Posted On July 9, 2024

Black House Democrats embrace Biden at another critical juncture

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Mtlpresse >> News Info >> Black House Democrats embrace Biden at another critical juncture

When the naysayers doubted President Biden could win the 2020 presidential primary, the highest-ranking Black member of Congress — South Carolina Rep. James E. Clyburn — endorsed him and changed the trajectory of the presidential race.

Now, with Biden once again on the political ropes, some Black House members appear ready to rally behind the embattled chief executive, in an embrace that will significantly influence whether the Democratic president can stay in his reelection race, according to five people familiar with the conversations.

The importance of the roughly 60-member Congressional Black Caucus — which includes Clyburn and House Minority Leader Hakeem Jeffries (D-N.Y.) — was on display Monday night as Biden met with the bloc in a Zoom call, the first with a group of elected lawmakers. The message that many Black Democrats planned to convey to Biden: we will stick by you as we always have, according to the people familiar with the CBC’s thinking.

“I think the message is going to be one of strong support,” Rep. Glenn Ivey (D-Md.) said.

Biden was expected to take questions from the group, which has long been considered an influential faction of the House Democratic Caucus and has guided decisions during tough moments over the last several decades.

The desire to defend Biden appears to be so widespread among the CBC members, three people aligned with the group said, it is possible the group formalizes its support for him in a statement over the next several days. The group’s influence could blunt the widespread concerns of other colleagues about Biden, and possibly sway Jeffries’s opinion as to how House Democrats should respond in an unprecedented moment.

The move to close ranks around Biden began percolating during a Friday meeting of roughly half of the CBC, according to the two people familiar with the virtual gathering. The group discussed how to respond to Biden’s halting debate performance less than two weeks ago, which has set off alarms within some corners of the Democratic establishment, including donors, strategists and nine House Democrats who have called for him to step aside because they fear he can’t beat Donald Trump in November.

But not a single Black House Democrat has defected. No one in Friday’s meeting spoke out against the president. In fact, Black lawmakers have been among the most vocally supportive of Biden of any Democrats in the debate’s aftermath.

Clyburn has said publicly that he is firmly behind Biden, but open to embracing Vice President Harris filling the role if Biden steps aside, which three people said tracked with his private comments. And Jeffries has so far kept defections in the House Democratic Caucus to a slow simmer despite widespread panic over the possibility of a poor showing in November.

Members who spoke up on the Friday call said they were behind Biden largely because Black voters back home remain firmly in the president’s corner. (Many CBC members represent safe Democratic districts). CBC members have long stated that voters remain behind the Democratic Party, even though polls have shown a slight erosion in support for the president among Black Americans since the 2020 election.

CBC members believe Biden has been a historic president. They point to the reduction in the child poverty rate, low black unemployment rate, investment in historically Black colleges, commitment to reproductive choice, investment in roads and bridges and the cancellation of student loans for millions of borrowers.

CBC Chair Steven Horsford (D-Nev.) released a statement Monday defending the Biden-Harris administration amid the turmoil, echoing those made by Reps. Maxine Waters (D-Calif.) and Barbara Lee (D-Calif.).

“President Joe Biden is the nominee and has been selected by millions of voters across this country, including voters here in Nevada,” he said. “They know President Biden and Vice President Harris are fighting for them. Like me, they don’t want to see Donald Trump back in the White House.”

Horsford, who is a front line member representing a swing House district, was speaking for himself in the statement rather than for the CBC as a whole. But the inclusion of Harris in his statement was no accident. It’s a sign that the first Black female vice president would have the CBC’s support if Biden exits the race, according to two people.

“They are sending a very strong signal to anyone who thinks they want to jump her that she’s got people,” Marcus Mason, a Democratic National Committee member said of the CBC.

Voters in districts represented by CBC members are behind Biden, members and aides say, and they don’t want their votes in the presidential primary to be overturned. “Black voters, they’ll take Biden in a wheelchair over Donald Trump in a golf cart,” Mason said.

