Clooney: 'We're not going to win with this president'

United States President Joe Biden is facing fresh doubts about his re-election chances from heavyweights Nancy Pelosi and George Clooney, who may influence other Democratic lawmakers and financial donors, and two Senate Democrats.

Biden must decide quickly whether to stay in the 2024 White House race, former House Speaker Pelosi, a longtime Biden ally, said on MSNBC while declining to say definitively that she wanted him to run.

Hollywood star Clooney, a Democrat who co-hosted a fundraiser for Biden last month, withdrew his support with a damning opinion piece in the New York Times saying that Biden was not the same man he was in 2020.

Senate Majority Leader Chuck Schumer, meanwhile, has privately signalled to donors he's open to a Democratic candidate other than Biden, Axios reported.

And Senator Peter Welch said in an op-ed published on Wednesday that Biden should withdraw, the first Democratic senator to explicitly call for the president to step aside.

One major donor said Democratic leaders had indicated they would issue statements of concern after the NATO summit, but did not mention Schumer by name.

"It's going to be a bloodbath," the source said, citing growing pressure on down-ballot candidates, even for those in states once considered "safe."

Some Senate Democrats are expected to express their reservations in a meeting with Biden on Thursday, Fox News reported late on Wednesday.

Pelosi's remarks, which ignored Biden's repeated insistence that he is staying in the race, suggested he could face a fresh wave of calls from fellow Democrats to exit the race.

And the Republican-led US House of Representatives Oversight Committee on Wednesday subpoenaed three senior White House aides, demanding they sit for depositions regarding Biden's health, the panel said.

For nearly two weeks the 81-year-old Biden has sought to stem defections by Democratic lawmakers, donors and other allies worried he might lose the November 5 vote to Republican Donald Trump, 78, after his halting June 27 debate performance in Atlanta. 

The President has said again and again that he will be the Democratic candidate and that he believes he can beat Trump, a former president. Biden said he had a bad night at the debate and vowed to stay in the race.

Asked by reporters about Clooney's op-ed, Biden pivoted to a show of support by union leaders earlier on Wednesday. "AFL-CIO," he said, shaking his fists triumphantly, "go, go, go."

Pelosi said on MSNBC she was encouraging her colleagues on Capitol Hill with concerns about Biden to refrain from airing them while he hosts NATO leaders in Washington this week.

"I've said to everyone: let's just hold off. Whatever you're thinking, either tell somebody privately, but you don't have to put that out on the table until we see how we go this week," she said, describing Biden's strong remarks at the NATO summit on Tuesday as "spectacular."

She declined to say definitively that she wanted Biden to run. "I want him to do whatever he decides to do," she said. "We're all encouraging him to make that decision because time is running short."

Biden's campaign chair Jen O'Malley Dillon and senior advisers Mike Donilon and Steve Ricchetti will brief Senate Democrats at a lunch on Thursday, Biden's campaign said.

Asked to comment on Pelosi's remarks and Clooney's article, Biden's campaign pointed to a letter he sent Democrats in Congress that said he was "firmly committed" to staying in the race and beating Trump.

President Joe Biden awards the Medal of Freedom to former Speaker of the House Nancy Pelosi ...
President Joe Biden awards the Medal of Freedom to former Speaker of the House Nancy Pelosi during at the White House in May. Photo: Getty Images
On Tuesday, Pelosi said that she had "always been committed" to Biden, the campaign noted. On Wednesday, she told ABC News she thought Biden could win in November.

Asked at the NATO summit whether he still had Pelosi's support, Biden responded by raising a triumphant fist.

However, other Democrats' echoed Pelosi on Wednesday, suggesting Biden's efforts to quell dissent within his party had not succeeded. Democratic Senator Richard Blumenthal said he was "deeply concerned" about Biden's ability to win the race.

In Dallas, Vice President Kamala Harris, the party frontrunner to replace Biden if he were to step aside as the Democratic candidate, spoke to a group of some 19,000 people at an event of the historically Black Alpha Kappa Alpha Sorority.

The election is the most "existential" and consequential of their lifetimes, Harris said to a crowd that chanted, "Four More Years!"

