U.S. President Joe Biden arrives for a news conference at the White House on July 1, 2024 in Washington, D.C.

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If Biden 'Must Step Aside,' Why Aren't Democrats Filling the Streets to Demand It?

So far, one journalist noted, "the loudest voices trying to force him out of the race are elites: major media columnists and wealthy donors."

The number of congressional Democrats urging President Joe Biden to drop out of the race for the White House grew on Tuesday, but many of their colleagues—along with other elected officials and voters—remain supportive of the aging Democratic leader's effort to beat former Republican President Donald Trump a second time.

Since Biden's poor debate performance last month sparked concerns about whether he can defeat Trump and effectively serve another term, the president has remained defiant, insisting that he is determined to stay in the race—as he made clear with a Monday letter to Democrats in Congress that he also shared on social media.

Not only does the movement to convince Biden that he "must step aside" before the Democratic National Convention in August appear to be failing, "it's failing in a very predictable way," according to David Dayen, executive editor of The American Prospect.

"Though polling has consistently registered massive public concern with Biden's age and his ability to withstand the rigors of a high-stakes campaign, let alone another term in office until he turns 86 years old, the loudest voices trying to force him out of the race are elites: major media columnists and wealthy donors," he wrote Tuesday. "They lack democratic legitimacy and the public's respect, even as they are expressing the popular will. And they have given Biden the opportunity to parry their attacks simply by employing the politics of resentment."

"There is one group trying to change this. A very new organization (it literally started last Friday afternoon) founded by a handful of Democratic organizers called Pass the Torch is trying to motivate ordinary Democrats to speak out about the need for a stronger ticket to defeat Donald Trump," Dayen pointed out. While the group has a petition and is talking with convention delegates, he added, "an effort like Pass the Torch will really only derive legitimacy from having a large number of rank-and-file voices behind it."

Reflecting on Biden and Trump's disastrous debate in a Tuesday opinion piece for Common Dreams, writer and retired mental health worker Phil Wilson asserted that "members of a sane society would be thundering angrily through the streets given the choice between a smoldering ghost and an aspiring Nazi monster."

Wilson continued:

Who chose these two? Why are 50 million people curled up on couches, wrapped around plastic bowls of popcorn while these terrible, inept, and heartless fools cough up lies and trivial asides? We reflect upon levels of dementia and Nazi wannabe evil as if they were existential givens. Of course we all must decide on November 5th which genocidaire we prefer, the one who bombed the children of Gaza or the one vowing to deport up to 20 million innocent people. Do we pick the one who can barely remember his own name or the guy with a swirling vortex of hatred orbiting his eyeballs?

"This election is a farce—the dying throes of a criminal society, the death spasms of a plundering oligarchy that once devoured most of the world and now cannibalizes its own," he concluded.

Also writing for Common Dreams on Tuesday, University of Essex professor Peter Bloom argued that "the recent Trump-Biden debate served as a grotesque apotheosis of 'great man' politics, laying bare the dangerous fallacy of entrusting democracy to the outsized personalities of flawed individuals."

"The future of democracy, in the U.S. and beyond, depends on our ability to move beyond the cult of personality and reclaim politics as a collective endeavor," according to Bloom. "The alternative—a continued descent into gerontocratic oligarchy thinly disguised as populism—is too dire to contemplate. As we watch two aged politicians compete for the chance to lead a nation in crisis, let it serve as a wake-up call. The era of great men is over. The real work of rebuilding our democracy is just beginning."

Biden's campaign and supporters continue to frame his reelection as crucial to the fight to save U.S. democracy—particularly given that a victorious Trump would be armed with new king-like powers, thanks to a recent U.S. Supreme Court ruling.

As John Nichols, a national affairs correspondent for The Nation, noted Monday, Biden himself "says that the country is at 'an inflection point,' where the future of American democracy is at stake."

"This requires more than putting in your best effort in a controlled setting," Nichols wrote, describing Biden's Friday rally in Wisconsin as "serviceable" but far from what is needed. "It requires an absolutely determined candidate and a big, bold, risk-taking campaign that inspires Wisconsinites, and voters nationwide, to defeat Trump and Trumpism. If Biden really is determined to stay in this race, he owes it to himself, his party, and his country to be all in."

