Biden urged to bow out while Democrats seek alternative for 2024

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If President Biden had not spent months touting the virtues of his massive spending bill, the capitulation would not seem as much of a defeat.

Now the nearly $2 trillion measure is not going to get a vote before the end of the year, which in my view means it may never pass, given that next year is all about the midterms.

President Biden speaks near a bridge over the Pemigewasset River to promote infrastructure spending, Nov. 16, 2021, in Woodstock, New Hampshire.
(Associated Press)

Keep in mind that Biden got his infrastructure bill by promising House progressives a vote on Build Back Better, and now, unable to devise any compromise that would satisfy Joe Manchin, it’s dead for 2021 – and perhaps beyond. 

The decision to keep pushing this Medicare/climate change/tax credit/pre-kindergarten bill, rather than declare victory after getting infrastructure, is a monumental political miscalculation.

Receding profile

And yet, despite the lofty office he holds, Biden’s profile keeps receding. Yes, he does his duty by going to Kentucky on Wednesday to view the tornado damage. Yes, he gives repetitive speeches about legislation that generate little coverage. Yes, he chats up Jimmy Fallon while avoiding serious media interviews.

But the fact that he can’t drive the coverage – or get 48 Democratic senators (plus two independents who caucus with them) to support his top domestic priority – is a glaring sign of weakness.

Not long ago, there was a wave of media stories expressing doubt that the beleaguered president will run for reelection, a full three years before said election. Biden insists he will seek a second term, at 82, but the doubts are growing louder.

What I said at the time is that it’s unlikely Biden has made a final decision, and if he had decided not to run again it would be insane to announce so far in advance.

President Joe Biden speaks before a training session for precinct captains at the International Alliance of Theatrical Stage Employees on Feb. 21, 2020 in Las Vegas.
(Getty Images)

Nudge from the Times

Now comes New York Times conservative columnist Bret Stephens to say that Biden should tell the world, “much sooner than later, that he will not run for a second term.”

Stephens concedes that this would turn Biden into an instant lame duck.

“But, news flash: Right now he’s worse than a lame duck, because potential Democratic successors are prevented from making calls, finding their lanes and appealing for attention. That goes especially for people in the administration who should be powerful contenders.” 

Yet that’s just an argument that he’s freezing the Democratic field by not bowing to the inevitable. But Stephens, saying Biden’s performance ranges from “cogent” to “uneven” to “incoherent,” insists: “Far from weakening him, it would instantly allow him to be statesmanlike.”

President Biden boards Air Force One at Brussels Airport in Belgium, June 15, 2021. (Associated Press)

Which isn’t the same thing as effective. Statesmen don’t pass difficult legislation or rally public opinion. A president needs the respect and, yes, fear of retaliation to twist the arms of those who think he’ll be around for a long time. Biden would automatically become a mere caretaker.

I think the age factor will make it difficult for Biden to run again, even if his political fortunes rebound, but am just addressing when he would go public with his plans.

2024 handicapping

Meanwhile, an earlier Times story essentially provided the 2024 handicapping for the Democrats if Biden stepped aside (though no potential contender is allowed to say that out loud). CNN’s Chris Cillizza just posted his own list.

Mitch Landrieu is getting a lot of notice from what the late Times columnist Russell Baker used to call the Great Mentioner, especially now that the former New Orleans mayor is now the infrastructure czar.

And Commerce Secretary Gina Raimondo also seems to have a direct line to the Great Mentioner.

The list goes on to greater long shots. And the media chatter is obviously a sign that many Democrats are hedging their bets or plotting their futures in case the nomination is up for grabs.

But that’s still better for Joe Biden than a premature abdication. 

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