What they're thinking: For many Democrats, silence speaks volumes on the Biden issue


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Years ago, a veteran, respected journalist called me out on a piece of news copy I wrote.

My sin: Rather than indicating that someone said something, I wrote that they believed something.

My colleague corrected me.

REPORTER’S NOTEBOOK: BACKLASH IN THE HALLS OF CONGRESS

“We know what they say. But we can’t know what they believe,” counseled my friend.

I changed the copy.

No journalist is clairvoyant.

Don Beyer, Nancy Pelosi, Joe Biden, Pete Aguilar and Peter Welch

Questions over President Biden’s mental acuity and calls for him to step aside have opened up a new rift in the Democratic Party. (Background: Win McNamee/Getty Images; Inset: Anna Moneymaker/Getty Images; Win McNamee/Getty Images; Justin Sullivan/Getty Images; Kevin Dietsch/Getty Images; Alex Wong/Getty Images)

But sometimes, those of us in the Capitol press corps know exactly what lawmakers are thinking.

It’s not what Members of Congress tell us. It’s what they don’t tell us.

Often, silence can be louder than the soundbites.

CHIP ROY PLANS HOUSE DISCUSSION ON 25TH AMENDMENT REGARDING BIDEN’S MENTAL FITNESS

Such is the case with this week’s version of the Congressional Laff-A-Lympics as reporters chased Congressional Democrats up House hill and down Senate dell in a quest to determine where they stood with President Biden.

The President’s cheerleaders were easy to find.

“Joe Biden all the way,” hollered Rep. Kweisi Mfume, D-Md., as he headed into a meeting of the House Democratic Caucus. “Joe Biden all the way.”

Democratic Maryland Rep. Kweisi Mfume

Democratic Maryland Rep. Kweisi Mfume has openly declared his support for President Biden “all the way.” (Chip Somodevilla/Getty Images)

“There’s one person this country that’s kicked (former President) Trump’s ass in 2020. That’s where my money is now in 2024,” said Sen. John Fetterman, D-Penn.

“We are ridin’ with Biden,” declared Rep. Jim Clyburn, D-S.C.

But there’s worry about a down ballot hemorrhage for Democrats if the President stays in the race.

Call it “bleedin’ with Biden.”

REP. CLYBURN DECLARES SUPPORT FOR KAMALA HARRIS AS DEM NOMINEE IF BIDEN HAS TO BOW OUT: ‘I WILL SUPPORT HER’

A few who harbored grave concerns delivered brief, but pointed comments.

“He just has to step down because he can’t win,” said Rep. Mike Quigley, D-Ill., of the President.

Rep. Mikie Sherrill, D-N.J., called for Mr. Biden to step aside in a statement.

“I am asking that he declare that he won’t run for reelection and will help lead us through a process toward a new nominee,” said Sherill.

Mikie Sherrill

Democratic New Jersey Rep. Mikie Sherrill has released a formal statement calling on President Biden to withdraw his re-election bid. (Photo by Kevin Dietsch/Getty Images)

Rep. Pat Ryan, D-N.Y., who represents a swing district, also asked for a swap out at the top.

But when pressed how some really feel, many Democrats don’t “use their words.”

Former House Speaker Nancy Pelosi, D-Calif., greeted a throng of reporters outside the Democratic National Committee in the sweltering heat Tuesday morning.

“Good morning. Good morning,” said Pelosi.

“Should the President step aside?” asked a reporter.

There was silence from Pelosi.

PELOSI SNAPS AT REPORTER ASKING IF SHE WANTS BIDEN TO DROP OUT OF THE RACE: ‘AM I SPEAKING ENGLISH TO YOU?’

Reporters tried to get Sen. Elizabeth Warren, D-Mass., to weigh-in on President Biden.

“Do you support Biden?” asked ABC’s Rachel Scott.

Warren and an aide hurriedly slid past the press assemblage.

I’m up in Finance,” said Warren as she darted into the committee backroom.

“I have nothing really to say about it really,” said Rep. Mark Takano, D-Calif., the top Democrat on the House Veterans’ Affairs Committee.

Really? Nothing about the standard-bearer for your party?

At least nothing – in the open.

Peter Welch

Sen. Peter Welch of Vermont is the first Democrat in his congressional chamber to urge that President Biden step aside. (Photo by Anna Rose Layden/Getty Images)

After the weekly Senate Democratic luncheon, Sens. Chris Murphy, D-Conn., and Brian Schatz, D-Hawaii, both indicated they wouldn’t discuss what goes on at private caucus meetings.

“We have a ways to go,” said Sen. Peter Welch, D-Vt., “But we’re not going to negotiate in public.”

Welch became the first Senate Democrat to call on the president to bow out.

FIRST DEM SENATOR CALLS FOR BIDEN TO DROP OUT ‘FOR THE GOOD OF THE COUNTRY’

Colleague Aishah Hasnie reported at one point that lawmakers would not even verbally acknowledge some reporters asking about President Biden and would only stare at them.

Consternation about the President has led some Democrats to retreat in public from commenting about his viability. Yet they have been frank behind closed doors.

“In a confidential conversation with other members of House Democratic leadership, I expressed the same concerns that Americans across the country — and here in my district — are grappling with, about President Biden’s electability at the top of the ticket,” said Rep. Susan Wild, D-Penn., who represents a swing district.

