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Joe Biden

Exclusive: Major Democratic donors want party to consider alternatives to Biden

WASHINGTON - A growing number of major Democratic donors and activists are uneasy at the prospect of President Joe Biden seeking reelection after his disastrous debate performance, especially as new post-debate poll numbers begin trickling in indicating voter displeasure with his candidacy.

Several major donors, who have pumped thousands into the Biden campaign, told USA TODAY that they were not given satisfactory answers as to what caused the poor performance.

“We were told he had a cold. Did he have an adverse reaction to a medication?” one donor said about Biden’s halting performance.

White House Press Secretary Karine Jean-Pierre said the president had a cold but was not on cold medication during a press briefing with reporters on Tuesday.

As a follow-up to that response, when USA TODAY asked Jean-Pierre if there was any other medication the president had been taking, she replied, “I was asked about cold medication. He wasn’t taking any cold medicine and I don’t have anything beyond that to share.”

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Those answers were termed “unsatisfactory” by donors who feel the post-debate atmosphere is leading to more divisions within the party already smarting from rifts around the president’s handling of the Israel-Hamas war. They say Biden’s approach is self-centered and out of touch with the growing majority of younger Democrats.

US President Joe Biden speaks about extreme weather at the DC Emergency Operations Center in Washington, DC, July 2, 2024. (Photo by Jim WATSON / AFP) (Photo by JIM WATSON/AFP via Getty Images)

Amed Khan, a political activist and philanthropist, who quit Biden's Victory Fund National Finance Committee last fall over the president's handling of the Gaza war, said he was certain the chaos meant the Democrats would lose the election to former President Donald Trump, the presumptive Republican nominee.

“They are all idiots,” said Khan. "They ignored all the noise that has been building for months and now this. They are going to hand over the presidency to Trump."

Marty Dolan, a former Wall Street banker, who shelled out $10,000 to attend an April fundraiser (for four tickets) for Biden at actors Michael Douglas and Catherine-Zeta Jones’ home in Irvington, New York, said Democrats need to have a serious conversation about whether Biden can do the job over the next four years.

“Our job is to nominate somebody who could be the president for four years and do all aspects of the job,” he said. “It’s not to say with a wink and a nudge, well, we've got a good vice president, so that's okay.”

Dolan said there were more than a 100 people at the fundraiser, where Biden spoke for about 20 minutes. While he knew only the very top donors would have the opportunity to get pictures taken with the president, he says he was surprised by how “stage managed” the whole event was.

“He didn’t mingle with the party. He was presented at an arms-length,” he said. “It rasied more questions than answers.”

Marty Dolan, a donor to President Biden's reelection campaign, says the Democratic Party to seek alternatives to Biden for the 2024 presidential ticket.

Dolan, who lost a primary challenge he mounted against Congresswoman Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez (NY-14), last month, said the question is not who Biden is running against but how the voters feel about Biden being in the White House the next four years.

“The issue that everybody's concerned about, which is his age, is only going to get worse. There are midterm elections in 2026,” he said. “I think this is a good opportunity for the party to really confront this decision head on.”

Asked if this would mean a chaotic process and the possible mess it could create for the Democratic Party in the eyes of the voters, he said Trump’s candidacy for the Republican Party had inured voters to such changes.

“If the Republicans can nominate a convicted felon, I think voters would be OK with the Democrats nominating someone else,” he said.

WASHINGTON, DC - JULY 25: U.S. Rep. Lloyd Doggett (D-TX) speaks during a news conference on Medicare Advantage plans in front of the U.S. Capitol on July 25, 2023 in Washington, DC. Joined by Medicare advocates, Congressional Democrats held a news conference “to call for action to stop wrongful delays and denials in private Medicare Advantage plans, to end to fraudulent overpayments, and to mandate accountability for the worst actors who hurt patients.” (Photo by Alex Wong/Getty Images)

Despite shoring up the support of the necessary delegates to win the Democratic nomination, Biden's support for a second-term candidacy appears to be hemorrhaging among rank-and-file lawmakers.

On Tuesday,  Texas Rep. Lloyd Doggett became the first sitting Democratic lawmaker to publicly call for Biden to step aside and make way for a "new generation of leaders" to unite the country.

"President Biden saved our democracy by delivering us from Trump in 2020," he said in a statement Tuesday. "He must not deliver us to Trump in 2024."

Former House Speaker Nancy Pelosi, D-Calif., on Tuesday said that it's valid for people to ask whether Biden's was just "an episode" or part of a "condition."

"I think it's a legitimate question to say, is this an episode, or is this a condition? And so when people ask that question, it's completely legitimate — of both candidates," Pelosi said in an interview on MSNBC’s “Andrea Mitchell Reports.”

Twenty-five Democratic members of the House of Representatives are preparing to call for Biden to step aside if he seems shaky in coming days, according to a Reuters report that cited a House Democratic aide.

A swath of registered voters do not believe President Joe Biden has the mental and cognitive health to serve a second term as president after his unsteady debate performance last week, according to a new poll.  

The CBS/You Gov national survey conducted in the days after the debate found that 72% of voters do not believe Biden has the mental or cognitive health to serve as president, as well as nearly half of his own party. That’s up seven points from the beginning of June.  

Amid the fallout, both the White House and Biden campaign held separate all-staff meetings Wednesday afternoon, USA TODAY confirmed.

Biden and Harris joined the campaign conference call, according to a source familiar with the discussion. They gave a short pep talk, discussed the stakes of the election, and reiterated Biden's line that when you get knocked down, you get back up.

Their message, according to the source: "Let's go win this."

In an email to Biden's campaign staff obtained by USA TODAY, campaign chair Jennifer O’Malley Dillon and campaign manager Julie Chavez Rodriguez sought to calm concerns that Biden’s declining support in polls.

“As always, there will be lots of chatter and analysis," the two wrote, claiming that the campaign's internal polls have Biden losing to Trump by just 1 percentage point. "All of this is well within the margin of error and shows a steady race,” she wrote.

The White House conference call, led by chief of staff Jeff Zients, was to emphasize “the importance of us to keep doing the work and executing on our mission as a team,” a White House official said.

The Biden campaign has continued to say the debate performance has not had an adverse effect on fundraising efforts, saying it had raised more than $38 million since the debate.

The debate performance was not a surprise, said Dolan. It’s just that “finally, everybody saw what had been hinted at.”

The decision also needs to be made independent of who might be running on the other party, he said.

“The job is very rigorous,” said Dolan. “You're trying to nominate somebody who can do an incredibly difficult job with incredibly demanding physical schedule for four full years, and it is right to question that right now.”

Swapna Venugopal Ramaswamy is a White House correspondent for USA TODAY. You can follow her on X, formerly Twitter, @SwapnaVenugopal

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