Rep. Lloyd Doggett becomes first Democrat in Congress to call for Biden's withdrawal from 2024 race

A House Democratic lawmaker has become the first in the party to publicly call for President Joe Biden to step down as the Democratic nominee for president, citing Biden’s debate performance against Donald Trump failing to “effectively defend his many accomplishments.”

Credit: AP

Credit: AP

WASHINGTON (AP) — A House Democratic lawmaker has become the first in the party to publicly call for President Joe Biden to step down as the party's nominee for president, citing Biden's debate performance against Donald Trump failing to "effectively defend his many accomplishments."

Rep. Lloyd Doggett of Texas said in a statement Tuesday that Biden should “make the painful and difficult decision to withdraw.”

“My decision to make these strong reservations public is not done lightly nor does it in any way diminish my respect for all that President Biden has achieved,” Doggett said. “Recognizing that, unlike Trump, President Biden’s first commitment has always been to our country, not himself, I am hopeful that he will make the painful and difficult decision to withdraw. I respectfully call on him to do so.”

Doggett, who represents an Austin-based district and is serving his 15th term in Congress, is the first sitting lawmaker in his party to publicly state what many have been privately whispering behind closed doors since last week's debate. Biden's weak performance caused immediate panic among even his most ardent supporters, leading many to question whether the 81-year-old career politician is the strongest Democratic candidate to take on Trump, the presumptive Republican presidential nominee, in November.

“I represent the heart of a congressional district once represented by Lyndon Johnson,” Doggett, who is the No. 2 Democrat on the powerful House Ways and Means Committee, continued. “Under very different circumstances, he made the painful decision to withdraw. President Biden should do the same.”

Biden himself conceded the debate didn't go well for him, but he insisted he was ready to fight for a second term as president. White House press secretary Karine Jean-Pierre, asked Tuesday about growing concerns among Democrats, said they respect the opinions and thoughts of concerned party members, adding, "that's what makes this party different than the other side." As for Doggett, she said: "He's going to have his thoughts. That's for him to speak to."

Beyond the White House, control of both chambers of Congress is also hanging in the balance in November, and Democrats find themselves defending far more Senate seats than Republicans. The Democrats hold the Senate with a slim 51-49 majority, while Republicans control the House by only a handful of seats.

Doggett's explosive statement came minutes after former House Speaker Nancy Pelosi, D-Calif., told MSNBC that she believes "it is a legitimate question" whether Biden's halting performance is just “an episode or is this a condition.”

“When people ask that question, it’s legitimate -- of both candidates,” Pelosi said.

Pelosi said she had not spoken with Biden since the debate, but she emphasized that the president is on “top of his game, in terms of knowing the issues and what is at stake.”

It all amounts to a stunning and swift turn of events for Biden, his campaign and his allies on Capitol Hill, who have spent the better part of the last several years combatting criticism about the president's fitness and defending his ability to serve another four-year term, at the end of which he would be 86 years old.

But Biden's shaky performance during the debate with Trump has shaken Democratic support to its foundations, with members of the party at all levels entertaining the possibility that he can no longer be the nominee.

Rep. Jamie Raskin, the top Democrat on the House Oversight Committee and an influential voice in the caucus, over the weekend, broached the possibility of Biden stepping aside ahead of the Democratic convention in August.

“So whether he’s the candidate or someone else is the candidate, he is going to be the keynote speaker at our convention,” Raskin told MSNBC about Biden. “He will be the figure that we rally around to move forward.”

Other elected Democrats said they were caught off guard by Biden's rambling and raspy performance. Sen. Sheldon Whitehouse, of Rhode Island, said that he has known Biden for years and served in the Senate with him, but had “never seen that happen before.”

“I think people want to make sure that this is a campaign that’s ready to go and win, that the president and his team are being candid with us about his condition — that this was a real anomaly and not just the way he is these days,” Whitehouse told WPRI on Monday.

And then there is a faction of the Democratic party who are deeply disappointed by Biden's performance, but point to the political reality that less than two months from the Democratic National Convention and four months from election day, the path to an alternative candidate is rocky and uncertain.

Sen. Bernie Sanders, Biden's one-time Democratic opponent, told The Associated Press in an interview Tuesday that while he's not confident the president can win in November, he doesn't want him to step aside, considering what the party views as the greatest threat to Democracy in Trump.

“A presidential election is not a Grammy Award contest for the best singer or entertainer. It’s about who has the best policies that impact our lives,” Sanders said. “I’m going to do everything I can to see that Biden gets reelected.”

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Associated Press writers Kevin Freking and Stephen Groves in Washington and Steve Peoples in New York contributed to this report.

Credit: AP

Credit: AP