CBC members know their decision — especially if they choose to release a collective statement embracing Biden — will challenge private concerns by other House Democrats, particularly those in swing districts worried about their own reelection chances. Those tensions may come to a head Tuesday morning when all House Democrats gather to discuss the president’s candidacy at their weekly caucus meeting.

The CBC often release statements once a majority of members agree with a given sentiment, though it does not mean all members of the group back a particular position.

The CBC has historically been referred to as the “conscience of Congress” for the influence its statements and actions have in negotiations on Capitol Hill. In recent years, it was the CBC that broke a logjam between moderate and liberal House Democrats sparring over whether to pass the bipartisan infrastructure bill or keep it coupled with a social spending bill known as “Build Back Better.” The group has proven critical in passing landmark laws like the Affordable Care Act and shaped negotiations related to public safety, gun reform and other measures.

Former Rep. John Lewis (D-Ga.), an icon of the civil rights movement, led a sit-in on the House floor to demand GOP leadership hold a vote on a gun reform bill in 2016, while key lawmakers in the group have shaped negotiations on passing the first assault weapons ban in decades and other bills important to Black Americans.

The CBC is undergoing a generational shift as the group has grown to roughly 60 members. A new generation of activist-turned-lawmakers has often served as a challenge to older statesmen and women in recent years and defied putting out statements as a collective.

But a majority of the CBC has incredible respect for the older guard, including Jeffries.

“We got a ton of seniority in the in the Black Caucus, and we rely upon that heavily. They have seen a lot, experienced a lot, and we have some of the most levelheaded thinkers that you could have, including Leader Jeffries,” said freshman Rep. Jasmine Crockett (D-Tex.). “So I don’t expect that you would see Black Caucus members, bucking first of all Leader Jeffries.”

The CBCs deference to seniority is another reason its members seem committed to Biden.

“I’m a CBC member. We respect our elders. Our elders mean a lot to us, and Joe Biden is an elder. He is simplified what it means to be a great public servant,” Rep. Hank Johnson (D-Ga.) said.

During Friday’s call, no one spoke up against the president or echoed the handful of colleagues who had demanded Biden step aside. But not enough time was allotted in the meeting to give every member time to speak, said one of the people familiar with it. There’s a recognition that not all CBC members may feel ready to forcefully defend Biden because of concerns he can’t beat Trump.

Those on the call also discussed what would happen if Biden — and he alone — makes the decision to step aside. If that day comes, members by-and-large said they would quickly throw their support behind Harris, possibly forming a similar “war room” to defend her as they did with Justice Ketanji Brown Jackson when she was nominated to the Supreme Court. CBC members would try to blunt any efforts by other House Democrats to hold “mini-primaries” to elect a candidate other than Harris, with one Democrats saying such actions “would not stand.”

“Once a member, always a member,” one person familiar with the conversations said about Harris, who was formally part of the group when she served in the Senate.

Rep. Joyce Beatty (D-Ohio) said she’d be “first in line” to support Harris if she were at the top of the ticket. But only if that decision came from Biden, not Congress.

Members enthusiasm for Harris was intentionally apparent last weekend during the annual gathering of Black women at Essence Fest to show the public that they will always defend her, according to a person familiar with the CBC. But they also fiercely embraced Biden.

“People are talking about ‘Biden is too old’ — hell, I’m older than Biden,” Rep. Maxine Waters (D-Calif.), 85, said to a standing ovation. “And I get up every morning. And I exercise. And I work late hours. I take care of Black people. Trump has told you who he is, he defined himself. He is a no good, deplorable, lying, despicable human being.”

“No matter what anybody said, it ain’t going to be no other Democratic candidate. It’s going to be Biden,” Waters added.

Liz Goodwin, Mariana Alfaro, and Theodoric Meyer contributed to this report.

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