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Should Biden resign? – Vox


The controversy concerning President Joe Biden’s disastrous debate performance last week has largely focused on the electoral consequences of whether he stays in the presidential race or drops out. But it should also raise the question of whether he is fit to govern right now.

During the debate, Biden — said by aides to be suffering from a cold — seemed at times to be unable to string a sentence together, struggled to communicate Democrats’ message on some of the most important issues in the 2024 presidential election, and repeatedly failed to hold former President Donald Trump accountable for his prolific lies.

The performance sparked days of debate about the 81-year-old’s ability to win the election, but there were concerns about the president’s age well before then. After Biden defeated Trump in 2020, those worries quieted and were dismissed when they began to percolate again earlier this year.

Now, though, there is no arguing with what everyone who watched the debate saw: a man who does not seem to possess the stamina or mental acuity needed to handle the notoriously demanding job of running the United States.

Biden’s team has forcefully rebutted any claims that his performance at the debate mirrors how he is at work, even as reports to the contrary have begun to pile up. On foreign trips, in private meetings with current and former officials, and at public events where he misspoke or appeared to freeze up, he’s said to be showing alarming signs of an inability to recall details or communicate clearly.

Some Biden allies have argued that it doesn’t matter whether the president is capable of carrying out his duties because he is surrounded by competent people. But voters did not select those officials and advisers and don’t have a clear picture of just how much they are responsible for decisions coming from the White House.

That’s why the question should be not only whether he should step aside to make way for another Democratic nominee, but whether Vice President Kamala Harris should take the reins before Biden completes his first term.

Democrats’ focus is on Biden’s ability to beat Trump and his competency in a second term. They worry that Biden’s lapses are only getting worse and that he will surely deteriorate further in another four years. The firestorm around his age is now jeopardizing down-ballot candidates.

However, these concerns also present a strong argument against Biden staying in office. That’s a conversation that should be happening, but few are currently discussing it.

This raises an urgent question of accountability and transparency: Who is running the country?

A cascade of reports suggests Biden is struggling to do his job

Reporting in recent days indicates that Biden might only be able to perform his presidential duties part of the time.

Some White House sources claim Biden is “dependably engaged” between 10 am and 4 pm; otherwise and on foreign trips, he is “more likely to have verbal miscues and become fatigued,” Axios reported. Both Republican and Democratic members of Congress told the Wall Street Journal that he’s shown his age in meetings with them, at times forgetting his own policies or speaking so quietly that he could not be heard.

At a G7 summit in mid-June, he was the only leader not to attend a less-scripted dinner. While diplomats said he was at times sharp, he also repeatedly struggled with his talking points, the Wall Street Journal also reported. On the anniversary of D-Day in June, he also spoke so quietly that reporters covering his meeting with Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelensky strained to hear him, and he misspoke when describing what the $225 million that the US was sending to Ukraine would be used for. It was for munitions to protect the electric grid and other targets; he said it was to “reconstruct the electric grid.”

In the last year, multiple people close to Biden have gone to former White House chief of staff Ron Klain to express concern that he was losing his train of thought and unable to pick up where he left off, much like he was on the debate stage, according to CNN political analyst Carl Bernstein. In the days since the debate, White House aides have expressed concern about the president’s mental fitness and say they’re operating without leadership and direction.

Even former Speaker of the House Nancy Pelosi, who defended the late California Senator Dianne Feinstein from calls for her resignation related to her difficulties with her duties, is now asking what she told MSNBC is a “legitimate question.” Speaking about Biden’s debate performance, she asked, “Is this an episode, or is this a condition?”

In an early June CBS/YouGov poll, 65 percent said that he did not have the cognitive ability to be president; that number has since grown to 72 percent after the debate. The same share said he should not be running for president. By comparison, 49 percent said Trump did not have the cognitive ability to be president.

All presidents rely upon a vast administration to carry out their policies, but these incidents heighten questions about whom he is relying on around him to get the job done. Recent reporting has suggested that there are only a few people that Biden really listens to. That includes first lady Jill Biden, his sister Valerie Biden Owens, Ted Kaufman (his longtime friend and a former US senator from Delaware), Klain, and Mike Donilon, who has closely advised him since the 1980s. Post-debate (and reportedly to the frustration of House Democrats), his son Hunter Biden, who was convicted of three felony gun charges last month, has also been sitting in on high-level meetings with senior advisers.

Biden is surrounded by a plethora of other aides, but it’s not clear even to members of Biden’s party how much sway they have. As one House Democrat told Axios, “I don’t know who’s making decisions. Why the hell isn’t Biden on the phone with congressional leadership?”

Of course, no president can be everything everywhere all at once — they must rely on their staff for counsel and to execute their vision. At issue is how much of the Biden administration’s policy is Biden’s vision and how much comes from other sources. And if his closest advisers have more sway over the country than perhaps is typical, they have a personal incentive to encourage Biden to stay in office and to seek a second term, regardless of his condition: They have the president’s ear; their power disappears when he leaves the White House.

What happens if Biden does leave office now?

At this juncture, the only say voters have over whether Biden is president will come in November’s elections. Republicans are entertaining the idea of pressuring Biden’s cabinet to invoke the 25th Amendment and remove him from office if he is unable to perform his duties, but their motivations are mostly political and it’s not clear that Biden stepping down would help them in November.

If Biden is unwilling to step down on his own accord, Harris and a majority of the cabinet could declare him unfit to serve under the 25th Amendment. That would require him to vacate his office, after which Harris would immediately assume the role of acting president. Harris could then nominate someone as vice president, who would have to be confirmed by a majority vote in both chambers of Congress. If Biden contests the assessment that he is unfit to serve, two-thirds of both chambers of Congress would have to find him fit to serve for him to be reinstated as president.

However, this would be a practically unthinkable last resort for Democrats. It’s much more likely that Biden would decide to step down without anyone having to force his hand.

That would require him to write a simple resignation letter addressed to the Secretary of State, just as President Richard Nixon did in 1974. Harris would automatically become president.

Harris temporarily stepping up as president likely would mean she would become the Democratic nominee. This is the path of least resistance: Unlike other potential replacement nominees, she would have immediate access to Biden’s campaign funds, and the party doesn’t have much time to rally around a new nominee. It’s also probably the most democratic option since she has already been elected by voters nationally, unlike other potential candidates. But it would involve unusual procedures at the Democratic convention this August.

To dismiss any question of Biden resigning, however, is to ignore what is not just an electoral issue, but a governance issue at a time when the Supreme Court is vastly expanding executive power. The more powerful the person at the top, the more confidence voters deserve to have that they can perform the duties of their office and be held accountable for the promises they made — not just from 10 to 4.

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