Decision 2024

As Biden team suggests there can be no alternative, DNC rules provide a path

There have been growing calls in the party for the president to step aside.

As President Joe Biden's campaign tries to calm nervous Democrats, the Democratic National Committee is circulating talking points that misleadingly suggest there is no procedural means of replacing the president at the top of the party's ticket.

"Joe Biden will be the Democratic Party's nominee for president," the talking points read, according to a copy provided by a source who received them. "Any other discussion is a distraction and 'brokered' conventions are a thing of the past."

They go on to say that "the only person eligible for nomination is Joe Biden."

Biden has been firm in saying that he will stay in the race, and the "DNC Talking Points for Convention Nomination Rules" that are being circulated within the party are mostly accurate — up until the party's August convention ends.

But as the party’s rules stand now, according to three people who are familiar with them and the DNC’s 2022 document outlining procedures for the convention, there is a process for replacing Biden if he voluntarily chooses to step aside after the Aug. 22 conclusion of the convention. His nomination is expected to occur before that, in a virtual roll call of state delegations in late July or early August. A date for that is expected to be set by the convention's rules committee at a July 19 meeting.

The Biden campaign wants everyone to think “chaos would reign” if the president stepped aside, said one person familiar with the DNC process. “Thats why they’re not admitting there’s a rule.”

“The primary is over, and in every state the will of Democratic voters was clear: Joe Biden will be the Democratic Party’s nominee for President. Delegates are pledged to reflect voters’ sentiment, and over 99% of delegates are already pledged to Joe Biden headed into our convention," DNC Chair Jamie Harrison said in a statement.

The DNC and the Biden campaign did not immediately return a request for comment.

Democrats have been agonizing over Biden's fitness for the top of their ticket since his blundering debate performance Thursday, when he repeatedly struggled to make cogent arguments and often looked lost. A handful of them have called on Biden to step aside in order to preserve or improve their chances of defeating former President Donald Trump and win majorities in the House and Senate.

Based on Federal Election Commission rules governing how money can be transferred if there is a substitute candidate, Democratic National Committee rules and the political optics of a fight that would imperil support from Black voters and women, most Democratic insiders say it is hard to see how anyone other than Vice President Kamala Harris would end up as the nominee if it is not Biden.

Under the existing rule, DNC Chairman Jaime Harrison would name a new nominee, in consultation with Senate Majority Leader Chuck Schumer, D-N.Y., House Minority Leader Hakeem Jeffries, D-N.Y., and Democratic Governors Association Chair Tim Walz of Minnesota. Their choice would be presented to DNC members — a group of party leaders much smaller and more elite than the delegates to the convention — for ratification or rejection.

Before the convention, several thousand elected convention delegates — almost all of whom are pledged to Biden — have the power to choose the party's nominee.

"Because there was no primary opponent, the overwhelming majority of the elected delegates are Biden delegates ... so on the first ballot he would be the nominee," said one DNC member. But, this member said, that would change if Biden left the nomination vacant after receiving it.

"In the case of that historic moment, the members of the DNC will choose the nominee for the party," the DNC member said.

It is also still possible for the convention delegates to change the rules at the convention, which occurs after the nomination by a virtual roll call.

Campaign-finance law experts say that it is likely that Biden's campaign war chest could be transferred to Harris because she is his running mate and appears as such on filings with the FEC. But any other candidate would likely have to raise new money for his or her campaign.

There are other complications for any scenario that didn't include Biden as the nominee: 50 state laws govern the printing of ballots, and it might be difficult to get a new candidate on some of those ballots.

And yet, the Biden campaign and its allies are concerned enough about discord within the party that they are actively asserting that Biden is the only candidate who could carry the party's standard in November.

At the same time, some prominent Democrats have emphasized both names on the ticket — Biden and Harris — in recent interviews and opened the door to the idea that the vice president could be the party's presidential candidate.

“I’m a Biden-Harris person, so I’m not getting away from that," Rep. Jim Clyburn, D-S.C., whose endorsement helped fuel Biden's support among Black voters in the 2020 primary, said after the debate. "I’m for Biden-Harris. I’m going to be for Biden if Harris ain’t there and I’m going to be for Harris if Biden ain’t there." 

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