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Pittsburgh-area Rep. Summer Lee calls on Biden to prove himself, supports Kamala Harris as fallback

  • Oliver Morrison/WESA
Rep. Summer Lee, a Democrat representing Pennsylvania's 12th District, is seen when she was a candidate in 2022.

 Rebecca Droke / AP

Rep. Summer Lee, a Democrat representing Pennsylvania's 12th District, is seen when she was a candidate in 2022.

U.S. Rep. Summer Lee on Wednesday called on President Joe Biden to get out in front of voters and prove that he is capable of beating Donald Trump. Democratic voters need to be reassured that Biden is up to the task after a widely panned debate performance last week, she said.

Speaking on a satellite radio broadcast Wednesday morning, Lee said, “If President Biden and his team decides that he’s staying in this race, then it’s going to be incumbent on them to show us – to show us, not tell us – to show us that he’s up for the task.”

If Biden decided to step aside, she later said, Vice President Kamala Harris should be the Democratic nominee.

“If our president decides that this is not the pathway forward for him, then it means that we are going to have to move very quickly. There is not going to be time for a primary,” she said. “[T]he Vice President is the obvious choice because she’s sitting right there as somebody who has been in the White House, as somebody who already has the name recognition, who’s already out on the trail.”

In a call with campaign staff later in the day, Biden reportedly insisted he would remain in the race. But Lee also made it clear that if he did depart, picking someone besides Harris to replace him at the top of the ticket would potentially alienate Black female voters like herself.

“[T]he optics of pushing aside a Black woman is that they’re not good,” she said, noting that Democrats have increasingly depended on to Black women to vote in large numbers.

Lee was speaking on Sirius XM’s “Mornings with Zerlina,” hosted by former Hilary Clinton campaign staffer Zerlina Maxwell. And her words echoed those of South Carolina Rep. James Clyburn, a longtime Biden ally who has offered conditional support of Biden while saying he would back Harris as a replacement.

During her own fight in this spring’s Democratic primary, Lee faced questions from challenger Bhavini Patel over the depth of her support for Biden, and she has publicly questioned the president’s approach to Israel during the war in Gaza. But Lee has also stressed the stakes of defeating Donald Trump this fall. And on Wednesday she called on Biden to step up, not step aside.

“People are worried. And we need our strongest, our brightest, our bravest to step up and start to take the reins right now,” she said. “We want that to be our president.

Lee said that Biden needed to reassure voters that he’s up for the job. “I don’t think that that reassurance is a speech,” she said. “I don’t think it’s a rally. I think that reassurance is a continuous presence, it’s a continuous indication that we all understand what’s at stake and why you feel that way. I think that we can’t afford to gaslight folks.

Lee said it was incumbent on Biden to allay concerns quickly because of the urgency of this election. “If we’re going to say that our democracy is facing an existential threat, then we have to also say that and we are willing to do whatever it takes to maintain it, to keep you safe,” she said.

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