The president has received similar advice from progressives in Congress. Since the debate, Sen. Bernie Sanders (I-Vt.)—who sought the Democratic presidential nomination in 2016 and 2020—has stood by Biden but also stressed that he must "do better," for which the senator has received some criticism.

Progressives in the House were noticeably quieter—as Slate's Alexander Sammon noted last week, "There's no real upside for Squad members to put themselves in the line of fire during an already bitter public deliberation"—until multiple members of the informal group confirmed support for Biden on Monday.

"The matter is closed," Rep. Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez (D-N.Y.) told reporters Monday evening, citing her weekend conversation with Biden and his repeated statements over recent days that he has no intention of stepping aside. "He is in this race and I support him."

"Now what I think is critically important right now is that we focus on what it takes to win in November because he is running against Donald Trump, who is a man with 34 felony convictions, that has committed 34 felony crimes, and not a single Republican has asked for Donald Trump to not be the nominee," she continued.

Ocasio-Cortez explained that she has "communicated" to Biden that winning the election will require Democrats to "pivot and increasingly commit to the issues that are critically important to working people across this country," including rent and mortgage relief as well as the expansion of Medicare and Social Security.

"And if we can do that and continue our work on student loans, secure a cease-fire, and bring those dollars back into investing in public policy, then that's how we win in November," she added. "That's what I'm committed to and that's what I want to make sure we secure."

With lawmakers back on Capitol Hill following the Independence Day recess, Democrats in both chambers held caucus meetings on Tuesday. While Senate Majority Leader Chuck Schumer (D-N.Y.) told reporters, "As I've said before, I'm with Joe," Politicoreported that "many typically chatty senators almost entirely refused to talk with press about their caucus' conversation."

House Democrats met earlier in the day. Rep. Dean Phillips (D-Minn.), who ended his longshot primary challenge to Biden and endorsed him in March, told reporters, "If this has been vindication, vindication has never been so unfulfilling."

"I made my case eight months ago and I think it's time for others to share their perspectives," he said. "I'm deeply disappointed in a political system that has resulted in this dynamic that we now face."

Rep. Mikie Sherrill (D-N.J.) joined the small but growing contingent urging him to step down, saying: "I know President Biden cares deeply about the future of our country. That's why I am asking that he declare that he won't run for reelection."

As the Pass the Torch campaign highlighted on social media Tuesday, some congressional Democrats are worried that Biden remaining at the top of the ticket could have a negative downballot impact.

At least one congressman who reportedly urged Biden to exit the race over the weekend, Rep. Jerry Nadler (D-N.Y.), appeared to change course. He declined to comment on what he privately told Biden but said: "The president made very clear yesterday that he's running... We have to support him."

After House Democrats' meeting, Rep. Hank Johnson (D-Ga.) toldPolitico, "My personal takeaway is that Joe Biden has tremendous support from the Democratic caucus, and we're going to move forward."

Rep. Pramila Jayapal (D-Wash.), chair of the Congressional Progressive Caucus, suggested in a Monday statement that even as public and private conversations are taking place within the party about the best way forward, nobody should forget the core differences between what Democrats and Biden represent compared to Trump and his Republican Party.

"Make no mistake, the foundation of our democracy is at stake in this election," said Jayapal.

"Any reporter or pundit who is asking about or talking about the aftermath of President Biden's debate performance and his health," she continued, "should also be spending at least the same amount of time and energy talking to Republicans about why they are still supporting a convicted felon who incited an insurrection and wants to be dictator on day one."

"Republicans should be calling for Donald Trump to step down as a candidate for president," she added. "The press should be covering for the American people the dozens of lies he told at the debate and the horrific statements he continues to make about immigrants and women. They should be asking every single Republican member why they support the democracy-destroying Project 2025."

While Trump has recently tried to distance himself from Project 2025—spearheaded by the Heritage Foundation, one of the sponsors of the Republican National Convention in Wisconsin next week—the Biden campaign and other critics have called "bullshit" on the frequently dishonest former president's claims.

"After trying and failing to cover up his deep ties to Project 2025 authors and Heritage Foundation leadership, Trump is putting his MAGA besties on full display," Biden campaign spokesperson Ammar Moussa said of the convention sponsorship Tuesday. "Donald Trump can't hide from Project 2025—it's his agenda, his vision, and his dangerous and extreme plan for America's future."

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