Governors Undermine Efforts by Congressional Democrats to Nudge Biden Aside

Democratic governors to Democratic members of Congress: Drop dead.

That may be overstating the message sent Wednesday night by a group of the country’s governors, but not by much.

By descending on Washington to meet with President Joe Biden and then emerging from the West Wing to oh-so-earnestly pledge their public support to the beleaguered president, the governors complicated the efforts of congressional Democrats to ease him off the ticket.

Panicked about having to run on the same ballot with an irretrievably wounded nominee, Democratic lawmakers sharply, if still privately, turned against Biden this week.

Most congressional Democrats simply see no path to take back the House and hold their Senate majority if they are led by a president who large majorities of the country, as new polls indicate, believe is too old for the job.

Yet by showing up at the White House and then, more significantly, offering public displays of support, the governors only encouraged a standard bearer many lawmakers feel is doomed — and will doom them. Most House Democrats are outrunning Biden in their internal surveys, I’m told by people familiar with the results. But they know they can’t overcome his drag if he’s losing their seats by 15 points rather than mid-single digits. “Hence the terror,” as one operative working on congressional Democratic races explained.

Even more infuriating to Democrats on Capitol Hill is the personal politics they sniff in the governors’ declarations of support. Few of the governors have to run for reelection this year, but more than a handful of them are eager to seek the presidency in 2028. And there’s no path for any of them then if Vice President Kamala Harris by then is President Harris seeking reelection. Moreover, if she runs a credible, last-minute race and loses narrowly this year to former President Donald Trump, it still may be difficult to deny her the nomination in four years.

“Sink Kamala so she’s not the nominee in both ’24 and ’28,” as one House Democrat texted upon hearing of the governors rallying to Biden.

Not all the governors are so cynical of course. And I don’t think any of them want to see Trump back in the White House.

Still, many of the chief executives are now deeply skeptical that Biden can stop him.

One of the governors I spoke to emerged from the West Wing convinced the president is in deep denial after he argued to them the polling hasn’t gotten much worse and he just needs to get more sleep and hit the campaign trail more.

Further, as my colleagues reported, a pair of governors, Janet Mills of Maine and Michelle Lujan Grisham of New Mexico, told Biden directly they were alarmed that their blue-leaning states were now in jeopardy.

Yet it’s not a stretch to say that the incentives for members of Congress facing the voters in mere months are markedly different from some of the governors who are eying a longer horizon.

For all the talk of a compressed, mini-primary this summer, the governors coveting the presidency know that Harris would almost certainly be the Democratic nominee if Biden drops out. Even if she were to tap a governor for her running mate and they lost respectably, how could her running mate leapfrog her in 2028, when she’d assuredly run again to finish the job she began under the most difficult of circumstances? The case makes itself.

The path for the ambitious governors is clearer if Harris goes down with a Biden-led ticket this year — if she is, to put it in blunt terms, Dan Quayle by 2028.

To vulnerable congressional Democrats, however, Harris at this moment is looking like something quite different — a potentially better alternative to Biden. And even that potential is alluring about now.

Losing to Trump by three points nationally rather than six could be the difference in at least a dozen House seats and the difference between losing three-to-four Senate seats compared to seven-to-eight seats. In other words, it’s a matter of personal survival.

One example: A group of Democrats woke up Thursday to a new internal poll from must-win Wisconsin, which had Biden down seven points and only running in the 30s on a ballot with third-party candidates.

However, it’s not as though congressional Democrats have been profiles in courage. The gap between their public comments and private sentiment about Biden is reaching levels not seen since, well, the Republican Party during the Trump presidency. The majority of congressional Democrats, I’m told by other lawmakers and operatives close to them, want the president to drop out. As the old saying with tough votes goes, though, right now they are voting yes while hoping no.

That may change by next week, particularly if Biden shows no sign of reconsidering. As one connected House Democrat told me: “Polling will get a little worse and people are going to lose their minds even more.”

For the moment, though, the governors offered Biden a temporary lift, even if that wasn’t their intention. They just didn’t want to tell the president to his face, much less the television cameras on the White House driveway, what they actually think.

“Trust me,” one Democratic governor told me after the White House session, “the governors I know are not supportive and want a change.”

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