Democratic senators are pushing back on whispers within their party that President Biden, 79, is too old to run for a second term.
Senators say they will strongly support Biden if he opts to run for re-election, despite growing concerns over his low public approval rating and his ability to win a grueling presidential election when he will be 81 years old.
Biden’s viability as a candidate in 2024 is becoming a hot topic of debate even though the next presidential election is more than two years away.
The New York Times reported Sunday that many Democratic lawmakers and party officials increasingly view Biden as “an anchor that should be cut loose in 2024,” citing interviews with 50 Democratic officials.
Former chief Obama political strategist David Axelrod told The Times that Biden’s age “would be a major issue.”
But Democratic senators are trying to stamp out talk of replacing Biden, fearful that the last thing they need heading into the 2022 midterms is more intra-party dissension.
“I think it’s too soon to start that speculation. He’s got to complete this year, second year of his presidency. Then of course the speculation will grow. I can’t say at this point what I would recommend,” Senate Democratic Whip Dick Durbin (D-Ill.) said when asked about party officials who have privately raised misgivings about a second Biden term.
Durbin acknowledged that Biden’s age will be a discussion in the run-up to 2024 but argued that Biden is doing well, given the enormous challenges he faces on high inflation and the war in Ukraine.
“Age is a factor for everybody but I don’t see any evidence that he can’t perform and I think he’s doing so at the highest levels,” Durbin said.
Some Democratic lawmakers are voicing frustration that donors and party officials are getting distracted by speculation about Biden’s political future instead of focusing on the very real threat that they may lose control of the Senate in November.
One Democratic lawmaker who requested anonymity warned that Biden’s ability to get things in Washington and add to his record of accomplishments before the 2024 election will be severely diminished if Republicans win back the Senate majority.
“There’s a lot of worry,” the senator acknowledged. “My focus is really on the midterms because we have to keep the Senate majority. If we don’t keep the Senate majority, the Biden presidency is gravely undermined and he may not be able to run again.”
“Here’s what I think of all the speculation: Instead of all of the handwringing and head-holding aimed at 2024, I just wish that people would focus a little more on the midterms and put their money where their mouths are,” the senator added.
Speculation over Biden’s future is complicated by widespread expectations among Democrats that former President Trump is going to make another run for the White House and has an excellent chance of winning the GOP nomination.
Biden’s already shown he can beat Trump in a head-to-head matchup and Democratic lawmakers are leery about talk of replacing him with another nominee who doesn’t have a proven track record of winning on the national level.
Sen. Debbie Stabenow (D-Mich.), the chairwoman of the Senate Democratic Policy and Communications Committee, said she’ll support whatever decision Biden makes about running for re-election.
“I’m a supporter of the president, whatever he wants to do,” she said.
Stabenow said she hasn’t heard whispers from fellow Democrats who don’t want Biden to run for another term.
“I’ve been so busy negotiating the mental health and gun package. I’m not hearing that,” she said.
Biden’s political future has come under greater scrutiny amid polls showing his approval rating steadily sinking.
A Reuters/Ipsos poll published Wednesday showed that Biden’s approval rating has fallen in three straight weeks, dipping to 39 percent. The two-day survey of 1,005 adults showed that 56 percent of Americans disapprove of Biden’s job performance.
Most Democratic senators, despite such polls, publicly say they fully expect Biden to run for a second term, even though he would be 82 years old on Inauguration Day 2025.
“I look forward to working hard for Joe Biden’s re-election in 2024,” said Sen. Chris Coons (D-Del.), one of Biden’s closest allies on Capitol Hill.
Sen. Bob Casey (D-Pa.) said “he’s going to be the nominee and he’s going to be strong.”
Asked about reports that a growing number of Democrats think Biden should step aside for Vice President Harris or another rising progressive star to run for the presidency, Casey said, “I don’t agree with any of that.”
He said Biden “will be ready to run and will have a lot to talk about when he runs.”
Casey also said that Democrats need to do more to highlight Republican opposition to popular proposals, pointing out that most Republicans voted against the bipartisan infrastructure package and not a single GOP lawmaker voted for the American Rescue Plan.
The Hill reported in April that Biden plans to run for a second term but that hasn’t quelled speculation that he’ll change his mind if he can’t improve his low approval rating.
Harris, Transportation Secretary Pete Buttigieg, Sen. Elizabeth Warren (D-Ma.), Sen. Bernie Sanders (I-Vt.), Sen. Amy Klobuchar (D-Minn.) and California Gov. Gavin Newsom are some of the names floated as potential presidential candidates should Biden step away from office.
Biden’s defenders on Capitol Hill argue his job approval rating is being weighed down by inflation and that it’s not his fault, putting the blame instead on oil companies and other companies who have raised prices to fatten profits.
“I think it’s tough when factors behind his control like inflation are happening. I understand people’s frustrations,” said Stabenow, who doesn’t think Biden is getting enough credit for what he did to keep the economy strong despite the pandemic.
“He spent the first year making sure people’s lives were saved and children got back to school and people survived and small businesses survived,” she said. “The problem is with price gouging on gas prices and other prices that have gone up, that’s what people feel.”
Democratic lawmakers predict that if Biden decides to retire from public service after four years in the White House, it will open the gates for a crowd of challengers to replace him.
“I think this is Joe’s decision and I think if he runs, he’ll get plenty of support. And if he decides not to, look out Nellie! There will be a lot of happy TV stations,” said Sen. Jon Tester (D-Mont.), predicting political drama that would drive television ratings if Biden steps aside.
Tester said as many as 20 Democrats could throw their hats in the ring if Biden forgoes a second term but he doesn’t think that’s likely.
“I already think Joe’s going to run again. I do,” he said.
He argued that former President Clinton’s job approval rating dropped below 40 percent in 1993, prompting predictions he couldn’t win a second term.
Clinton later soundly beat then-Sen. Bob Dole (R-Kan.) in the 1996 presidential election.
Clinton, however, was 50 years old when he won a second term. Dole was 73.