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Rep. Golden says he needs assurances on Biden's health before he'll vote for him

U.S. Rep. Jared Golden, D-Maine, speaks to a reporter at his home, Thursday, Sept. 1, 2022, in Lewiston, Maine. Golden is being challenged by Republican Bruce Poliquin in the November election.
Robert F. Bukaty
U.S. Rep. Jared Golden, D-Maine, speaks to a reporter at his home, Thursday, Sept. 1, 2022, in Lewiston, Maine.

Maine Democratic Congressman Jared Golden said he has unanswered questions about President Joe Biden's ability to continue to lead the country for another four years.

But unlike some other Democrats, Golden isn't calling on Biden to step aside from the 2024 presidential campaign.

"I think that Joe Biden needs to be answering some serious questions for himself and I think that he is reading the situation incorrectly," Golden said in an interview with Maine Public Radio. "And it's not for me, as I've made clear, whether or not he can beat Donald Trump. It's about whether or not he is prepared to lead the country for another four years."

Golden, who represents Maine's rural and right-leaning 2nd District, made headlines last week when, in an op-ed published by the Bangor Daily News, he predicted that Republican Donald Trump would win in November and that he was "OK with that."

He accused the Biden campaign and other Democrats of spending too much time trying to scare voters about a second Trump presidency and not enough time focused on the economy and issues voters care about. He also said that he does not believe one person can destroy or significantly harm the country's democratic institutions during a 4-year term and said Congress, not the White House, typically sets the policy agenda.

The 41-year-old Marine Corps veteran reiterated Wednesday that he won't vote for Trump because he said the Republican lacks the moral character to lead. But he said Biden needs to prove that he can continue to serve.

"I'm asking the same questions that I know millions and millions of Americans are asking themselves, which is what is the physical and mental state of health of the President of the United States," Golden said. "I will not vote for someone if I don't think they are physically or mentally equipped to lead this nation. And I do not know the answer to that question at this time.

The White House and Biden campaign have been in full defense mode since the debate when the president fumbled answers to questions and struggled to respond to Trump's attacks. They have worked to shore up support among Democratic leaders and lawmakers while dismissing the debate performance as a singular event. Golden is among a small but growing number of Democratic lawmakers who are speaking out publicly about their concerns about Biden.

Golden said Wednesday that he did not attend Tuesday's closed-door meeting with fellow House Democrats to discuss Biden's struggling reelection campaign because he believes only the president can decide whether to stay in the race. During that meeting, House leaders reportedly urged their colleagues to stick with Biden while a small number of others continued to raise concerns roughly two weeks after Biden's shaky debate performance.

"I'm confused why people think that it's up to the legislature or the Congress or to the House Democratic caucus to decide what Joe Biden is or is not going to do in the coming weeks or months," Golden told Maine Public. "People can stand around and talk about their feelings one way or the other. But I think it has very little bearing on the final analysis or outcome here."

Golden is a moderate, three-term incumbent in a district that went for Trump in 2016 and 2020. The campaign of his Republican opponent this November, former NASCAR driver Austin Theriault, has sent out near-daily emails since Biden's debate performance blasting Golden for not saying whether he backs the president's reelection.

“Jared Golden continues to dodge the simple question: is he still supporting Joe Biden?" Theriault, a state legislator from Fort Kent, said in a statement Wednesday evening in response to Golden's latest comments. "Golden is acutely aware of Biden’s inability to do the job. Everyone with eyes and ears saw what Biden was like at the debate. And Golden has visited the White House multiple times lately. The reality is that Golden is being a slippery DC politician by putting party over country and refusing to tell voters where he stands on Biden.”

Golden has voted opposite of the president's agenda and his own party's leadership more than any other member of the House Democratic caucus. He co-chairs the Blue Dog Coalition, a caucus of moderate Democrats, and supported the No Labels campaign's now-abandoned effort to potentially field a third-party presidential candidate in 2024.

On Wednesday, he also described the two major-party choices for president — between 81-year-old Biden and 78-year-old Trump — as the worst of his lifetime.

"We need fresh leaders and fresh thinkers in a big way in this country," Golden said. "The problem with the current generation that is leading and seems unready or unwilling to pass the torch is they are stifling the potential great leadership of this country who are not just waiting but are ready and probably better prepared to lead this country in the future."

Golden endorsed Biden in 2020 after his first choice, Democratic Colorado Sen. Michael Benet, withdrew from the primary race.

Representatives for Maine's other House member, Democratic Congresswoman Chellie Pingree of the 1st District, have not responded for requests for comment the ongoing debate over Biden's campaign or Tuesday's House Democratic caucus meeting.

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