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Hill climate hawks uncertain about Biden’s future

By Kelsey Brugger | 07/09/2024 06:35 AM EDT

Prominent climate advocates in Congress are taking a wait-and-see approach to President Joe Biden’s campaign.

Sen. Sheldon Whitehouse (D-R.I.).

Sen. Sheldon Whitehouse (D-R.I.) at the Capitol last month. Whitehouse has been critical of President Joe Biden's debate performance. Francis Chung/POLITICO

Congressional climate hawks are declining to say whether President Joe Biden should run for reelection following his unsteady debate performance last month.

As lawmakers returned from recess Monday, a growing number of Democrats called on the president to step aside, even if most continued to offer some degree of support. But many who have long been seen as Biden allies declined to say one way or another.

Sen. Sheldon Whitehouse (D-R.I.), perhaps the most vocal climate advocate on Capitol Hill, said he wanted to discuss the matter with colleagues Tuesday.

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“I am not going to talk about this until we’ve had chance to have lunch tomorrow,” said Whitehouse, who could become Environment and Public Works chair next year.

Last week, Whitehouse told WPRI-TV he was “pretty horrified” while watching the debate. “The blips of President Biden and the barrage of lying from President Trump were not what one would hope for in a presidential debate,” the senator said.

Sen. Brian Schatz (D-Hawaii) said Democrats needed to have in-person “family conversations” about the best way to beat former President Donald Trump. “We just arrived,” he said.

Rep. Jared Huffman (D-Calif.) said last month that Biden’s shaky performance to tout the Democrats’ climate accomplishments.

Asked about whether the president should keep campaigning, Huffman said Monday, “I support continuing this conversation and winning the election.”

Rep. Raúl Grijalva (D-Ariz.), ranking member of the Natural Resources Committee, was one of the first lawmakers to say someone else should lead the Democratic presidential ticket.

But pressure from Biden and his allies may be keeping more lawmakers from making similar calls. The president not only sent a letter to congressional Democrats saying he would not step down, he also blamed party elites Monday for turning on him.

President Joe Biden stands on stage during a commercial break in a presidential debate at CNN Studios.
President Joe Biden stands on stage during a commercial break in his first debate with former President Donald Trump last month. | Francis Chung/POLITICO

At least one environmental group, Climate Defiance, wants Biden out. Friends of the Earth Action said it was . Others, like the Sierra Club, are sticking with the president.

Rep. Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez (D-N.Y.), champion of the Green New Deal platform, is also sticking with Biden. “He is in this race,” she said. “The matter is closed.”

Biden has been defiant and more visible amid the uproar. This week, he plans on leading the NATO summit in Washington and holding an extended press conference. His performance there could make or break his candidacy.

“I’m so glad to be back here with my colleagues for us to be able to be able to have the kind of open and honest discussion that we need to have about what the path forward looks like here,” said Sen. Michael Bennet (D-Colo.). “The stakes, as everybody knows, are enormously high.”

Senate Energy and Natural Resources Chair Joe Manchin (I-W.Va.), who was said to be considering breaking with Biden in the days following the debate, was similarly circumspect Monday.

Sen. Jon Tester (D-Mont.), in one of the year’s toughest races, said Biden had to “prove” to him that “he’s up to the job for another four years.”

Reporters Garrett Downs and Jordain Carney contributed.