Washington roundup: Biden drops in polling; high court rules on presidential immunity

Washington roundup: Biden drops in polling; high court rules on presidential immunity

WASHINGTON (OSV News) — President Joe Biden faced mounting pressure on whether he would remain a candidate in the 2024 election, even as he signaled his intent to remain in the race.

In Washington the same week, the Supreme Court concluded its term by issuing several major decisions, including handing down a ruling on presidential immunity and sending a case over social media platforms back to lower courts.

Biden dips in polling after debate performance

In the days following Biden’s poor debate performance June 27 — during which he spoke with a very faint voice, and his team later said he had a cold — pundits, analysts and Democratic officials on multiple news networks openly questioned whether Biden should step aside and allow Democrats to nominate an alternative candidate at their upcoming convention. The performance raised questions about his ability to remain the presumptive Democratic nominee amid voter concerns over his age.

Biden, as well as his campaign and his White House, signaled that the candidate intended to remain in the race. But polling released July 3 raised new questions about his viability in the November election.

A poll from The New York Times and Siena College, a Franciscan-run school in Loudonville, New York, showed former President Donald Trump had widened his lead over Biden in the 2024 presidential race after the debate.

Following the debate, Trump, 78, now leads Biden, 81, by 49% to 43% among likely voters nationally, a three-point swing toward the presumptive Republican from the same poll conducted the week prior to the debate. The finding marks Trump’s largest lead recorded in a Times/Siena poll since 2015. Among registered voters, Trump led 49% to 41%.

“The drop in Biden poll numbers reflects the reality in post-debate America,” Robert Schmuhl, professor emeritus of American studies at the University of Notre Dame in South Bend, Indiana, who critically observes the modern American presidency, told OSV News, arguing Democratic-leaning or undecided independents “saw someone that wasn’t in command of facts or the argument for reelection.”

“All elections are about the future as much as the present and past,” Schmuhl said. “Many voters decided that the president would probably have serious difficulties during a second term.”

At a July 2 press briefing, White House press secretary Karine Jean-Pierre said Biden is someone who “knows how to get back up once you’ve been knocked down.”

“That is something that he understands very, very well,” she said. “And I think, and we believe, that’s something that many of Americans across the country understand as well. And he knows how to come back.”

Schmuhl said the Biden White House and campaign “have done what they could to control the damage after the debate.”

“But what we’ve seen in the past couple of days is the response of those outside those bubbles,” he said. “Many down-ballot Democrats are realizing that their campaigns are in jeopardy with Biden at the top of the ticket. The question is whether their views will be heard and heeded.”

Biden was scheduled to do a sit-down interview with ABC News July 5 for his first television interview after the debate. The full interview was to air that evening in a primetime special at 8 p.m. Eastern.

Supreme Court concludes term

The Supreme Court concluded its term with a historic 6-3 ruling July 1 finding that presidents have immunity from criminal prosecution as it relates to core constitutional acts of their office, presumptive immunity for official acts, but none for unofficial acts.

The ruling, in effect, is a rejection of Trump’s sweeping claim of “absolute” immunity from criminal prosecution but also makes it unlikely he will face further criminal trials over his alleged attempts to overturn the 2020 election and his mishandling of classified documents, among other alleged acts of misconduct prior to the November election.

The same day, the Supreme Court ordered lower courts to reconsider a case concerning a pair of laws in Texas and Florida that seek to limit the ability of social media companies to moderate content on their platforms.

The high court rendered void the rulings of separate appeals courts that had reached opposite conclusions about whether the laws were constitutional, directing both to conduct a broader analysis, saying they needed more information to weigh in. The court, however, signaled that key parts of the Texas law in particular are unlikely to withstand constitutional scrutiny.

The laws passed in Florida and Texas follow allegations from some conservatives that social media companies deliberately censor right-of-center viewpoints. Those states passed laws seeking to limit ways in which social media platforms can block or remove content.

Eric Goldman, a law professor at the Jesuit-run Santa Clara University in California, who filed an amicus brief in the Texas case, argued in comments shared with OSV News that the laws in question, “from a drafting standpoint,” were “a mess.”

“They packed dozens of undertheorized policy ideas into poorly drafted omnibus bills that never represented a serious attempt at policy-making,” he said. “On appeal to the Supreme Court, the laws baffled the justices due to their sprawling nature, confusing provisions, and misguided policy assumptions. The Supreme Court unanimously agreed to send the cases back to the Fifth and Eleventh Circuits for more careful review of the plaintiffs’ facial challenges to the laws.”

While the decision did not decide the ultimate fate of the laws, Goldman argued, “a majority bloc of justices — led by Justice Kagan — articulated some important principles that represent a major victory for the First Amendment freedoms of social media services.”

“Most importantly, the majority emphatically rejected the notion that states can dictate and override private content moderation decisions, treating Internet services as more like newspaper publishers than telephony or other common carriers,” he said, adding, “given the majority opinion’s guidance, it is likely that large portions, if not all, of the Florida and Texas social media censorship laws will ultimately fail.”

The Supreme Court is expected to begin its 2024-25 term in October.

Kate Scanlon is a national reporter for OSV News covering Washington. Follow her on X (formerly Twitter) @kgscanlon.

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