Hill Democrats don’t want Biden to debate again

House Democrats, smarting from President Joe Biden’s stumbles on Thursday night, are openly urging the president to avoid a second televised debate.

Biden’s widely panned performance during his first head-to-head with former President Donald Trump has raised real alarms among Democrats about their nominee’s viability on the ballot. On Friday morning, party lawmakers blamed Biden’s preparation for the 90-minute debate and advised him to pass on a scheduled rematch – at least if it’s one with the same format. The two have another debate scheduled for the fall hosted by ABC News.

“If it’s the same debate questions, and it’s the same process, I probably wouldn’t do it. I’m not his advisor, but I probably wouldn’t advise him to do it,” said Rep. Joyce Beatty (D-Ohio).

Rep. Sydney Kamlager-Dove (D-Calif.) went further: “We didn’t even need this debate. Quite frankly, we know exactly who Trump is. And we know exactly who Joe Biden is. You have a debate so that you can learn about a candidate. There’s nothing else to know.”

Rep. Troy Carter (D-La.) said that “if there’s going to be a second debate, the terms and the rules of engagement have to be changed.” Biden’s team has indicated that it has no plans to change September’s scheduled debate with Trump.

Not every Democrat was nudging the president to reconsider those plans; Rep. Matt Cartwright (D-Pa.), said Biden “certainly” should debate again.

Others laid the blame not at Biden’s feet but at those of his advisers, whom they said left the president seemingly unprepared for the fight with Trump.

Biden “looked like he hadn’t done any debate prep,” Rep. Sean Casten (D-Ill.) said. “If I was in his shoes, I’d be pretty furious at my political team this morning. He should have knocked that out of the park … He wasn’t prepared.”

Some Democrats have gone so far as to privately discuss replacing him on the ticket, though none have attached their names to the suggestion in public. One Democrat who was granted anonymity to speak candidly told POLITICO on Friday that Biden should bow out of the race as soon as possible so another Democrat can win the nomination at the convention.

“It has to be Biden deciding to step down,” this Democratic member said. “But this is the time. He saved our country once. He has to save our country again.”

Rep. Dean Phillips (D-Minn.), who’d unsuccessfully challenged Biden for the Democratic nomination while raising concerns about the president’s age, tersely commented on X with a quote from Mahatma Gandhi: “Speak only if it improves upon the silence.”

Rep. Scott Peters (D-Calif.) summed up his feelings about the debate: “Not good … There’s just a concern out there [with Biden] that has to be addressed.”

Among swing-district lawmakers, the disappointment with Biden was palpable.

Rep. Greg Landsman (D-Ohio) said that he still believes the election is largely a referendum on Trump, rather than Biden’s mental fitness, but acknowledged the uncertainty now facing the party at a crucial moment.

“I don’t know what happens next. I truly don’t. I think the president and his team are going to huddle up and have a conversation and we’ll see what happens,” Landsman said, asked if he was entertaining the idea of anyone besides Biden being the party’s nominee.

Purple-district Rep. Angie Craig (D-Minn.) called it a “terrible debate. Joe Biden couldn’t communicate and Donald Trump lied every time he opened his mouth.”

Underscoring how sensitive the topic of Biden’s debate performance is for Democratic lawmakers, at least a dozen of them ignored reporters’ questions about it on Friday.

Normally chatty Democrats like Reps. Adam Schiff (Calif.), Dan Goldman (N.Y.) and Jared Moskowitz (Fla.) declined to talk about the debate. Some vulnerable incumbents, like Rep. Marcy Kaptur (D-Ohio), literally sprinted to the House chamber to avoid reporters.

Other imperiled incumbents, like Rep. Gabe Vasquez (D-N.M.), said that Biden “can make his own decisions” before pivoting to talk about local issues.

The House Democratic leader has not endorsed any efforts to remove Biden and on Friday reiterated his support for the president.

“I support the ticket. I support the Senate Democratic majority. We’re going to do everything possible to take back the House in November,” House Minority Leader Hakeem Jeffries (D-N.Y.) said.

Rep. Robert Garcia (D-Calif.), who served as a surrogate for Biden on the ground in Atlanta after the debate, acknowledged the president’s performance wasn’t his strongest but defended his record.

“Look, I get that President Biden had a sore throat, apparently was not feeling well. But at the end of the day, we’ve seen the President in action for years,” Garcia said. “I think 20 minutes of a debate, half an hour debate …. I don’t think it’s gonna matter at the end of the day.”

Other Biden allies played down any worries even while acknowledging his performance was lackluster.

“Joe Biden didn’t do well last night – that doesn’t mean that Donald Trump is the right man for the White House,” said Rep. Debbie Dingell (D-Mich.).

Joe Gould, Jordain Carney, Katherine Tully-McManus, and Jennifer Haberkorn contributed to this report.