Joe Biden Is Running Out of Options

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Joe Biden hates bullies. And right now, he’s giving signs that he feels like he’s on the receiving end of the mother of all beatings from his own party’s worst offenders.

As he hosted world leaders at the White House for dinner Wednesday night, the President spoke about countering Russia’s hostilities in Europe. He might as well have been about the doubts he faced from his own friends at home. “In the neighborhood that I grew up in, that’s what you do,” Biden told the leaders of NATO nations and allies. “When a neighbor needed help, you pitched in. Bullies threatened to block, you stepped up.”

Stepping up in Biden World right now looks a lot like frantically scooping water out of a sinking ship. Thursday has been made out to be a make-or-break day in the stand-off that has completely upended the Democratic Party, but it’s unlikely to yield a clear resolution. Some are predicting this could be over in hours while others think otherwise. “Seems certain that it will go into next week at least,” said one longtime Democratic insider who is close to the White House.

After more than a week of almost no prominent Democrats putting their names to those fears, the virtually widespread private discomfort is starting to seep out of the closed-door meetings. Former Speaker Nancy Pelosi seemed to blow the door off the backroom with comments that suggested Biden maybe shouldn’t be the nominee. Michigan Gov. Gretchen Whitmer said late Wednesday that Biden taking a cognitive health test “wouldn’t hurt.” (Biden has refused to go down that path.) And Democrat Peter Welch of Vermont became the first sitting Senator to call on Biden to step aside, breaking what had been a firewall. Then came brutal reports on Thursday from NBC News and The New York Times that close Biden insiders see no path forward for him. Staffers have adopted the default of hanging heads low and updating their resumes.

That churn is why Biden’s top campaign hand, Jen O’Malley Dillon, and two longtime Biden whisperers, Steve Ricchetti and Mike Donilon, attended a midday Thursday meeting at Senate Democrats’ campaign base on Capitol Hill. Senators are increasingly frustrated that they are not seeing an effective reset after Biden stammered through a debate that drew 50 million stunned viewers. Senators, especially those facing tough re-elections, want to know there was a recognition exactly how things are and that they could possibly get worse. The balance of power in the House is similarly unsettled with just four seats standing between Democratic Leader Hakeem Jeffries becoming Speaker or keeping his current title

When a high-profile, 32-nation NATO summit in D.C. wraps up a few hours after that Senate meeting, the questions about Biden’s viability will only become more pronounced—starting with a potentially combative session between the President and the reporters that one White House aide described as a “big boy press conference.” It will be Biden’s first since November and 36th since taking office. (At this point, Obama had done 72.)

On Monday, Biden’s team scheduled another one-on-one interview with NBC News anchor Lester Holt. But it’s not clear what the tone of that session will take.

To stay afloat, Biden is leaning heavily into his labor support, not to mention the vestiges of the Obama-era coalition of voters. Amid a bustle of action around the NATO summit, he dropped into a Wednesday meeting of the AFL-CIO to remind them that he is the most pro-union President they’ve ever seen. During a closed-to-press session, some leaders of member unions said they would feel more comfortable if they better understood how Biden gets across the finish line as a winner, according to one top hand at a Biden-backing union that is part of the council. But in a nod of solidarity from the powerful union, the executive committee doubled-down on their commitment to Biden in a unified vote of confidence after hearing from Biden’s top aides.

Around town, any talk of other unions defecting were quickly shut down despite grumbling from rank-and-file labor leaders. “It’s a non-starter,” says the labor operative. A second senior adviser in the union orbit added, “Labor will be with him until the last dog dies,” but then conceded that that alone wouldn’t save Biden. That second labor leader then threw in a grim Game of Thrones reference to sum up their feelings about the coming week: “Whenever the next bad thing happens at NATO press conference tomorrow, Lester [Holt] on Monday, et cetera, [Biden] won't be able to stop Pelosi and Schumer, et al. launching the Red Wedding.”

Put another way? A massacre may be lurking just off the screen but everyone knows it’s coming. No one has bothered to tell Biden.

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