Pressure on Biden to Withdraw: Washington’s Adam Smith Joins a Growing Chorus


The elite media of New York and Washington, DC feasted off Donald Trump’s last year as president, tapping leakers for books and stories ranging from fumbled Covid response to efforts at “finding” votes to reverse elections.

The incoming Biden team, accustomed to working together, inhabiting the corridors of power, kept secrets and savored claiming the oval office 34 years after Joe started running for President.

No more. The pundits, hosts and reporters have awakened to a diminished man and are after his scalp complete with the hair transplants. The Democratic coalition is split. Media and many major donors want him to bow out, in the wake of his fumbling debate performance. Party voters, by a 58-39 percent margin in a CNN poll, want him to stay in. Many love the guy and admire his grittiness and courage.

It made for a tumultuous Sunday afternoon. Biden was campaigning in Pennsylvania, the state of his birth, rallying his troops and reaching a core constituency at a Black church. In the meantime, House Democrats held a “virtual private” meeting to discuss what to do about him.

Private, it wasn’t. With the meeting still underway, word leaked to The New York Times (whose editorial page wants him out) that four powerful House members have joined the Joe-must-go team. One of them is Rep. Adam Smith, a Washington Democrat from Tacoma and former chair of the House Armed Services Committee.

Smith has skin in the game. He will be back at the helm of Armed Services if Dems retake the House. Jerry Nadler of New York will reassume chairmanship of the House Judiciary Committee, a hornet’s nest of far-right Republican crazies.

But Smith also has deeper motives. He was a close-up witness to the worst of Trump excesses. The captain of the carrier Theodore Roosevelt warned of a Covid-19 outbreak spreading to hundreds of crew. He was ignored, then fired after the news leaked out. The acting Navy Secretary, a political hack, flew across the Pacific to appear on the carrier and denounce the captain.

The summer of 2020 saw Trump asking if the Insurrection Act could be used against Americans protesting the George Floyd murder. He spoke of firing on protesters. Joint Chief Chairman Gen. Mark Milley was press ganged into being part of the supporting cast for Trump’s Bible-waving photo-op in front of St. John’s Episcopal Church.

Gen. Milley pushed back, resisting politicization of the Pentagon and quietly kept contact with defense ministers of America’s adversaries. Adam Smith was an ally and kept media appraised of this aspect to Trump craziness.

Adam Smith has reason to fear, the country has reason to fear Trump’s once more becoming commander-in-chief. Congressman Smith is right to ask: Is a diminished 81-year-old up to rescuing democracy?

Biden aides have brought this on themselves. They are feeling consequences of being overly protective and not telling a stubborn leader that it’s time to gracefully bow out. World War II histories relate the long-suppressed story of an already ill Franklin D. Roosevelt suffering an angina attack during a 1944 speech to shipyard workers in Bremerton.

Joe Biden is a creature of the U.S. Senate, in which he served for 36 years.  The Senate protects its elderly. Sen. Mitch McConnell, 82, froze up at a news conference, much as Biden sounded befuddled early in this month’s debate. Nobody thought of removing Mitch as Senate Republican leader.

 Sen. Dianne Feinstein, at hearings, would repeat staff-prepared questions she had already asked. Ancient Sen. Carl Hayden of Arizona mistook phone booths for elevators. Approaching age 100, Sen. Strom Thurmond tried to grope Patty Murray in a senators-only elevator, unaware she was a Senate colleague.

A ready supply of protectors act as shields from impacts of old age. Biden’s appearances have been limited and scripted. He is given instructions (“Walk to podium”) along with pictures (“View from podium”).

Jill Biden is in the tradition of fiercely protective political spouses. The President credits her with rescuing his life after his first wife and daughter died in a car crash. She brings him onstage, witness the post-debate North Carolina rally; she signals when he goes on too long; and is a force for staying in the race. (Granted, she has yet to fire or pick a White House chief of staff — actions by Nancy Reagan during the Gipper’s befuddled second term.)

We witnessed such an actor in this state when 36-year incumbent Sen. Warren Magnuson sought one more term. He was 75 years old, walking with difficulty due to diabetes, and in a drinking phase. His wife Germaine Magnuson put a damper on any discussion of bowing out. He ran and lost to Slade Gorton.

Like blackbirds on a telephone pole, however, New York and D.C. media all take off at once and come to rest in the same place. The dangerous nonsense spouted by Trump goes unnoticed at the moment. Ditto Trump’s lies and cognitive lapses. Joe Biden, shielded for so long, has become the target. Self-important New York Times columnists speak of Joe as a friend before telling him to hang it up.

I am reminded of better traditions from the Brits and Canadians. When a scandal breaks out on your watch — take responsibility and quit. Lose an election — get the message that voters want a new leader. Such rumblings produce action to avoid long agony.

