The 5 people to watch as Joe Biden weighs leaving the race

  • President Joe Biden has been steadfast that he is not dropping out.

  • In the meantime, some donors and elected officials are pushing him to step aside.

  • If Biden were to change his mind, the final push is likely to come from his own small orbit.

President Joe Biden is clear that he is not leaving the 2024 race.

On Friday, Biden rallied with supporters in Wisconsin as he continued his effort to hold onto power amid a growing number of megadonors and Democratic officials questioning whether he is still the best candidate to beat former President Donald Trump.

“You voted for me to be your nominee, no one else,” Biden said at the rally. “You, the voters did that. And despite that some folks don’t seem to care who you voted for, well guess what, they’re trying to push me out of the race. Well, let me say this as clearly as I can: I’m staying in the race.”

Biden’s disastrous debate performance has sharply highlighted voters’ biggest concern about reelecting the 81-year-old, who would be 86 if he left office in January 2029.

So far, influential voices like former President Barack Obama remain behind him. There’s still time for Biden to change course. Still, it’s unlikely that another current party leader would nudge him out of the race in a meeting like the famous 1974 meeting Sen. Barry Goldwater and top Republicans held with President Richard Nixon, letting him know that he would not survive the Watergate scandal.

Instead, Biden may only be swayed by someone within his insular orbit — many who have served at his side for decades. In the end, it may only be a fellow Biden who could change his mind.

Jill Biden

US President Joe Biden and First Lady Jill Biden following the CNN Presidential Debate at the CNN Studios in AtlantaUS President Joe Biden and First Lady Jill Biden following the CNN Presidential Debate at the CNN Studios in Atlanta

President Joe Biden and first lady Jill Biden following the CNN Presidential Debate in Atlanta on June 27.Justin Sullivan/Getty Images

The president is “Jill Biden’s husband” in every sense of the phrase. Like many modern first ladies, Jill Biden is described as one of the most powerful voices in the White House.

There is little doubt among those who know her that Jill Biden’s highest priority is shielding her husband and family from danger,” journalist Katie Rogers wrote in her book about modern first ladies.

Since the debate debacle, the first lady has also been clear that she remains dedicated to Biden staying in the race.

Over the years, Biden has been described as the hard edge to the man who has spent decades glad-handing people around Washington. She has often been referred to as the keeper of family grudges, including when she needed to be convinced that Vice President Kamala Harris didn’t cross a line when she called out Biden’s past statements on race during a heated Democratic presidential primary debate.

After Dr. Biden helped fend off protestors in 2020, the then-former vice president joked that his wife “is my Secret Service.”

Whoa, you don’t screw around with a Philly girl, I’ll tell you what,” Biden said at the time.

Valerie Biden Owens

GettyImages 1200211144GettyImages 1200211144

Valerie Biden Owens, Biden’s sister, served as a key surrogate and supporter during his political career.Photo by Barry Chin/The Boston Globe via Getty Images

President Biden has often cited his father’s admonition, “Family is the beginning, the middle, and the end.” His younger sister, Valerie Biden Owens, knows that better than most.

She has been involved in Biden’s political career from the beginning. Owens managed Biden’s upset 1972 US Senate campaign and his first presidential run less than two decades later.

Val is kind of the connective tissue throughout the course of the campaigns from ’72 to today,” Kate Bedingfield, then-Biden’s deputy campaign manager, told BuzzFeed News in 2019.

Biden Owens joked at the time about how hard it was not leading her brother’s ultimately successful run, given that she had run his campaigns dating back to high school.

“This is the first time I haven’t managed the campaign, and I want to tell you, it’s damn frustrating!” she said, per BuzzFeed.

An unnamed Democratic official told Axios that if there were a quiet campaign to nudge Biden aside then one of the few people to make the case should be the president’s sister.

Ted Kaufman

Ted Kaufman speaks as Joe Biden looks on during a 2009 eventTed Kaufman speaks as Joe Biden looks on during a 2009 event

Former Sen. Ted Kaufman (seen here in 2009) has been part of President Joe Biden’s orbit for decades.Rob Carr/AP

Former Sen. Ted Kaufman of Delaware might be one of Biden’s few actual contemporaries.

Biden has been in office so long that few if any, current Democratic leaders can match his longevity, especially given his complicated relationships with former Presidents Bill Clinton and Barack Obama, as The New York Times points out.

Kaufman has been at Biden’s side for decades, starting during the 1972 campaign. Just a few years after Biden’s election, Kaufman became his chief of staff. When Biden left the Senate after being elected vice president in 2009, Kaufman replaced him.

He’s been described as Biden’s best friend and his alter ego. Kaufman has also told Biden the harsh truth before. In 1987, it was Kaufman who urged the then-senator to drop out of the presidential race amid a plagiarism scandal.

There’s only one way to stop the sharks and that’s pull out,” Kaufman told Biden, according to The New York Times.

Biden often returns to Delaware on the weekends. According to The Times, when the president goes home he seeks out Kaufman.

Ron Klain

Ron Klain shakes Joe Biden's hand during a White House eventRon Klain shakes Joe Biden's hand during a White House event

Former White House chief of staff Ron Klain is so close to President Joe Biden that he has been viewed as a quasi-son.Kevin Dietsch/Getty Images

Former White House chief of staff Ron Klain is at the center of Biden’s debate debacle.

Klain has prepped Democrats for presidential debates for decades. He took time away from his new job with AirBnb to help prepare his old boss.

The Indiana native has worked for Biden almost nonstop since graduating from Harvard Law School in 1987. Under Biden’s leadership, he was chief counsel to the Senate Judiciary Committee. After serving as Vice President Al Gore’s chief of staff, Klain returned to the role during the Obama administration.

Klain’s decision to back former Secretary of State Hillary Clinton ahead of the 2016 Democratic primary over Biden, who was still musing about his run, was considered a deep act of betrayal.

But Klain returned to the Biden orbit and realized his long-held ambition of being the top aide to a president. It’s their closeness that might make it hard for Biden’s former chief to pressure his long-time boss to step aside.

He’s like a father to Ron Klain. What do you say to your father? This is tough, very tough,” Elaine Kamarck, a longtime member of the Democratic National Committee, told The Times.

According to The Times, Biden still talks to him once a week to figure out the best ways to attack Trump.

Mike Donilon

Mike Donilon, Joe Biden, and Bruce Reed walk along the White House groundsMike Donilon, Joe Biden, and Bruce Reed walk along the White House grounds

Mike Donilon, a longtime aide to President Joe Biden, left the White House to help with Biden’s reelection.Chip Somodevilla/Getty

Like others in Biden’s small orbit, Mike Donilon has been at the president’s side for decades.

According to The Times, Biden calls Donilon almost daily to get his take on the news. Donilon, who was a senior White House advisor, left the administration to join Biden’s reelection campaign.

He played a major role in shaping the message for Biden’s successful 2020 run.

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