Top Democrats Pelosi, Clyburn say Biden age concerns are 'legitimate' after debate

Rep. Nancy Pelosi, D-Calif., speaks during the anniversary of the Inflation Reduction Act event at the White House in Washington, Aug. 16, 2023.

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Former House Speaker Nancy Pelosi, of California, and House Rep. Jim Clyburn, of South Carolina, both Democrats, said Tuesday it is fair to raise concerns about President Joe Biden’s fitness after he stumbled through his first debate with former President Donald Trump on Thursday.

“I think it’s a legitimate question to say, ‘Is this an episode or is this a condition?'” Pelosi said in an MSNBC interview, noting that the question should be asked of both Biden and Trump.

In a separate MSNBC interview shortly after, Clyburn echoed that it is reasonable to wonder whether Biden’s debate performance is a signal of a larger medical issue: “I’ll have to wait on the experts in medicine to give their opinion, because I’m not a doctor, so I have no idea the extent to which all of this may have occurred.”

Clyburn added he has a phone call with Biden scheduled for later Tuesday.

In response to Pelosi and Clyburn’s comments, the White House said questioning the president’s cognitive abilities is “fair” but that the administration has been transparent enough about his medical records.

“I get the question. It is a fair question to ask,” White House Press Secretary Karine Jean-Pierre said at a Tuesday press briefing when asked about Pelosi’s comments. “As it relates to his medical records, we have been transparent, we have released thorough reports from his medical team every year.”

She added that Biden’s medical team does not find further cognitive testing warranted, despite his poor debate showing.

Jean-Pierre also said that Biden’s doctor, Kevin O’Connor, did not have any concerns about the president’s medical status after the debate: “Not at all.”

Pelosi’s and Clyburn’s comments come as Democrats monitor the scale of damage from Biden’s difficult debate. Several polls so far have found that the Biden-Trump rematch remains a near dead heat.

A new CNN poll published Tuesday found Trump with a 6-point lead on Biden in a head-to-head matchup, unchanged from the survey’s April results. The margin of error for that question was plus or minus 3.7 percentage points.

The poll surveyed 1,045 registered voters from June 28 to 30, the three days following the debate, which means it represents respondents’ immediate reactions.

Both Democrats reiterated their support for Biden for as long as he stays in the presidential race.

“I want this ticket to continue to be Biden-Harris, and then we’ll see what happens after the next election,” Clyburn said.

President Joe Biden is welcomed by U.S. Rep. Jim Clyburn on his arrival at Columbia Metropolitan Airport in West Columbia, South Carolina, Jan. 27, 2024.

Kent Nishimura | AFP | Getty Images

Clyburn and Pelosi are two of Biden’s closest allies. Clyburn in particular was pivotal to Biden’s 2020 victory after his endorsement delivered a key boost and helped the president secure support among Black voters.

But their comments Tuesday marked some of the first from high-profile Democrats to publicly validate recent anxieties about the president’s ability to wage a winning campaign against Trump.

That could further push open the floodgates for party members to step forward publicly with their concerns, which have largely been kept behind closed doors.

U.S. Rep. Lloyd Doggett, D-Texas, on Tuesday became the first Democrat to officially call on Biden to withdraw from the presidential race.

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“Recognizing that, unlike Trump, President Biden’s first commitment has always been to our country, not himself, I am hopeful that he will make the painful and difficult decision to withdraw,” Doggett said in a press release. “I respectfully call on him to do so.”

A Biden campaign official responded in a statement to NBC News that the president is “staying in” the race.

Later Tuesday, Adam Frisch, the Democratic contender who came just short of defeating Republican Rep. Lauren Boebert in Colorado last election cycle, followed suit: “We deserve better. President Biden should do what’s best for the country and withdraw from the race.”

The Biden campaign did not immediately respond to a request for comment about Pelosi’s and Clyburn’s television appearances.

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