House Democrats Close Ranks Around Biden After Debate Night Debacle

Faced with an unsteady debate performance by Joe Biden, House Democrats rallied around their presidential nominee Friday, citing everything from a cold to overpreparation to the debate setting itself as possible explanations.

Biden sometimes appeared to lose his train of thought and missed obvious openings to go on the attack in the CNN debate Thursday night. The performance led some party operatives and commentators to wonder if Biden should step back from the race in favor of Vice President Kamala Harris or some other Democrat.

But on the last day in Washington for House lawmakers before they leave for a week-long break, many Democratic representatives said Biden may have been thrown off his game by a variety of factors.

“I’m not sure if it was too much preparation and not enough strategy. But it’s the beginning, not the end,” said Rep. Bennie Thompson (D-Miss.)

Rep. Richard Neal (D-Mass.) also pointed to the possibility Biden had overprepared. Biden reportedly spent much of his time in the days leading up to the debate rehearsing.

“Sometimes the spontaneity of the conversation is better than the script,” Neal said. “In most of these debates, you memorize everything. I’ve helped public debaters and I think that sometimes consultants can overdo it with the script.”

Rep. Robert Garcia (D-Calif.), who was on the debate site as an invitee of the campaign, said he learned early in the debate Biden was feeling under the weather.

“Clearly he had some type of sore throat, there’s no question,” Garcia. “Voters aren’t going to make a decision because someone had a sore throat. They’re going to make a decision because you had one person with a record and another person who is a criminal who led an attack on the Capitol.”

Rep. Joyce Beatty (D-Ohio) said the setting, an empty auditorium with just the candidates, the moderators and the camera crew, may also have thrown Biden a bit.

“It brings a different energy when you have an audience and when you have people and you have supporters there. I thought it was an odd process,” she said.

“Cutting people mics off and you’re watching them, still trying to lip sync what they’re saying — I didn’t like the process.”

But even aside from those explanations, some Democrats said it just mattered more that Trump continued to repeat falsehoods than that Biden had trouble making his own points.

“It’s hard for me to get past the fact that Donald Trump lied at the beginning, lied in the middle, lied at the end and lied throughout the entirety of the debate to the American people,” Democratic Majority Leader Hakeem Jeffries (D-N.Y.) told reporters.

Jeffries’ predecessor, former Speaker Nancy Pelosi (D-Calif.), said Biden got off to a bad start but did better later in the debate.

“Again, integrity versus dishonesty,” she said. “How come the press doesn’t hold [Trump] to his lies? That’s what I don’t understand. One lie after another.”

A few Democrats reportedly did consider pushing for Biden to step or be forced aside.

Business Insider’s Bryan Metzger reported Rep. Greg Landsman (D-Ohio) said he was not sure what was next and that Biden and his team are going to have to “huddle up and have a conversation.”

And Rep. Jared Huffman (D-Calif.) told Axios’ Andrew Solender that “every superdelegate, every Democrat needs to do a lot of soul-searching.”

Republicans said Biden’s performance merely confirmed their critique that he is not mentally up for the job of being president.

Rep. Chip Roy (R-Texas) said he was going to sponsor a non-binding resolution urging Biden’s cabinet to begin the process to replace him as president under the 25th Amendment to the U.S. Constitution.

“Internally, it has been very clear the declining status, capacity of the president but last night put it all out for all to see,” Roy said.

Speaker Mike Johnson (R-La.) said members of the Biden cabinet should “search their hearts” about invoking the 25th Amendment.

“If I were in the cabinet in the Biden administration right now, I would be having that discussion with my colleagues at the cabinet level,” he said.

Thompson, the Mississippi Democrat, chalked Biden’s troubles up to simply a bad night.

“We’re all human. Sometimes we have good nights. Sometimes we have bad nights,” he said.