The mandate from Kamala Harris’ camp: Stay the course, dispel Biden replacement theories

Vice President Kamala Harris’ camp is digging in and dismissing calls for her to replace President Joe Biden on the ticket amid escalating calls for the president to step aside and new polling showing the vice president outpacing Biden in a hypothetical race against Donald Trump.

The mandate among Harris campaign staff is to remain firm, stay in line and keep the focus on the Biden-Harris ticket, one source told CNN. The vice president’s staff received similar guidance in a virtual staff meeting Monday to follow the vice president’s lead and keep heads down, another source told CNN.

The internal marching orders echo the message Harris is taking on the trail. On Tuesday, Harris again batted down the idea of running in Biden’s place during a brief interview with CBS.

“Look, Joe Biden is our nominee. We beat Trump once and we’re going to beat him again, period,” she said.

“I am proud to be Joe Biden’s running mate,” she later added.

The latest CNN poll conducted following last week’s debate shows Harris within striking distance of Trump in a hypothetical matchup: 47% of registered voters support Trump and 45% Harris, a result within the margin of error that suggests there is no clear leader under such a scenario.

Former Democratic Rep. Tim Ryan publicly called on Democrats to replace Biden with Harris.

“We talk about President Biden’s administration being the most successful administration in modern history. We brag about that. She was in the room. She was right there, three-and-a-half years, went through the campaign with him,” Ryan told CNN’s Jake Tapper Tuesday.

“I think she would be able to talk about that much clearer than the president would be able to,” Ryan added, referring to the administration’s record. “I think she would absolutely juice up the Democratic base.”

Democratic Rep. Katie Porter, meanwhile, didn’t call on Biden to drop out of the race and stopped short of fully backing her fellow Californian, telling CNN’s Jake Tapper on “The Lead” that there should be “a robust democratic process” to determine the Democratic nominee should the president step back.

The congresswoman said Harris “would be a very, very top contender in that process,” but she signaled openness to other candidates, arguing the more “qualified” candidates there are in the race at that point, “the better for our democracy.”

The White House, Porter said, “fumbled” the strategy for damage control following the debate and she urged the president to “get out there and earn the trust of the American people” and not just contact top Democrats in Congress as Biden has done in recent days.

In the immediate fallout from the debate, Harris’ staff made phone calls to check in with Democratic officials, trying to reassure them, remind them of Biden’s record and agenda and call on them to remain united, CNN previously reported.

Sources close to the vice president have repeatedly maintained that she is fiercely loyal to Biden, arguing that her public statements since last week’s CNN-hosted presidential debate reflect where she is.

“Some just don’t understand the rules, some are stirring the pot and some have their own agenda,” one source close to Harris said, when asked about calls for Harris to replace Biden on the ticket. “But for her, there is one plan and focus and it starts with Joe Biden and this country.”

Biden and Harris have spoken multiple times since Thursday’s debate, two sources familiar with the conversations said. And on Wednesday, the president is keeping his running mate intentionally close.

The two had lunch in Biden’s private dining room at the White House and made a joint appearance during a call with campaign staff in Wilmington. Harris has also been invited by the president and his advisers to join the meeting with governors, placing her in the same room as some of the very men and women who could become challengers – or, potential running mates of her own, should Biden end his bid for reelection and she becomes the Democratic nominee.

The overarching message, a senior campaign adviser told CNN: “He’s with her.”

Should Biden step aside, several party officials and advisers say plans are underway for Biden to immediately throw his support behind Harris, release his Democratic delegates and ask them to do the same. Former presidents and party leaders would follow suit, in hopes of avoiding a contentious fight to lead the Democratic ticket.

“Who would stand up against our historic vice president to be our nominee for president?” a senior Democratic official told CNN, speaking on the condition of anonymity to discuss sensitive talks in advance of any formal decision from Biden.

But Harris is going to great lengths to avoid being seen as getting ahead of the president. She told her team again Wednesday the timing of this decision “is Biden’s alone to make,” one aide said.

“The President is and will remain our party’s nominee, and Vice President Harris is proud to be his running mate, and looks forward to serving at his side for four more years,” Brian Fallon, a campaign spokesman, told CNN. “Reports suggesting they or the campaign are considering alternative scenarios are patently false.”

This story has been updated with additional reporting.

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