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Biden expands outreach to party leaders as he seeks to tamp down calls to step aside

WASHINGTON — President Joe Biden on Wednesday increased his outreach to lawmakers, Democratic governors, and staff after days of criticism that he hasn’t done enough to personally tamp down on nervousness that he should abandon his run for re-election.

The outreach includes calls to congressional Democratic leaders and a scheduled meeting on Wednesday evening with Democratic governors. Nearly a week after the debate, he and senior aides are still scrambling to recover from his devastating performance last week and quash growing calls for him to step down as the party’s nominee in the November election.

On an all-hands call with campaign staffers, Biden made clear that he didn’t plan to exit the race, telling attendees, “Let me say this as clearly as I possibly can, as simply and straightforward as I can: I am running,” according to one campaign official on the call.

“No one is pushing me out,” the president added, also saying, “I’m not leaving. I’m in this race to the end, and we’re going to win.”

Biden also called for his party to be unified heading into the fall, telling staffers that, “when Democrats unite, we will always win. Just as we beat Donald Trump in 2020, w’re going to beat him again in 2024.”

The call was organized by Biden campaign Chair Jen O’Malley Dillon and Biden campaign manager Julie Chávez Rodriguez, which both Biden and Vice President Kamala Harris joined, according to a source familiar with the matter.

Harris told staffers that she was all-in on Biden, saying, “We will not back down. We will follow our president’s lead. We will fight, and we will win.”

The campaign all-hands meeting was billed as a “quick all-staff call to check in as a team,” by O’Malley Dillon and Chávez Rodriguez.

In an email to campaign staff obtained by NBC News, the two campaign leaders said, “moving forward, we will be using emails and all staff calls more frequently to make sure you all have the latest updates and broader campaign priorities for the day.”

The two also told staff that the focus for Wednesday would be emphasizing that the race remains steady, drawing a contrast with former President Donald Trump and amplifying Biden’s upcoming events in battleground states, like his upcoming trip to Wisconsin on Friday.

Biden also spoke separately to former Speaker Nancy Pelosi and Senate Majority Leader Chuck Schumer on Wednesday, sources familiar with the conversation told NBC News.

And a spokesperson for Rep. Jim Clyburn, D-S.C., a former House Majority Whip, told NBC News that the two had spoken on Wednesday, but, “the substance of that call will remain private.”

Biden spoke with House Minority Leader Hakeem Jeffries on Tuesday.

Also on Wednesday, White House Chief of Staff Jeff Zients held a call with White House staffers, urging them to “get things done,” “hold our heads high” and “execute on the president’s agenda,” one White House official told NBC News.

Zients also told staffers to tune out any outside noise and chatter and to stay disciplined.

The meeting with the governors Wednesday evening comes after a group of state executives met separately Tuesday on a call organized by Gov. Tim Walz, D-Minn., who serves as the chair of the Democratic Governors Association.

Walz as well as Democratic Govs. Gavin Newsom of California, J.B. Pritzker of Illinois, Gretchen Whitmer of Michigan, John Carney of Delaware, Wes Moore of Maryland, Maura Healey of Massachusetts, Dan McKee of Rhode Island, Kathy Hochul of New York and Andy Beshear of Kentucky plan to attend the meeting in-person at the White House, while others will join virtually.

“Democratic governors are proud to be some of the president’s closest partners and allies on the campaign trail. Together, we have delivered millions of jobs, rebuilt roads and bridges across the country, and made critical investments in communities that have for too long been left behind. The president has worked side by side with us to deliver for the people of our states and we’re looking forward to talking with him today,” Walz said in a statement.

One Democratic source familiar with the meeting plans said that the governors back Biden and, “at a time when everyone wants to get back to the core contrast in this race, they want to hear from the president and offer key insights from their states as allies and people who have been out there as surrogates for his campaign.” 

One Democratic lawmaker, Rep. Lloyd Doggett, D-Texas, has already called for Biden to withdraw his re-election bid and fear that his defection may set off a slew of elected officials stepping forward to break with the president. Others have said they are waiting to see a fresh round of polling to evaluate whether Biden’s support has cratered and whether his debate performance impacted any close down-ballot races.

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