during his annual health checks, but said he had made "no findings" of Parkinson's or other neurological issues.

Despite the recent feverish speculation, the president has also found a number of high-profile backers. On Monday, left-wing congresswoman Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez told reporters that the matter of Mr Biden's candidacy was "closed".

She said she had "spoken with him extensively" in the past days, and that he retained her support. It was important for Democrats to show solidarity, she added.

In her comments to BBC Radio 4's Today programme, Ms Li admitted that Mr Biden had a poor debate showing, but suggested that the president's "haemorrhaging" of support had stopped, and he was ready to attack Trump over his legal woes.

She had recently been in a meeting with Mr Biden in which "he actually looked pretty phenomenal," she said.

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