'I'm not leaving': Biden expands effort to tamp down calls to step aside

WASHINGTON — President Joe Biden on Wednesday increased his outreach to lawmakers, Democratic governors and staffers after days of criticism that he hasn’t done enough to personally tamp down on nervousness that he should abandon his run for re-election.

The outreach included calls to congressional Democratic leaders and a meeting Wednesday evening with Democratic governors — including 10 who traveled to Washington to attend in person. Nearly a week after the debate, he and senior aides are still scrambling to recover from his devastating performance last week and quash growing calls for him to step down as the party’s nominee in the November election.

Following a meeting between Biden, Vice President Kamala Harris and governors, the state officials emerged and largely echoed one another in offering praise for Biden, several referring to being “all in” and being “partners” who have one another’s “backs.”

“We are all looking for the path to win. All the governors agree with that. President Biden agrees with that,” Minnesota Gov. Tim Walz, the chair of the Democratic Governors Association, told reporters outside the White House. “He has had our backs through Covid, through all of the recovery, all of the things that have happened. The governors have his back, and we’re working together.”

Maryland Gov. Wes Moore said the group that met with Biden “came in and we were honest about the feedback that we were getting. We were honest about the concerns that we were hearing from people.”

“Listen, we’re governors. We don’t do hand-wringing,” Moore said after the meeting. “And come November, we’ve got a binary choice, and the binary choice is between someone who is continually delivered for us in our states, the people of our states, and frankly, someone whose vision for the future of this country is downright dangerous.”

Michigan Gov. Gretchen Whitmer, whose name has been floated as a possible replacement for Biden at the top of the ticket, attended the meeting but didn’t speak to reporters afterward. Whitmer said on X minutes after the meeting wrapped that Biden “is our nominee. He is in it to win it and I support him.”

California Gov. Gavin Newsom told NBC News that he “heard three words from the president — he’s all in. And so am I. Joe Biden’s had our back. Now it’s time to have his.”

Notably absent from the meeting was Wisconsin Gov. Tony Evers. Neither the Biden campaign nor Evers’ office immediately responded to requests for comment about why he didn’t attend.

A spokesperson for Evers, Britt Cudaback, said on X that Evers didn’t attend the meeting “because he’s focused on moving forward and winning Wisconsin. He supports President Biden — his comments in support of the president over the last week speak for themselves, and he looks forward to campaigning with the President on Friday.”

After the meeting, a campaign official said Biden “sought the advice and expertise of Democratic governors.”

“In addition to defeating Donald Trump, the meeting also focused on the importance of electing Democrats up and down the ballot to deliver more Democratic governors and more Democratic majorities in Congress and statehouses across the country,” the campaign official added, saying that each governor in the meeting also “reiterated their shared commitment to do everything possible to make sure President Biden and Vice President Harris beat Donald Trump in November.”

The meeting came after a day of calls reassuring campaign staff members and Democratic lawmakers.

On an all-hands call with campaign staffers, Biden made it clear that he didn’t plan to exit the race, telling attendees, “Let me say this as clearly as I possibly can, as simply and straightforward as I can: I am running,” according to a campaign official on the call.

“No one is pushing me out,” Biden added, saying: “I’m not leaving. I’m in this race to the end, and we’re going to win.”

Moments later, White House press secretary Karine Jean-Pierre reiterated Biden’s comments at a briefing, telling reporters that he is “absolutely not” considering stepping down.

On the campaign call, Biden also called for his party to be unified heading into the fall, telling staffers that “when Democrats unite, we will always win. Just as we beat Donald Trump in 2020, we’re going to beat him again in 2024.”

Biden campaign Chair Jen O’Malley Dillon and campaign manager Julie Chávez Rodriguez organized the call, which both Biden and Harris joined, according to a source familiar with the matter.

Harris told staffers that she was all-in on Biden, saying: “We will not back down. We will follow our president’s lead. We will fight, and we will win.”

The all-hands meeting was billed as a “quick all-staff call to check in as a team” by O’Malley Dillon and Chávez Rodriguez.

In an email to campaign staffers obtained by NBC News, the two campaign leaders said that “moving forward, we will be using emails and all staff calls more frequently to make sure you all have the latest updates and broader campaign priorities for the day.”

The two also told staff members that the focus for Wednesday would be emphasizing that the race remains steady, drawing a contrast with former President Donald Trump and amplifying Biden’s coming events in battleground states, like his trip to Wisconsin on Friday.

Biden also spoke separately to former House Speaker Nancy Pelosi, D-Calif., and Senate Majority Leader Chuck Schumer, D-N.Y., on Wednesday, sources familiar with the conversation said.

And a spokesperson for Rep. James Clyburn, D-S.C., a former House majority whip, told NBC News that the two had spoken Wednesday but that “the substance of that call will remain private.”

Biden spoke with House Minority Leader Hakeem Jeffries, D-N.Y., on Tuesday.

Also Wednesday, White House chief of staff Jeff Zients held a call with White House staffers, urging them to “get things done,” “hold our heads high” and “execute on the president’s agenda,” a White House official told NBC News.

Zients also told staffers to tune out any outside noise and chatter and to stay disciplined.

The meeting with the governors Wednesday evening came after a group of state executives met separately Tuesday on a call organized by Walz, who is the chair of the Democratic Governors Association.

Walz, Newsom, Whitmer, Moore, Hochul and Democratic Govs. J.B. Pritzker of Illinois, John Carney of Delaware, Maura Healey of Massachusetts, Dan McKee of Rhode Island and Andy Beshear of Kentucky planned to attend the meeting in person at the White House, while others joined virtually.

Harris also attended the meeting, alongside Biden, a White House official told NBC News.

“Democratic governors are proud to be some of the president’s closest partners and allies on the campaign trail. Together, we have delivered millions of jobs, rebuilt roads and bridges across the country, and made critical investments in communities that have for too long been left behind. The president has worked side by side with us to deliver for the people of our states and we’re looking forward to talking with him today,” Walz said in a statement early Wednesday.

A Democratic source familiar with the meeting plans said that the governors back Biden and that “at a time when everyone wants to get back to the core contrast in this race, they want to hear from the president and offer key insights from their states as allies and people who have been out there as surrogates for his campaign.”

Newsom sent out an email Wednesday fundraising off the coming meeting with Biden, featuring the subject line “Heading to the White House.”

In it, he told his supporters, “As you read this, I am on my way to Washington, D.C. to meet and stand with the president at the White House later tonight. When that’s over, I’ll be hitting the road to campaign for him and Democrats running up-and-down the ballot in several swing states.”

One of the places I’ll be going is Pennsylvania, where I’ll be with Senator Bob Casey as he runs for re-election in a tough race against a well-funded opponent. … The truth is, we all have our roles to play if Democrats are going to win this fall,” the email added.

The donation links in the email directed supporters straight to the Casey campaign donation page.

One Democratic lawmaker, Rep. Lloyd Doggett, D-Texas, has already called for Biden to withdraw his re-election bid amid fear that his defection may set off a slew of elected officials’ stepping forward to break with Biden. Others have said they are waiting to see a fresh round of polling to evaluate whether Biden’s support has cratered and whether his debate performance affected any close down-ballot races.

This article was originally published on NBCNews.com

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