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Senate Democrat tells Biden to take debate fallout ‘seriously’

Sen. Laphonza Butler (D-CA) downplayed widespread concerns among Democrats about President Joe Biden’s debate blunder last week but urged his team against dismissing growing unease within the party. “I think they’ve taken the concern seriously. It was not a debate performance that anybody expected,” Butler told reporters on Capitol Hill. “And they’ve got to take […]

Sen. Laphonza Butler (D-CA) downplayed widespread concerns among Democrats about President Joe Biden’s debate blunder last week but urged his team against dismissing growing unease within the party.

“I think they’ve taken the concern seriously. It was not a debate performance that anybody expected,” Butler told reporters on Capitol Hill. “And they’ve got to take it seriously. I think that’s what they’re doing.”

Congress remains on recess for the July 4 holiday until next week, but Butler briefly convened the Senate for a procedural pro forma session that does not include any official business.


Butler aggressively defended Biden and his campaign and repeatedly praised Vice President Kamala Harris for being a loyal surrogate. She rejected the notion the president’s candidacy could be a drag on down-ballet candidates and said she’s had several post-debate encounters with Harris.

Butler is the successor of Sen. Dianne Feinstein (D-CA), who died in office last year at the age of 90. For several years prior, Feinstein faced calls to step down due to her diminished mental acuity.

Notably, Butler dodged whether Harris indicated Biden’s debate performance, which included repeatedly losing his train of thought, incoherent sentences, and verbal gaffes, was a regular occurrence behind the scenes. If reelected, Biden, 81, would be 86 by the time he leaves office.

“I think that what the vice president indicated to me is that she’s ready to continue to be out and travel the country, communicate with voters, and do the work, and to win this election,” Butler said.

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Butler declined to say whether she would support Harris at the top of the Democratic ticket should Biden decide to bow out. Butler praised Harris for doing “an incredible job being a partner to the president and leading the party and leading the country.”

Sen. Laphonza Butler (D-CA), left, speaks with Sen. Alex Padilla (D-CA) on Capitol Hill, Thursday, Nov. 9, 2023, in Washington. (AP Photo/Alex Brandon)

Many vulnerable senators in recent days have tried to steer clear of discussing Biden, while others have been far more critical of the president and his campaign for having what Sen. Peter Welch (D-VT) described as a “dismissive attitude.”

“I really do criticize the campaign for a dismissive attitude toward people who are raising questions for discussion. That’s just facing the reality that we’re in. That’s hardly — I won’t repeat their term,” Welch told Semafor on Monday. “But that’s the discussion we have to have. It has to be from the top levels of the Biden campaign to precinct captains in the southside of Chicago.”

Sen. Sheldon Whitehouse (D-RI) told a local TV affiliate he was “horrified” by Biden’s performance and that he and his team must be “candid with us about his condition — that this was a real anomaly and not just the way he is these days.”

Rep. Lloyd Doggett (D-TX) became the first congressional Democrat to go on the record on Tuesday to say Biden should not run for reelection.

“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,” Doggett said in a statement. “I respectfully call on him to do so.”

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The Biden campaign rejected reports that the president has failed to contact top congressional Democrats and offer adequate reassurances about his mental fitness and path to reelection.  

“The president has spoken personally with multiple elected officials on the Hill and across the battlegrounds since the debate,” a Biden campaign spokesperson told the Washington Examiner.

Mabinty Quarshie contributed to this report.

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