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How to Replace Biden & Beat Trump: Longtime DNC Member Jim Zogby Proposes Process to Pick New Nominee

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As Democrats discuss whether President Joe Biden should stand down as the 2024 Democratic presidential candidate following his disastrous debate performance, we speak with James Zogby, senior member of the Democratic National Committee, about his call for an open and transparent nomination process to select new candidates leading up to the Democratic National Convention next month, where the final nominee would be voted on. “I want to see a unified, energized party with a lot of excitement because they were part of a historic process of change,” says Zogby, who is president of the Arab American Institute.

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This is a rush transcript. Copy may not be in its final form.

AMY GOODMAN: This is Democracy Now!, democracynow.org, The War and Peace Report. I’m Amy Goodman, with Juan González.

At a campaign event in Virginia Tuesday, President Joe Biden blamed a heavy travel schedule for his disastrous debate performance last week, when he appeared disjointed, frequently lost his train of thought. Biden said, quote, “Didn’t listen to my staff and came back and nearly fell asleep on stage,” unquote.

Meanwhile, The New York Times has a new report out today saying Biden’s aides who’ve encountered him behind closed doors say he has increasingly appeared confused or listless or would lose his thread of thought in conversations.

This comes as Biden is facing growing calls to step aside, to not run for president again. Biden is meeting with Democratic governors today behind closed doors. He is later due to campaign in Wisconsin but will not be joined by Democratic Senator Tammy Baldwin, who faces a competitive reelection and will be campaigning elsewhere in Wisconsin. At least 25 House members are reportedly preparing for a call for Biden to step down. On Tuesday, Biden faced his first call from a sitting Democrat in Congress to withdraw from the presidential race. Congressmember Lloyd Doggett of Austin, Texas, spoke on CNN.

REP. LLOYD DOGGETT: And I think we would be better off if we had a new candidate, who could present a new vision for our country. And we can do that if we have an open and fair democratic process over the next few weeks.

AMY GOODMAN: Also on Tuesday, former House Speaker Nancy Pelosi said Biden’s debate performance made it, quote, “a legitimate question to say, 'Is this an episode, or is this a condition?'” unquote.

Meanwhile, a key Biden ally, Democratic Congressmember Jim Clyburn of South Carolina, told MSNBC’s Andrea Mitchell he would support Vice President Kamala Harris if Biden withdrew, though he wasn’t calling for that at the time.

ANDREA MITCHELL: How would you feel if they worked around and tried to go around Kamala Harris because of her lack of high poll numbers and popularity, broadly based? Do you think it’s hers to have if it is not his?

REP. JIM CLYBURN: I will support her, if he were to step aside.

AMY GOODMAN: For more, we’re joined by James Zogby. He’s president of the Arab American Institute but was a longtime member of the Democratic National Committee’s executive committee, from 2001 to 2017. He is a longtime member of the Democratic National Committee. He has proposed to the DNC chair what he says would be an open, transparent and energizing process for the DNC, the Democratic National Committee, to choose its nominee if Biden steps aside.

Jim Zogby, this is the raging question everywhere. Can you talk about what that process would be? What exactly would happen if he did it before the convention, what this process is, during the convention or after?

JAMES ZOGBY: Well, thanks, Amy. I’ve been pleased that in just a few days this has garnered so much support and discussion among Democrats, including Democrats on the National Committee.

My goal was to not allow this to be left to the fates: Joe Biden steps down, and Lord knows what we do. I was trying to lay out a process that would create an organized and very democratic and transparent process to choose a new nominee. It would basically compress the primary process into a month.

There are 400-plus members of the Democratic National Committee. It would convene, nominations would be open, and we would get a requirement that anyone who wanted to be nominated for president or run in this primary would have to have the signature of 40 sitting members of the Democratic National Committee, including at least four from each of the four regions of the party. Now, since there’s only 400-plus members, very few people could actually do that. It would be people that we know. It would be Governor Whitmer, it would be Cory Booker, it would be Kamala Harris and Governor Newsom and Governor Pritzker and maybe Governor Shapiro from Pennsylvania — people who already have a constituency and have states with members, enough members on the DNC that they would be able to get the required 40 in a week’s time.

Then they would begin to campaign. They’d be certified by the secretary as legitimate nominees. They would show they have a national base of support among elected Democratic Party officials. And then the party would organize a couple of town halls, televised town halls, where the candidates would appear. We’d go to the convention, and it would be like the convention of 1960, where it would be wall-to-wall campaigning for delegates, the elected delegates, most of whom are Biden delegates. He would release them.

And it would be pretty exciting. The networks, the media would cover it wall to wall, as opposed to the way they cover these scripted conventions now, which maybe give it an hour or two each night. We’d have nominations from the floor. We’d have the speeches given. We’d have the horse trading taking place between state delegations. And an eventual nominee would be elected, probably after more than one ballot. But people would leave the convention with the new nominee energized, with wind in that nominee’s sails.

