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House Dems prepare to break with Biden if he tanks NATO press conference

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Democratic lawmakers are making contingency plans in case Joe Biden tanks his highly anticipated solo press conference later Thursday, with at least a half-dozen lawmakers preparing to go public against the president, according to six people familiar with discussions.

Three of those lawmakers’ offices have already drafted statements, according to two people who have been briefed on conversations.

The lawmakers are among a large faction of Democrats who have so far remained largely silent about Biden’s future despite major concerns about his ability to defeat former President Donald Trump. The people familiar with discussions declined to specify on record the members who were preparing statements against Biden or ready to do so.

“This is a moment that will make a difference,” said Rep. Dan Kildee (D-Mich.), who is retiring from his Michigan swing seat this fall. He noted the unscripted press conference, occurring at the end of the three-day NATO gathering in D.C., will be Biden’s first chance after a shaky ABC News interview with George Stephanopoulos to convince the public he can win. During that interview, Biden dismissed his unnerving debate performance two weeks ago as simply a “bad night.”

Among House Democrats, there is a pervasive sense of panic about Biden at the top of the ticket. But there is also a deep divide internally about how to handle the situation.

Many are privately skeptical that there’s any number of Democratic defections that would actually convince Biden to leave the ticket, calling it “delusional” thinking. Others insist that a large-enough groundswell could make a difference, pointing to party leaders like House Minority Leader Hakeem Jeffries and former Speaker Nancy Pelosi, who could relay concerns to Biden himself. Pelosi and Jeffries huddled on the House floor for an extended period of time Thursday morning, according to one lawmaker who witnessed the exchange.

Regardless, all Democrats agree on one thing: The party is running out of time to come up with a strategy to help them defeat Trump and take back the House in November.

“[Biden’s NATO presser] is part of the bigger picture of whether he’s able to be unscripted and answer questions,” said Rep. Brittany Pettersen (D-Col.), who has not definitively backed Biden. “We’ll see how today goes, but it’s a small part of where we are.”

Others, even Biden backers, are doubtful that a good performance by the president will sway Democrats much at all. The damage has already been done, they argue.

“The main make-or-break is occurring right now and we will, as members of Congress, continue to analyze who’s the best person at the top of the ticket,” said Rep. Emanuel Cleaver (D-Mo.), who’s supportive of the president.

Rep. Mike Quigley (D-Ill.), who’s already called for Biden to step aside, was more blunt: “The cake is baked.”

“What if he has a great day and a bad day tomorrow? Do you really want a campaign where you have that uncertainty through the most tense moments?” Quigley said.

And Biden’s team has another problem on the Hill: A growing sense of frustration that his campaign team has not been responsive enough to lawmakers’ concerns. Several Democrats told POLITICO they are frustrated that campaign officials haven’t responded to members asking them to address concerns about Biden’s strategy.

“I’ve asked the campaign for a plan and they’ve just not been responsive,” said Rep. Scott Peters (D-Calif.), who has said he’s close to saying Biden should quit. “So I think they’ve sent their message to me.”

And Quigley said he hadn’t heard from the Biden campaign or the White House either, though he added: “I’m not the one they need to convince.”