All eyes on Jeffries as Democrats weigh Biden’s future

July 8, 2024

House Minority Leader Hakeem Jeffries (D-New York) has found himself at the center of the storm as Democrats weigh the wisdom of keeping President Joe Biden at the top of the ticket following his disastrous debate performance in Atlanta last month, reports The Hill.

Jeffries is being squeezed between two powerful but opposing forces: On one side is the predilection to rally behind his White House ally for the sake of party unity. On the other is the growing panic within his caucus that the president would be a drag on Democrats up and down the ballot—sinking the party’s chances of flipping control of the House in this year’s elections.

Only five House Democrats have come out publicly so far to urge Biden to bow out and make room for another candidate to challenge former President Donald Trump, the GOP’s presumptive nominee, in November. But that number is expected to grow in the days and weeks ahead—especially if polls continue to show that public confidence in Biden’s capacity to hold the office is waning in the wake of the debate.

The converging dynamics are thrusting Jeffries into a high-stakes decision, with all eyes in the House Democratic Caucus—and at the White House—waiting to see how the leader traverses the tricky path ahead.

“Hakeem is very thoughtful and very deliberate,” Representative Greg Landsman (D-Ohio), a front-line lawmaker, told The Hill. “He takes his time and that has served him well throughout this term in that he’s been able to get, with others, a deal to avoid default, a budget agreement, and the national security and global aid package.”

“These aren’t small things, and they didn’t happen without his very deliberate, thoughtful leadership,” Landsman continued. “That’s how he approaches things, it’s how he’s approaching this, which is he takes time to listen to people.”

In the aftermath of the debate, alarmed Democrats voiced private reservations about keeping Biden at the top of the ticket, but most have held their tongues publicly—a reflection of their deference to, and respect for, Jeffries as he weighs the path forward. Some said the goal of winning the presidency should outweigh any allegiances to any one person.

“Our mission is to win the White House and to prevent Donald Trump from getting there,” said one lawmaker, who spoke anonymously to discuss a delicate topic. “We have to have a family conversation, basically.”

Many factors will go into that decision—not only the fitness concerns raised by Biden’s performance, but the effects of that performance on donors, voters, and the front-line Democrats facing tough reelections in battleground districts that will decide which party controls the House next year.

“You might start having guys that are like, ‘Man, we’ve got to put some distance between us and him,’” said another Democratic lawmaker. “For the realpolitik.”

Jeffries, for his part, has kept his cards close to the vest, fueling questions about how he will handle the sensitive situation.

Jeffries has spoken directly with Biden since the debate, a source familiar with the matter told The Hill, and he held a call with House Democratic leadership last week. His office did not respond to requests for comment on Friday, July 5.

Research contact: @thehill