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Sen. Mark Warner works to gather Senate Democrats to ask Biden to exit race

Sen. Mark R. Warner (D-Va.) is attempting to assemble a group of Democratic senators to ask President Biden to exit the presidential race, according to two people with direct knowledge of the effort.

Warner is telling Democratic senators that Biden can no longer remain in the election in the wake of his faltering debate performance, according to the people familiar with private conversations who spoke on the condition of anonymity to speak freely. Warner has told others that he is deeply concerned that Biden is not able to run a campaign that could beat former president Donald Trump.

Warner spokeswoman Rachel Cohen would neither confirm nor deny that the senator thinks Biden needs to drop out of the race, instead issuing a statement that read, “Like many other people in Washington and across the country, Senator Warner believes these are critical days for the president’s campaign, and he has made that clear to the White House.”

On Friday afternoon, Biden asserted from Wisconsin that he will “beat Donald Trump.”

“I’m not letting one 90-minute debate wipe out three and a half years of work. I’m staying in the race,” he said.

Before leaving Wisconsin on July 5, President Biden dismissed reports of Democrats calling for him to leave the race. (Video: The Washington Post)

Biden told reporters he had spoken with at least 20 members of Congress and that they’re all telling him “to stay in the race.” When asked about Warner’s concerns, Biden said he was the “only” one pushing for him to step aside. “No one else is calling on me to do that,” he said.

A number of tactics are being discussed as senators with growing concerns are weighing the best way to relay their worries to the president.

Among the options under consideration is a meeting at the White House between senators and Biden. Even if some senators do not want Biden to drop out, advocates for the meeting argue they could use that forum to air candid concerns in person. Though no sitting Democratic senator has publicly called for Biden to step aside, they’ve privately shared increasing concerns with one another over the past week as they fight an already uphill battle to maintain the Senate majority.

As chair of the Senate Intelligence Committee, Warner is viewed as a serious voice privately advocating for the president to step aside. He represents a state that Democrats must win in November to maintain their hold on the White House.

There’s a growing consensus among Senate Democrats that the situation with Biden at the top of the ticket is untenable, and senators are trying to determine the best way to relay that message to an insulated president. Some senators don’t think Biden has people around him who are giving him an accurate picture of the fallout, according to one Democratic senator and a senior Democratic aide.

Still, many senators are in wait-and-see mode. Many want to see how Biden performs in his interview with ABC’s George Stephanopoulos on Friday evening and at his Wisconsin rally before committing to taking such a drastic step.

Senate Majority Leader Charles E. Schumer (D-N.Y.) has told senators to try to wait to make any moves until there is more polling data about Biden and Democrats’ standing, according to two people familiar with the conversations. Polling data is unlikely to be reliable until later this month because of the July Fourth holiday and the bump Republicans are expected to receive from their national convention, some Democrats have argued.

Warner has not commented publicly on Biden’s debate performance, even as many of his colleagues posted initial messages of support while privately fretting about the fallout.

“The bottom line is, Joe Biden is our president. He’s a patriotic American. He’s done a good job. He puts others first, not himself,” Sen. Tim Kaine (D-Va.), Warner’s co-senator who is running for reelection this fall, said at a recent campaign stop, according to a report in the Progress-Index newspaper. “He had one race that was an existential race in 2020, and he had to win it. He’s racked up a great record as president.”

If Warner’s group were to materialize, it would be a major shift in how Democrats are approaching whether Biden can stay in the contest against Trump.

In August 1974, three Republican congressional leaders went to the White House to inform President Richard M. Nixon that he no longer had enough support to survive impeachment over the Watergate scandal. Nixon resigned two days later.

In this case, Democratic senators, many of whom personally know and like Biden, are concerned about Biden’s future and prospects after his debate performance raised questions about his mental acuity and health.

“I think there is a sense among many that the current path may not be sustainable for him,” said one Democratic senator who described the general mood of the caucus. “Not because of the debate alone but how well he performs in the future. He obviously has to show strength right now.”

Senators have been in their home states since the debate but have been communicating via phone, venting their concerns and trying to chart a way forward. Schumer has publicly stood by Biden.

Warner, these people say, is ready to make the case now.

The former governor of Virginia and ex-businessman has occasionally criticized the Biden administration over its decision to promote content on TikTok and in its handling of a classified documents inquiry. In 2023, Warner was one of eight Democrats to urge Biden in a letter to commit more resources to securing the southern border.

Warner has often been a moderate dealmaker in the Senate, including helping negotiate the 2021 infrastructure bill.

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