Divided Democrats Blast Trump Agenda to Shift Biden Focus

(Bloomberg) -- Even as congressional Democrats argued Tuesday over whether to stand behind Joe Biden’s candidacy, the White House and lawmakers grasped for a unified strategy: trying to change the subject from the president’s mental acuity to Donald Trump’s policy goals.

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Democrat, Mikie Sherrill of New Jersey, called on Biden to step aside Tuesday afternoon, underscoring persistent worries about Biden and questions about whether he should make way for Vice President Kamala Harris or another candidate. Others signaled the matter is unresolved. In an interview with CNN on Tuesday evening, Colorado US Senator Michael Bennet said that he told colleagues in a meeting earlier that he doesn’t think Biden can defeat Trump.

“This race is on a trajectory that is very worrisome if you care about the future of this country,” Bennet said. “Donald Trump is on track, I think, to win this election and maybe win it by a landslide and take with him the Senate and the House.”

Representative Pete Aguilar, the House Democrats’ third-ranking leader, described the president as the party’s candidate “right now.”

Across the Capitol, many Democrats parried questions about Biden by invoking “Project 2025” – a suite of policy proposals drafted by the conservative Heritage Foundation for Trump to pursue if he is elected in November. Trump has tried to distance himself from the controversial initiative, but it’s staffed by some of the most prominent members of his former administration.

Democrats say the proposals – which range from gutting the federal civil service to banning pornography and blocking efforts to fight climate change – are likely to alarm undecided voters and push them into the president’s camp, even as doubts persist in the wake of Biden’s disastrous debate performance last month.

“There is a consensus to focus on Project 2025,” said Representative Jim Clyburn of South Carolina, leaving a closed-door meeting of House Democrats that participants described as a listening session to allow members to vent their concerns about Biden’s ability to defeat Trump.

“I am not going to be distracted by a 90-minute debate,” Representative Ayanna Pressley of Massachusetts, a member of the left-leaning “Squad” of lawmakers, said. “I am focused on guarding against 90 years of horror if Project 2025 becomes a reality.”

Elsewhere, Representative Maxine Waters of California invoked the project as she questioned Treasury Secretary Janet Yellen during an appearance at the House Financial Services Committee.

The attempt to change the channel came from the very top.

“Google Project 2025,” Biden posted on X around midday, part of a refrain from the president’s reelection campaign as it tries to refocus voters on the stakes of the fall election and away from Biden’s struggles.

Staunching Defections

The House Democrats’ meeting early Tuesday amounted to a forum on Biden’s political future, after several members declared publicly that he should step aside. There was no sign yet of the kind of clear consensus that might force him to reconsider his candidacy.

It’s a pivotal week for the embattled president, who is hosting a NATO summit in Washington. He will hold a Thursday press conference, offering critics and supporters another moment to study every word for signs he’s slipping.

“He shouldn’t endanger his legacy and deliver us to a tyrant,” Lloyd Doggett of Texas, the first Democrat to call for Biden to step aside, said following the House Democrats’ meeting.

Many lawmakers expressed support for Biden, albeit some more begrudging than others. And very few expressed confidence that Biden can win a second term.

New York Democrat Jerrold Nadler, one of several senior Democrats who have privately said Biden should step aside, said the president has “made very clear he is running” and the party must get behind him.

“He is the person,” Nadler said when asked if Biden can beat Donald Trump in November. “The president has determined that he is the best candidate.”

The president, who spoke late Monday with members of the Congressional Black Caucus and plans to meet with progressives later this week, did not speak to House Democrats directly.

After a two-hour closed-door meeting of Senate Democrats, Sheldon Whitehouse of Rhode Island said “nothing has changed” about his concerns over Biden.

“I think we need to continue to have the conversation we had today,” the senator added.

Donor Discontent

A growing number of donors are expressing worries about Biden’s ability to beat Trump in November.

Nearly 400 donors sent a letter late Monday calling for Biden to “withdraw from being a candidate for reelection for the sake of our democracy and the future of our nation.”

Among those who signed the letter are Lisa Blau, the co-founder of venture firm _able Partners, Kevin Brennan of hedge fund Bridgewater Associates, former Procter & Gamble Co. chief executive officer John E. Pepper, and two former Internal Revenue Service Commissioners Charles Rossotti and Fred Forman.

“To be clear, however this resolves, I will support him or whoever the Democratic nominee is,” Trey Beck, a Democratic donor and former managing director of DE Shaw Investment Management, told Bloomberg Surveillance Tuesday. “We’re going to have to unify behind our candidate and if it’s Biden that’s who I’ll get behind him. I’ll walk on glass for the guy.”

(Updates with US Senator Bennet’s comments in second, third paragraphs)

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