US NewsCommentary: Concerns grow as pressure mounts for Biden to step down

Commentary: Concerns grow as pressure mounts for Biden to step down

Joe Biden
Joe Biden
Images source: © PAP | TIERNEY L. CROSS / POOL

5:23 PM EDT, July 6, 2024

A week after the debate, when Joe Biden confirmed voter concerns about his age, calls for the current president to withdraw from the race and pass the baton to someone younger are growing louder, writes Jakub Majmurek for WP. This did not change even after the recent high-profile interview.

On Friday in Madison, the capital of the election-deciding state of Wisconsin, Biden announced that he does not intend to withdraw from the presidential race. In an interview aired on the same day on ABC television, the president downplayed concerns about his health and insisted that he had a bad day.

Nevertheless, calls for the current president to withdraw from the race and pass the baton to someone younger do not cease. They can be understood by looking not only at Biden's performance but also at the results of the first poll conducted after the debate, in which Trump leads among registered voters by 9 points, and among likely voters by 6 points. This is the largest lead Trump has ever had over any Democratic politician.

According to "The New York Times", a group of influential Democratic donors is trying to pressure Biden to withdraw from the race. Some threaten that otherwise, they will withhold donations not only for Biden's campaign but also for other Democrats. In November, not only the president but also members of the House of Representatives, one-third of senators, members of state legislatures, and some governors will be fighting for re-election.

The "NYT" itself called in its editorial for Biden to step down. Similar voices have appeared in many Democrat-sympathizing media. The British liberal weekly "The Economist" - by no means sympathetic to Trump - featured a walker for seniors with mobility issues on the cover of its new issue, with the emblem of the United States at the front, captioning the image: "This is not how you run a country." Left-wing documentary filmmaker and political commentator Michael Moore wrote on his blog: "We shouldn't be asking today if Biden will be able to hold office for the next four years, but if he will be able to do his job for the next four days."

Time for the 25th amendment?

Moore answers his own question: "No." And he calls for Biden to resign not only from the election but also from the presidency. The director appeals: "Let Biden say that to be entirely sure, he submits to an examination by an independent panel of doctors, and then announces that after consulting specialists, he sadly acknowledges that it's time to retire." This would allow Biden to step down with dignity, in a manner that would earn the respect of the majority of the American public. In such a situation, the presidency would be taken over by Kamala Harris and she would become the Democrats' candidate, running as the incumbent president.

The same call is made to Biden by Harvard Law professor Jeanne Suk Gersen in "The New Yorker". She goes even further than Moore. Gersen appeals to the Democrats to - if Biden does not want to step down voluntarily - invoke the fourth section of the 25th Amendment to the U.S. Constitution. It states: "Whenever the Vice President and a majority of either the principal officers of the executive departments or of such other body as Congress may by law provide, transmit to the President pro tempore of the Senate and the Speaker of the House of Representatives their written declaration that the President is unable to discharge the powers and duties of his office, the Vice President shall immediately assume the powers and duties of the office as Acting President."

In other words, this provision allows the presidential cabinet to remove the sitting president from office, transferring power to the vice president if the majority believes that the president is unable to perform his functions, for example, due to age or illness.

Although such a "nuclear option" is extremely unlikely and its application could seriously harm the Democrats, merely mentioning it in internal talks with Biden could be an argument influencing the president to change his mind. The fact that Democrat-supporting commentators publicly consider such scenarios shows how much concern Biden's candidacy is causing.

Problems with Kamala Harris

The option of resigning from the presidency has one fundamental advantage. In such a situation, the votes cast for the Biden-Harris ticket in the primaries are transferred to the current vice president. Her nomination at the Democratic convention is a formality; Harris just has to choose her vice president.

Such a scenario would avoid open rivalry within the party over who should replace Biden as the party's candidate. Democrats united around Biden this year largely because, after very intense, deeply dividing party primaries in 2016 and 2020, no one had the strength to once again engage in an internal fight and test the real strength of each party faction.

However, there are doubts about whether Harris can actually handle a showdown with Trump better than Biden. For most of her term, she had worse ratings than Biden. Recently, she has outpaced the president, but this may be due to concerns surrounding Biden's age. Harris is associated with the current administration's immigration policy, which is harshly judged by voters.

Moore argues that the first Black woman fighting for re-election as president in history would revitalize the democratic base: African Americans and other minorities, women, young voters with strongly progressive views. The last group is discouraged from voting for Biden because of his policies towards the conflict in Gaza. Harris is expected to be much more critical of Netanyahu's government and might better connect with young progressives.

