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Pelosi gives Democrats breathing room to criticize Biden fitness

Former House Speaker Nancy Pelosi (D-CA) is giving Democrats tacit permission to question President Joe Biden’s place atop the ticket with comments suggesting she is not entirely sold on his run for president. House leaders have generally stood by Biden since his disastrous debate performance two weeks ago, offering brief but supportive remarks that have […]

Former House Speaker Nancy Pelosi (D-CA) is giving Democrats tacit permission to question President Joe Biden’s place atop the ticket with comments suggesting she is not entirely sold on his run for president.

House leaders have generally stood by Biden since his disastrous debate performance two weeks ago, offering brief but supportive remarks that have helped keep a rank-and-file revolt against the president at bay.

Yet Pelosi, who remains a powerful figure despite stepping down from leadership last year, has gone the furthest in giving voice to colleagues who want a new nominee challenging former President Donald Trump in the fall.


Days after Biden delivered a halting and at times incoherent debate performance, Pelosi said it is “legitimate” to ask whether the 81-year-old Biden has a cognitive condition or whether his stumbles were a momentary lapse. 

Then, on Wednesday, she would not say if Biden should stay in the race.

“It’s up to the president to decide if he is going to run,” she said on MSNBC’s Morning Joe. “We’re all encouraging him to make that decision because time is running short.”

Pelosi later complained that her remarks were being “misrepresented” in the media. She is not calling on Biden to reconsider his run for president, she insisted, reiterating her view that he has been a “great” president, according to CBS News.

But the fact that she urged Biden to make a decision — he has unequivocally said he is staying in the race — has fueled the impression that his candidacy is still very much an open question.

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President Joe Biden awards the nation’s highest civilian honor, the Presidential Medal of Freedom, to Rep. Nancy Pelosi (D-CA) during a ceremony in the East Room of the White House, Friday, May 3, 2024, in Washington. (AP Photo/Alex Brandon)

Biden has attempted to project a sense of inevitability that he will be the Democratic nominee when the party gathers for its convention in August and, to the chagrin of some members of his party, is the only one who can release the delegates bound to vote for him.

Yet Pelosi’s repeated nudges at Biden could help colleagues feel more comfortable expressing doubts of their own. 

Shortly after her interview, Rep. Pat Ryan (D-NY), a vulnerable incumbent, became the eighth House Democrat to call on Biden to step aside, while Rep. Ritchie Torres (D-NY) urged fellow Democrats to make a sober calculation about the ripple effect in House and Senate races if Biden stays the presidential nominee.

“In determining how to proceed as a party, there must be a serious reckoning with the down-ballot effect of whomever we nominate,” Torres said in a statement. “What matters is not how we feel but what the numbers tell us.”

Polling shows Biden slipping further behind Trump in battleground states, while Democrats fear even safe districts are being jeopardized with his candidacy.

Pelosi’s approach stands in contrast to that of other senior members of the party. Her successor, House Minority Leader Hakeem Jeffries (D-NY), has only said his support for Biden has not changed, comments echoed by his deputies.

“Right now, President Biden is the nominee, and we support the Democratic nominee,” Rep. Pete Aguilar (D-CA), the chairman of the House Democratic Caucus, told reporters on Monday.

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Rep. Jim Clyburn (D-SC), a close ally of the president and former member of leadership, has maintained his support even as he publicly entertains the idea of contingency scenarios, such as a mini primary to choose Biden’s replacement. 

Pelosi’s remarks also demonstrate a continued desire to steer the caucus she led for two decades. The 84-year-old stepped down from leadership last year, clearing the way for Jeffries’s ascension, but remains a mentor to him and a prominent voice in the halls of Congress.

Her remarks on Morning Joe were likely tailored as much for public consumption as they were for the president. Biden is a regular viewer of the show. But it’s not clear any Democrat can change the mind of a president known for his stubbornness.

Biden still has the support of key allies in the House, among them the leaders of the black and Hispanic caucuses, while the Democratic revolt expected when lawmakers returned to the Capitol on Monday did not materialize.

In the absence of any serious effort to dislodge Biden, House Democrats risk weakening the president with their criticism should he remain their nominee.

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Rep. Nikki Budzinski (D-IL) told reporters on Wednesday that while she has voiced concerns over Biden, she will “stand with him” given his intention to continue in the race.

“I think that the reality is we need to be focusing on Donald Trump and the threat that he faces,” she added.

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