I don’t agree with those who say, “Well, let Biden step out. If he steps out, Kamala should inherit it.” I don’t think it would be good for her. I think she should — if she is to be the nominee, she should be the result of a legitimate process in the convention that elected her. I think she’d win, but I think her winning ought to come as a result of a consensus process within the party. It’d be good for her, good for the party, and I think it would ensure the defeat of Donald Trump.

JUAN GONZÁLEZ: But, James Zogby, what do you say to those who would argue that the DNC delegates would be disproportionately influenced by lobbyists and the moneyed donors of the party who are so close to many of them?

JAMES ZOGBY: They’re sometimes thinking — when they think of that, they’re thinking of the folks appointed by the chair. That’s the case. Some of them are people who — it’s friends of the chair or friends of moneyed interests, etc., who become these at-large — there’s only 75 of them.

Most of the DNC members are state chairs, National Committee people, elected in the primaries in their states as National Committee people to serve on the DNC. They’re rank-and-file Democrats. They’re organizers. They’re people who have organized their own campaigns to win these elections. These are folks who are hard-working Democrats representing all 50 states and the territories, in addition. So, I don’t agree with that. I mean, yes, there are some lobby folks and consulting — people from the consulting class, etc., on the DNC. They’re an absolute minority. Most of them are really hard-working activist chairs and National Committee people who have earned their stripes working hard in the field.

JUAN GONZÁLEZ: And what about — you mentioned Vice President Kamala Harris. What about the possibility that denying her, as vice president, the chance to move up to the presidential candidacy might open a racial rift within the party?

JAMES ZOGBY: I don’t — look, number one, I think she’d probably win. After all, she would have the support of the president. She’d have the support of Clyburn and many other Democrats. I think we have a significant number of members of the DNC right now who would support her, and certainly among the delegates who would support her. But I think that she needs to win, rather than it simply be handed to her. I want to see a unified, energized party with a lot of excitement because they were part of a historic process of change.

The president most likely would endorse her. I think that would be important. Most of the delegates, remember, to the convention, who would be there, are Biden delegates. He’d release them, but he could release them with, “I want you to support Kamala Harris.” Better to do it that way than to simply say, by default, she becomes the candidate because she’s been vice president.

Look, I’ve had conversation with her about issues I care about, about Gaza and the Middle East. I think she gets it. And I would love to support her. But I think I need to see an energized and open process resulting in the nominee. I don’t think that just passing the mantle is good for her, good for the party or good for this election.

AMY GOODMAN: So, James Zogby, you explained what that process could look like during the convention. Of course, Democracy Now! is going to be there. We’re going to be expanding to two hours the whole week of Chicago, the Democratic convention, as well as in Milwaukee, that week of July 14th, expanding to two hours, to cover the Republican convention. And I want to go there for a minute, people’s concerns about President Biden, but also their deep concerns about a President Donald Trump second presidency. And I wanted to go back to that debate on Thursday night and get your response to what President Trump had to say when the issue of Gaza came up in the debate.

DONALD TRUMP: He said the only one who wants to keep going is Hamas. Actually, Israel is the one. And you should let them go and let them finish the job. He doesn’t want to do it. He’s become like a Palestinian. But they don’t like him because he’s a very bad Palestinian. He’s a weak one.

AMY GOODMAN: President Trump calling President Biden a weak Palestinian. Your thoughts on that and on President Trump, overall, being the candidate for president? And President Biden saying we’re talking about an existential threat to democracy, and he says, “I’m the only one who ever beat Donald Trump for president.”

JAMES ZOGBY: Mm-hmm. I think he was — it will always be remembered that Joe Biden is the one who knocked Donald Trump out of the White House in 2020. I want a candidate strong enough to do it again, number one. Number two, with regard to — he is an existential threat, incidentally. And I think — you know, I worry sometimes that if he wins, it’s a danger; if he loses, the violence that will be unleashed if he loses will be a danger. We have entered a very dark and, I think, dangerous period in American history, and I think we have to deal with that. That’s a topic for another show about why we haven’t dealt with it and how we don’t understand the appeal of this man.

But, number two, on the question of Gaza, there is no question in my mind that this president, Joe Biden, has failed. There is genocide. There is clearly genocide. I was itching to get into the discussion that preceded me. This is a horror, and we have enabled it and allowed it to happen. I can’t forget that. Even with that, the worry I have is that a Donald Trump in the White House would not only be a danger domestically, but what he has enabled Israel to do in the past — its annexations, etc. — have been disastrous. I mean, they even removed the word “occupied” from human rights documents at the White House. They were ordered never to call West Bank, Gaza “occupied” territory again. This is a very dangerous man. We need a president who can challenge this. I hope that the next Democratic nominee would challenge it. It’s very clear that we’ve seen the darkest of American policy in the Middle East unfold in the last eight years. And I think we need to turn the page completely.

