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Senate meeting with Biden aides fails to convince skeptical Dems

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Top advisers to President Joe Biden met with Democratic senators on Thursday to try to reassure lawmakers nervous about his viability in November. It didn’t work.

Lawmaker calls for Biden to step aside have swelled again this week — with Reps. Hillary Scholten (D-Mich.) and Brad Schneider (D-Ill.) bringing the total number of Democrats to 12 and others poised to follow suit if the president stumbles again. Sen. Peter Welch (D-Vt.) became the first senator to demand Biden stand down on Wednesday night.

The most outspoken critics of the president continuing his reelection bid appeared unmoved by the session that included senior Biden advisers Mike Donilon and Steve Ricchetti, as well as Biden campaign Chair Jen O’Malley Dillon. Behind closed doors, the group of Democratic senators actively pushed back on assertions from the Biden campaign that the president was on the right track to win this November, according to a person briefed on the meeting.

After it concluded, Welch said the meeting didn’t change his mind.

“I have great respect for their team. It doesn’t change my point of view,” he told reporters.

Sen. Michael Bennet (D-Colo.), who said publicly he feared a Democratic wipeout with Biden atop the ticket, called the session a “good discussion,” but said his concerns remained about the incumbent being a drag on other races.

In interviews with more than two dozen Democratic senators following the meeting at the Democratic Senatorial Campaign Committee, staunch Biden backers reiterated their support. But the wide swath of Democratic senators who have either remained mostly silent or expressed some reservations did not seem reassured following the meeting.

“Joe Biden really has to bring it to Donald Trump,” Sen. Richard Blumenthal (D-Conn.) said in a brief interview. “I still need to see the data and analytics that show me the path to victory.”

Sen. John Hickenlooper (D-Colo.) echoed that sentiment: “He’s got to demonstrate that the debate was just a bad night. … There’s a clock running.”

Then there was a loud silence from other senators. Normally chatty senior Democrat conference members like Sens. Dick Durbin (Ill.), Ron Wyden (Ore.), Chris Murphy (Conn.), Jack Reed (R.I.) and Angus King (I-Maine) all declined to comment on the meeting, with several lawmakers indicating they agreed not to speak with the media. Several senators declined to say if anyone in the closed-door meeting had called for Biden to step aside.

“It was very clear that we were asked not to say anything,” said Sen. Cory Booker (D-N.J.).

Among those who spoke during the meeting were Sen. Jeff Merkley (D-Ore.), who’s expressed concern about Biden’s viability, and Sen. Chris Coons (D-Del.), one of his staunchest defenders on Capitol Hill.

“I certainly stood up hard for my friend, our president, Joe Biden,” Coons said.

At least three Democrats facing reelection this fall — Jon Tester (Mont.), Sherrod Brown (Ohio) and Tim Kaine (Va.) — did not attend the session.

Prominent centrist Sen. Joe Manchin (I-W.Va.), who toyed with an independent presidential bid and formally left the Democratic Party earlier this year after announcing his retirement from the Senate, said he planned to speak with Biden over the weekend. He said the Biden aides gave no indication he would drop out, but answered lots of questions from senators.

Despite mounting concerns elsewhere, it’s clean Biden still has strong backers from some Democratic senators.

“In my view, President Biden is going to run for president and Biden is going to win,” said leading progressive Sen. Bernie Sanders (I-Vt.). “And he’s going to win because the contrast between his policies and Donald Trump’s are very, very clear.”

Sen. Debbie Stabenow (D-Mich.), a member of Democratic leadership, said Biden officials laid out an “aggressive plan.” And Sen. Maggie Hassan (D-N.H.) said of those Democrats nervous about Biden’s mental fitness for another term in office: “I think the president will answer those concerns” during his press conference following the NATO summit on Thursday afternoon.

Lawmakers will have fled Washington by then, out of town for a week-long recess as the Republican convention commences next week.