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WASHINGTON — Howard Chou, a computer programmer from outside Denver, said Joe Biden has done an "admirable job" and gotten a "bad rap" over 40-year-high inflation he contends is outside the president's control.
Yet Chou, first vice chair of the Colorado Democratic Party, doesn't want Biden to run for reelection in 2024. He worries about the president's low approval ratings and thinks Democrats could benefit from new blood.
"If I were Biden and I saw what was going on, I think it would be good to hand the baton to someone else," Chou said.
Even before he entered the White House 19 months ago, Biden's future beyond one term was the subject of speculation from Democrats. Biden, 79, and the oldest president in U.S. history would be 86 years old at the end of a second term. But what started as whispers has turned into a chorus from Democrats – including members of Congress – publicly questioning whether he should remain the party's standard-bearer in the next presidential race.
Interviews that USA TODAY conducted with Democratic National Committee members across a dozen states revealed doubts about Biden's future even among diehard party loyalists. Most said they will back the president if he seeks the nomination. But even some supporters questioned whether he would give Democrats their best shot in 2024. Other Democratic leaders said it would be best to move on.
"I think people, for whatever reason, they're not seeing his efforts and not seeing what his administration is trying to do," Chau said, adding, "You have to look at the reality and say, 'I want what's best for America.'"
A USA TODAY/Suffolk University poll this month found just 35% of Democratic voters said they want Biden to run again in 2024, compared to 50% who said they don't. It comes as Biden has struggled to rein in soaring inflation and faced a convergence of crises the past year: a chaotic military withdrawal from Afghanistan last August, a nationwide shortage of baby formula, a rise in migrants at the southern border and a Supreme Court decision that overturned Roe v. Wade.
"A fresh face would probably be the best option in 2024," said Steve Simeonidis, a DNC member in Florida and former chairman of the Miami-Dade Democratic Party. "Despite the fact that I think Joe Biden has done a great job and been an effective executive, he hasn't been able to communicate those wins effective enough."
Some Democrats in Congress question a '24 Biden bid
For the first time, a Democratic member of Congress last month publicly pushed for a new 2024 nominee instead of Biden. U.S. Rep. Dean Phillips, D-Minn., said "the country would be well-served by a new generation of compelling, well-prepared, dynamic Democrats to step up."
Another Democratic Minnesota congresswoman, Rep. Angie Craig, refused to say whether she would support Biden, but told the Minnesota Post a "new generation of leadership" is needed "up and down the ballot."
Democratic New York U.S. Reps. Jerry Nadler and Carolyn Maloney were noncommittal during a primary debate this month when asked whether they wanted Biden to run again.
"Too early to say," Nadler said, pointing to the upcoming midterm elections.
"I don't believe he's running for reelection," Maloney said.
Both Congress members dramatically changed their tune in a follow-up debate last week. Maloney said she supports Biden, while Nadler said he should "absolutely" be the 2024 nominee and that the president has done a "magnificent job."
Several DNC members declined to comment for this story. Many who did speak said it would be more appropriate to wait until the November midterm elections to discuss 2024.
Democrats from the progressive wing of the party – who sought bolder action on climate, abortion rights and other issues – tend to be the most lukewarm about a Biden reelection bid. They said canceling a portion of federal student loan debt, which Biden is considering, would be one major action he could take to rally the progressive base.
"I think the best candidate would be the most progressive candidate," said Nadia Ahmad of Orlando. Fla, a law professor and DNC member who served as a delegate for Sen. Bernie Sanders in 2020 and is noncommittal about Biden in 2024. "There's much to be desired in terms of policy imperatives."
White House looks to capitalize on recent wins
Biden is coming off the most successful stretch of his presidency, capped by the Senate's passage of a bill that will usher in historic spending on climate initiatives, allow Medicare to negotiate prescription drug prices and force the largest corporations to pay a 15% minimum income tax. Gas prices have decreased for weeks, falling below $4 a gallon nationally. And the president announced the killing of top al-Qaida leader Ayman al-Zawahri, who was in hiding in Afghanistan.
The White House hopes to build off these wins by having Biden travel to push a newly crafted midterm message: Biden and Democrats "beat the special interests" to pass bills to lower drug prices, regulate guns and invest in climate while "ultra-MAGA" Republicans stood in the way.
But it's unclear whether these efforts will resonate with voters.
"I think there's enough feathers on the cap to run off in the midterms," said André Treiber of Austin, Texas, who chairs the DNC Youth Council and considers himself to the left of Biden. “I disagree with folks that are pessimistic on the things that he has been able to achieve. But I do agree with the folks that that would love to see us aim higher.”
Some Democrats dismissed inner-party criticism of Biden as the result of lofty expectations.
