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Pritzker, Democratic governors back Biden after White House meeting

A close-up of an elderly man in a suit and tie, looking serious. He has white hair and is set against a blurred background with various colors, including yellow and dark tones. His expression is neutral, reminiscent of a scene from a White House discussion involving President Joe Biden.
Associated Press
President Joe Biden listens during a Medal of Honor ceremony at the White House in Washington on Wednesday, posthumously honoring two U.S. Army privates who were part of a daring Union Army contingent that stole a Confederate train during the Civil War.

President Joe Biden on Wednesday told Gov. J.B. Pritzker and 23 other Democratic governors that he has no plans to drop out of the presidential race and downplayed poor poll numbers after a damaging debate performance that has set off a wave of panic in the party.

Biden and Vice President Kamala Harris met with the governors, along with Washington, D.C., Mayor Muriel Bowser, in an hour-long White House discussion described by Minnesota Gov. Tim Walz, chair of the Democratic Governors’ Association, as “honest and open” and by Pritzker as “candid.”

But the president, who is facing calls to drop out from some congressional Democrats, also heard comments and questions that ranged from complimentary to “a little targeted.” Some questions were “critical,” according to a source with direct knowledge of the meeting. There were also questions about Biden’s strategy over the coming weeks.

Negative poll numbers were brought up by governors but were downplayed by Biden, the source said. Biden reiterated to governors he’s in the race and told them, “We’ll get through this,’” the source said. Harris largely echoed that both were “in it to win it” and talked about the administration’s accomplishments.

The meeting came hours after White House Press Secretary Karine Jean-Pierre told reporters Biden is “absolutely not” considering stepping down. And it followed the president himself on a Democratic National Committee call telling staffers, “I am running. I am the leader of the Democratic Party. No one is pushing me out,” according to a top aide who posted his comment on the social media platform X.

Still, a New York Times and Siena College poll released on Wednesday showed former President Donald Trump now leading Biden 49% to 43% among likely voters nationally — a three-percentage-point dip for Biden from a week earlier. Trump has taken his largest lead — 49% to 41% — among all registered voters, regardless of how likely they are to vote, the poll found.

Walz, Maryland Gov. Wes Moore and New York Gov. Kathy Hochul were the only three governors to speak to reporters after the meeting. Walz said the governors are “all looking for the path to win” and are focusing on defeating Trump.

“The governors have his back. We’re working together,” Walz said. “Just to be very, very clear, a path to victory in November is the No. 1 priority, and that’s the No. 1 priority for the president. So that’s what we’re trying to get back to.”

Moore, Michigan Gov. Gretchen Whitmer and California Gov. Gavin Newsom all sent out social media statements of support for Biden shortly after the meeting: “I heard three words from the President tonight — he’s all in. And so am I. @JoeBiden’s had our back. Now it’s time to have his,” Newsom wrote.

A campaign spokeswoman for Pritzker said the governor called the meeting “candid” and said “he appreciated hearing directly from the president.” He did not post a statement of support for Biden on social media Wednesday night.

Pritzker, Whitmer, Newsom and Kentucky Gov. Andy Beshear are among a slew of governors whose names have been floated — and are being polled — as potential replacements for Biden should he drop out. All appeared in person at the meeting. Fourteen other Democratic governors attended the meeting virtually.

Appearing on CNN’s “The Source with Kaitlan Collins” on Tuesday, Pritzker said he wanted to hear more from Biden and that it was important for the president to communicate not just with Democratic leaders but “generally, the nation.”

Pritzker sidestepped questions about whether he could take Biden’s place in the CNN interview: “Look, right now, Joe Biden is our nominee and I’m 100% on board with supporting him as our nominee unless he makes some other decision.”

The president continues to face public and media backlash after his debate performance raised questions about his age and ability to lead as president — criticism the White House and Biden have vigorously chalked up to him having a bad night. At a Virginia fundraiser, Biden on Tuesday said he didn’t have his “best night” and blamed it on overseas travel weeks prior to the debate. He also said he “didn’t listen” to his staff “and came back and nearly fell asleep on stage.”

“But, at any rate, that’s no excuse, but it is an explanation,” Biden said.

Pritzker joined Democratic governors on a Monday call where questions were raised about why Biden hadn’t spoken to the majority of the governors, many of whom are key surrogates for the campaign, since the debate.

A Biden interview with ABC’s George Stephanopoulos, airing on Friday and Sunday, is another litmus test for the president. And Biden allies are continuing to watch polling numbers as some Democrats have already stepped in to ask the president to step down.

Biden’s post-debate cleanup tour has so far included a North Carolina campaign rally, a televised speech about the Supreme Court’s immunity ruling and calls to reassure Democratic leaders, his White House and campaign staffs. He is also loading up his travel schedule with a Friday visit to Wisconsin and a Sunday visit to Pennsylvania.

Harris on Wednesday also announced upcoming trips to New Orleans, Dallas and Indianapolis as she seeks to energize Black and young voters.

Tina Sfondeles is the chief political reporter for the Chicago Sun-Times