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Nancy Pelosi Image Credit: AP

Washington: Former House Speaker Nancy Pelosi declined to support President Joe Biden's intention to seek reelection, saying instead that it remains his decision to make - the latest signal of unease among Democrats over the incumbent's age and ability to defeat Republican Donald Trump in November.

"It's up to the president to decide if he's going to run," Pelosi said on MSNBC's Morning Joe on Wednesday. "We are all encouraging him to make that decision because time is running short."

"I want him to do whatever he decides to do," Pelosi, one of the most influential figures in the Democratic Party, said when pressed on whether she wants him to stay in the race.

Biden began the week by flatly telling members of Congress that he intends to remain the party nominee, as doubts swirl in the aftermath of his calamitous debate performance. He's seeking to quell a rebellion from lawmakers, donors and other prominent figures in the party who have called for him to step aside and allow a new candidate to take on Trump.

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Biden reiterated his intention to remain in the race again hours after Pelosi's comments, telling labour leaders gathered in Washington he was "staying" atop the ticket.

The outcry, though, extended to one of the party's biggest celebrity supporters and donors, George Clooney, who called for a new nominee Wednesday just a few weeks after he attended a fundraiser with Biden.

"We are not going to win in November with this president," Clooney wrote in a New York Times op-ed, adding that Biden, at the fundraiser, was "the same man we all witnessed at the debate."

Clooney said he had spoken to senators, members of the House, and governors about his concern - and that "every single one" believed Democrats would lose control of both chambers of Congress.

'Hold off'

Pelosi urged lawmakers not to publicly air their concerns about the president until the NATO summit being held in Washington concludes. Biden is expected to hold a high-stakes news conference Thursday afternoon, while foreign allies attending the event are closely watching the US president.

"I said to everyone, let's just hold off - whatever you're thinking, either tell somebody privately, but you don't have to put that out on the table until we see how we go this week," Pelosi said.

The poor debate performance from Biden, 81, raised worried about the fitness and mental acuity of the already oldest US president in history to defeat Trump and serve another four-year term. Those worries have been amplified by fears that a weak presidential candidate at the top of the ticket could wreck Democratic hopes of retaking the House and holding onto Senate control.

The issue even came up as Federal Reserve Chairman Jay Powell testified on Capitol Hill on Wednesday. Powell said that while he had not met with Biden for years, he had not seen cognitive decline in the president.

A New York Times/Siena College poll after the debate found Trump ahead of Biden by six percentage points and Democratic worries intensified on Tuesday after the Cook Political Report updated their Electoral College analysis to show a more favourable map for the Republican candidate.

Still, many prominent Democrats have been reluctant to outright call on Biden to exit the race. In the hours after her MSNBC comments, Pelosi told CBS News she had not intended to signal Biden "should reconsider his decision."

She subsequently released a statement saying Democrats "must turn our attention to why this race is so important: Donald Trump would be a disaster for our country and our democracy."

Jim Clyburn, a South Carolina congressman who has long championed Biden in Democratic politics, said he would ask Pelosi what she meant by her remarks.

"I'm still riding with Biden," he added.

New defection

But Pelosi's comments were followed by another Democratic lawmaker - Pat Ryan, a congressman from New York - calling on Biden to step aside.

"I'd be doing a grave disservice if I said he was the best candidate to serve this fall," Ryan told the New York Times. "I'm asking Joe Biden to step aside in the upcoming election and deliver on the promise to be a bridge to a new generation of leaders."

Other prominent Democratic lawmakers simply echoed Pelosi's tepid support. Katherine Clark, the No. 2 House Democrat, said Biden is the party's nominee but like Pelosi did not explicitly stand behind him.

"As always this decision is up to the president," Clark said.

Ritchie Torres, a Democratic congressman from New York, said "there must be a serious reckoning with the down-ballot effect of whomever we nominate," nodding to the risk that an unpopular Biden could drag down House and Senate candidates.

"What matters is not how we feel but what the numbers tell us," Torres said in a written statement Wednesday.

Kate Bedingfield, who was Biden's deputy campaign manager in 2020, said the president's current team needed to demonstrate that the president still has a viable path to victory.

"If they have data that supports the path to victory that they see, they should put it out there now," Bedingfield wrote on X.