"You can't satisfy everybody. You've got to look at the big picture," said Denise Adams, a councilwoman in Winston-Salem, N.C., and a DNC member who backs Biden in 2024. "Everybody thinks everything can be cured overnight. The process takes time."
Cristina Castro, a Democratic Illinois state senator from Elgin, Ill., said if Biden wants to run again that's his "prerogative" as the incumbent president. "I know it's been frustrating. He only as so much power as president," she said.
Travis Nelson, an Oregon state representative from Portland and DNC member, said the driving force among Democrats who prefer a new 2024 nominee is a desire for "the next generation" to take over.
"At the same time, I think there are a lot of folks like me, who are thinking if President Biden's doing a good job, if we are passing legislation that's good for the people at the national level, then we would be OK with him."
Are things 'starting to turn' for Biden?
Biden and White House officials have said repeatedly that Biden will run again in 2024 and downplayed polls showing eroding support for Biden among Democrats.
"Right now, 2024 is so far away," White House press secretary Karine Jean-Pierre said this month.
More immediately, Democrats face headwinds to hold onto power of Congress in November, while it's unclear what effect the FBI's search of former President Donald Trump's Mar-a-Lago property could have on the election.
Andrew Lachman, an attorney from Los Angeles, who chairs the DNC's Small Business Council, said he believes Democrats will ultimately fall in line behind Biden's reelection bid if he runs.
"Things are starting to turn," he said of the string of wins for Biden. He pointed to the recent defeat of an anti-abortion amendment in Kansas as a sign Democrats can stave off a Republican takeover of Congress in November. There's "always anxiety" about an election two years away, he said, arguing Democrats shouldn't look ahead of the midterms.
Some Democrats cringe at the thought of a contested primary that could divide the party. There's no obvious heir apparent if Biden were not to run. The rising profiles of other prominent Democrats, including Illinois Gov. J.D. Pritzker and California Gov. Gavin Newsom, have stoked speculation on whether they might consider 2024 bids. Vice President Kamala Harris and Transportation Secretary Pete Buttigieg could also be contenders if Biden chooses not to run.
Peggy Grove, a DNC member from Harrisburg, Pa., said Biden helped put the nation back on track after entering office under "abysmal circumstances." She said she supports a Biden bid in 2024 but isn't sure he would be Democrats' strongest candidate.
"It depends on who runs on the Republican side, to be quite honest with you," said Grove, who sits on the Democratic National Finance Committee. "If Trump runs again, I think that we can win."
Although his support among Democratic voters has waned, Biden would defeat Trump in a hypothetical rematch in 2024, according to the USA TODAY/Suffolk University poll. It found 45% of voters would vote for Biden, 41% for Trump and 6% for "someone else." Trump has not publicly announced a third presidential run, but has signaled such plans.
Under such a scenario, Biden might have to rely on the polarizing force of Trump to energize some Democrats.
"I don't see that he's done anything at the scale that we need in the country at this time," said Liano Sharon, a DNC member in Lansing, Mich. who backed Sanders in 2020. "He needs to step down and say, 'I'm not the one.'"
Sharon said most Democrats saw Biden as a "placeholder" and few he knows were enthused about their vote in 2020. "I know a lot of people that voted for him because he wasn't Trump."
'We have some ageists out there'
Still, Biden still has plenty of defenders who argue the president has made the most of a difficult situation: He took office during a raging pandemic, while his opponent disputed the election outcome, and passed major legislation in a Senate split 50-50 among Democrats and Republicans.
"We have some ageists out there," Ted Terry, first vice chair of the Georgia Democratic Party, said when asked about Democrats who prefer a new presidential nominee in 2024. Terry, a Dekalb County, Ga. commissioner, called funding from the president's American Rescue Plan a "lifeline" for local governments.
"The real analysis and dissecting really should start after this midterm election. Let's see how he does. If we lose everything, then yeah, that's gonna hurt and it's gonna probably bring up a lot of different other strategies moving forward," Terry said.
Debbie Nez-Manuel, a DNC member from Arizona, who is part of the Navajo Nation, credited Biden for responding to concerns of native tribes, historically overlooked, to address infrastructure and water scarcity.
"While maybe there's some that might feel that we need a different Democratic candidate, I can't say that there's been another Democratic president who has listened to Navajo Nation quite this way," Nez-Manuel said. "He might not have some of the mainstream support, but the tribes do support Biden."
Khary Penebaker, a DNC member from Milwaukee, Wisc. who works in commercial roofing, said there will always be people who prefer someone else at the top of the ticket.
"So what?" he said. "Joe Biden is going to be our president after 2024. And if someone doesn't like it, that's on them."
Reach Joey Garrison on Twitter @joeygarrison.
This article originally appeared on USA TODAY: Some Democrats aren't sure Biden should run for reelection in 2024