Leaving is hard for Joe Biden. He rescued us from a Trump presidency, reinvigorated NATO to stand by Ukraine, and oversaw a post-pandemic recovery. It must be painful to turn on news and hear the hectoring, humorless new host of Meet the Press talk about his terrible debate performance as if governing is performing on stage.

I recall words from my mother on why she was voting for Slade Gorton over Magnuson: “I love the poor dear but he can barely walk anymore.”

Joel Connelly
Joel Connelly
I worked for Seattle Post-Intelligencer from 1973 until it ceased print publication in 2009, and from 2009 to 6/30/2020. During that time, I wrote about 9 presidential races, 11 Canadian and British Columbia elections‎, four doomed WPPSS nuclear plants, six Washington wilderness battles, creation of two national Monuments (Hanford Reach and San Juan Islands), a 104 million acre Alaska Lands Act, plus the Columbia Gorge National Scenic Area.


  1. Thank you, Joel, but what a cluster. Maybe you have answers, but the culprits of Biden’s dismal debate performance were his campaign staff that failed to recognize they were producing a 90-minute TV show not some wonky awkward messaging. Trump had every segment pre-produced…he didn’t answer questions directly because he was working off a script. Biden was left to his own devices without the benefit of informed television producer who knows how to script such events with sound bites that resonate. Joe could have called ‘malarky’ on Trump several times and that would have been a meaningful headline by putting the spotlight on Trump where it belongs. Are the same Democrat political hacks advising Biden that advised Hillary?

  2. Great to see your institutional memory at play, Joel! Responding to Peter de Launay: After watching the debate and the Stephanopoulos interview, I think Joe may be struggling to remember his pre-planned remarks. For example, when George asked him if he’d watched the debate, he paused, and answered hesitantly that he didn’t think he had. Yikes! Either he’d watched it and forgotten that he had, or hadn’t watched and couldn’t remember whether he had or not, or had a planned answer to that entirely predictable question and just forgot what he intended to say. He appeared oblivious in the moment to the significance of apparently being unable to recall whether he’d watched the video of the worst night of his political life just a few days earlier.

  3. Actually, unless America is ready to adopt Kamala Harris as the Democratic nominee, we’re doing worse than allowing #45* to be elected. If the pundit class, politicians, and donors determine that the Vice President is not up to the job, without consulting the voters, the Democratic coalition will be broken.

  4. Rewind to four years ago. Political veteran Joe Biden was able to cobble together a moderate enough coalition from a party fractured among various candidates including headline grabbing media darling progressives and liberal to moderate candidates with prickly personalities and few performative skills. Biden scored a big coup when he secured the endorsement of prominent Black leaders allowing him to collect enough votes to edge out Donald Trump.
    But at the time, due to his age, many political types considered Biden a transitional figure until Democrats produced their next generation of leaders. His age and his generation was not a secret. For a variety of reasons that didn’t happen, and that’s on the Democrats.
    The fiercely loyal Biden White House staff throttled any exposure to any potential competitors. VP Kamala Harris was given several high profile assignments but was chained to her desk repeating talking points.
    The US Senate used to be the incubator of Presidential candidates. No longer. Leader Chuck Schumer has trampled anyone getting near a microphone in the hallway. Washington Senator Patty Murray could assemble a coalition bill to save the government from default and her place was two steps to the right and one step back from the verbose majority leader.
    In the meantime, many of the old progressive lions are aging out as are many of traditional Black leaders. Some Black and Hispanic millennials and younger voters identify with a more entrepreneurial spirit and have drifted off to Trump world.
    Biden is correct. If the Dems want Joe gone the need to take a next generation candidate to the convention rather than counting on a media or cable TV firestorm to do their dirty work.

  5. It’s time for those of us who have supported Washington State Democrats to speak up: Joe must go, willingly or unwillingly. Senators Murray and Cantwell should speak up now. If Trump beats a clearly compromised Joe Biden, it will be a disaster that could have been avoided

  6. Thanks –once again — for your steady hand and thinking, Joel. I concur with your mom’s position about Warren Magnuson and think it’s perfectly applicable for President Biden “I love the poor dear but he can barely walk (or talk without teleprompters) anymore.”

    James Carville in today’s NYT has given us an optimistic pathway forward. The link’s below.

    Carville says: “We’re going to nominate a new ticket in a highly democratic and novel way, not in the backrooms of Washington, D.C., or Chicago.

    We’re at the stage where we need constructive ideas for how to move forward. Representative Jim Clyburn and the Times Opinion columnist Ezra Klein have spoken about a Democratic mini-primary, and I want to build on that.”

    Yes indeed. Let’s build on that.


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