Top Biden advisers to meet with senators as Democratic anxieties about 2024 grow

WASHINGTON — Senate Democrats are set to meet privately Thursday at a special caucus lunch with President Joe Biden’s senior advisers Mike Donilon and Steve Ricchetti, as well as Biden campaign chair Jen O’Malley Dillon, according to a Democratic leadership source and senators.

The meeting comes as anxieties grow among Democrats about Biden’s diminished standing in the presidential race against Donald Trump in the wake of his halting debate performance on June 27.

As polling averages show that his position has slipped, albeit modestly, many Democrats don’t believe Biden can win — and they worry he may drag down the party’s ticket with him, potentially handing Republicans control of Congress as well. They want answers from Biden’s team about their plan to turn things around.

“I want to understand their plan for winning,” said Sen. Chris Van Hollen, D-Md.

A senior Biden adviser said the message to Democrats will be about the path to victory and how the campaign sees it, using data to help make the case that there’s been minimal movement in the broader race — and to make clear that Team Biden has a plan.

They will also try to make the case that Democrats should get unified — and quickly — prior to the Republican convention to refocus on Trump and what they see as GOP extremism, the adviser said.

One day before the meeting, Sen. Peter Welch, D-Vt., became the first Democrat in the chamber to openly call on Biden to exit the race, writing in a Washington Post op-ed that his standing has eroded and that the party has “a deep bench that can defeat Trump.”

“This is a show me, not tell me situation for the president,” Welch told NBC News about the Thursday meeting. “So, speaking to us is helpful to get insights into how they plan to deal with it, but it’s less about a discussion with folks who are longtime appreciators of President Biden. The challenge for him is to get to the public and reassure them about their misgivings post-debate.”

Earlier in the week, Sen. Michael Bennet, D-Colo., said he no longer believes Biden can win.

Democrats control the Senate 51-49 and are all but guaranteed to lose a seat in West Virginia. In order to hold the other 50 seats they need to keep the Senate majority, they must also defend seats in the red states like Montana and Ohio, as well as purple states like Pennsylvania, Michigan, Wisconsin, Arizona and Nevada. Their only pickup opportunities to flip GOP-held seats come in the red-leaning states of Florida and Texas.

Sen. Jon Tester, D-Mont., who faces re-election, said he wishes he could attend the meeting but cannot, citing a conflict. He indicated that he’d be interested in talking to Biden directly.

“I always would like to see the president,” Tester said.

Biden’s Democratic skeptics outside the Senate don’t believe a meeting with his advisers can quell the skepticism.

“It’s very easy to allay our concerns. Show up and show you’re fit for this. I don’t particularly think that sending staff members should, will or can get at what everyone has been worried about,” said Aaron Regunberg, a former Democratic state legislator from Rhode Island who’s now with the volunteer group “Pass The Torch,” which is asking Biden to exit. “We’re losing by a lot right now.”

Senate Majority Leader Chuck Schumer, D-N.Y., said three times on Tuesday when asked about Biden’s troubles, “I’m with Joe.”

And Schumer battled down suggestions that he has privately said differently to others: “As I have made clear repeatedly publicly and privately, I support President Biden and remain committed to ensuring Donald Trump is defeated in November,” he said.

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