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Democratic lawmakers’ concerns hang over Joe Biden’s position as the party’s presidential nominee despite campaign’s efforts

By Lauren Fox and Annie Grayer, CNN

(CNN) — Two days after President Joe Biden asserted he was “firmly committed” to staying in the 2024 race, Democrats continue to question his place as their nominee, with the number of lawmakers calling for him to step aside ticking up Wednesday evening.

Vermont Sen. Peter Welch became the first Democratic senator to call on Biden to step aside as the nominee in a Washington Post op-ed published Wednesday.

Just 10 congressional Democrats have publicly called for Biden to step aside, but a larger number are operating under a premise that Biden may still be deliberating, with former House Speaker Nancy Pelosi saying Wednesday, “It’s up to the president to decide if he is going to run. We’re all encouraging him to make that decision because time is running short.”

The comments made by Pelosi, who is known for her precision, confused some members but also provided an opening for others, according to conversations with multiple lawmakers and aides.

After a group of California House Democrats met in the Capitol Wednesday, many emerged echoing a similar sentiment.

“The president has got to decide what he is going to do,” Democratic Rep. Scott Peters told CNN.

When presented with the reality that Biden has stated he plans to remain in the race, Peters responded, “I don’t think the week is over. I think that as more and more data comes in, he’s got to keep his eyes open.”

Democratic Rep. Jared Huffman told CNN that just because Biden has said he made his decision to remain in the race, that does not mean it is final.

“It doesn’t work that way,” Huffman, who has raised concerns about Biden, told CNN. “We all understand this as President Biden’s decision. I will just say that good leaders always continue to consider new information and changed circumstances and sometimes make different decisions informed by that. So, this is going to be fluid for a little while.”

Even Rep. Jim Clyburn, a Democrat from South Carolina who is a strident Biden supporter, told reporters Wednesday he “has no idea” if Biden’s decision to stay in the race is final. “You’ll have to ask him.”

Sen. Joe Manchin, an independent from West Virginia, told CNN Wednesday when pressed on if he really thought Biden could change his mind, “if you can’t change your mind, you can’t change anything,” adding he has always believed “rational people do the right thing.”

The high stakes meetings on Capitol Hill that kicked off on Tuesday also did little to resolve Democratic divisions over Biden’s future. House members leaving a nearly two-hour meeting at the DNC argued they were still working through the process, and various caucuses within the Democratic party — including lawmakers who represent the most competitive districts — have held private meetings with Democratic Leader Hakeem Jeffries, who has promised to relay concerns to the White House.

New York Democratic Rep. Ritchie Torres, a member of the Congressional Black Caucus, reversed course on Wednesday and went public with his concerns that Biden remaining at the top of the ticket could hurt Democrats’ chances of winning back the House of Representatives. Torres said in a statement Wednesday that “there must be a serious reckoning with the down-ballot effect of whomever we nominate,” when two days prior had called the intra-party controversy “self-destructive.”

Crystalizing his criticism, Torres said in a statement to CNN “if we are going on a political suicide mission, then we should at least be honest about it.”

In just the last two days, Democratic Reps. Mikie Sherrill of New Jersey, Earl Blumenauer of Oregon and Pat Ryan of New York have called on Biden to step aside, bringing the total number of congressional Democrats to make public statements asking Biden to withdraw to 10.

During a Senate lunch Tuesday, three Democratic senators – Colorado’s Michael Bennet, Montana’s Jon Tester and Ohio’s Sherrod Brown – expressed concerns to their colleagues that they didn’t think Biden could beat Trump in a rematch in November. Bennet later on Tuesday became the first Democratic senator to publicly say he doesn’t believe Biden is capable of winning reelection.

On Thursday, the Biden campaign will dispatch top campaign officials including senior Biden advisers Mike Donilon and Steve Ricchetti, and Biden Campaign Chair Jen O’Malley Dillon to brief senate Democrats during a special meeting, a sign that questions about Biden’s future are still lingering.

Democrats both publicly and privately contend that one of the challenges of the moment for them is that they need to see more of the President.

“The President has to be more active, He has to be out there in unscripted situations, answering questions, interacting with voters in order to demonstrate that the debate performance was an anomaly,” independent Maine Sen. Angus King said.

Many members told CNN that they will be watching Biden very carefully for the remainder of the week, including a high-profile press conference he is scheduled to host on Thursday at NATO.

The number three Democrat in the House, Rep. Pete Aguilar of California, said Tuesday, “Let’s see,” referring to the upcoming events.

“We’ll see how this plays out,” Democratic Rep. Jim Costa of California said.

This story has been updated with additional developments.

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