On the other hand, this might discourage numerous Democratic voters who believe the United States should support its Israeli allies. Harris's mobilizing effect among women and Blacks does not necessarily have to be overwhelming, although certainly pointing to someone other than Biden as a successor might demobilize African Americans.

If Biden withdraws from the elections but does not resign as president, the delegates designated in the primaries - assuming they will vote for Biden - will be able to make a free choice at the Democratic convention in Chicago in August.

Parade of governors

Who could replace Biden? Two popular governors are most frequently mentioned: Gretchen Whitmer from Michigan and Gavin Newsom from California. Whitmer's great advantage is her electoral geography. The state where she won gubernatorial elections twice - in 2018 and 2022 - could decide the outcome of the presidential election. Trump, to the surprise of many commentators, narrowly won there in 2016, Biden in 2020. This year, it might again be difficult for Biden to win in Michigan, a state with the largest population of Palestinian Americans in the country. Supporters of Whitmer's candidacy argue that she could bring victory to the Democrats not only in Michigan but also in neighboring states where Trump won in 2016 and Biden in 2020 - Wisconsin and Pennsylvania.

As a potential successor to Biden, the governor of the latter state, Josh Shapiro, is also mentioned. He is considered a more centrist politician than Whitmer, and he is a man. And it is unknown whether the Democrats will decide that the society is not ready for a female president in the White House.

Newsom, on the other hand, has behaved for several years like someone with presidential ambitions. He is not afraid to engage in debates with popular Republicans or defend democratic policies in conservative media. At the same time, Newsom declares absolute loyalty to Biden and suggests that if he thinks about the White House, it will only be in 2028.

However, there are two problems with Newsom's candidacy. First, he is the governor of a strongly Democratic state that will vote for Biden anyway. His nomination does not, therefore, bring the Democrats an additional state where they could otherwise lose to the Republicans. The same problem exists with another potential candidate, the governor of Illinois, J. B. Pritzker.

Second, California has long been demonized in Republican propaganda as almost a failed state, struggling with homelessness, crime, and illegal immigration. This narrative has little to do with the reality of the wealthiest state in the country, but it could make life difficult for Newsom.

A centrist candidate chosen by the party's left

Some commentators propose returning to candidates who ran in the 2020 primaries. The two senators most frequently mentioned are Amy Klobuchar from Minnesota and Cory Booker from New Jersey. However, both had reasons not to receive the nomination in 2020. Especially Klobuchar showed then that she is not yet a presidential figure. Booker, as a dynamic, media-savvy African American politician, could be a good vice-presidential candidate alongside someone other than Harris, but is unlikely to be a figure who would guarantee victory over Trump on his own.

During the 2020 primaries, the star of Pete Buttigieg, the young mayor of the medium-sized city of South Bend in Indiana, briefly shone. Buttigieg knew when to withdraw and support Biden, in return for which he received the position of Secretary of Transportation in his cabinet. According to some commentators, he has proven himself in this role well enough to replace Biden. As a potential successor to Biden from his cabinet, Secretary of Commerce and former governor of Rhode Island Gina Raimondo is also mentioned.

The name Michelle Obama also circulates in the speculation, but despite the enormous popularity of the former First Lady, it is doubtful that the party would choose someone who has never run a campaign independently.

All the favorites to replace Biden share one thing: they represent the center and right wings of the party. None of them come from the party's left wing. The left's 2020 candidates - Bernie Sanders and Elizabeth Warren - are quite old, Warren is 75 years old, Sanders is even a year older than Biden. Alexandria Ocasio-Cortes is too far left to have a chance of thinking about the presidency in the coming years. Ro Khanna, the most presidential figure on the party's progressive wing, is preparing his run for 2028 very patiently but slowly and will not burn his chances now when the chances of nomination are slim. So, a centrist candidate will face Trump, but the party's left could have an important say in his selection - which increases the chances of politicians like Whitmer.

Will they stick with Biden?

However, it is very possible that there will be no change. Without a clear successor, the Democratic Party may not muster the courage to seriously pressure Biden regarding resignation. Politicians like Newsom or Whitmer, instead of fighting Trump, will persuade Americans that Biden is not as bad as he seems, and besides, even burdened by age and illness, Biden is better than Trump.

However, even voters who fundamentally agree with this diagnosis may not necessarily be thrilled enough by this message to cast their ballots. And the Democrats will need every vote to win. Especially if a few situations similar to how the president performed in the debate with Trump are repeated leading up to the election.

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