Washington — A weekend meeting hosted by Vice President Kamala Harris with battleground state governors included no conversation about removing President Biden from the Democratic Party ticket, but a lot of talk about how to discreditand campaigning more aggressively on issues such as abortion rights and immigration.
The first meeting of its kind, at least for this administration, took place for three hours around the dining table at the vice president’s residence in Northwest Washington, serving coffee and light snacks, and later cocktails, according to multiple sources. people familiar with the meeting. She shared upcoming campaign plans and told governors she considers them critical to winning their battleground states and the key constituencies they represent.
It was described by people familiar with the exchange as an intimate listening session, with governors who oversaw their major states during the COVID-19 pandemic winning tough reelection fights and could one day face off against the vice president in future bids for the White House relayed their concerns to Harris and close aides.
The biggest concern? “The lack of creativity and agility coming out of the West Wing,” said a person familiar with the exchange.
The president “needs to be more aggressive,” this person added. “He needs to engage the Republican Party more on immigration. And Biden’s language on abortion must change.”
According to sources, there seemed to be no disagreement around the table.
The concerns were raised just days after the Republicans’ successa bipartisan proposal to overhaul security and immigration policies at the southern border, drafted over several months with the encouragement of the president, who responded to Republican demands that he do something about the record number of U.S.-Mexico border crossings.
And the meeting took place as the president’s language on abortion rights had changed somewhat. At a private fundraiser last week, he said, “I’m a practicing Catholic. I don’t want abortion on demand, but I thought Roe v. Wade was right.”
That’s a more succinct acknowledgment of his devout Roman Catholic faith, but fellow Democrats have demanded he vigorously defend abortion rights. The president has opposed federal funding of abortion services for most of his public life, but changed course during his 2020 campaign. Since the 2022 rejection of Roe v. Wade, he has struggled to convey the pressing concerns of members of his party about the future of abortion access. He rarely discussed the issue, instead letting it become a major focus for Harris, who has been traveling the country recently. months during which we mainly discussed the issue with students.
In a recent interview onMichigan Governor Gretchen Whitmer suggested that more “blunt language” from the president on abortion rights “would be helpful.”
Whitmer was one of the governors in attendance on Saturday. Also there: Governments. Tim Walz of Minnesota; J.B. Pritzker of Illinois; Tony Evers of Wisconsin; Roy Cooper of North Carolina; Josh Shapiro of Pennsylvania; and Wes Moore of Maryland, all of whom were invited to bring their chiefs of staff.
Walz is chairman of the Democratic Governors Association. All but Shapiro and Moore were elected in 2018 and re-elected in 2022 and have served their entire terms with the same chief of staff. Midwest governors often cooperated at the regional level during the pandemic, fearing that the Trump administration had mishandled the response and punished Democratic-controlled states.
“It’s a group of proven governors who came in during COVID, knew how to do the right thing and had the expertise to help and wanted to,” a person familiar with the meeting told CBS News.
Another person described it as “a group of governors who know how to win. They know how to be governors and win. That’s really unique.”
Shapiro and Moore won key races in 2022 and have frequently campaigned with the president. They are also seen as future presidential candidates.
The vice president was accompanied by her vice presidential chief of staff, Lorraine Voles; Sheila Nix, her campaign chief; and Louisa Terrell, a former White House official who now serves at the Democratic National Committee as a liaison to governors.
In a sign of how detailed the vice president was with the governors, she told them that Terrell has been appointed as their contact for the campaign and that they should be contacted for everything from questions about campaign travel, potential campaign staff hiring or for ensure that key supporters have a photo taken with the president or vice president at fundraisers or rallies.
Despite persistent talk within the broader party and polls showing a continued desire for other candidates to run, there was no conversation about removing the president from the party ticket, according to those familiar with the meeting.
“The people around that table understand he’s not going anywhere,” one person said.
But the vice president again had fierce criticismin his investigation into Mr. Biden’s alleged mishandling of classified materials. In one of her strongest defenses ever against the president, she on Friday called the report “clearly politically motivated” and cited her own career as a prosecutor to dismiss it as “pointless, inaccurate and inappropriate.”
She did it again Saturday, praising Pritzker, who told Illinois reporters Friday, “It was grossly unfair for a Trump appointee, originally at the Justice Department, to offer his own opinion on the president’s mental acuity or age of the US. United States.”
Harris and the governors agreed that this is the strategy to follow: Question Hur’s partisan motivations and instead stay focused on raising concerns about Donald Trump’s possible return to the White House.
Harris also laid out plans for a major campaign-style campaign following the State of the Union address on March 7. She said she and the president would travel to “highlight issues that they still want to achieve and are not willing to work with in this area.” years,” said a person familiar with the meeting, declining to specify the issues.
If the governors have their way, it will mainly mean a major focus on abortion rights and immigration.