Rep. Susan Wild

Democratic Pennsylvania Rep. Susan Wild claimed to express “concerns” about President Biden’s electoral viability behind closed doors – but remained mum on the subject when pressed by Fox. (Photo by Bill Clark/CQ-Roll Call, Inc via Getty Images)

Wild joined a conference call with other top Democrats Sunday in her capacity as the ranking member on the House Ethics Committee.

Wild was one lawmaker most journalists wanted to speak with this week. When the House conducts roll call votes, Fox deploys what I call “no doubles” defense. In baseball, “no doubles” defense is where the first baseman and third baseman creep closer to the line to prevent “doubles.” We do the same on Capitol Hill. There are two exits near the main exterior House steps. So one crew watches the main exit. Another cheats a little bit toward the Senate side where some member who wish to be elusive try to escape.

Sure enough, Wild departed through the more obscure exit heading toward the Senate. But that’s where we caught up with her. Wild was circumspect when asked about her reservations about President Biden.

MULTIPLE LETTERS CIRCULATING AMONG HOUSE DEMS CALLING ON BIDEN TO STEP ASIDE FOR 2024: SOURCES

“My statement speaks for itself,” said Wild.

“Did you express some of those concerns on the call yesterday?” I countered.

“My statement is my statement is my statement,” insisted Wild.

“Are there concerns among swing district Democrats like yourself?” I queried.

“You can ask it a whole lot of different ways,” said Wild.

“That’s a different question,” I observed.

“Doesn’t matter,” said Wild. “I’m not going to say anything further. I made a statement and that’s all I’m going to say.”

Don Beyer

Despite reports that Virginia Rep. Don Beyer referred to President Biden as “very fragile” in talks with colleagues, the Washington, D.C.-area Democrat doubled down on his endorsement by Sunday night. (Bill Clark/CQ-Roll Call, Inc via Getty Images)

Rep. Don Beyer, D-Va., dialed into Sunday’s conference call as the top House Democrat on the Joint Economic Committee. Punchbowl News indicated that Beyer told his colleagues on the call Mr. Biden is “very fragile” and struggles to put “two sentences together.”

By nightfall Sunday, Beyer’s office sent out a statement saying he backed President Biden.

At the Capitol midday Monday, yours truly encountered Beyer and Rep. Joe Courtney, D-Conn., strolling down a corridor near the floor. I apologized to Courtney, saying I had some questions for Beyer – as did every other journalist in Washington.

DEMOCRATS FACE A RECKONING ON BIDEN CAMPAIGN AS LAWMAKERS RETURN TO CAPITOL HILL

Beyer was gracious in responding to my questions as we walked through a tunnel toward the Cannon House Office Building. But, like Wild, Beyer was guarded.

“Can you clarify your comments from yesterday? You put out a statement yesterday. There’s been some reporting that it didn’t square 100% with what was said,” I said to Beyer.

“I feel I’m very committed to Joe Biden. But it certainly looks like he will be our candidate. And I can do everything I can to get him elected. And I just refer you to the statement of support,” answered Beyer.

“Was what was reported, was that not accurate?” I followed up.

“I don’t want to characterize the reporting one way or the other,” said Beyer. “But I wanted to make clear where I stood with the statement I put out yesterday.”

Aguilar outside Capitol building

California Rep. Pete Aguilar, Chairman of the House Democratic Caucus, insisted his party remains unified against former President Trump, despite concerns about President Biden’s electoral viability. (Samuel Corum/Getty Images)

At the first leadership press conference since the debate, House Democratic Caucus Chairman Pete Aguilar, D-Calif., made the case against former President Trump.

“Donald Trump can not win. And we are unified,” said House Democratic Caucus Chairman Pete Aguilar,” D-Calif., on Tuesday afternoon.

But it sounded like Democrats were making stronger arguments against former President Trump rather than in favor of President Biden.

However, Aguilar left open wiggle room.

MULTIPLE RANKING DEMOCRATS ON HOUSE COMMITTEES WANT BIDEN TO STEP ASIDE

“Right now, President Biden is the nominee,” said Aguilar.

Right now.

The conversations about President Biden are now whispered. Sub rosa. Watch for slight tweaks in language from Aguilar and others.

This is what happened when Pelosi said “it’s up to the President if he’s going to run” during an appearance on MSNBC.

Minority Leader Hakeem Jeffries delivers speech after Kevin McCarthy elected speaker

Democratic House Minority Leader Hakeem Jeffries noted his caucus has “the right and the responsibility” to have “conversations about a path forward” amid President Biden’s floundering re-election prospects. (OLIVIER DOULIERY/AFP via Getty Images)

Meantime, Jeffries gave his members some breathing room.

“We have the right and the responsibility on behalf of the American people, and on behalf of the people we represent, to have these conversations about a path forward that is in the best interests of the American people,” said Jeffries.

Democrats needed to get everyone back to the Capitol after the July 4 recess to take the political temperature. Democrats have endured days of reporters hounding them in the Congressional halls over where they stand with President Biden. They now want to get everyone out of the Capitol so they can breathe and not face reporters around every corner. Congress is out of session next week so Republicans can convene their convention in Milwaukee. During the recess, Democrats have space to offer individual announcements about the President – perhaps appearing on local radio and TV stations.

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No one has said any of this. There was nothing verbal.

But this is the rare case when everyone knows what they’re thinking.



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