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Biden ‘declines’ to step aside and tells Democrats to focus on beating Trump

President Joe Biden has told his party to focus on stopping Donald Trump (AP)
President Joe Biden has told his party to focus on stopping Donald Trump (AP)

US President Joe Biden is standing firm against calls for him to drop his candidacy for a second term, calling for an “end” to the intra-party drama that has torn apart the Democrats.

Mr Biden wrote in the two-page letter on Monday that “the question of how to move forward has been well-aired for over a week now. And it’s time for it to end”.

He stressed that the party has “one job”, which is to defeat presumptive Republican presidential nominee Donald Trump in November.

In the letter, which follows an ongoing row over his performance in a TV debate against Mr Trump, the President said: “We have 42 days to the Democratic Convention and 119 days to the general election.

“Any weakening of resolve or lack of clarity about the task ahead only helps Trump and hurts us. It’s time to come together, move forward as a unified party, and defeat Donald Trump.”

The letter was sent from the campaign to Democratic politicians as they return to Washington following the July 4 recess.

Mr Biden followed the letter up with a phone interview with MSNBC’s Morning Joe show, on which he insisted that “average Democrats” want him to stay in the race and said he was “frustrated” by the calls from party officials for him to step aside.

“They’re big names, but I don’t care what those big names think,” Mr Biden said.

He threw the gauntlet at his critics, saying if they’re serious they ought to “announce for president, challenge me at the convention” or rally behind him against Mr Trump.

Biden departs a helicopter
President Joe Biden has expressed his ‘frustration’ by calls from party officials for him to step aside (Susan Walsh/AP)

Mr Biden’s efforts to shore up a deeply anxious Democratic Party came as its members of congress return to Washington and confront a choice: to revive the President’s campaign, or edge out the party leader.

Top-ranking Democratic legislators have joined calls for Mr Biden to step aside, despite his defiance.

At the same time, some of his most staunch supporters are redoubling the fight for his presidency, insisting there is no-one better to beat Mr Trump in what many see as among the most important American election of a lifetime.

It is a tenuous and highly volatile juncture for the President’s party. Democrats who have worked alongside Mr Biden for years – if not decades – and cherished his life’s work on policy priorities are now entertaining uncomfortable questions about his political future.

Headshot of Republican presidential candidate former president Donald Trump
Mr Trump will attempt to return to the White House, following his defeat in the 2020 poll (AP)

This is also unfolding as Mr Biden hosts world leaders for the Nato summit this week in Washington.

Time is not on the party’s side, almost a month from the Democratic National Convention and just a week before Republicans gather in Milwaukee to renominate Mr Trump as their presidential nominee.

Many Democrats are arguing the attention needs to be focused instead on the former president’s felony conviction in the hush money case and pending federal charges in his effort to overturn the 2020 election.

It is what Mr Biden himself might call an inflection point. As he defiantly says he will only step aside if the Lord almighty comes and tells him to, Democrats in the US house and senate are deciding how hard they want to fight the President to change course, or indeed if they want to change course at all.

In an effort to “get on the same page”, house Democratic leader Hakeem Jeffries is convening legislators for private meetings before he shows his own preference, according to an insider. He plans to gather Democrats on Monday whose bids for re-election are most vulnerable.

Joe and Jill Biden leave Air Force One
Anxiety is running high among Democrats over Mr Biden in the wake of his dismal TV debate performance (AP)

But a private call on Sunday of some 15 top house committee members exposed the deepening divide as at least four more Democrats – representatives Jerrold Nadler of New York, Jim Himes of Connecticut, Adam Smith of Washington state and Mark Takano of California – privately said Mr Biden should step aside.

Mr Nadler, as the most senior ranking member on the call, was the first person to speak up and say that Biden should step aside, one source said. He did so aware of his seniority and that it would allow others to join him.

Many others on the call raised concerns about Mr Biden’s capability and chances of winning re-election, even if they stopped short of saying the President should step out of the race.

Still other members, including representatives Maxine Waters of California and Bobby Scott of Virginia, both leaders in the Congressional Black Caucus, spoke forcefully in support of Mr Biden, as did Richard Neal of Massachusetts, the top Democrat on the powerful Ways and Means Committee.

Several legislators appeared frustrated that senior leadership was not providing direction or a path forward. One Democrat said that regardless of the decision, the situation has to “end now”.

Mr Neal said afterwards that the bottom line is: Mr Biden beat Trump in 2020 and “he’ll do it again in November”.

The upheaval is also testing a new generation of leaders, headed by Jeffries and Senate Majority Leader Chuck Schumer. Both New Yorkers have refrained from publicly directing legislators on a path forward as they balance diverse opinions in their ranks.

Behind the scenes is speaker emerita Nancy Pelosi, who continues to field calls seeking her advice about the situation, and is widely viewed as the one to watch for any ultimate decision on Mr Biden’s future because of her proximity to the President and her vote-counting skills in party politics.

Ms Pelosi spoke up last week, saying Mr Biden’s debate performance raised “legitimate” questions he needed to answer, but she has remained supportive of the President.