George Clooney: "The Joe Biden I was with three weeks ago at the fundraiser was not the Joe 'big...
George Clooney: "The Joe Biden I was with three weeks ago at the fundraiser was not the Joe 'big F-ing deal' Biden of 2010. He wasn’t even the Joe Biden of 2020." Photo: Getty Images

Clooney withdraws support 

In his opinion piece, Clooney said  Biden is no longer the same person who won the White House in 2020 and said he should drop his bid for re-election.

Clooney co-hosted a star-studded fundraiser for Biden in downtown Los Angeles in June, about two weeks before the President  struggled through the debate with Trump.

"It's devastating to say it, but the Joe Biden I was with three weeks ago at the fund-raiser was not the Joe 'b F-ing deal' Biden of 2010," Clooney wrote in the New York Times.

"He wasn’t even the Joe Biden of 2020. He was the same man we all witnessed at the debate.

"Was he tired? Yes. A cold? Maybe. But our party leaders need to stop telling us that 51 million people didn’t see what we just saw," Clooney added.

A subsequent interview with ABC journalist George Stephanopoulos "only reinforced what we saw the week before," Clooney said.

The actor, who described himself as a lifelong Democrat, wrote: "We are not going to win in November with this president. On top of that, we won’t win the House, and we’re going to lose the Senate.

"This isn’t only my opinion; this is the opinion of every senator and congress member and governor that I’ve spoken with in private," Clooney wrote. "Every single one, irrespective of what he or she is saying publicly."

The actor expressed admiration for Biden and said he considered him a friend.

"I believe in him. Believe in his character. Believe in his morals. In the last four years, he’s won many of the battles he’s faced.

"But the one battle he cannot win is the fight against time."

Biden aides subpoenaed

The US House of Representatives Oversight Committee has subpoenaed first lady Jill Biden's top aide Anthony Bernal, deputy chief of staff Annie Tomasini, and senior adviser Ashley Williams. 

"Key White House staff must come before our committee so we can provide the transparency and accountability that Americans deserve," Republican US Representative James Comer, the panel's chair, said on Wednesday. 

"According to one former Biden aide, these three employees ... have created 'a protective bubble around' President Biden," the panel added.

But White House spokesperson Ian Sams said it was just a political stunt.

"Like everything Congressman Comer has done over the past year, these subpoenas are a baseless political stunt intended for him to get media attention instead of engage in legitimate oversight.

"His partisan attacks on the President have been discredited, and now he continues to debase the House by weaponizing subpoenas to get headlines instead of seeking information through the proper constitutional process.”

Many lawmakers from Biden's own party have expressed worries that Biden has not done enough in the ensuing days to convince voters that the debate was an aberration, rather than a true reflection of his abilities. Biden has argued that he is best-positioned to defeat Trump.

Comer previously tried to interview the three aides during a probe into Biden's handling of classified documents in which Special Counsel Robert Hur did not press charges against the president, the panel said, adding the White House did not make the three aides available at the time.

The Republican-led panel has asked the aides to respond by July 17 and requested they sit for closed-door interviews later in the month. 

President Joe Biden walks offstage with first lady Dr Jill Biden at the conclusion of a shaky...
President Joe Biden walks offstage with first lady Dr Jill Biden at the conclusion of a shaky debate against Donald Trump that has Democrats worried. Photo: Reuters

Staunch supporters 

Democrats in Congress remain deeply divided over whether to fall in line behind Biden or to urge him to step aside because of persistent questions about his health and acuity.

But public defections remain a small segment of the 213 Democratic-aligned House members, and the party's leadership continues to back Biden publicly.

Biden, eager to change the story, has surrounded himself with communities of his staunchest supporters, including black Democratic lawmakers and voters. His campaign has framed sticking with Biden as a return of the loyalty he has shown them through his half-century of public life.

Biden was greeted with raucous applause when he met with a group of labour leaders, an important part of his political base, on Wednesday, joining an AFL-CIO (America's Unions) executive council meeting in Washington to discuss "their shared commitment to defeating Donald Trump," the Biden campaign said.

Biden listed high rents, expensive grocery prices and a lack of housing as issues to be tackled going forward.

There is "a whole range of things we're going to get done with your help in a second term," Biden said. "We're better positioned than any country in the world to own the remainder of the 21st century because of union labour."

Labour votes were key to Biden's win over Trump in competitive states, including Michigan, Nevada and Pennsylvania, in 2020.