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For CT Dems, hard questions linger as a defiant Biden vows to stay in presidential race

FILE: Senator Chris Murphy welcomes President Joe Biden onto the stage at the Safer Communities Summit at the University of Hartford on June 16, 2023.
Ryan Caron King
Connecticut Public
FILE: Senator Chris Murphy welcomes President Joe Biden onto the stage at the Safer Communities Summit at the University of Hartford on June 16, 2023.

President Joe Biden is resisting calls from congressional Democrats to drop his candidacy following a disastrous debate performance against Republican Donald Trump.

Biden wrote in a two-page letter Monday: “the question of how to move forward has been well-aired for over a week now. And it’s time for it to end.” Biden stresses the party has “one job,” which is to defeat Trump in November.

But Connecticut lawmakers say the 81-year-old president still has work to do to convince voters that he’s ready to be president for four more years.

Speaking Sunday on CNN, U.S. Sen. Chris Murphy, a Connecticut Democrat, underscored his support for the president but said Biden needs to work to restore voter confidence.

“Listen, I think there's no doubt that the President's performance at the debate has raised questions for voters,” Murphy said. “Not questions about his character or his decency or who he cares about or who he fights for. But questions as to whether this is still the old Joe Biden.”

Murphy said Biden's recent interview with ABC’s George Stephanopoulos may not have been enough to assuage concerns that he is capable of being president for another four years.

“I think the president needs to make some moves this week to put himself out there in a position to answer those questions,” Murphy said. “And if he can't do that, then of course, he's going to have to make a decision about what's best for the country and what's best for the party.”

Anxiety is running high as top-ranking Democratic lawmakers are joining calls for Biden to step aside despite his defiance. At the same time, some of the president’s most staunch supporters are redoubling the fight for Biden’s presidency, insisting there's no one better to beat Trump in what many see as among the most important elections of a lifetime.

Murphy said Trump “presents an existential threat to democracy” and that Trump was “engaged in a level of pathological lying that we've never seen before in a debate.”

But as lawmakers weigh whether Biden should stay or go, there appear to be no easy answers.

U.S. Sen. Richard Blumenthal, a Connecticut Democrat, said Monday he is engaged in "ongoing conversations" with his Democratic colleagues, but that "as the Democratic candidate right now, President Biden has my support."

"Obviously there is a letter today that President Biden has sent to me and my colleagues," Blumenthal said. "He appears firmly and unequivocally — indeed unalterably — intent on continuing to be the Democratic candidate. And I take him at his words."

Late last week, Blumenthal said he was "really surprised" by Biden's performance at the debate, adding he was hopeful the president would "be showing some strength over the next few days."

On Monday, he said he still believes Biden has time to salvage his candidacy.

"What's important is not one debate night, but four years of a presidency going forward," Blumenthal said. "He has the time and opportunity to quell concerns and he is making every effort to do so."

Murphy said he believes Biden can beat Trump as long as he is willing to do the necessary things to restore voters’ confidence and answer their questions.

“I love Joe Biden,” Murphy said. “I’m not advising this campaign, but if I were, I would probably suggest that the president get out there and do a town hall, that he do a press conference, that he show the country that he is still the old Joe Biden, one of the best retail politicians this country has ever seen. The President says he can do that. I trust that he can.”

Other CT Democrats weigh in on Biden's campaign

House Democrats from Connecticut are also weighing in on Biden’s run for reelection. Many are walking a fine line, remaining relatively quiet on the issue in public, while allegedly expressing strong opinions in private conversations.

The Associated Press reports U.S. Rep. Jim Himes said privately that Biden should step aside; his office on Monday told Connecticut Public that Himes "has not made any public comments regarding this issue."

Himes defended the president in an interview with CBS News on June 30.

“I’m not so cynical as to believe that the American people are going to choose a president based on a 90-minute debate rather than a four-year record of startling legislative achievements,” he said.

Democratic U.S. Rep. Joe Courtney, who represents eastern Connecticut, issued a short statement Monday afternoon.

"[Stopping] Donald Trump from regaining the White House — which his Chairman of the Joint Chiefs, Defense Secretary, National Security Advisor, Vice President, and countless others have said would be a threat to democracy and security — is the top priority in 2024," Courtney said. "I will support the most pragmatic and effective path to achieving that goal."

U.S. Rep. John Larson, also a Democrat, talked briefly with reporters Monday.

"I think it's time for everyone to get in a room, express your concerns and then unite," Larson said. "Republicans are united around a guy with a criminal record as long as my arm."

Larson acknowledged Biden's debate performance late last month, saying that "everyone wishes Joe Biden had a great debate."

"Realistically, I don't know anyone else running for president than Joe Biden," Larson said. "I think he's made it very clear" that he's running for president.

"It's a decision that's up to the president," he said.

Meanwhile, The Washington Post reports Democratic U.S. Rep. Rosa DeLauro “fiercely” defended Biden on a call with other Democrats on House committees, saying one debate does not set the precedent for the next four years and should not overshadow Biden’s presidency.

This story has been updated. Connecticut Public’s Shanice Rhule, Lisa Hagen, Maricarmen Cajahuaringa, Matt Dwyer, Jeni Ahrens and the Associated Press contributed to this report.