'It's a mess': Biden turns to family on his path forward after his disastrous debate (2024)

WASHINGTON — President Joe Biden is expected to discuss the future of his re-election campaign with family at Camp David, Maryland, on Sunday, following a nationally televised debate Thursday that left many fellow Democrats worried about his ability to beat former President Donald Trump in November, according to five people familiar with the matter.

Biden’s trip was planned before Thursday’s debate. He and first lady Jill Biden are scheduled to join their children and grandchildren there late Saturday.

So far, the party’s top leaders have offered public support for Biden, including in tweets posted by former presidents Barack Obama and Bill Clinton. Senior congressional Democrats, including Reps. Hakeem Jeffries of New York, Jim Clyburn of South Carolina and Nancy Pelosi of California, have privately expressed concerns about his viability, said two sources apprised of those discussions, even as they all publicly back the president.

One Democratic House member who believes Biden should drop out of the race — but has yet to call for that publicly — told NBC News that three colleagues expressed the same sentiment to him during votes on the House floor Friday.

House leaders have not wavered publicly, and their aides denied that they are expressing doubts behind closed doors.

“Speaker Pelosi has full confidence in President Biden and looks forward to attending his inauguration on January 20, 2025,” Ian Krager, a spokesman for the former House speaker, said in a statement. “Any suggestion that she has engaged in a different course of action is simply not true.”

Christie Stephenson, a spokeswoman for Jeffries, the House minority leader, said her boss has “repeatedly made clear publicly and privately that he supports President Joe Biden and the Democratic ticket from top to bottom.”

Brianna Frias said Clyburn, who is traveling to Wisconsin this weekend to campaign for the president, "has total confidence in President Joe Biden and the Biden-Harris ticket.

"Any reports alleging that the Congressman has expressed anything other than firm support of President Biden are completely untrue," Frias said.

At the same time, there is an understanding among top Democrats that Biden should be given space to determine next steps. They believe only the president, in consultation with his family, can decide whether to move forward or to end his campaign early — and that he won’t respond well to being pushed.

“The decision-makers are two people — it’s the president and his wife,” one of the sources familiar with the discussions said, adding: “Anyone who doesn’t understand how deeply personal and familial this decision will be isn’t knowledgeable about the situation.”

This account of a president and his party in crisis just a little more than four months before an election they say will determine the fate of democracy is drawn from interviews with more than a dozen Democratic officials, operatives, aides and donors. All of them spoke on the condition of anonymity in order to describe matters as sensitive as whether a sitting president might give up his re-election bid and how he could be replaced on the ballot.

Despite delivering a rousing speech at a rally in North Carolina on Friday that calmed some of his allies, Biden was described by one person familiar with his mood as humiliated, devoid of confidence and painfully aware that the physical images of him at the debate — eyes staring into the distance, mouth agape — will live beyond his presidency, along with a performance that at times was meandering, incoherent and difficult to hear.

“It’s a mess,” this person said.

Another person familiar with the dynamics said Biden will ultimately listen to only one adviser.

“The only person who has ultimate influence with him is the first lady,” this person said. “If she decides there should be a change of course, there will be a change of course.”

After article was published, a source familiar with the situation reached out to stress that the Camp David gathering was not a formal family meeting.

“Any discussion about the campaign is expected to be informal or an afterthought,” the source said. “No one is sitting down for a formal or determinative discussion.”

Anita Dunn, one of Biden’s handful of closest advisers, said Saturday on MSNBC’s “The Weekend” that Biden has not discussed dropping out of the race with aides and that internal talks have focused on moving forward.

“We had a bad debate,” Dunn said. “What do we do next? You know, the president, above all, is focused on what do we do next? What do I need to go do?”

These private discussions among Biden, his family members and his top advisersare being held against the backdrop of a reckoning for Democrats who were shocked both by Biden’s appearance and the frequency with which his train of thought appeared to veer off track.

His campaign held a conference call Saturday with members of the Democratic National Committee, which a Biden campaign official described as an effort to reassure party officials and demonstrate that his team is communicating with its allies.

“We’re driving this,” the official said.

Biden’s top aides and advisers have told his staff to stay the course in meetings and discussions. Their message, according to one senior administration official: “We’ll weather the storm, just like we always have.”

Sources have described three buckets of Democrats: those who will defend Biden under any circ*mstances, those who are ready to dump him, and those who are waiting to see what he does — and what his poll numbers look like in the coming days and weeks — before passing judgment. It’s the third bucket that Democratic insiders are monitoring closely.

“Democrats need to take a big breath and look at that polling, look at swing voters,” said one state Democratic Party chair. “Until I see something differently, he’s the person that’s put this coalition together, he’s the person that has the record, he’s the person that beat Donald Trump. Until I see something differently, he’s still the best person to beat Donald Trump.”

The Biden campaign declined to comment for this piece, instead pointing to a memo Saturday from campaign chair Jen O’Malley Dillon that made the case that Biden can still win, pointing to the more than $27 million they raised between debate day and Friday evening.

Notably, however, O’Malley Dillon nodded to the possibility that there might be some tough polling ahead —but said the blame will rest with the media: “If we do see changes in polling in the coming weeks, it will not be the first time that overblown media narratives have driven temporary dips in the polls.”

The discussions among some Democrats include weighing what the party’s best path to defeating Trump might be — sticking with an 81-year-old incumbent who could have another moment like Thursday night at any time between now and Election Day, or going with a different candidate whose path to nomination at the party’s convention next month could be a messy process.

Biden insisted Friday that he will remain the party’s standard-bearer in November, telling a crowd at his rally in North Carolina: “I would not be running again if I didn’t believe with all my heart and soul I can do this job.”

The president has spent much of the past 48 hours attending fundraising events with some of the very Democrats most concerned about the impact of his debate performance.

He addressed it head-on at one event Saturday.

“I understand the concern about the debate — I get it,” he added. “I didn’t have a great night.”

Party elites will urge him to exit the race only if they determine that he is “not viable and negatively impacting the House and Senate races,” said one big-time donor who is close to both Obama and Biden.

Inherent in the wait-and-see approach is an acknowledgment that there is no clear replacement for Biden and that his departure could touch off a bloody eleventh-hour intraparty battle that might allow Trump to cruise to victory.

There’s also no feasible way to force him from his perch. All but a handful of the delegates to the Democratic convention were elected on their pledge to nominate him at the party’s convention in August. If he chooses to stand for that nomination, party insiders say, he will get it.

Moreover, according to a senior Democratic official, the party leadership would have much more control over choosing a replacement if Biden were to drop out after receiving the nomination than if he did so beforehand. Once a candidate is officially nominated, there is a process for the Democratic National Committee members to choose a successor. Biden is the dominant force at the DNC, and his preference for a successor would surely carry sway.

If Biden were to exit before that, his delegates might do what he asked of them — but they wouldn’t be bound in the same way they are now. In that scenario, the delegates could nominate anyone, and there could be a political brawl at the convention.

“We need to have as much discipline as emotion,” the senior Democratic official said. “It’s not politically smart for Biden to step down.”

Carol E. Lee

Carol E. Lee is the Washington managing editor.

Kristen Welker

Kristen Welker is the moderator of "Meet the Press."

Jonathan Allen

Jonathan Allen is asenior national politics reporter for NBC News, based in Washington.

Mike Memoli

Mike Memoli is an NBC News correspondent.

Monica Alba

Monica Alba is a White House correspondent for NBC News.

Rebecca Kaplan


Ben Kamisar


Kelly O'Donnell



'It's a mess': Biden turns to family on his path forward after his disastrous debate (2024)
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