JUAN GONZÁLEZ: And, James Zogby, could you discuss what you think would happen if President Biden decides to continue to his candidacy?

JAMES ZOGBY: You know, what we saw after the debate was that media focused almost nonstop on every verbal gaffe, every step, misstep, every sense of hesitation on his part. There’s clearly a problem. There clearly is a problem. I don’t want, between now and November, the attention of the press to be, “Did you hear what he said? Did you hear what he didn’t say? Do you see him walk? Do you see him do this?” That is not where this election needs to be. It doesn’t need to be on what Joe Biden can’t say or wasn’t able to say, but on what Donald Trump is saying and what the next Democratic president of the United States is saying about the future of our country. We have to turn the page so that we’re not focused on this stuff, but focused, in fact, on policy and on a vision for the future. And frankly, you know, the media, it’s like a dog with a bone. Now that they’ve grabbed hold of this issue, they’re not going to let it go. It’s the only thing people have been talking about for a week, and it will continue. The next verbal gaffe will unleash another round of this. It’s time to say, “Look, enough is enough. Let’s focus on the future.”

And, like, look, I can imagine Joe Biden giving a farewell address at the convention, coming across as the true leader who sacrificed ambition for the sake of the country, who was willing to recognize the victory he won in 2020, the accomplishments of his first few years, before we got a crazy, dysfunctional Congress, a Republican-led Congress, and passing the mantle and passing the legacy that he wants to protect to a new candidate. That’s the future for the party, but it’s also the best way for Joe Biden to go out looking like a strong, visionary leader, as opposed to one gaffe after another being yet another drip, drip, drip, with more members of Congress coming out, with more elected officials saying, “Eh, this is not working.” That’s not what we want. That’s not what he wants. That’s not the way for him to go out. He needs to go out on his own terms, you know, the way this is playing out now.

AMY GOODMAN: James Zogby, I have two quick questions. You’re a longtime senior Democratic National Committee executive committee member, until 2017. You’re still a senior member of the Democratic National Committee. Explain who the delegates and superdelegates are. I don’t know if people even understand that. And again, if Biden were to hang on during the convention, and then, afterwards, what would happen if he said, “I’m stepping down,” in the race against Trump?

JAMES ZOGBY: Yeah. I should say, Amy, that The Nation is the one that called me “senior.” I think “senior” simply meant I’m really old. There’s no title for senior. I’ve just been on for 31 years. And it’s a long story, how I got on and the fights I’ve been in and the difficulties I’ve had since I’ve been on, fighting for accountability and transparency with budget, etc., etc., against the Iraq War, things that they didn’t want to do but I continued to push. I’ve been a thorn. And I’m glad I’ve been a thorn in the side, because I’ve been on the right side of the many fights that I’ve been engaged in. And this is yet another fight, one that I think we have to win.

Delegates are people elected in the states along with the candidate that they support. So, we’ll have delegates from the state of Pennsylvania or Michigan. Joe Biden won, obviously, the primaries there. They’ll pick a slate of delegates to run as Joe Biden delegates. They will also win when he wins, and they go to the convention. Superdelegates are members of the Democratic National Committee, who are automatically delegates at the convention, and elected officials, who are designated, a certain number of them, from different states, are also designated as superdelegates. They are elected officials who come to the convention to vote. The majority of the delegates are those elected in the states, not [inaudible]. We did pass a rule, after Bernie, in 2020, that said superdelegates couldn’t vote in the first round. That was a way to not have the deck stacked against the grassroots candidates elected. Almost everybody has been elected by Joe Biden in this election. Four hundred or so of the members of the Democratic National Committee are themselves elected on their own terms in their states. And then there are about 75 or so members of the Democratic National Committee appointed by the chair, whoever that chair happens to be. And then there are the elected officials who will come. So, those are the different groupings we’re talking about.

And we’re already, like I said, seeing elected Democratic National Committee people saying, “I’m uncomfortable with this. I’m afraid what’s going to happen in my state.” So, I —

AMY GOODMAN: And we just have 15 seconds, but if you could say —

JAMES ZOGBY: Sure.

AMY GOODMAN: — what would happen if he wanted to step down in September?

JAMES ZOGBY: It would not be good for the person he passed the baton to. It’s too late to have a process. And it would be — that would be [inaudible]. The sooner he does it, the sooner we put in place a process that is orderly, open, transparent and viewed as legitimate by the majority of Democrats.

AMY GOODMAN: James Zogby, I want to thank you for being with us, former DNC executive committee member from 2001 to 2017, a current member of the Democratic National Committee, also president of the Arab American Institute.

Happy birthday to Kristine Mar! Democracy Now! is currently accepting applications for director of development to lead Democracy Now!'s fundraising efforts. Learn more and apply at democracynow.org. I'm Amy Goodman, with Juan González.

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